The Bitterroot Audubon Society publishes a calendar every year featuring high quality photographs of local birds taken by local photographers. It is the organization’s only fund raiser, so a lot of effort goes into its production. The result is not only a calendar full of stunning photographs, it also serves as a useful tool for keeping track of birds sighted throughout the year and contains lots of information about birds. The calendar is also a community production featuring bird drawings by students as well as photos. This year’s calendar features bird drawings by fourth graders at Lone Rock School. It is lightweight, packs easily and shows off the beauty of the Bitterroot so well.
Gracing the front cover of the 2020 calendar is a photograph of Gracie, a Great Grey Owl who was lucky enough to get help from the organization that was formed to do just that kind of thing. The photograph was taken by Bitterroot Audubon Society President Becky Peters who also played a role in helping the owl following a couple of mishaps.
“Once she conked her head when she flew into a very nice man’s truck [John Ormiston, one of the valley’s top notch avian specialists],” said Peters. “How lucky can you get?” The owl went to rehab and was then released. The second time she was hurt when she was trampled by overly protective pregnant cows.
“The cows get agitated when there are moving things on the ground,” said Peters. “She was rescued in the nick of time by two heroic ladies (Estelle and Barbara) who jumped the fence, shooed the pesky cattle away, and called in nearby raptor specialists. Again, how lucky can you get?”
Gracie made it through a broken pelvis and clavicle, thanks to the expertise of Wild Skies Raptor Center. Since January it has been a slow process of her healing and then flying, little by little, farther and farther in the various flight cages. She is now in the process of molting and they hope to release her this fall into the wild – “though thankfully not back to where she keeps getting into trouble!” said Peters.
On the back of the calendar the paragraph explains how Great Gray Owls are listed as a Sensitive Species. “Public information as to their location is restricted due to potential harmful impact.”
“Those of us who were lucky enough to see her did not even enter her data into eBird,” said Peters. “I have also noticed that photographers usually don’t enter information on social media as to where they’ve seen a Great Grey Owl. These are just some ways bird lovers can show how we care for them.”
“If you would like to help out this wonderful rehab organization that not only took such great care of Gracie but so many other injured raptors, please go to their website http://wildskies.org/ to see what materials they need and then donate to their cause, because they help the birds that need them,” she said.
Of course, you can also buy the Bitterroot Audubon calendar for $20 and help the people who help the people who help the birds. The calendars are available at the Hamilton and Stevensville Farmers Markets, Sapphire Lutheran Homes and at these stores: Florence Ace, Stevensville Ace, Stevensville Valley Drug and Variety, Corvallis Merc, Hamilton Gifts, Chapter One, Bitterroot Drug, Robbins and Bob Wards.
Two of the local photographers whose photos were chosen to be used in the calendar, Robin Dewey and Michele Falivene, recently returned from a bird (and whale) watching tour in the north Pacific only to be greeted by some very bad news upon their return. The bad news came in the form of a recently published study by a group of U.S. and Canadian scientists that documents a drastic decline in bird numbers, with populations of breeding birds in America dropping by one-third since 1970, reducing the population of breeding songbirds by close to 3 billion since 1970.
The study showed a total of 419 native migratory species experienced a net loss of 2.5 billion individuals, whereas 100 native resident species showed a small net increase (26 million). Species overwintering in temperate regions experienced the largest net reduction in abundance (1.4 billion), but proportional loss was greatest among species overwintering in coastal regions (42%), southwestern arid lands (42%), and South America (40%). Shorebirds, most of which migrate long distances to winter along coasts throughout the hemisphere, are experiencing consistent, steep population loss (37%). More than 90% of the total cumulative loss can be attributed to 12 bird families, including sparrows, warblers, blackbirds, and finches.
“Our study documents a long-developing but overlooked biodiversity crisis in North America — the cumulative loss of nearly 3 billion birds across the avifauna,” state the researchers.
House sparrows are at the top of the hit list, but about three-quarters of all eastern Meadowlarks have disappeared. The population of Bob White quail has plummeted by 80% and grassland birds in general have experienced declines of about 50%.
This disastrous decline in bird populations is not just a problem here in America. Steep declines in North American birds parallel patterns of avian declines emerging globally, according to the report. In particular, depletion of native grassland bird populations in North America, driven by habitat loss and more toxic pesticide use in both breeding and wintering areas, mirrors loss of farmland birds throughout Europe and elsewhere.
“Pervasiveness of avian loss across biomes and bird families suggests multiple and interacting threats,” the report states. “Our results signal an urgent need to address the ongoing threats of habitat loss, agricultural intensification, coastal disturbance, and direct anthropogenic mortality, all exacerbated by climate change, to avert continued biodiversity loss and potential collapse of the continental avifauna.”
Both Dewey and Falivene said that there are things that people can do to help slow the declines. For instance, keep your cats indoors. Cats are blamed for the death of about 2.6 billion birds annually worldwide. You can also treat your big picture windows to prevent birds from flying into them. About 624 million birds die annually from crashing into windows. Pesticides and insecticides also induce a large number of avian fatalities and declining insect populations threaten the birds’ vital food sources. You can stop using pesticides and insecticides around your home.
Buying a 2020 Bitterroot Audubon calendar could also help.
“Our mission is to educate,” said Dewey.
The organization supports a scholarship for local students studying in avian-related fields. The latest recipient was Andrea Williams who is studying biology at the University of Montana. The scholarship fund was recently increased. They also give out a $1,000 Byron Weber Scholarship each semester to a sophomore, junior or senior in any Natural History field of study, who is attending any Montana university or college, who has top academic standing and shows financial need. They have financially supported various students including a Florence student who won the Wildlife Society Poster Contest, and a Work Study student at MPG Ranch doing the Night Flight Project. They not only support the Wild Skies Raptor Center, they have also donated $3,000 this year to the Montana Natural History Center. They support Audubon Adventures in 10 classrooms in the valley.
The organization offers educational programs on a regular basis for the whole community. They host a monthly meeting the third Monday of each month, September-May, with many of the programs focusing on birds or issues that impact bird populations or their habitat, such as Greenbacks for Green Space, Saving the Sage Grouse, or Challenges and Opportunities in Alaska. They have also held programs on other topics, including climate change, wolverines and porcupines.
Find out more at www.bitterrootaudubon.org.