Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Minnesota Vikings Want to Kill Birds

The National Football League has gotten a lot of bad press recently – and deservedly so. But this blog is not about the wife-beaters, the child abuser, concussions, performance-enhancing drugs, or any other topics that are being discussed ad nauseam on sports stations – and just about everywhere else. It’s also not about the NFL’s mishandling (I’m trying to be polite) of these recent issues, nor is it about how I believe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to lose his job.

I’m not even remotely attempting to downplay the current troubles in America’s most popular sport. They are many, and they are trying – especially to fans with a conscience. See, I like NFL football (a lot), but I also am finding it harder and harder to support a league in which so much is so very wrong. I am definitely a fan (Go Pats!), but in the recent weeks rooting for anything related to the NFL has been a real challenge.

There’s enough discussion about Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, among others, elsewhere and nearly everywhere. No, this is a birding blog, and this blog is about birds.

And the death thereof.

And it’s completely preventable.

The Minnesota Vikings are building a state-of-the-art new stadium in Minneapolis. It’s going to be beautiful, and no doubt it is going to offer an amazing fan experience. And, most likely, it is going to kill thousands of birds every year.

The volume of reflective glass and the stadium’s location near the Mississippi River will combine to make it a deathtrap for migratory birds. Collisions with glass are estimated to kill up to ONE BILLION BIRDS a year, and while the majority of them will occur one at a time at windows in residential homes, large commercial buildings can kill shocking numbers of birds. And the Viking’s stadium is destined to do so.

First, for those of you unfamiliar with the issue, let me send you to Sharon Stiteler’s excellent blog entry and this informative page from Minnesota Audubon. And for background on the bird collision issue, check out the American Bird Conservancy’s page on collisions and the Birds and Windows page from the Acopian Center for Ornithology at Muhlenberg College.

So yeah, this thing is bad news, but its impact could be drastically reduced by using different glass. One option is a fritted glass that was used in the Dallas Cowboy’s gargantuan new stadium. It would add a little cost to the overall project, but we’re talking an estimated 1.1 million dollars to a 1 BILLION dollar project. Oh, and for the record, almost half of that is coming from the taxpayers of Minnesota.

But let’s forget this pittance of a cost for the time being. When a dysfunctional commissioner receives $20million a year to destroy the reputation of the league and tarnish its brand repeatedly, what’s another 1.1 million to save countless birds’ lives?

Despite public outcry (granted nothing compared to the public outcry about the Vikings’ plan to suit-up a child-abuser for the next game), including a widely signed petition circulated by Minnesota Audubon

It seems so simple, as the petition says, “Change Glass, Save Birds.” But the Minnesota Vikings have refused. First it was because it was too expensive. Now, it is about the “aesthetics.” Apparently, a pile of dead birds in front of windows is more aesthetically-pleasing to the Minnesota Vikings.

A recent article in Wired by Gwen Pearson did a good job of summarizing the current situation. I urge you to give it a read.

To some it up, the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority and the Minnesota Vikings have refused to act, and have basically said that they don’t care. They expect their fans to come anyway, and pay for the tickets, and buy the beer and Adrian Peterson jerseys Matt Cassell jerseys(?)…and they probably will.

And there are unlikely to be enough people signing enough petitions to get them to change their mind. But back to Adrian Peterson for a moment. After the Vikings “activated” him for the coming weekend (I was so happy to watch my Pats crush the Minnesota Bird-Killers without Peterson last weekend!), public outcry rightly ensued. Yet little changed.

But then sponsors noticed, and some were not happy. Radisson hotels led the way, completely pulling their sponsorship of the Vikings. (Good job, Radisson!). And other sponsors are not happy either, including league-wide sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch.

And what happens? Adrian Peterson is suspended. Coincidence? No. Lesson to be learned? Most definitely.

Listen, the NFL doesn’t care what you or I think. They care about money. They care about corporate money in particular. So what does this horrific Adrian Peterson mess have to teach us? It’s time those who care about birds go after the sponsors of the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL. Money is the only language that the NFL understands.

First, there are the current sponsors. I found this site called “SponsorPitch” which is the largest list of corporate sponsors that I could find. Let them know what you think about their possible association with a bird death trap. And here are some of the companies the Vikings are offering promotions with. (Yet another reason for me to never give a cent to Verizon!)

And the big deal now – and perhaps a major contributing factor to the Peterson suspension – is that the Vikings are looking to sell the lucrative and prestigious naming rights to their new stadium, which could bring in tens of millions of dollars a year.

Few companies want to be associated with teams that employ a child-abuser. Do you think many companies want to spend a hundred million dollars to be associated with piles of dead birds? Probably not (OK, maybe the likes of ExxonMobil or First Wind don’t care). But they probably don’t even know about the controversey. Let’s change that.

First, start with signing the petition. It can’t hurt.

Secondly, let’s keep an eye on the efforts of Minnesota Audubon, and what they recommend.

Meanwhile, I think we need to get this out in more “mainstream” media. ESPN is perhaps the single biggest director of sports discourse in the country, for better or for worse. Their show “Outside the Lines” can bring incredible attention to the events and issues away from the playing field. I propose we begin a campaign to encourage them to do a story on the new stadium and its bird-killing glass. They show even makes it easy, with a simple online suggestion form. Fill it out. I did.

Next, we need to use the power of social media. Besides sharing this blog, links to Minnesota Audubon, and other articles and essays about the stadium, could you image the attention that would be brought if “Minnesota Vikings Kill Birds” showed up in that little “trending” topics box on your web browser? I am probably preaching to the choir here on a birding blog, but this needs wider attention. Therefore, next time(s) you have a moment, type “Minnesota Vikings Kill Birds” into your web browser and click on some links. If enough people do this, search engine algorithms will notice. I have no delusions of grandeur about the influence (or number of readers!) of my blog and my musings, but just for a moment imagine if every birder in the US searched for this phrase – and the attention that would receive as it snowballed with more and more people clicking on it as a trending topic. It has to start somewhere. #MNVikingsKillBirds

And most importantly, if rumors begin to swirl about what company is going to slap its name on this stadium, they need to hear from people immediately. “Company X Bird-Killing Stadium” won’t sound appealing.

This is what it comes down to: the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings have made some abhorrent mistakes lately. They need to correct this. The courts and the court of public opinion will deal with Adrian Peterson (and dealt with he should be, in my opinion). But at such a dark time in America’s favorite sport, a little good PR is needed. And action to save the lives of thousands of birds a year would provide just one glimmer of hope that the NFL actually cares about something more than just the bottom line. Let’s start here: “Change Glass, Save Birds.”

I thank you for your time and consideration.

“Washington County in August” Tour, 2014

The first of what I hope is many “Washington County in August” tours took place last week, and overall was a resounding success.  While a dearth of seabirds and low shorebird numbers plagued us, we ended up with an impressive trip list of 107 species and quite a few highlights. Despite the lack of Helen’s Restaurant and its blueberry pie, we ate darn well too – which is a hallmark of all of my tours!

We assembled on Thursday (8/28) morning, and began our journey north and east. While the state’s first Crested Caracara failed to reappear, we poked around Central Maine, hitting a few interesting birding spots. But really, it was just something to do before we reached Washington County, which we did in the late afternoon.

An evening jaunt to Jasper Beach introduced us to the fascinating geology of the area, and our trip list began to grow.


While we had a full slate of birding activities planned for the coming days, one of the primary purposes/excuses for our visit was a charter out of Eastport to ply the waters of Passamaquoddy Bay and Head Harbor Passage.  Seabirds have been few and far between this summer, and whales were late to arrive, perhaps due to the unusually cold water this season.

One lone tubenose – a single Great Shearwater – was shocking (hey, wasn’t this supposed to be a seabirds tour?), and only three Razorbills was much lower than expected.
A father Razorbill keeps an eye on his young chick.

An Atlantic Puffin was a pleasant surprise however, and 4 Atlantic White-sided Dolphins joined the show put on by the 4 Fin Whales (and later, two Minkes).  There were plenty of Great Cormorants (26) and Bald Eagles (12) as well.

Several hundred Black-legged Kittiwakes were present, and many were roosting on rocks or feeding in the passage…


…including spiffy, fresh juveniles.  We scanned the rocks for rarities…


…took in the scenery (here, abandoned fish weirs)…

…and enjoyed the marine mammals, such as this Gray Seal.

As we traversed Head Harbor Passage hundreds of Black-legged Kittiwakes and thousands of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were roosting, feeding, or otherwise just doing what it is that gulls do.

But the stars of the show – and perhaps of the entire trip – were Bonaparte’s Gulls. We crudely guesstimated at least 10,000 individuals were present, and this spectacle is one of the primary excuses to offer this tour.  While I failed to pull out a singe rarity from the masses (Little and Black-headed Gulls were seen the next day, and a Sabine’s Gull was seen a week prior) despite eye-straining effort, the show was still well worth the price of admission.

As the tide began to ebb, and the Old Sow whirlpool began to churn, the birds flocked in from their various roosts and began to feed in swirling clouds. Everywhere you looked there were thousands of “Bonies” in all directions.  As our Captain adeptly and impressively navigated in and out of the Old Sow (and the little whirlpools around its edges which I learned are called “Piglets”), our heads were spinning nearly as much as the waters around us.  No photos could do the scene justice, but here’s a couple of shots that at least (poorly) represent my favorite part of this tour (and what was listed as the highlight for most of the participants at the end of the trip).



After lunch and a little birding around Eastport (Surf and Black Scoters, along with some common shorebirds), I decided to run over to the Lubec flats for the evening. While my original itinerary for the day was not going to be this exhausting, I wanted to go for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper that had been seen earlier in the day. It’s just too charismatic of a bird to pass up, and with shorebird numbers also unusually low this season around here, I didn’t want to risk missing a “good one.”

It didn’t take us long to find the “Buffie,” and it proved to be rather cooperative, despite relocating from one side of the bar to another.

An adult Hudsonian Godwit on the flats as the tide began to recede confirmed my decision to head here this evening; we did not see it the next day. Two unseasonable hen Northern Pintails were unexpected.

It was going to be hard to top Friday, but Saturday Morning’s sunrise set things off on the right foot.


Of course, staying at the Machias Motor Inn not only provides wonderful backyard sunrises, but it also offers great birding – even from bed!  A pair of omnipresent Bald Eagles, a smattering of shorebirds, Canada Geese, Ospreys, Double-crested Cormorants, American Black Ducks, and much more were observed before our birding day even begins.

With a decent migration overnight, we began the day with a walk down the multi-purpose trail through town where we found a pleasant variety of migrants. An Alder Flycatcher that burst into song was unexpected for the season, and the American Woodcock were flushed off the trail was as surprised to see us as we were to see it.

Next up was a walk at Quoddy State Park, the easternmost point in the US. Slowly moseying down the trails…

…we took in the breathtaking scenery of the Bold Coast.

A couple of Boreal Chickadees and a Cape May Warbler were the highlights, but scattered mixed species foraging flocks of migrant warblers slowly built up our list. In case we didn’t get our fill from the boat, another 50 or so Black-legged Kittiwakes were in their usual spot off of the point.

A return visit to the Lubec Flats found even fewer shorebirds than the previous day, but we did get a second dose of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Today’s lower shorebirds tally was likely the result of the 1-2 Peregrine Falcons and the juvenile Northern Harrier that were patrolling the area.


Taking in the sights and people-watching of Pirate Fest in downtown Lubec, we foraged at the food vendors, and then made a big loop through the town and adjacent Mowry Beach Trail. Unfortunately, the time of day and an increasingly strong southerly wind reduced the fruitfulness of this jaunt. Monica’s Chocolates, however, never disappoints.

But that same wind resulted in a much more fruitful bout of seawatching off of West Quoddy Head. 125+ Black-legged Kittiwakes, two more Razorbills, and our first (shockingly) Northern Gannet of the trip were offshore. Enthusiasm grew when a juvenile dark-morph Parasitic Jaeger arrived on the scene, much to the chagrin of the kittiwakes.


About 30 minutes later, our excitement level tripled: 3 Parasitic Jaegers came tearing in towards some feeding kittiwakes and reigned down their jaeger-esque terror. The threesome (a dark morph juvenile – perhaps the same bird as earlier, a light-morph juvenile, and a light-morph subadult) made a few runs at several unfortunate kittiwakes before they flew off to the west in unison.

No Jagermeister, but a celebratory toast was to be had at dinner this evening.

Personally, I never have enough time to see it all when I am Downeast, and like all good things, our tour had to come to an end. But, not until the day was done, so Sunday was not the time to put down your binoculars!

We began with a walk at the Boot Cove Preserve, one of my favorite trails in the area. Not that we really expect to see one at this season (but one could always hope!), no Spruce Grouse were detected, but it was about as good of a showing of Boreal Chickadees as I have enjoyed here. We spotted at least 7 different individuals; almost all of which were seen about as well as Boreal Chickadees are usually seen.  A few mixed-species foraging flocks, mostly consisting of Black-throated Green and Yellow-rumped Warblers further enhanced our walk, as did the breathtaking scenery and fascinating plant life, such as carnivorous Pitcher Plants in the bog.





Two Wood Ducks along Rte 191 were our 100th species of the trip, and a short bout of seawatching at the end of Little Machias Road in Cutler yielded another Parasitic Jaeger.

White-rumped Sandpipers were finally added to the triplist (just 2, however) at Addison Marsh, but then it was time for a special culinary treat: Vazquez Mexican Take-out in Milbridge.  You didn’t expect the best Mexican food in the state to be way out here, did you?

While I didn’t “need” seconds, I justified my gluttony with the need for “research” for future tours. Really, I did this for you.

To break up the trip home (or, simply to stall our re-entry into the real world), I took the Sebasticook Lake loop. While this year’s draw-down is yet to occur (and therefore the lake was shorebird-free), a pocket of migrants at one of the viewing points turned out to be incredibly productive for our triplist: a flock of Common Grackles, a Blackburnian Warbler, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and last but not least, our 107th and final trip bird: Baltimore Oriole.

And only then did it begin to rain in earnest. But, with great weather throughout the trip and nothing by highway ahead of us, we had no complaints as we chatted about the birds and memories of our trip.

The first year of any tour is always a learning process, and I have no doubts I’ll continue to refine and hone the itinerary for the coming years. While I can’t control the birds, I did think the low seabird and shorebird numbers were unusual here, so I look forward to our future tours – as if the whales, scenery, and 10,000 Bonaparte’s Gulls weren’t cause enough!

Keep an eye out for the next installment of the “Washington County in August” tour, likely in 2016.  In the meantime, I hope you will consider joining us for one of our other exciting birding opportunities.  Keep an eye on the “Tours, Events, Workshops, and Programs” page of our website for information about all of our journeys.

And here’s our complete trip list:
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Black Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal
Common Eider
Hooded Merganser
Wild Turkey
Common Loon
Great Shearwater
Northern Gannet
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
American Woodcock
Laughing Gull
Bonaparte’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black-legged Kittiwake
Common Tern
Black Guillemot
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Alder Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson’s Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Fin Whale
Minke Whale
Harbor Porpoise
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin
Gray Seal
Harbor Seal
White-tailed Deer
Red Squirrel
Meadow Vole
Shrew spp.

Reptiles and Amphibians:
Garter Snake
Painted Turtle
Spring Peeper
Green Frog

In the end, we fell just short of averaging one eagle per daylight hour of the tour!

(I am very grateful to Nancy Houlihan and Kristen Lindquist for sharing their photography from the trip).