Archive for Birds


Celebrating America and Protecting our Feathered Friends

July 18, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in Birds

By Emily McCalla, Communications Coordinator, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition

Young Wilson's Plovers being cared for by Audubon Louisiana staff.

Audubon Louisiana staff banding baby Least Terns to track their survivorship.

Prior to the start of a busy Fourth of July weekend, Audubon Louisiana staff and volunteers ventured to Holly Beach to protect nesting birds. These birds, including Wilson’s Plovers, Least Terns and Black Skimmers, are all Audubon priority bird species and are in danger of losing their crucial habitat. Additionally, many of these birds depend on beach habitat for nesting, making their nests vulnerable to vehicular and human traffic. These nests are often camouflaged, making it hard for people to know birds are nesting on the same beaches they’re enjoying for recreation.

Audubon Louisiana staff discovered nesting sites along the beaches where many would gather to celebrate Independence Day. Sadly, a few nests were found to have been run over by vehicles. In order to protect these birds from further beachgoer incidents, Audubon Louisiana reached out to supporters to gather volunteers to install protective fencing and signs around these critical nesting areas.

Audubon Louisiana Director of Bird Conservation, Erik Johnson, and a volunteer install protective fencing.

Audubon Louisiana Director of Bird Conservation, Erik Johnson, and a volunteer install protective fencing.

Upon arriving at the beach, Katie Barnes, Audubon Louisiana Coastal Bird Technician, spotted a young Wilson’s Plover running across the beach. She placed a small band around the bird’s leg in order to track its movement, weighed and recorded the bird, and a volunteer safely released it back onto the beach along with another fledgling collected by Audubon Louisiana Director of Bird Conservation, Erik Johnson.

Katie Barnes banding a young Wilson's Plover.

Audubon Louisiana Coastal Bird Technician, Katie Barnes, banding a young Least Tern.

Volunteers watch as the banded birds are weighed and recorded.

Volunteers watch as the banded birds are weighed and recorded.

Volunteer releasing the banded birds safely onto the beach.

Volunteer releasing the banded birds safely onto the beach.

In all, eight volunteers showed up to help protect these priority birds and their nests. Some people were directed to install fence posts, some strung reflective cord, and some secured “Sensitive Nesting Area” signs to each post. After a few hours, enough fencing was installed to protect all of the cataloged nests along the beach during the Independence Day festivities. Volunteers were able to learn about priority birds, see many of them along the beach and enjoy a beautiful start to the Fourth of July weekend!

Audubon Louisiana staff and volunteers in Holly Beach

Audubon Louisiana staff and volunteers in Holly Beach

Katie Barnes displaying the flight feathers beginning to grow on a young Wilson's Plover.

Katie Barnes displaying the flight feathers beginning to grow on young Least Terns.

Black Skimmers seen along the beach.

Black Skimmers seen along the beach.

Audubon Louisiana staff teaching volunteers about Wilson's Plovers.

Audubon Louisiana staff teaching volunteers about Least Terns.

Protective fencing and signage installed around critical nesting sites.

Protective fencing and signage installed around critical nesting sites.

If you are interested in getting involved with Audubon Louisiana events in the future, please visit Audubon Louisiana’s Get Involved page to learn more!

For a complete list of volunteer opportunities available with Restore the Mississippi River Delta, visit our Coalition volunteer page.

Emily McCalla is National Audubon Society’s Communications Coordinator for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition. As a Lake Charles native, she is directly familiar with the issues facing our coast and is passionate about working to save it. Prior to joining Audubon, Emily worked with STUN Design & Interactive in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as the Marketing and Office Coordinator. Prior to that, she was the State Coordinator for the Louisiana Solar Energy Society—a nonprofit dedicated to promoting clean, solar energy throughout the state. Emily is a graduate of Louisiana State University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing in 2013.

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Barrier Island Restoration: An Investment in Coastal LA’s Future and for Nesting Seabirds, Part 3

April 21, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, coastal restoration, Restoration Projects

Our partners at Audubon Louisiana published a series of blog posts that we are cross-posting here. View the original blog post here.

As we mark the sixth anniversary of the BP oil spill this week – an event that significantly and negatively impacted Louisiana’s already disappearing barrier islands and the species that depend on them – we will examine the status of barrier island restoration. Over the coming days, we’ll publish a series of blog posts that detail what work has been done to restore Louisiana’s barrier islands, the importance of these islands to birds and humans alike, as well as Audubon Louisiana’s role before, during and after the restoration process to monitor and improve bird health on these islands and elsewhere.

Part 3: "Audubon Louisiana: A Steward of Birds through Coastal Restoration"

By Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Louisiana, @AudubonErik

Audubon Louisiana is deeply involved in monitoring and improving the health of bird populations across the state. Nowhere is this more important than on barrier islands, which provide critical habitat for many bird species as we’ve detailed in previous blog posts.

The restoration of larger barrier islands closer to shore, like Whiskey Island, Scofield Island and many others, raises questions regarding the nesting success of seabirds, if one follows basic tenets of Island Biogeography Theory. An important question that Audubon Louisiana is seeking to understand is how many more fledglings are produced on a given island after restoration compared to before. It is possible that overall nesting success could decrease after restoration, because a larger (restored) island might support more predators, causing seabirds to be less successful. However, if there are more seabirds nesting on restored islands, might the total number of chicks fledged could still be a net increase? What do we do if not?

Audubon is monitoring beach-nesting birds on Grand Isle and the Caminada Headland to answer some of these questions for Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers. After protecting certain nesting areas from human disturbance, in which volunteers play an important role in preventing, we track the nesting success of birds, and determine causes of failure, such as storm surge and various predators.

Piping Plovers, Elmers Island, Louisiana Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

Piping Plovers, Elmers Island, Louisiana Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

If restored barrier islands act as refuges and havens for predators, and not nesting seabirds, what can be done to enhance seabird nesting success? The removal of predators can be expensive, challenging and unsustainable. Electric and other kinds of exclosure fencing might be feasible in certain circumstances, but is also relatively expensive, and often requires regular maintenance. A more sustainable approach might instead be to place greater emphasis on the construction of smaller offshore islands, through dredge spoil or beneficial use, particularly where land-building processes exist (such as near diversions and naturally accreting deltas).

Caminada Headlands Barrier Island Creation - The continued deterioration of Caminada headland threatens thousands of acres of wetland habitat, as well as critical infrastructure. The project creates 300 acres of back barrier intertidal marsh and nourishes 130 acres of emergent marsh behind 3.5 miles of the Caminada beach using material dredged from the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Patrick M. Quigley, Gulf Coast Air Photo

Caminada Headlands Barrier Island Creation – The continued deterioration of Caminada headland threatens thousands of acres of wetland habitat, as well as critical infrastructure. The project creates 300 acres of back barrier intertidal marsh and nourishes 130 acres of emergent marsh behind 3.5 miles of the Caminada beach using material dredged from the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Patrick M. Quigley, Gulf Coast Air Photo

By no means, might I suggest to reduce the emphasis on larger barrier island restoration – this has an important role in the protection of other coastal habitats and coastal human communities. Surely, barrier islands with some predators are better than no barrier islands. Considering how to maximize the efficacy of barrier islands for nesting seabirds will require an island-by-island assessment, regular surveys, and adaptive management. Each of these islands are one hurricane away from losing their predators, so a well-constructed barrier island that withstands one or more storms, might suddenly produce more birds than were produced in many multiple years leading up to that. Most seabirds are long-lived, and their ability to live and nest on the edge of the Earth gives them a chance to wait for this once-in-a-lifetime event. They take the long-term view – not all that different than Louisiana’s 50-year, $50-billion coastal restoration plan.

Western Sandpiper, Grand Isle, Louisiana Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

Western Sandpiper, Grand Isle, Louisiana Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

 

If you would like more information on Audubon Louisiana's Coastal Stewardship Program or would like to volunteer with one of our programs, contact Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Louisiana, at ejohnson@audubon.org. You can also sign up here to receive the latest news, updates and volunteer information from Audubon Louisiana.

 

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Barrier Island Restoration: An Investment in Coastal LA’s Future and for Nesting Seabirds, Part 2

April 19, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in Birds, coastal restoration, Restoration Projects

Our partners at Audubon Louisiana published a series of blog posts that we are cross-posting here. View the original blog post here.

As we mark the sixth anniversary of the BP oil spill this week – an event that significantly and negatively impacted Louisiana’s already disappearing barrier islands and the species that depend on them – we will examine the status of barrier island restoration. Over the coming days, we’ll publish a series of blog posts that detail what work has been done to restore Louisiana’s barrier islands, the importance of these islands to birds and humans alike, as well as Audubon Louisiana’s role before, during and after the restoration process to monitor and improve bird health on these islands and elsewhere.

Part 2: "Barrier Islands: A Critical Investment for Bird Health"

By Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Louisiana, @AudubonErik

As we discussed in the first blog post, coastal Louisiana is rich with bird life, and barrier islands play a central role in the population dynamics of many species. This is particularly true for seabirds that nest on islands, isolated from the mainland and its many mammalian predators. These seabirds live life on the edge of the Earth, and barrier islands are the key to their survival.

So how does the restoration of barrier islands benefit these nesting seabirds? Seabirds, like terns and gulls, as well as some coastal-nesting shorebirds, like Wilson’s Plovers and American Oystercatchers, place their eggs on the ground (although a few species, like Brown Pelicans prefer low shrubs, like mangroves). These nesting birds are not only susceptible to mammalian predators, but also the overwash of storms. As islands and their dune systems erode, nests are inevitably placed closer and closer to the high tide line putting them at greater risk to the overwash of even small storms. Renesting can be possible, but at some point becomes futile. And with fewer and fewer islands available, eventually space runs out, and populations decline. The restoration of these islands increases opportunities and space for placing nests, and helps elevate nests to reduce their chances of overwashing.

Royal Terns, Breton Island Photo: USFWS, Greg Thompson

Royal Terns, Breton Island Photo: USFWS, Greg Thompson

There is another important consideration for barrier island restoration – for seabirds, bigger is not necessarily better. Anyone who has taken an introduction to ecology course might recall “Island Biogeography Theory”. It suggests that the bigger the island and the closer it is to shore, the more species it can support. This sounds great, right? But those additional species can be (and often are) predators. So for a seabird, smaller islands farther from shore are better. Predators like coyotes, raccoons, rats, skunks, foxes, feral cats, fire ants and even nutria, have a harder time getting to those islands and surviving there. This becomes important when thinking about barrier island restoration. Although there is a clear need to build large islands that protect interior shorelines and communities, this may actually serve as an ecological trap for nesting seabirds. Those larger islands can support more predators, and while the habitat looks perfectly suitable to a Black Skimmer, Least Tern, or Sandwich Tern, it could also be full of predators ready to eat their eggs and chicks.

Least Tern, Elmers Island, Louisiana Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

Least Tern, Elmers Island, Louisiana Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

As far as we know, only the distant Chandeleur Islands and its neighbors are mostly or entirely free of coyotes, and probably most other kinds of mammalian predators. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries surveys last spring documented that these islands were full of nesting seabirds, although probably not in numbers like during the glory days of Curlew Island, which supported tens of thousands of nesting pairs of Sandwich Terns and Royal Terns in the 1970s. Clearly, the commitment of restoration to Breton Island is tremendously important for the recovery of seabirds in coastal Louisiana, as will be the restoration of other nearshore, small (predator-free) bay islands, like Queen Bess in Barataria Bay.

In the next blog, we’ll talk more about how Audubon Louisiana works to protect birds before, during and after barrier island restoration projects.

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Barrier Island Restoration: An Investment in Coastal LA’s Future and for Nesting Seabirds, Part 1

April 18, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in Birds, coastal restoration, Restoration Projects

Our partners at Audubon Louisiana published a series of blog posts that we are cross-posting here. View the original blog post here.

As we mark the sixth anniversary of the BP oil spill this week – an event that significantly and negatively impacted Louisiana’s already disappearing barrier islands and the species that depend on them – we will examine the status of barrier island restoration. Over the coming days, we’ll publish a series of blog posts that detail what work has been done to restore Louisiana’s barrier islands, the importance of these islands to birds and humans alike, as well as Audubon Louisiana’s role before, during and after the restoration process to monitor and improve bird health on these islands and elsewhere.

Part 1: "Louisiana Barrier Islands: A Coastal Restoration Success Story"

By Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Louisiana, @AudubonErik

As you look out into the Gulf of Mexico, off Louisiana’s coastline, are a string of barrier islands. They are remnants of former deltas – as the Mississippi River has flipped and flopped across the southeastern part of state over the last 6,000 years, marshes were created, and eventually eroded away, only leaving behind these sand berms where the river and sea once met. Today, those ancient headland remnants continue to erode, but now the river no longer serves to rebuild them. Sediment that once flowed down the Mississippi River is now either dammed upstream or falls off the edge of the continental shelf at the mouth of the River. Louisiana is in a fight against nature to keep its barrier islands.

Louisiana’s barrier islands were significantly impacted by the 2010 BP oil disaster – six years ago next week– that enveloped them in oil at the height of nesting season and expedited their rate of disappearance. Remember the $4.5 billion dollars BP had to pay in federal criminal penalties? The State of Louisiana received $1.2 billion of that to use toward coastal restoration, and has dedicated it to the development of river diversions to rebuild marsh, as well as the restoration and reconstruction of barrier islands. Many hundreds of millions of dollars from other sources, like CWPPRA, CIAP, and NRDA (to name a few) also support barrier island protection and restoration.

The continued deterioration of Caminada headland threatens thousands of acres of wetland habitat, as well as critical infrastructure. The project creates 300 acres of back barrier marsh and nourishes 130 acres of emergent marsh behind the Caminada beach using material dredged from the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Patrick M. Quigley, Gulf Coast Air Photo

The continued deterioration of Caminada headland threatens thousands of acres of wetland habitat, as well as critical infrastructure. The project creates 300 acres of back barrier marsh and nourishes 130 acres of emergent marsh behind the Caminada beach using material dredged from the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Patrick M. Quigley, Gulf Coast Air Photo

Since the development of the state’s 2007 Master Plan, Louisiana has reconstructed over 45 miles of barrier islands, and for good reason. Barrier islands are an important infrastructure investment in coastal Louisiana. They help protect marshes and human communities from storm surges and hurricanes.

Barrier islands also play a critical role in the life cycle of dozens of migratory shorebirds and breeding seabirds. Louisiana, at the base of the Mississippi Flyway and with the Mississippi River Delta central to the Gulf of Mexico, supports astoundingly high proportions of regional or global populations of many coastal nesting species of conservation concern. Many of these species largely depend on barrier islands for nesting, including Brown Pelicans, Tricolored Herons, Sandwich Terns, Royal Terns and Black Skimmers. Coastal Louisiana’s shorelines and barrier islands also support important stopover and wintering habitat for a substantial proportion of Great Plains Piping Plovers, hendersoni Short-billed Dowitchers and western Willets, as well as many other species of sandpiper and plover.

Black Skimmers in Grand Isle, La Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

Black Skimmers in Grand Isle, La Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

Up next, we’ll get into the specifics of why barrier islands are so important to birds.

 

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Help Count Birds for Science during Audubon’s Annual Christmas Bird Count

December 11, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Birds, Climate, Science, Wildlife

The National Audubon Society invites birdwatchers to participate in the longest-running citizen science survey, the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC). From December 14 through January 5, birders and nature enthusiasts in Louisiana will take part in this tradition, many rising before dawn to participate.

BUFH  - wing feathers

Buff-bellied Hummingbird wintering in Louisiana swamp. Photo: John Hartgerink

“Louisiana is home to millions of birds each winter, including waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds. Understanding how the populations of these birds are changing is revealed through CBC efforts, which is critical for knowing how to best ensure their survival,” says Dr. Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Louisiana.

Each year, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count mobilizes over 72,000 volunteer bird counters in more than 2,400 locations across the Western Hemisphere. The Audubon Christmas Bird Count utilizes the power of volunteers to track the health of bird populations at a scale that scientists could never accomplish alone. Data compiled in Louisiana will record every individual bird and bird species seen in a specified area, contributing to a vast citizen science network that continues a tradition stretching back more than 100 years.

To date over 200 peer-reviewed articles have resulted from analysis done with Christmas Bird Count data. Bird-related citizen science efforts are also critical to understand how birds are responding to a changing climate. This documentation is what enabled Audubon scientists to discover that 314 species of North American birds are threatened by global warming as reported in Audubon’s groundbreaking Birds and Climate Change Study. The tradition of counting birds combined with modern technology and mapping is enabling researchers to make discoveries that were not possible in earlier decades.

In addition to counting up some of our more common birds, Louisiana CBC participants also look for vagrants – birds that normally spend the winter elsewhere, but made a wrong turn somewhere along the way. Last winter, Louisiana CBC volunteers found a total 254 species of birds, including amazing vagrants like Lucy’s Warbler, Ferrugineous Hawk, and Brown Boobies. What unusual birds will be found this winter?

Birders of all ages are welcome to contribute to this fun, nationwide citizen science project, which provides ornithologists with a crucial snapshot of our native bird populations during the winter months. Each individual count is performed in a count circle with a diameter of 15 miles. At least ten volunteers, including a compiler to coordinate the process, count in each circle. The volunteers break up into small parties and follow assigned routes, counting every bird they see. In most count circles, some people also watch feeders instead of following routes.

Want to get involved?

 

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Audubon Louisiana training volunteers for Coastal Stewardship Program

June 10, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Birds, Wildlife

By Ashley Peters, Communications Associate, National Audubon Society

May 16 2015_Volunteer Training_GI_A Peters 2

Volunteers gather in Grand Isle to learn about issues facing Louisiana’s beach-nesting birds.

In May, a group of more than 30 volunteers gathered at the Grand Isle Community Center to learn about issues facing Louisiana’s beach-nesting birds and how people can help. Cute, fuzzy chicks of birds such as Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers need our help during each spring and summer to protect them from human disturbance and other threats.

“There are many ways birds and people can share the beach, it’s just a matter of awareness,” says Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana’s Director of Bird Conservation. “We need help informing beach-goers about what beach-nesting birds need to successfully raise their little ones. These threatened birds need safe, open, sandy areas and we hope folks will respect the birds by keeping their distance.”

The volunteer training included information on how to identify shorebirds, how to interpret bird behavior, and ways to help beach-nesting birds succeed. The training was followed by a crawfish boil celebration to show appreciation for new and current volunteers, as well as program partners.

Least Tern - Crane Beach, MA - 2003 Jul 4

Least Tern – Crane Beach, MA

Least Tern and Wilson’s Plover chicks are camouflaged to avoid predation and nests are also hard to see because the birds lay their eggs in shallow depressions, or “scrapes,” in the sand. Audubon Louisiana marks sensitive beach areas with signs and symbolic fencing to prevent people from accidentally entering nesting sites. This reduces the chances of eggs and chicks being inadvertently trampled, run over, or harmed in other ways if parent birds are flushed (or chased away) from nests.

In addition to ensuring there is suitable habitat for birds through the implementation of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan and other initiatives, Audubon organizes the Coastal Bird Stewardship Program as well as the Coastal Bird Survey to monitor and encourage birds to successfully live and breed on beaches.

Next time you’re on the beach, remember the following:

  • Keep your distance: Sensitive nesting areas are posted with signs. When an adult bird is flushed or chased away, chicks and eggs are vulnerable to predators and overheating.
  • Keep pets leashed: Nesting birds are very sensitive – even good pets are perceived as predators and will disturb nesting activities.
  • Take your trash with you and dispose of fishing line properly: Birds can become easily entangled in loose line, plastic bags, and other unsightly garbage.
  • Please do not feed the wildlife: This will attract predators, like gulls, crows, and other animals that will eat bird eggs and chicks.
  • Get involved: Volunteer stewards help teach beachgoers how to help protect these vulnerable birds. Join our mailing list to receive updates, news, and notifications about volunteer opportunities.

To learn more about how you can help birds, visit La.Audubon.org/coastalstewardship or email Louisiana@Audubon.org. To learn more about Audubon’s Coastal Stewardship Programs, watch this video:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-7O2vfEIG8

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8th Graders Present Project to Louisiana House on Coastal Restoration

April 30, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Wildlife

By Eden Davis, Outreach Coordinator, Louisiana Wildlife Federation

This was originally posted on the LA Camo Coalition blog.

On April 29, a group of 8th graders from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Belle Chasse presented to the Louisiana House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment about the importance of coastal restoration.

Eden blog photo 1

The Committee diligently listened as the 8th graders used Cat Island as a call to action on the urgency for restoring our coast. Cat Island, located in Plaquemines Parish, has all but disappeared, going from a pre-BP 5 acres to  now mere tenths of an acre.

The 8th graders have spearheaded a campaign called the Pelican Cat-astrophe. Their focus is on restoring Cat Island due to the island serving as critical pelican habitat and also as the first line of defense for coastal communities against storm surge. Cat Island has historically been one of the greatest nesting locations for the Louisiana state bird, the brown pelican. Until 2009, the brown pelican was on the endangered species list.

Eden blog photo 2

Cat Island.

These students are quite persuasive; after presenting to the Plaquemines Parish Council, the Council approved 1.2 million in spending to restore Cat Island. After the 8th graders spoke, Chip Kline from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, confirmed the state's plans to restore Cat Island.  Kline said that the exact amount of funding is contingent on what damage to Cat Island the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) determines is the fault of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Go the Pelican Cat-astrophe website, here!

 

 

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5 Years After BP Oil Spill, Audubon Stewards the Gulf

April 16, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Wildlife

In the wake of the worst marine oil spill in U.S. history, Audubon is working to protect bird populations and restore critical habitat across all five Gulf states.

By Chris Canfield, Vice President, National Audubon Society, Gulf Coast and Mississippi Flyway

This post has been cross-posted from an article originally published on the National Audubon Society’s website.

This Monday marks five years since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, claiming 11 lives and unleashing the worst marine oil spill in U.S. history. In that time, the National Audubon Society has built on its 100-year legacy of protecting bird populations throughout the Gulf Coast and has extended its footprint of stewardship across all five states.

The Gulf Coast is an important breeding ground and migratory rest stop for many coastal birds, including Brown Pelicans, Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers, Sanderlings and other vulnerable species. BP oil reached the coastal habitats – on which these birds rely during shorebird migration – at the height of nesting season for breeding waterbirds, resulting in the death of an estimated 1 million birds.

In the immediate aftermath of the spill, Audubon staff and hundreds of volunteers were on the ground, facilitating transport of oiled birds for cleaning and care, protecting critical habitat and nesting grounds and being the voice for birds throughout the disaster. In the years that followed, Audubon engaged its network of volunteers to help pass the historic RESTORE Act—ensuring that a majority of funds from the Clean Water Act fines BP pays will be allocated towards restoration efforts. In order to understand the immediate and long-term effects on birds, Audubon scientists also developed the Audubon Coastal Bird Survey, a citizen-scientist effort to monitor the health of coastal populations and to provide a better accounting of these populations going forward. The program has been expanded to all five Gulf states.

Five years have come and gone since the oil spill, and as the ongoing effects continue to be felt, the National Audubon Society is focused on ramping up its important stewardship for birds at more than 200 sites across the Gulf Coast. We empower citizens and communities to protect terns and skimmers in nesting colonies, protect the access of plover chicks to their feeding grounds, and oversee critical waterbird colonies from Florida to Texas. We still await assessment of full fines to BP and others involved with the catastrophic spill, but we have been successful putting available funds to work on expanded coastal bird protections.

To all of our volunteers, supporters and friends who have been there for the Gulf and its bird populations, thank you for helping us make significant progress in confronting this terrible disaster. We have a long way to go before meaningful restoration is achieved, so please stay engaged and stay committed. In the meantime, I encourage you to share this video to inform others about the important work Audubon is doing throughout the Gulf Coast and sign this petition asking BP to stop its campaign of misinformation and pay for the damage done.

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5 Years Later – Birds Still Need Your Help

April 13, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, Birds, BP Oil Disaster

By Ashley Peters, Communications Associate, Audubon Louisiana

In 2010, waves of oil in the Gulf strangled and crippled the very birds that conservationists had been fighting so hard to protect, like the Brown Pelican and Piping Plover. The outpouring of support was incredible as tens of thousands of people signed up to volunteer with the National Audubon Society, all of them asking, “How can I help?”

Bird surveys provide valuable data to scientists_ Karen Westphal

Bird surveys provide valuable data to scientists. Photo: Karen Westphal

In response to the 2010 Gulf oil disaster, the Audubon Coastal Bird Survey (ACBS) was established as a Gulf-wide citizen science survey of waterbirds and shorebirds across the impact zone and beyond. Surveys help supply scientists with better data to track population trends, and other information such as where birds go and challenges they encounter. Armed with more data, conservationists can more effectively target restoration projects, environmental policies, and other efforts to deliberately provide good outcomes for birds. And ultimately, those outcomes can help to reverse population declines.

At Audubon, volunteers have always been critical to achieving conservation goals on a scale that would not be possible with staff and scientists alone. With so many online resources, it’s easy for citizen scientists to get information about how they can get involved, to connect with other volunteers, and to report their findings online.

As the full extent of the Gulf oil disaster continues to reveal itself, we still need people asking how they can help. The Gulf oil disaster exacerbated habitat loss that Gulf shores were already experiencing, especially in Louisiana. Coastal restoration is a top priority, and ACBS helps us understand how habitat changes affect our avian friends. There are 100 million birds that nest, feed, and travel through the Mississippi River Delta each year and the delta is still an Important Bird Area. Unfortunately, it’s also still in danger due to several ongoing major ecological disasters.

Roseate Spoonbill_Karen Westphal

Roseate Spoonbill. Photo: Karen Westphal

There are many other citizen science initiatives such as Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count, as well as bioblitz events, bird banding events, and much more. Please register to help with ACBS if you live near any Gulf shores, but if not, find another way to help where you live. Gulf coast resident birds were not the only ones affected in 2010; many migratory bird species were exposed to toxic chemicals as they traveled through the Gulf that spring and fall. Wherever you live, birds face an increasing number of threats and disturbances.

To get involved in Louisiana, email Louisiana@Audubon.org. To learn more about how you can help outside of Louisiana, visit Audubon.org.

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BP's Sleight of Hand

April 8, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Reports, Science, Wildlife

Cat Island 2010 and 2015_NWF photo

This post has been cross-posted from an article originally published on the National Audubon Society’s website

By: Melanie Driscoll, Director of Bird Conservation, Gulf Coast Conservation/Mississippi Flyway, Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Louisiana

A BP-authored report claiming that the Gulf has recovered is inaccurate and insulting—here’s why.

Nearly five years after the largest accidental marine oil spill in U.S. history, BP is doing its best to convince the public that the 4.9[1] million barrels of oil that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico have done no lasting damage. That’s the message found in The Gulf of Mexico Environmental Recovery and Restoration report the company released three weeks ago.

Based on what the report does present, it’s obvious that BP chose to ignore recent research that shows the ongoing impact of the oil spill, particularly on birds (pp 15-17 of report). That BP ignores peer-reviewed science is nothing new—they have been denying culpability and the validity of peer-reviewed, published research since the spill itself. Meanwhile, their own conclusions lack peer-review and they have not released their methodology. Because of this lack of transparency, BP has made claims that are impossible to refute or verify.

One of the government agencies responsible for monitoring the Gulf health following the oil spill—the NOAA Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program—is expected to hold itself to a high standard of independent scientific peer-review as it completes its Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). While we await the NRDA studies to be completed and released, BP has flaunted such professional standards in its allusions to NRDA findings that cannot be verified at this stage. The trustees of NRDA themselves called BP’s recent report “inappropriate as well as premature.”

Along with others in the scientific community, the National Audubon Society rejects BP’s claims. While their report leaves much to criticize, here are its five main flaws:

  • Their conclusions are not credible given lack of peer-review, questionable methodology and premature conclusions.

They claim “search teams likely found 97 percent of large birds and 78 percent of small birds.” These numbers are inconceivable to any researcher or birder who has looked for birds on a beach. It stands to reason that a detection rate of 97 percent as claimed by BP is unlikely, even for living and mobile birds; their estimate seems grossly optimistic compared to detection rates published widely in the scientific literature. In addition, BP compared their estimate of searcher efficiency for carcasses placed on beaches to the searcher efficiency across sandy beach, rocky beach, and marsh habitats. Detection rates are known to vary widely based on factors such as carcass coloration and habitat, and the actual searches in the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred across marsh, mangrove, rocky beach, and sandy beach habitats.  Attacking a single parameter from a complex study, and doing so using an apples-to-oranges comparison, is disingenuous and misleading.

  • The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem has not returned to a pre-oil spill “baseline condition”.

First of all, the oil is not gone. Significant deposits (up to 230,000 barrels) of oil have been discovered in the sediment on the Gulf floor. This oil regularly washes ashore during storms, re-oiling marshes and beaches. In October 2014, researchers discovered a 1,250-square-mile “bathtub ring” of oil on the Gulf floor–equivalent to the size of Rhode Island. Indeed, as the BP report was released a 22,000-pound tar mat was being removed from East Grand Terre Island in Barataria Bay, LA.

BP’s conclusions are incredibly premature. With lagged effects, trophic cascades, food web effects, and repeated re-oiling of the coast, we could be seeing surprises and environmental effects for years to come on birds and on the entire ecosystem.

Erosion is forever. Land and crucial habitats have disappeared. It’s impossible to return to a “baseline” when the land that composed that baseline and is crucial to coastal bird populations has disappeared. Studies show that marsh that was heavily oiled was undercut and eroded back, creating ragged marsh edges that were unoiled or lightly oiled. The scientists have then seen a wave of erosion of these unoiled or lightly oiled marsh, as waves reshape the ragged marsh edge to create a new, smoother edge. Not only has much of the heavily oiled marsh eroded, but marsh that was less damaged has followed.

  • Damage to birds from the BP oil spill is evident and has been well documented, contrary to what BP reports.  

In the 95 days following the oil spill, conservative estimates are that hundreds of thousands to more than a million birds died.

This acute damage does not take into account the molecular, cellular, reproductive, and developmental damage that may accumulate in birds for years to come. That is significant, it is long-term, and it matters.

Birds exposed to oil during their early development may accumulate damage that causes failed reproduction. Additionally, many long-lived species like pelicans, terns, and egrets do not breed until their second, third, or fourth year of life, meaning the young exposed to oil early in their lives hadn’t started breeding in 2011, making BP’s conclusions based on 2011 information premature.

  • More studies are needed to understand the ongoing and long-term effects on bird populations.

In other species, lagged and trophic level effects have resulted in increasing effects from oil being detected over time since the disaster. Very few studies on bird productivity have been published that looked beyond the 2010-2011 nesting season. More studies are needed to draw broad conclusions.

Scientifically, the most reliable way to study productivity is to compare productivity of birds exposed to oil and not exposed to oil within the same season. The only study of which we are aware that has used this reliable methodology is a study of the Seaside Sparrow, which showed reduced nest success for sparrows on oiled sites in 2012 and 2013.

  • BP’s use of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) data is flawed and their summaries of other data are incomplete and misleading.

BP misused CBC data to obscure potential impacts. It’s likely they used data from well outside the impacted areas. Particularly, Sandwich Terns and Northern Gannets are not counted by CBC participants 10-100 times more than Piping Plovers in the impacted areas. The numbers they used for Red Knots appear to include the entire rufa subspecies, which mainly winters in the Tierra del Fuego region in southern Argentina and the Maranhão region of northeastern Brazil. It is difficult to tell how CBC data were used, but it is clear from the relative abundance of some species that data from outside the Gulf were included in analyses. Using broader data from other regions could mask any local and regional changes in populations due to the oil spill. Without describing their methods, it is apparent that BP’s report represents a misuse of Audubon’s publicly available data.

BP reported oiling rates from long after the oil well was capped, resulting in oiling rates that appear to be very low: In its report, BP cites data saying “researchers saw no visible oil in 99 percent of the roughly 500,000 live bird observations from May 2010 to March 2011.” A study following the Deepwater Horizon spill showed that 8.6 percent of captured shorebirds showed evidence of oiling, indicating that BP’s observational evidence may have underestimated exposure by as much as an order of magnitude.

BP selected a study that appeared to show no effects on birds to highlight a success that is likely just a lack of use of the oiled region:  In BP’s reference to the Northern Gannet publication, researchers in this paper used light-level geolocators to determine wintering locations of Northern Gannets. Digging into the details of the paper, it is clear that only a small sample of the researcher’s birds wintered in the Gulf of Mexico (8 birds in their study) and that the Gulf birds foraged in areas primarily >100 miles away from the spill site, i.e., well outside of area of the most devastating impacts. Thus it may be no surprise that these few birds did not show elevated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (harmful chemicals from oil) levels as they were not in the spill zone. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s published account of bird deaths following the spill paints a different picture—Northern Gannets were one of the most frequently encountered dead bird after the spill.

BP incorrectly concluded from a published study that researchers did not find evidence that variations in age classes of Brown Pelicans on Louisiana barrier islands were related to the oil spill. However, the paper specifically states “…additional research is required to evaluate potential long-term population trends.” Also, “Care should be taken in interpretation of our result as a lack of effect [of oil] on demography because there are combinations of spill-related reductions in fecundity and age-specific mortality that could result in no changes in age structure.” One scenario that’s easy to imagine is that all age classes were reduced similarly. In short, like the authors state, there are many possible scenarios that could influence their findings.

Despite BP’s claims, we may not know the full impact of the oil spill for decades to come. Even more, we will not achieve lasting, meaningful restoration in the Gulf Coast until BP quits stalling, quits the legal and publicity campaign and actually funds full restoration.

Sign this petition telling BP to stop their delay tactics and fully fund Gulf restoration.

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