Rare Treat

If I were to ask you to name the top five birds that you see most frequently and to make a list of birds that are your favorites, I suspect that only a few, if any, would make both lists. My favorites tend to be reserved for birds that are especially colorful (rose-breasted grosbeak), tuneful (wood thrush, winter wren), beautiful (American avocet), or that I see infrequently because they are associated with unique places or habitats. This weekend, I had the opportunity to enjoy two birds in that last category during a trip to the Massachusetts coast.

Bobolinks and least terns are rare treats not only because I see them only about once a year, but because populations of both have been in a free fall for the last 50 years. The number of least terns in North America has declined by 88% since the 1960s; bobolinks declined by 66% over the same period. For both, the loss of breeding habitat is the main culprit. Least terns nest on sandy beaches where they compete with beachgoers and encroaching development; bobolinks need large grasslands and undisturbed fields, which are also ripe for housing developments or where mowing takes place before young leave the nest. I was fortunate to see both least terns and bobolinks thanks to the work of conservation agencies and organizations who are working to protect nesting grounds and stem the downward spiral.

More rare treats ahead: I’m heading to the Maine Coast at the end of this week to begin my annual trip to the Hog Island Audubon Camp. There, I’ll teach Arts & Birding and see Atlantic puffins, which have been brought back from local extinction by the work of conservation biologists stationed at Hog Island. I plan to immerse myself fully in the program and the place, so you may not see another post for a few weeks. I promise to make up for it upon my return.


13 Comments on “Rare Treat

    • Thanks Shari– I’ve arranged for an extra week this year to give myself time to paint all the things I won’t get to while teaching. A mini-Artist Retreat that I have never had before. Looking forward to it! Enjoy your travels and teaching, too!

  1. So looking forward to meeting you and enjoying the experience on Hog Island next week! Funny that the Bobolinks are such a special treat for you, those I get to see many of in our hayfield although I only became aware of them a few years ago. This year the field has still not been mowed so I think they definitely were able to hatch without interference. I am pretty sure I saw several young ones last week on the electric wire above the edge of the field.

    • Thanks for your note Marieanne– so glad we will meet and spend next week together! Glad you are able to see bobolinks frequently. Most of the fields where I used to see them in NY are now gone or mowed. See you soon!

  2. I’m glad you posted this….and am aware of the issues with the terns and bobolinks….but also wanted to say I like your observation about birds most often seen and favorites, and yes! to the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, to the Wood thrush, and the Avocet. 🙂 And so many others, east and west.

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