Newsletter of the Columbia Audubon Society | January 2019 | Volume 61, Number 5

Tue. Jan. 1, 2019

CAS News & Notes for January 2019

Many Thanks to Our CoMoGives Donors!

-by Nancy Bedan, CAS CoMoGives Committee

The 2018 CoMoGives fundraiser for area non-profit organizations ended at midnight Dec. 31; this was the fourth year of participation for Columbia Audubon. Although we won’t have final totals for the number of donors and dollars received until January, we are very grateful to our supporters. As of December 31, we had received more than $9100 from 70-plus online and offline contributors, exceeding our ambitious 2018 goal of $8,000.

The funds received through the CoMoGives drive help support the maintenance and expansion of our nature areas, including the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary on Bray Avenue; the Band with Nature field trip for Columbia-area second-graders; and scholarships for students and teachers to attend science and nature-education programs.

January meeting: book discussion

The regular January meeting will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 16th, when CAS members Eric & Joanna Reuter will lead a public book discussion about Seattle-based author and researcher John M. Marzluff’s 2014 book Welcome to Subirdia about biodiversity in urban areas. As a review posted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology noted,

Subirdia’s startling thesis is that suburbs not only hold a surprising variety of creatures, they often increase diversity. Although some species may not do well, the mosaic of edges and small refuges that make up this fractal habitat provides new opportunities for native creatures, not to mention species that have so escaped their natural bonds that they occur in virtually every city in the world.”

We hope you’ll join us with questions, comments, and ideas inspired by the book. Even if you haven’t had the chance to read or finish it, please feel free to come and participate in the conversation. This event is open to the public (like all CAS events) and will take place in the first-floor Friends Room of the Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia, not at the regular U-U Church location, due to our collaboration with the library.

Supporting CAS

Carrying out our mission through education, conservation, and outreach takes a wide variety of resources, from the valued time of dedicated volunteers to the financial support of members and donors. We welcome and appreciate all participants and supporters of our work through their generous donations of time, money, or other resources.

Submitting material to The Chat

The Chat is published online on the first of every month from September through May. Submissions are welcome, including photographs, stories, and suggestions for content; please contact News Editor Eric Reuter. The submission deadline is the evening of the 25th of each month.

Tue. Jan. 1, 2019

2018 Christmas Bird Count results in 93 species

-by Allison Vaughn

December 15th was a chilly but clear and calm day for the 2018 Christmas Bird Count. Over 45 participants fanned out across the 15 mile radius to count birds. Although the birding conditions were mild with little wind, full sun, and bearable temperatures, many participants reported that the birds were not very active. Nevertheless,  we tallied 39,925 birds representing 93 species as compared to the 2017 count’s 684,754 birds of 96 species.

This year marks the first documentation of Black Vultures for the count circle with areas 2 North and 2 South each witnessing two and three Black Vultures, respectively. Throughout Missouri, birders are seeing more Red-breasted Nuthatches than in previous years. This irruption was captured in the count with 21 individuals documented, up from 4 in 2017. Area 5, centrally located at Eagle Bluffs, had views of 73 Trumpeter Swans but no White Pelicans.

At the chili supper, the annual tally party at the end of the count, participants remarked on the low numbers of birds that day. Area 1 North worked to get permission to access some new areas this year, so participants in that section were able to bird inside the fence (for the first time) at Jefferson Farms. This eased the finding of Cackling Geese among the many Canada Geese and increased the count of Eastern Meadowlarks. Also in 1 North, the only Eastern Towhee found in the entire count circle occurred at Lake George Assisted Living on Richland Road (last year, only Area 5 picked up a lone Eastern Towhee).

Despite the low overall numbers, the high count of 29 Bald Eagles was an increase from 2017’s 21. White-throated Sparrows were down from last year’s 999 individuals to 2018’s 628. Overall, participants felt that the warm weather had the birds contentedly sitting in place soaking up the sun, making it harder to find them since they were not moving.

Tue. Jan. 1, 2019

Bird Watching in Chile

-by Joanna & Eric Reuter

We recently had the good fortune to travel through the southern half of Chile, learning much about its ecosystems, history, and culture along the way. Though we mostly explored on our own using Chile’s excellent bus network and our own feet, a day spent with Raffaele Di Biase of the excellent BirdsChile guiding service allowed us to access new places and species while learning from his extensive knowledge of the country. We didn’t plan to photograph birds, given our basic camera equipment. However, many birds were surprisingly tolerant of human presence, and we couldn’t resist taking photos when opportunities arose (all images in this story by Joanna or Eric Reuter).

Camera-friendly Chilean birds. From upper left to lower right: Black-faced Ibis, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Neotropic Cormorant, Eared Dove, Kelp Gull, Chimango Caracara, Upland Geese, Magellanic Penguins.

A south-up rendering of South America providing latitudinal comparison with North America (Chile in dark green). Longitude has been shifted for ease of comparison.

Even at its widest, Chile is narrower than Missouri (~221 miles vs. ~240 miles), yet a great deal of interest is packed into this slender strip of land between the Pacific and the Andes. Chile is almost nine times longer than Missouri, with a latitudinal range roughly equivalent to that of Mexico City to Edmonton. The country contains everything from extreme deserts to temperate rainforests to glaciated terrain, and within these diverse habitats are a variety of interesting and unique birds.

Geography affects the dynamics of songbird migration in the southern hemisphere, and the result is not simply an inverse of the patterns we see here in Missouri. Unlike the northern hemisphere, where the land area available for songbirds is abundant at high latitudes, South America narrows dramatically. Think of all the warblers that move through Missouri in spring heading for the vast boreal forests of Canada; South America doesn’t have an equivalent. Some songbirds do migrate latitudinally, and the Andes also provide an opportunity for some species to seasonally change elevation as a proxy for latitude. As Alvaro Jaramillo’s excellent guide Birds of Chile notes, “Careful research on southern (austral) migrants is a new field. For most Chilean species migratory routes and timing are very imperfectly known.”

To a North American, an old-growth Chilean forest looks other-worldly, with trees that are entirely unfamiliar even at comparable latitudes to home. This is a stark contrast to Europe, where many trees are recognizable to a North American naturalist. There’s a tectonic reason for this: 180 million years ago, South America was joined with other present-day southern hemisphere landmasses (including Australia) in the Gondwanaland supercontinent, while it only became joined with North America around 3 million years ago. Thus, the continent’s flora and fauna share common evolutionary ancestors with the former, manifested today through biologic specialties including marsupials (our opossums originated in South America) and distinctive southern hemisphere trees such as Nothofagus and Araucaria (see photos). Tectonics continue to shape Chile’s present landscape, with an active subduction zone along the coast that continues to drive volcanism and uplift. The Andes and the ocean have kept Chile relatively isolated for millions of years, resulting in a variety of endemic plants and birds.

Trees of south-central and southern Chile. Araucaria araucana trees (left two photos) grow in a narrow geographic zone mostly in the Andes. Trees of the genus Nothofagus (southern beech, right 4 photos) dominate southern Chilean forests, though they have diverse morphologies.

Traveling to a distant country is an exciting opportunity for a bird watcher, and the prospect of learning a multitude of new birds is exciting yet daunting. Adding to the challenge, Birds of Chile presents three names for most species: English, Chilean/Spanish, and scientific. We enjoyed learning and using as many Chilean names as we could, many of which originate in indigenous names. Many make good use of onomatopoeia: Pitío, for example, is the Chilean Flicker, and learning this gave us hope that some knowledge of bird sound would remain relevant between hemispheres. Others Chilean bird names are eminently sensible, such as Carpintero Negro (literally “black carpenter”), for the Magellanic Woodpecker, a large, charismatic, and (mostly) black woodpecker. Others are just practical; who wants to utter the ubiquitous but multi-syllabic Rufous-collared Sparrow or Chimango Caracara when Chincol or Tiuque will do just fine?

Chile does have a variety of birds that are familiar to Missouri birders; we saw just over a dozen species that were already on our life lists. These fit into a few categories:

  • Birds that breed in the northern hemisphere and “overwinter” in the Chilean summer, such as Greater Yellowlegs, Franklin’s Gull, and Whimbrel. The only species that breeds in Missouri with some individuals overwintering as far as Chile is the Barn Swallow (though we didn’t see any).
  • Birds with ranges that extend across large parts of the Americas, including Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and the ubiquitous House Wren.
  • Birds that are invasive, including House Sparrow, Rock Pigeon, and Cattle Egret.

The ~80 new life species we saw during the trip included an assortment of birds that were somewhat familiar, such as:

  • The Austral Thrush is in the same genus as the American Robin, which it resembles in song, habit, and habitat use.
  • The Long-tailed Meadowlark resembles an Eastern or Western Meadowlark, if you replace the yellow and black breast coloration with brilliant red and darken the back a bit (though by current taxonomy they do not share the same genus).
  • The Ringed Kingfisher resembles the Belted Kingfisher, though larger and with a bit more color.

However, the most exciting Chilean species for us were those with no equivalents in our region; highlights included:

  • Darwin’s Rhea, an ostrich-like bird that we saw only through bus windows but were stunning nonetheless.
  • Chilean Flamingo. Sure, Florida has flamingos, but in Chile you can go to the latitudinal equivalent of southern Hudson Bay, drive though a landscape reminiscent of Wyoming with Nothofagus trees that are shaped a lot like junipers, and see lakes dotted with pink flamingos.
  • The Chimango Caracara (Tiuque) is a ubiquitous but never-boring bird. Its hawk-like appearance (sharp bill, talons) belie its mild, playful personality and scavenger nature, behaving more like a cross between a robin and a crow. We never tired of seeing fierce-looking “hawks” meekly digging up earthworms or tumbling acrobatically across the sky.
  • Perhaps our favorite group of unusual birds were the tapaculos (family Rhinocryptidae), most of which are South American and especially Andean. As noted in Birds of Chile, these are “suboscines infamous for their vocal but frustratingly skulking nature.” We had great looks at several Chucao Tapaculos in three national parks, but the only likeness we could photograph was a mural in Puerto Montt (see photo below). The more elusive Black-throated Huet-huet spends quite a bit of time on the ground, foraging with its feet and leaving patches of bare soil (see photo). We had some excellent—but always brief—looks at these awesome birds, whose distinct vocalizations are a memorable experience as they echo through steep mountain valleys. A third species, the Magellanic Tapaculo, may have tricked us into thinking it was a mouse. We saw three small grey creatures streak into view maybe 10 feet away. First instinct: bird. Moment later: no, not bird, they disappeared into holes in the ground, they must have been mice. Field notes: “rodent-like critter x3 in cane thicket, grayish, 4 inches long, fat mouse size.” Later, we re-read the description in the bird book: “Mouse-like behaviour, creeping close to ground and even under debris.” Size: 4-5″. Can’t be 100% sure about the sighting, but at least we know we did later hear the Magellanic Tapaculo on our day with Raffaele.

    “Signs” of Tapaculos. Left, mural of a Chucao Tapaculo; right, foraging disturbance from a Black-throated Huet-huet.

Of all the diverse birding opportunities in Chile, none was as memorable as visiting the Magellanic Penguin colony on Isla Magdalena (within a Chilean national park in southern Patagonia). Visitors are given an hour to walk an 850 m trail through actively nesting penguins and Kelp Gulls. These birds are quite tolerant of the carefully managed visitation. The penguins nest in burrows excavated from the loose but rocky soil; some were actively expanding their burrows, kicking dirt a few feet into the air. We were told that there were 2-week-old chicks, but none were visible from outside, though we did see untended eggs in one nest. Adults were often visible in the burrows, either incubating eggs or keeping young chicks warm and safe from the Chilean Skuas that were scouting for a meal of penguin chick.

While tourists gawk along the trail on Isla Magdalena, Magellenic Penguins go about their business of nesting, hunting to obtain food for chicks, and protecting nests from Chilean Skuas.

Some adults were cycling between nest and open water, seeking food for hungry chicks; they would happily waddle along the trail while ignoring human visitors, much like bison blocking traffic in Yellowstone. Many adults were vocalizing: some by a sort of guttural hooting, with the chest expanding and contracting each time, and others (probably mated pairs) made chattering sounds, often while nuzzling or otherwise interacting. Ironically, we didn’t get a single life species on this day as we’d already observed every species present somewhere else, though not as delightfully or closely.

Chile is an extraordinary country and a wonderful place to visit for naturalists (including bird-watchers) given its extremely diverse ecosystems, abundant national parks and protected areas, and excellent public transportation network. Many local folks we met (guides, park rangers, small hostel owners) emphasized the importance of eco-tourism as a way to fund and support conservation in the country and build a culture that can counterbalance more problematic economic development. Going off the beaten path is especially rewarding, as popular destinations like Torres del Paine National Park are being loved to death by hordes of visitors, but there remain vast swathes of public land throughout much of the country that are free of crowds. These places allow naturalists a much more peaceful chance to interact with the landscape while supporting local efforts to boost sustainable tourism. If any readers decide to go, please feel free to contact us for ideas and advice.

© Joanna & Eric Reuter 2019

Columbia Audubon Society is supported in part by a generous contribution from


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