Burroughs Audubon Society The Greater Kansas City chapter
of the National Audubon Society
Fall 2015 Volume 67 No. 1
El Niño and the Birds
Birders have become increasingly accustom to watching the weather for events that may bring in birds. During warbler migration in the spring, birders dream of an event known as a “fallout”. Strong north winds, storms or rain will force tired migrating birds down. A large number of birds will land in an area to take shelter and refuel. Any birder experiencing a fallout will relay the story with great enthusiasm.
In spring, a front from the north will push northward migrating birds down. A front from the south will push birds southward migrating birds down. The best time for a front to move in is right before dawn. A pre-dawn front will cause birds to land that have spent the night migrating. They will be very active in the early morning.
Likewise , winter weather will increase activity at feeders. In good years, such as this past winter, feeder activity may drop due to the natural abundance of food. When snow and cold put pressures on birds, they are happy to take their meals from feeders. A special attraction during these periods is unfrozen water such as a heated birdbath.
So what will El Niño do for our winter birding? Well in short it will increase the chances of a rarity from the SW and Pacific areas showing up in areas well east of their range such as the Kansas City area.
Look for birds like Black-throated Sparrows, Bullock’s Oriole and Black-headed Grosbeaks at feeders. We could get some Pacific seabirds like Jaegers, Murrelets or Pacific gulls such as the California Gull.
While the news for birding in the mid-west maybe good during an El Niño year, it’s not all good for the birds. Because El Niño means warmer water off the coast of South American and in the Eastern Pacific, it impacts the plankton brought to the surface for fish to feed on. When the warm waters keep the plankton from moving up, fish will either die or move to areas where they are better able to feed. Birds depend on the fish. Unfortunately this means a shortage of food for the seabirds.
There is also hope this El Niño will end the drought in California, which will benefit terrestrial birds.
It promises to be an interesting season. Keep your binoculars close, feeders filled and get outside when you can.
It’s been a very busy year for conservation at Burroughs Audubon. In March of 2014 we learned of the plans to develop a 200MW wind farm adjacent to Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. The American Bird Conservancy said this was one of the worst sited wind developments they had seen. After many months of hard work and with the help of many NGOs around the state, Audubon Missouri and the American Bird Conservancy, the developers abandoned plans for that location. The announcement came from the St. Joseph paper on September 20, 2014 and was covered in the Kansas City Star two days later. A great win for the birds and all those that flock to NW Missouri to see one of the most important wetlands in the Midwest.
In the summer of 2014 Burroughs announced a grant program for native plantings and feeder stations in schools and other public places. We are very happy to say we have contributed to the development of native plantings at EPIC school in Liberty, LaPetite in KC North and Rideview Elementary in Liberty. Additionally we were able to fund a bird feeding station at Nashua Elementary in the North Kansas City School District.
These are the grants that just keep giving. We were more than a little choked up when we read the thank you cards the students at Nashua Elementary wrote to us. We have the cards at the Burroughs Library. Feel free to ask to see them next time you stop by. Nashua Elementary’s courtyard also hosted a nesting cardinal this spring. We had many updates on the progress of the nest and the excitement of students and teachers watching the nest building, incubation of the eggs, the brooding of the hatchlings and finally the fledging.
Ridgeview Elementary has also kept in touch and one of the most memorable message came when they found their first monarch caterpillar on the milkweed. They were even able to find the chrysalis on the playground and actually witnessed the butterfly emerge, expand its wings and hang while they dried in the warm summer air!
In April 2015 we received a call that the water treatment facility in Independence was spraying swallows with a fire hose. Any interference with native birds is a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and can carry hefty fines and imprisonment. A few phone calls later and the water treatment plant was working with US Fish and Wildlife to develop a better plan for keeping the water towers safe without harming any of our native birds.
Native plants has continued to be a focus for Burroughs as we added two additional native plant sales in the spring and fall. The Backyard Bird Center has been gracious enough to host our sales and we are very grateful for their support of Burroughs and conservation.
Our conservation committee is very busy and we can ‘t wait to update you on what we will be doing next.
-Mary Nemecek, Conservation Chair
For more on conservation, click here
Burroughs Audubon Helps Save Native Grassland
Native, remnant prairie is the least conserved, most endangered ecosystem on the planet. We have less than 1% left of the vast grassland that covered a large portion of North America. This grassland is important for many species including grassland birds.
Snowball Hill is a diverse prairie on a hillside near Harrisonville in Cass County. The topography allows for a variety of soil depth and moisture, adding to the diversity of plants that grow on the approximately 24 acre remnant.
When Burroughs heard Snowball Hill was going to auction the board wanted to do everything possible to save and preserve this ecological gem so near Kansas City. The Platte Land Trust, with the support of the Missouri Prairie Foundation, put into motion a plan to purchase the property. Burroughs stepped up to the plate with a large donation that was used as part of the funds used to place the winning bid the day of the auction.
Many will argue the only true biodiversity left is found in our remnant, native communities. Burroughs knew an unplowed prairie can only be saved once. We are very grateful to the efforts of the Platte Land Trust and the Missouri Prairie Foundation. Burroughs is honored to be a partner in such an important conservation acquisition.