Tag Archives: Rachel Carson

Peregrine Falcon Devouring a Bird

On the lookout for Snowy Owls, I instead encountered this scene of a Peregrine Falcon eating a freshly killed bird. At one point I caught a quick glimpse of what I think was a webbed duck foot, but could possibly also have been a cormorant. Despite all the gore, the Falcon was exquisite to observe. Especially beautiful were the hues of its slate blue wings in the early morning light.

Peregrine Falcons eat mostly birds. Over 450 species of bird prey have been documented in North America alone. From the tinniest Ruby-throated Hummingbird to the enormous Sand Hill Crane, few birds are safe from the talons of the Peregrine Falcon.

The Falcon methodically eviscerated its prey, all the while watching gulls, crows, me, and any other potential thief.

Robber crows stopped by to see what they could snatch and one brazen fellow made off with a gizzard dangling from its mouth.

A gull popped its head up from a lower rock outcropping to see what he could steal and after taking a quick look at the Peregrine Powerhouse, thought better of attempting robbery.

Nature’s Finest Flyer

Did you know that the Peregrine Falcon is the world’s fastest bird? A bird’s airspeed velocity is variable. During a hunting dive the Peregrine Falcon will average about 200 miles per hour; 242 miles per hour is the maximum speed recorded. The Golden Eagle is the second fastest bird, with an average diving speed of 150 miles per hour and a maximum speed of 200 mph.

Saved from the Brink of Extinction

Excerpted from The Nature Conservancy

Peregrines are fast, aggressive creatures and are on top of their food chain. While young Peregrines are preyed upon by Golden Eagle and Great Horned Owls there are few threats towards the adults other than man.

By the mid 1960’s, there were NO Peregrines in the eastern United States and the decline spread westwards so that by the mid-70’s western populations had declined by up to 90 percent. It was estimated that 3,875 nesting pairs were found

in North America prior to the 40’s; by 1975, only 324 pair existed in the US. Loss of habitat, shootings, egg collecting and other human disturbances had weakened North American populations for decades but drastic declines didn’t occur until after the widespread use of a popular insecticide – DDT. Like the canary in the coalmine, the Peregrine Falcon provided humans a warning as how chemical pollution can disrupt the environment and the life around it.

The use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, began during World War II as an extremely effective pesticide. Its use continued after the war as a way to control agricultural pests and in killing malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Unfortunately it would be years later before it was understood that DDT would have adverse effects on a variety of ecologically important insects, birds, and the environment. Bats, Fireflies and Peregrine Falcons were just a few species that were greatly affected. Editor’s note: In the United States, DDT was manufactured by some 15 companies, including Monsanto, Ciba, Montrose Chemical Company, Pennwalt, and Velsicol Chemical Corporation.

For the Peregrine Falcon, DDT poisoning was due to its being on top of the food chain. After consuming other birds that fed on seeds, insects and fish contaminated with DDT, the poison eventually accumulated in its system. High concentrations of a DDT metabolite called DDE prevented normal calcium production causing thin, frail eggshells that would break under the weight of the parent during incubation. Because of the toxic contaminant, many eggs did not hatch and the populations precipitously dropped until a mere 12% of normal peregrine falcon populations remained in the United States.

In 1970, the American Peregrine Falcon was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 (and then again in 1973 when the Endangered Species Act passed). Encouraged by the EPA’s banning of DDT in 1972, recovery projects began to take shape. Beginning in 1974, The Peregrine Fund, along with various national and state agencies in both the United States and Canada, embarked on a reintroduction program for the peregrine falcon.

Thanks to the scientists and researchers at Cornell University, adult birds were successfully bred in captivity. After the eggs hatched, they were raised in the labs until three weeks old. They were then placed in hack sites (artificial nesting sites) where they were fed and cared for by unseen benefactors until flight and hunting skills were developed enough for them to become independent. More than 6,000 American Peregrine Falcons have been released in North America since 1974 due to the cooperative efforts among federal and state Fish & Wildlife Services, The Peregrine Fund, Midwestern Peregrine Falcon Restoration Project and the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group.

The success of these recovery programs allowed the declassification of the Peregrine Falcon as a federally endangered species in 1999. Although the bird of prey remains federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and will be monitored until 2015, the survival of the Peregrine Falcon marked the most dramatic success of the Endangered Species Act.

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Part One

red-tailed-hawk-2-copyright-kim-smithJuvenile Red-tailed Hawk listening for prey

I am in the midst of doing research for the Piping Plover film project and have found the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to be a great resource. Recently I met a terrific warden there, Jean, and she gave me a copy of the historic brochure written in 1947 by Rachel Carson about the refuge. The brochure was reprinted and if you inquire, they may still have some copies in the back office. You can also download the brochure at this link: Rachel Carson Parker River Wildlife Refuge brochure

The brochure provides an early history of the refuge and is a fascinating view of mid-century conservation. And, too, it is a tremendous example of Carson’s thoughtful and thought-provoking style of writing.

barred-owl-hunting-strix-varia-copyright-kim-smithBarred Owl hunting – The refuge provides over 300 species of migratory and resident birds with vital habitat

Some interesting facts about the refuge —

Located along the northeastern coast of Massachusetts, the Parker River National Refuge includes lands that lie within the three towns of Rowley, Ipswich, and Newbury. We think of Plum Island as the heart of the refuge. The wildlife refuge also includes a range of diverse habitats and geographic features; over 3,000 acres of salt marsh, freshwater marsh, shrub lands, a drumlin, cranberry bog, salt pannes, beach and sand dunes, and maritime forest. The land is not conserved to revert back to a wild state, but is intensely managed in order to preserve and maintain the diversity of wildlife habitats.

parker-river-national-wildlife-refuge-wardens-headquarters-copyright-kim-smithThe original warden’s headquarters

Unlike our national parks, which preserves parklands or historic buildings, and are designed for people, a national wildlife refuge is established first and foremost for wildlife and their habitats, not for people. The preservation of wildlife is the number one priority of all our national wildlife refuges.

plum-island-sunrise-copyright-kim-smithsandy-point-parker-river-national-wildlife-refuge-copyright-kim-smithPlum Island is a barrier island and especially noteworthy for providing critical habitat for Piping Plovers.

The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1942 to help species of waterfowl that migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. There were three sharp declines in waterfowl populations in the early half of the 20th century, notably the American Black Duck, and national wildlife refuges all along the Atlantic coast were created in response to the precipitously low numbers.

parker-river-wildlife-refuge-impoundment-copyright-kim-smithSalt Island Impoundment

As we can see with our local Niles Pond, Henry’s Pond, and Langsford Pond shorebirds, waterfowl, and myriad species of wildlife thrive where they have easy access to both fresh water and salt water. The three bodies of fresh water that you see in the refuge look like ponds but they are actually manmade impoundments, created by dams and are highly controlled by a series of dykes and pumps.

parker-river-wildlife-refuge-impoundment-pump-copyright-kim-smithSalt Island Impoundment Pump

Parker River provides pristine habitats for a wide variety of mammals, insects, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Hunting birds such as owls, hawks, osprey, eagles, herons, and egrets find an abundance of food at the wildlife refuge. Whenever at Parker River I never not see a raptor!

Red-tailed Hawk Preening 

red-tailed-hawk-copyright-kim-smithWhen the Hunter is Hunted

Transfixing Owl Eyes

barred-owl-strix-varia-copyright-kim-smith

Because owls mostly hunt at night their eyes are very efficient at collecting and processing light. To protect their extraordinary eyes, owls are equipped with three eye lids; an upper and lower lid, and a third lid that diagonally closes across the eye. This action cleans and protects the eye.

 

More about Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to come.

Brown Pelican Pesticide Ban Success Story and Why This is Relevant to Gloucester Lobstermen and Our Community

California Brown Pelican taking flight El Matador Beach ©Kim Smith 2015Brown Pelican Taking Flight

When I was a young girl my family lived in Southern California for several years. I recall seeing few, if any, brown pelicans at our local beaches. Due to the widespread use of DDT in agriculture, brown pelicans on both the east and west coasts, along with other species of birds, were made nearly extinct. Pelicans incubate their eggs with the skin of their feet, essentially standing on the eggs to keep them warm. DDT caused thinning of the eggshells and when the pelican parents stood on the eggshells, the shells fractured and broke.

California Brown Pelican preening ©Kim Smith 2015Preening Pelicans ~ You can tell that these two are young pelicans because their eyes, usually brown, turn blue during courtship.

During the 1960s brown pelican colonies along the Southern California coast had shrunk by more than 90 percent. For decades, a chemical plant had been discharging thousands of pounds of DDT into Los Angeles sewers. The toxic chemical was ingested by anchovies and other fish consumed by pelicans. The chemical altered the pelican’s calcium metabolism, which caused them to lay eggs with thinner shells. DDT-caused shell thinning also exterminated peregrine falcons in the east, and took a terrible toll on bald eagles and ospreys.

El Matador Beach Brown Pelican habitat ©Kim Smith 2015. JPGInsulation: After deep diving for fish, pelicans perch on rocks and preen. Pelicans feather’s keep them warm and dry; they do not actually get wet thanks to the oil in their preening gland. The glands secrete oily waxes and fats that they work into their feathers making them wind- and weatherproof, as well as providing insulation from the cold.

As a direct result of Rachel Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring, in 1972 DDT was banned nationwide. The brown pelican has recovered ground and was delisted from the federally endangered species in 2009. Unfortunately, after DDT was banned, two years later Monsanto brought to market their glyphosate herbicide Round Up.

El Matador Beach commorants ©kim Smith 2015 Brown Pelican Habitat ~ El Matador State Beach

While visiting Liv and Matt, we spotted pelicans everywhere and it was absolutely wonderful to see. They are magnificent birds with an extraordinary life story. Here are several links to learn more about the California brown pelican:

About Pelicans, California Brown Pelicans

El Matador  Beach Pelican ©Kim Smith 2015Today the lobster industry faces several major threats. Not only are the lobsters stressed from warming ocean waters and a protozoan parasite, but several pesticides used in massive mosquito spraying, including methoprene, malathion, and remethrin are linked to contributing to the collapse of the lobster fishery in the waters off Connecticut and New York. Lobsters are arthropods, which places them in the same phylum classification as mosquitoes and may help explain why they are affected. Lobster landings on Long Island Sound are of particular concern as they have declined from 3.7 million pounds in 1999 to 142,000 pounds in 2011.

Bearing in mind that worse chemicals are often used after specific chemicals are banned, the Maine Lobsterman’s Association is somewhat reluctant at this point to endorse banning specific pesticides until more comprehensive testing is done.

Gloucester lobsterman follow strict conservation guidelines. It would be very interesting to learn what they consider are the reason(s) for the declining population of lobsters in fisheries further south.

El Matador Beach ©Kim Smith 2015El Matador Beach

Overkill: Why Pesticide Spraying for West Nile Virus May Cause More Harm Than Good

Silent Spring