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3631Re: Wacky Bell's Vireo Behavior and OC Register article

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  • vireos44
    May 1, 2009
      Hi Bob,

      This is a tough situation. On the one hand, this appears to be a good group doing tough work, and wanting to do it the right way. On the other hand, despite being a noxious weed, tall, dense stands of mustard provide breeding and forage habitat for birds. We've found 45 Least Bell's Vireo nests in mustard in the past twenty years, along with 202 in eucalypus trees and 34 in arundo. I recently observed a California Gnatcatcher provisioning its fledglings with food that was garnered from flowering mustard. No matter how well-intentioned, a policy of removing expansive stands of mustard during the avian breeding season will ultimately result in the loss of a certain number of bird nests. Further, in those situations where a nest is found only after much of a patch has already been removed, leaving a nest with only a greatly diminished patch for cover and forage will likely result in the loss of that nest, as well. Some may conclude that the loss of an occasional Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat or Spotted Towhee nest is worth the greater good accomplished by the plant removal action (despite the illegality involved). However, I definitely would never be removing mustard, hemlock, eucalyptus, tamarisk or a host of other pernicious non-native plants anywhere near the territory of a threatened or endangered species during the breeding season. Two willow trees, a mulefat shrub, and a large patch of flowering hemlock and mustard can make for a successful Bell's Vireo breeding territory in the Prado Basin. Removing everything but the willows and mulefat can destroy it. You can just as easily ruin a bird's chances of successfully breeding by altering its habitat at the wrong time of year as you can by stepping on its eggs.

      Jim Pike
      Huntington Beach

      --- In OrangeCountyBirding@yahoogroups.com, Bob Allen <bugbob@...> wrote:
      > Wow, what interesting behavior! I do hope it gets published in a
      > journal.
      > A note in regard to Reggie Durant's work. I've worked with him for
      > years and can vouch that he is extremely careful when he does
      > removals. He wouldn't knowingly harm a nest of any kind. He starts
      > each removal action by training the participants in correct
      > techniques, which includes watching for all forms of wildlife. Removal
      > of non-native plants, followed by planting/promotion of native species
      > restores natural habitats and thus benefits all wildlife in the long
      > run. The problem with waiting until summer to remove non-native
      > mustards is that they set seed in spring and release it right away,
      > thus increasing the seed bank and contributing to next year's non-
      > native mustard crop.
      > Perhaps a protocol need be developed so that qualified birders will
      > search for rare/endangered/threatened/local concern bird species prior
      > to Reggie's weed removal actions.
      > By the way, he is always on the lookout for knowledgeable volunteers
      > to assist, so this is a good opportunity for birders to dive in, help
      > out habitat, and keep an eye out for birds along the way.
      > -Bob Allen
      > bugbob@...
      > Owner & Co-Moderator, OC Birding
      > http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OrangeCountyBirding/
      > Also see OC Rare Bird Alert
      > http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OrCoRBA/
      > On Apr 28, 2009, at 9:15 PM, vireos44 wrote:
      > > Hi,
      > >
      > > Bell's Vireo biologist David McMichael had some fascinating
      > > observations of vireo nesting behavior within the Prado Basin today.
      > > While trying to find a vireo nest in the Chino Hills, Dave watched
      > > as both a male and female vireo repeatedly flew with food into a
      > > clump of low-growing mustard. Thinking that a vireo nest may have
      > > fallen down within the mustard leaves, he poked around and instead
      > > found a Spotted Towhee nest with five older nestlings. Further
      > > observations revealed that the vireo pair was incubating its own
      > > eggs in a nest 10-15 feet away within the same mustard patch, and
      > > was periodically leaving the nest to continue feeding the towhee
      > > kids in full view of the tolerant parents. Very odd and interesting
      > > stuff. I know that similarly quirky avian nesting behavior has been
      > > documented before, most recently (in my memory) when Mike Coffer
      > > observed a California Gnatcatcher feeding Bewick's Wren young in a
      > > subterranean nest site (see the Western Birds article of a couple
      > > years ago). However, this is the first instance of this occurring in
      > > Bell's Vireos that I'm aware of. It's also noteworthy in light of
      > > Monday's article in the Local section of the Orange County Register
      > > regarding the April 26 removal of mustard plants by volunteers at
      > > Mason Regional Park in Irvine while at the direction of the Back to
      > > Natives Restoration group. Reginald Durst, the restoration director
      > > for the group, is quoted as saying that "we do these weed-a-thons
      > > every month of the year, except during the summer when it's just too
      > > hot to work out here". While applauding the group for its efforts to
      > > remove non-native plants, doing so during the breeding season almost
      > > certainly results in the occasional (and illegal, it should be
      > > noted) destruction of nests, some of which could contain the eggs of
      > > endangered species.
      > >
      > > Jim Pike
      > > Huntington Beach
      > >
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