March Report 2006:
Trans-Gulf Return of Spring and Summer Birds Begins – Consequences of Devastation of Resting And Feeding Habitat Along U.S. Gulf Coast And Yucatan Penninsula Uncertain.

Some safe entry at El Cuyo, Yucantan shores after all-night flight by
Barn Swallows from the States last Fall between storms.

Photo by Antonio Celis in El Cuyo, Yucatan, Fall 2005.

What's Happened?
Here: Pevito Beach Sanctuary on the coast of Louisiana in Cameron Parish before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Photo by Holliman, Peveto Beach Sanctuary, LA.
1-2 Hurricane Punch; destruction here and there unprecedented in birding coverage. There: Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Source: Ecotourismo Yucatan, 2006.
Peveto Beach is a chenier, a line of oaks and hackberry that grows on an old beach ridge. Cheniers are found from eastern Louisiana to the upper Texas coast. They are critical migrant stopover points for birds that have just crossed the Gulf of Mexico and encountered rain or a cold front. In good weather, with south winds, birds usually pass these cheniers and continue inland. But in bad weather, the birds land in the first available trees.
Source: Bill Eley, Conservation Science Director, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, Lake Jackson, TX.
Before Hurricane Thelma: "...In the fall, the entrance (to the peninsula) is principly in the area of El Cuyo and northern Quintana Roo, though a tropical storm, at the time a norther, is moving in from the north, will push birds to the west and they enter over Celestun. From there, those that are continuing on south will move in an east-southeastern direction. Many that enter at Rio Lagartos will fly directly east along the coastal vegetation until they get into Quintana Roo where they then change to a more southernly direction. This, no doubt, has (sic) to do with the large expanse of coastal lagoons and salt flats behind the Yucatan coast." Source: Barbara MacKinnon de Montes, Coordinadora, Programa Conservacion de las Aves (CAPY), Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.
Louisiana Peveto Beach Sanctuary after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Typical U.S. Gulf Coast damage.

Photo by Holliman, Peveto Beach Sanctuary, LA,
Fall 2005.

Bay-Breasted Warbler
Photo: Mike Gray

Blue-Winged Warbler
Phote: Mike Gray
Yucatan Peninsula after Hurricane Thelma: "I just wrote an article for Living Bird magazine (for next year) and interviewed Dr. Paul Wood, who has a preserve in the area north of Cancun directly hit by Hurricane Wilma. Here is an excerpt from my article that addresses the damage:
One of the festival program presenters, Dr. Paul Wood, an English ornithologist who has lived in the Yucatan and conducted research for 20 years, is currently documenting the effects of Hurricane Wilma on birds along the coast. Wood manages a privately-owned, 4,500-acre nature preserve, Reserva T'isil, and Santa Maria ecolodge on the Caribbean coast. For four years he has studied the importance of cenotes as water sources for migrating birds. The hurricane devastated much of his research area.

"Hurricane Wilma completely transformed 1.5 million acres of forest habitat along the coast," he said when we talked. "From 50 to 70 percent of the canopy cover was lost, the habitat was fragmented, and all the fruit and seeds stripped away. The forest needs a whole growing cycle to recover. The response of the birds will tell us a lot about how they use the habitat."

Wood has already seen dramatic changes in bird populations. "Many species have no food left. They had to move on or die. I've seen significant decreases in worm-eating, blue-winged, and black-and-white warblers and other species that feed on insects in dead leaves. Swainson's warbler completely disappeared. Whole guilds of birds, such as the aerial insectivores, were effected. Doves and pigeons are just gone."

Wood's long-term population studies on the Reserva T'isil provide a pre-hurricane database to compare species numbers, spatial use of habitat, and rate of recovery. The reserve is part of a 250,000-acre section of pristine forest in one of the fastest growing tourist areas of Mexico. The unabated development of tourism threatens to alter the ecology of the region more than any hurricane.
Source: George Miller, Ornothologist and Travel Writer, Clarksboro New Jersey, Feb. 27, 2006
Habitat Restoration Critical Along Trans-Gulf Migratory Paths for Our Birds.
You Can Help.

These are the People working to protect Gulf Crossings:
   A pioneering organization, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, is working to restore and monitor important sites around the Gulf of Mexico that are part of a Site Partners Network-Aves Viajeras del Golfo. They are in the process of restoring the chenier at Pevito, LA, as well as one on Grand Isle, in southeastern LA, as well as coordinating efforts throughout the Gulf. Please support them, click here.

Painted Bunting
Photo: Mike Gray
Can our birds get back to us this spring?
Summer Tanager
Photo: Mike Gray
Probably yes. This is a wait-and-see return Trans-Gulf migration. Next Fall will be another question. The Mississippi Flyway is especially hard hit. According to Bill Eley, Director of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson, Texas, they will make it through this Spring. Our neo-tropical birds are “smart and resilient – resourceful about what to do, and the habitat they can use… Numbers may be lower than in years past, but there will be no large scale tragedies... We must, however, get our woods back in shape.”

There are other variables every year affecting their capacity to successfully leave or return. Timings of migrations for different species are based on weather changes. The routes taken on return from across the Gulf are not the same as those used in the Fall. According to Barbara MacKinnon de Montes, Coordinadora, Pragrama Conservaciaon de las Aves (CAPY), Merida, Yucatan, Mexico: ”… In the route back in the spring…we have indications that many more birds cross the peninsula at its base or approximately from Felipe Carrilo Puerto west, leaving the coast in the area of the city of Campeche where years ago a friend reported approximately 200 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds setting out from the coast during spring migration (back to the States).”

Human encroachment and the taking of habitat land for “development” looms as a greater threat to ecology than hurricanes. Proposals such as an off-shore windmill farm 10 miles off Galveston in the midst of the migratory route are hair-raising.

Vultures, hawks, kingfishers, pigeons and doves, cuckoos, owls, swifts, hummingbirds, trogons, falcons, woodpeckers, flycatchers, swallows, wrens, thrushes, thrashers, pipits, waxwings, shrikes, vireos, warblers, tanagers, orioles, blackbirds, finches, plovers and sandpipers are our essential, harmless and beneficial partners in Nature. Each species has its own timetable as to migration. Tree Swallows can be back in February and Spotted Sandpipers and Yellow-Billed Cuckoos in early June. The majority of land birds may be expected April-early May. Watch for them this Spring. They can be, but must not be lost. Their numbers are already in decline. They need your help.

Suggested Reading:
  • The Sixth Extinction. Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin. Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., New York. 1995.
    ISBN: 0-385-42497-3 ("To our fellow species and our collective future")
  • The Lorax. Dr. Seuss.

    --Wild Birds For the 21st Century ©
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