No. 186 BATON ROUGE, LAJune 1999

LOS NEWS, Page 3

Table of Contents

The Mississippi River Delta
April Pelagic Report
Deserving Young Birder
LOS Pelagics
Tern ID article
Tern Figure 1
Tern Figure 2
Audubon State WatchList
OAS Sanctuary
 
LOS NEWS, page 1
LOS NEWS, page 2
The Botanical Birder
Spring Meeting Report
GCMBS
LOS Sales
AOU Checklist 7th Ed.
NGS 3rd Edition
LOS Officers
Welcome New Members
Membership Form
 
LOS Homepage

Coastal Stewardship Award goes to OAS
OAS - Fischer Sanctuary

The Orleans Audubon Society has received the 1999 Coastal Stewardship Award from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. This award was given to OAS for creating a sanctuary near New Orleans to protect valuable wetlands. Orleans Audubon was able to establish the OAS-Fischer Sanctuary because of a generous donation from the Fischer family.
 
Located along the Morgan River in St. Tammany Parish, near Slidell, about 35 miles northeast of downtown New Orleans, the 86.5 acre sanctuary, valued at more than $50,000, is a bald cypress and water tupelo swamp forest. It is a landscape of braided streams, meandering through the floodplain of Pearl River, on the edge of the vast Honey Island Swamp. Its location along the drop-off into the alluvial valley near Morgan's Bluff (where American Swallow- tailed Kites nest), makes it an especially important area to protect. It is in a transition area between uplands facing heavy development pressure and the magnificent wilderness protected a mile away in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, and the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge upstream. The sanctuary provides nesting habitat for resident birds, including Red-shouldered Hawks and Barred Owls, and for neotropical migrants, including Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers.
 
For more information about this OAS sanctuary and also efforts to establish sanctuaries on Grand Isle, contact Michael L. Crago, President, Orleans Audubon Society, 523 Broadway Street, New Orleans, LA 70118-3515; Home: 504-866-0408; Office: 504-865-5441; Fax: 504-865-5270; Cellular: 504-228-9379; http://www.audubon-la.org .
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The Botanical Birder

BLACK GOLD
by Bill Fontenot

Containing over 100 genera and over 3,000 species, the plant family Rosaceae is one of the largest and most economically-important in the temperate zone. Contained within this group are not only the roses but also the strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, peaches, pears, plums, apricots, almonds, and cherries. Here in the U.S., at least 8 species of cherry natively occur throughout a large array of habitats stretching between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Of these, the black cherry (Prunus serotina) enjoys the widest distribution south of Canada and east of the Rockies, occurring contiguously from Maine and Minnesota southward through east Texas, and eastward through northern Florida. Interestingly, widely disjunct populations of this species also occur in the Texas Hill Country (where it is referred to as the "escarpment black cherry"), the Chisos Mountains, southern New Mexico and Arizona, and southward through much of montane Mexico.
 
Here in Louisiana, black cherry occurs, mostly within mesic to dry-mesic hardwood-dominated habitats, on a statewide basis. While this species is nowhere abundant in quasi-natural habitats, it has become locally common to near-abundant in disturbed settings such as agricultural fencerows/hedgerows and urban waste areas and gardens, where it is all-too-often placed within the dreaded "trash tree" category. Blame this on the birds!
 
In truth, black cherry is one of our most beautiful native tree species, in terms of blooms, foliage, and bark. Here in Louisiana, black cherry begins its bloom cycle in early spring - beginning in early February in south Louisiana , early March up in the northern half of the state - producing copious spikes of small white flowers that give a delicate "lacy" look to the tree. Immediately after blooming begins, the leaves begin to unfurl. Leaves are elliptic to lanceolate in shape, often with exaggeratedly pointed apices, satiny to nearly glossy above, and very finely serrated margins. Beginning around Halloween, foliage (especially on the upper half of the tree) turns a pleasing yellow to orange-yellow color which persists to nearly Christmas. After the leaves drop, black cherry bark becomes its most prominent aesthetic feature. Younger trees have satiny bark, horizontally banded in alternating shades of gray, gray-brown, and reddish-brown. In older trees, the bark begins to crack into thin, irregular plates which are initially ash to charcoal-gray in color, finally maturing into a rich chocolate-brown. In both wild and urban settings black cherry usually grows to 30-40 feet in height, with trunk diameters reaching about 20-inches. Very occasionally, ancient specimens with trunk diameters of 36-inches or more can be found in wild, undisturbed habitats with rich soils. The largest specimen that I've ever encountered in Louisiana was on a dry, mostly hardwood ridge (growing in association with eastern hop-hornbeam and eastern redbud) in extreme southwestern Union parish. It was hollow, approximately 60-feet tall, and had a trunk diameter of 42-inches!
 
Of course the main attraction which black cherry offers to birds (and birders) is in its fruit production. Regarding its fruiting phenology (timing), it's worthy to note that fruit maturation is substantially staggered not only from region to region and tree to tree, but also within each tree and within each individual fruiting spike! Perhaps this is why the specific name serotina (= "late") was chosen for this species. In southern Louisiana, fruit maturation begins as early as April and continues through mid to late summer. During this period, careful observation will reveal that individual fruit spikes offer green, red, and black (fully ripe) cherries, so that ripe fruit is offered on a prolonged schedule - a great advantage to hungry migrants, brooding adults, and fledglings as well. Thus, black cherry maximizes its potential for seed dispersal. Obviously, this strategy works quite well, for seedlings occur in high numbers in most any area frequented by birds. Fruits average ca. 1/4" in diameter and are quite bitter in taste, even when completely ripe. Here in Louisiana, birds which have been observed to utilize black cherries include Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, American Crow, Swainson's Thrush, Gray Catbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Obviously, numerous additional species utilize black cherry.
 
As a cultivated garden plant, black cherry will thrive in all but the soggiest of soils. It can handle sand or clay-based soils with equal ease. It prefers a half-day's sun exposure, but will do well in all-day sun so long as its root zone is sufficiently shaded. It seems at its best when planted in mixed small to medium sized tree groupings at the edges of larger shade trees. Potential companions might include sumacs (Rhus sp.), red bay (Persea borbonia), American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), hackberry (Celtis laevigata), dogwoods (Cornus sp.), and eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).
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LOS SPRING MEETING APRIL 23-25, 1999

Friday night's program given by Bill Wayman was very innovative, using four televisions. The assembly was divided into four groups for closer viewing and participation. His videos of many different types of birds were quite impressive and enjoyed by everyone.
 
Saturday night's meeting was opened by President David L'Hoste with the introduction of officers and Board Members attending: Vice President Marty Guidry, Secretary/Treasurer Judith O'Neale, Board Members Kermit Cummings and Melvin Weber. Guests and members were acknowledged from Alaska, North Carolina, Mississippi, Maryland, Rhode Island and Texas. David thanked all the Knights of Columbus for again providing an excellent meal. He also thanked Marianna Tanner, Judy Fruge, Eloise Mullen, George and Nettie Broussard for their help with the meeting.
 
Past-President Matt Courtman apologized to the group for his dereliction of duties because of personal problems. Matt is back in Monroe and hopes to be active in LOS in the future.
 
David wanted people to be aware of the wealth of information available to them through the LOS web page and Cornell's Bird Source, which has 99 years of CBC's. Cornell is also requesting Gulf Coast migration observations. The state listservers are LABIRD and HUMNET.
 
Marty Guidry, Baton Rouge Audubon Society President, presented the BRAS President's Award for 1999 to Marianna Tanner for her many years of work with LOS, the Gulf Coast Bird Club, Cameron Parish, as well as her unselfish assistance to visiting birders. Marianna received a much deserved standing ovation from the crowd.
 
The checklist was read by Marty Guidry with a total 199 birds for Cameron Parish on Saturday.
 
Gay Gomez gave a very informative, entertaining presentation with slides and quotes from her book, A Wetland Biography, Seasons on Louisiana's Chenier Plain. Louisiana's chenier plain is a 2200 square mile region of marshes and oak-covered ridges (cheniers) that stretches along the Gulf of Mexico from Sabine Lake to Vermilion Bay. Gay gave us a brief glimpse of the geography and history of the cheniers area and its people.
 
A total of 120 were registered for the weekend.
 
Judith O'Neale
LOS Secretary/Treasurer
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What is the Gulf Coast Migratory Bird Survey (GCMBS)?
Each year during April and May, massive numbers of migrating birds reach the Gulf Coast of the United States by flying across the Gulf of Mexico. This spring, analysts at the Clemson University Radar Ornithology Lab will analyze advanced weather radar (Nexrad) to predict when these huge waves of neotropical migrants will arrive along the Gulf Coast. Eleven Nexrad stations located between the Florida Keys and Brownsville, Texas, will generate daily statements and Nexrad images showing the extent of the migrations. Notices will be posted here at the GCMBS web site every time the Nexrad radar indicates large migration flights coming across the Gulf. These notices will also appear on listservs in the Gulf Coast region, to identify areas where citizen scientists can go out and "ground truth" (verify) which bird species have arrived and in what numbers. Sightings will be entered at the GCMBS web site checklist, and results will be posted within 24 hours.
 
If you live in the Gulf Coast region, we hope that you will participate in this project. Even if you don't, we encourage you to return to this web site often to view the latest results. Thanks for your participation and interest in the Gulf Coast Migratory Bird Survey!
-- Allison Wells amw25@cornell.edu
website: http://birdsource.cornell.edu
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BOOK REVIEW
Checklist of North American Birds, The Species of Birds of North America from the Arctic through Panama, Including the West ndies and Hawaiian Islands, Prepared by the Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of the American Ornithologists' Union, Seventh Edition, American Ornithologists' Union, 1998.
 
While the AOU Checklist may be a bit too rudimentary to be called the bible of American ornithology, it at least qualifies as a fundamental treatise on which everything else is built. The enumeration and naming of things is the essential first step by which we can study, describe and build an understanding of anything. The AOU Checklist has ambitiously played that role in American ornithology since first published in 1886. This seventh edition, published in 1998, is the culmination of fifteen years of effort by the checklist committee. It lists and names every species of bird for which there is a published record or report of occurrence. Further, it codifies decisions of the committee about the proper "scientific" name and English name of each species, and it assigns to each species its defined place in a broader classification, including Genus, Family, and Order within the Class Aves. In an era of explosive growth in the amount of ornithological research and publication taking place, it was a formidable undertaking. The committee accepts 2,008 species to the list for the area of coverage, with an additional 117 not accepted to the main list, but covered in the appendices.
 
Nevertheless, there are disappointments in this edition, which are acknowledged in the preface. The last edition of the checklist, the sixth, published in 1983, was the first version of the checklist that failed to list subspecies. Many criticized it for this failure. But it was published at the culmination of a general movement in American ornithological circles that de-emphasized variation among and between species, and actually resulted in the lumping of many of our familiar birds, long thought to be species, including such well-known species as Baltimore and Bullock's orioles, Rufous-sided and Spotted towhees, and Myrtle and Audubon's warblers. It was widely recognized that many of the subspecies of the earlier editions represented nothing more than extreme types from either end of a geographical gradient, and thus were not truly discrete, genetically distinct populations. It was further recognized that a great deal more work needed to be done before this plethora of named geographic variants could be distinguished from true subspecies. (In addition, the sixth edition expanded the geographic coverage of the checklist, adding the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America, greatly increasing the number of species covered, and adding areas not nearly as well studied as the United States and Canada.)
 
It was the intention of the checklist committee to rectify the omission of subspecies from the sixth edition, and to include a modern, credible listing of subspecies in the seventh. In the event, however, that task proved daunting, and its execution threatened to delay the seventh edition intolerably. The decision was therefore made to proceed with a seventh edition without including subspecies. According to the preface to this edition, work on re-integration of subspecies has merely been postponed, not canceled, and we can therefore hope that someday soon we'll see a definitive list of subspecies for North American birds.
 
This edition, therefore, concentrates on two things. First, it attempts to modernize the list by taking into account the vast amount of new information published in recent years. Much of this knowledge is based upon the recent development of new technology for studying genetic relationships at the molecular level, and upon new computer assisted techniques for improving traditional methods of quantifying differences in bird measurements and plumage characteristics. Furthermore, there has been a refinement of our understanding of the importance of voice, habitat, and behavior in establishing species limits in similar and closely related species. In short, there has been a knowledge explosion about birds since the sixth edition, driven not only by new technologies, but by the baby boom as well, which has swelled the ranks of ornithologists. Much of this knowledge is reflected in new understandings about taxonomic relationships among birds. Perhaps the most sweeping change, in terms of how we birders understand the birds we experience daily, is the decision to move the family of New World vultures (Cathartidae) from the order which includes the hawks and falcons (Falconiformes), and include them instead among the storks (Ciconiiformes). That's right: those vultures soaring overhead are not odd hawks specialized for scavenging carcasses, but are better viewed as specialized scavenging storks. The next time you get to watch a soaring Wood Stork, think about that connection.
 
The second goal of this edition was to accurately describe the geographical distribution within North America of the species on the list. Judging by the coverage given to occurrences in Louisiana, including one-time vagrants like Clark's Nutcracker, they succeeded admirably. (Of course, one of the preparers was Van Remsen from LSU, and the reviewers included Steve Cardiff and Donna Dittmann from the LSU Museum of Natural Sciences, as well as present and former graduate students. Their involvement guaranteed close and expert involvement for Louisiana. But the accurate depiction of Louisiana's bird-life may not be indicative of the quality of the whole.)
 
Those expecting to encounter the kind of block-buster changes in this edition that so characterized the sixth edition, and which so shocked and outraged birders then, will be disappointed. Not only did the sixth edition remove several beloved species, it imposed sweeping changes in common English names, many of which were regarded by many as unnecessary and ill-advised tinkering. All of the lumps and splits of this edition were released in a series of supplements to the Auk, published between 1983 and 1998. So we already knew about many of the changes summarized herein. This edition has, in effect, repealed many of what are now felt to have been the excesses of the sixth edition. In the sixth edition, the presence of a zone of hybridization was used as evidence that two types of birds formerly considered separate species were really one species. Such hybrid zones, if stable, are now considered by the present committee to be evidence that the forms are in fact distinct, leading (among a lot of other evidence) to the already published re-splitting of the orioles and towhees, and to the splits of many other groups, including the "Solitary" vireos. Further, the present committee has abandoned the attempt to standardize English usage worldwide by wholesale manipulation of English names. Alas, however, they did not restore the name Louisiana Heron, an unfortunate bit of timidity on the part of the current committee. (But, in truth, by refraining from "fixing" such changes, they are trying to allow English names to become, as it were, re-standardized.)
 
This is not light reading, and most birders will not need or want a copy for their home library. Indeed, it is a rather dry listing of species, with rudimentary habitat descriptions and detailed distributional data. But many serious birders will want to have a copy as an authoritative reference, and other birders should at least avail themselves of its use in their favorite library (and ask their library to get a copy). The Preface is a finely reasoned, well-written, tightly argued summation of the purpose and philosophy of the committee. It touches on taxonomy, the importance of collections, summarizes the changes since the sixth edition, the coverage provided, the all-important criteria for inclusion, and describes the format. It also has a summary of the committee's "unanimous endorsement" of the continued utility of the "Biological Species Concept" (as opposed to recent and competing ideas, such as the "Phylogenetic Species Concept"). This essay alone makes it imperative for serious students of ornithology to get hold of a copy and read it.
 
David Muth
New Orleans, LA
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National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America,
Third Edition
- It's Still the One!
What is new for this edition? The organization of species as well as common and scientific names have been revised, of course, to conform with the A.O.U. Check-list of North American Birds (7th Edition, 1998). It offers around 80 additional species from the 2ndedition, these representing either splits, newly established species or new accidentals. For the latter, the stated standard for inclusion is "... has been seen at least three times in the past two decades or five times in this century." In addition, some species were included because of the strong likelihood that they would occur again, despite not meeting the stated standard. For Louisiana, this has meant inclusion of Kelp Gull, Eurasian Collared Dove, Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers, Plumbeous and Cassin's Vireos, Spotted Towhee, Shiny Cowbird, and Bullock's Oriole. Also completely revised are the text accounts and range maps, and the maps have been redesigned for greater clarity. Text accounts are provided with bolded ‘subheadings' to allow quicker reference to named plumages (although "immature" and "subspecies" seem not to be highlighted where described, and the bolding was obviously done automatically, producing some bizarre bold-faced highlights such as, for Limpkin, "Juvenile is paler than adult."). The words ‘song' and ‘call' and ‘range' are also bolded for quick reference within the text. ("Clappers call chiefly at dusk and dawn," is another example of automation gone awry.) Strangely, in this regard, the meaning of ‘range' has been expanded to include description of habitat, habits and relative abundance.
 
For comments from a more knowledgeable birder, here is an insightful review by Paul Dickson that I have taken from LABIRD, with permission: "I received my copy of the new National Geographic guide last week. I didn't really want to cast the first stone but as no one has yet this week I'll speak up: This is a book born of a committee. This may be one of those cases where you might wish to go and buy the old edition before they're gone. As I first examined the book I saw that it seemed to be on lighter paper, in other words, cheaper. I enjoyed the high quality paper in the 2d edition and hated to see this corner cut. The new one is 80 species longer, so I guess the paper quality was cut so that they could include those species found only occasionally in southeast Arizona and on St. Lawrence Island. The plates of more normal birds are improved and greatly expanded. Some of the atrocious things from the 2nd edition are corrected. Stilt Sandpiper and the Dowitchers no longer have brilliant green legs. As a matter of fact, accuracy of color is taken very seriously this time."
 
"So accurate is the presentation that some species are represented by multiple illustrations. The addition of multiple views of common species is good but baffling in some cases. Why must we see that 1st year male Scarlet Tanagers have slightly off-black wings? Two males are illustrated yet you really have to read the text to see the difference. Why does this need to be illustrated anyway? Most birders can read. Likewise we have 2 versions of female Western Tanagers to illustrate the fact that they have variable amounts of dusky tinge to the breast. There are 14 examples of just the three common tanager species. The page for Eastern and Spotted Towhees is really a ‘head shaker'. Every geographic variation is illustrated, 19 illustrations in all! We have a head illustration of the Florida race of Eastern Towhee to show us that it has a white eye. If this and the various races of spotted are to be split later on, then put them in a later edition. If possible future candidates for splitting are to be presented separately in greater detail than some current species why not every variation of Red Crossbill? Why just Spotted Towhee?"
 
"Is this a guide for the expert birder, the traveling lister or is this a definitive guide to North American birds? This third edition almost succeeds in these disparate veins but gets lost in the end. This book is confused. It does not seem to know what it is trying to be. I can envision a diverse and frequently contentious editorial committee "striking a compromise" and thus completing nothing. Were it the ultimate book for the expert birder in search of rarities, then it would spend its illustration budget on more views of typical vagrants such as the Asian sandpipers rather than our common Tanagers and Towhees. The Tringa group of sandpipers is presented with not the first rump shown. The attempts at Tropical and Asian rarities are incomplete. Bird records committees require details that the observer needs to look for on vagrants that are not shown nor mentioned in the text. There is probably no way to give this type of detail in a field guide without regional editions or multiple volumes. One book cannot be complete for both the Arizona and the Alaska birder so why include a quarter of the rarities seen at each spot? You still need a Mexican guide in Arizona and an Asian one for St. Lawrence Island and Attu. The confusion is furthered by the book's sporadically microscopic attention to common North American birds. If this is for the traveling birders then why should they wish to age their male Scarlet Tanagers? If the book is the last word on plumages and races of North American birds then why have some quite variable species been left out of the thorough illustrations? It seems the editors wanted to be everything to everybody yet fell short of each goal.
 
"Now that I have blasted the book, I must back up and say that the illustrations are without parallel. Field guide art is taken to another level here. The renditions of the Empidonax flycatchers are so good that I fear an onslaught of site records. A person with limited experience might actually expect these drab living versions to look as striking as the illustrations. What's more, the user of this guide is led to believe that Willow and Alder can be easily separated by sight. Alder has a nice eye-ring and Least is not on the same page. How many Least Flycatchers will be called Alders because of this one item? It is an enjoyable book to look at. I have spent each night this week enjoying the bird art. It could be enlarged and successfully marketed as art, just as Audubon's and Wilson's books were. The maps are small and intricate, so much so as to be unreadable to most birders over 50. They are so precise that they resemble micro circuitry. Never the less, they seem to be well researched, far more so that any previous field guide maps. (Maybe I am being antiquated but I never had a problem reading range details in the older Peterson's guides.)"
 
"The NGS 2nd Edition has been my principal field guide in the last few years. I suppose that the Third Edition will now assume that role. I will also search for a last copy of the Second Edition just as I keep 1969 Peterson Guides around. Certainly National Geographic could not have collected a better editorial staff nor a finer set of illustrators. This is an accurate, state-of-the-art field guide. I just wish they had defined the goal of this guide. I am glad the book is out but disappointed by what it could have been. It could have been much better had it been more focused. I also hope it holds up under hard use. Buy it if you are curious or if you just like bird books. Buy out the stock of the old one if you're a regular 'ol birdwatcher. We've gotten used to green legged sandpipers by now anyway." – Paul@morrisdickson.com
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posted 01June1999