Birder's Guide

MAY 2015

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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9 May 2015 | Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community tered as an Audubon Society Bird Habitat. Beltz gained an interest in birding in ffth grade after joining the academy's Lower School Nature Club led by the Lower School Science Department Coordinator. Since then, he has traveled to eight countries and now has a life list surpassing 400 species. His project was con- ducted through the Academy Scholars program, which encourages students to pur- sue individual passions in a structured way. Beltz wrote a paper, produced a brochure, and gave a presentation about his study. Now he is off on a new scholastic adventure, attending Connecticut College. Wissahickon Creek runs through Ger- mantown Academy, giving pre-kindergar- ten through 12th-grade students the op- portunity to learn frsthand about nature. Check out the academy's Preserve, Green Roof, honeybee hives, courtyard, and more at Bill Ralph: Nest Box Success Story ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– When Bill Ralph, Conservation Direc- tor for Yosemite Area Audubon Society (YAAS), retired from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2009, he knew he loved birding and conservation, but he didn't foresee how that interest would translate into a very busy schedule. In October 2011, Steve Simmons, who monitors hundreds of kestrel nest boxes in Merced County, California, gave an inspiring talk at Yosemite Audubon, and Ralph was in the audience. Simmons pointed out that kestrel numbers have declined, and noted that kestrels tend to "disappear" from grasslands during the nesting season because of a lack of good nesting habitat. He showed that the birds will use nest boxes in appropriate habitat. Galvanized, Ralph launched an ambi- tious campaign to place and monitor nest boxes in the open grass- lands of Mariposa, Merced, and Madera counties. He spent the fall scouting out the best candidates for good kestrel nesting habitats and talked to ranchers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other landowners. Then he fred up a crew of volun- teers to help build and in- stall 81 boxes. That frst year, the num- ber of boxes used by kestrels was relatively small, with three successful nesting at- tempts fedging 12 chicks. Some other species also took up residence: House Wrens, Tree Swallows, and Ash- throated Flycatchers nested in four of the boxes. Ralph monitored progress, gather- ing data about regular visits by birds. The next season, Ralph organized a big expansion: The number of boxes increased to more than 275, including some designed for Wood Ducks, Barn Owls, and Western Bluebirds. Each of the duck and owl boxes had an attached songbird nest box. That year, 62 kestrels fedged, along with 31 Barn Owls, 22 Western Bluebirds, and at least 20 Wood Ducks. Two pairs of Oak Titmice rounded out the species list. In 2014, for the project's third season, Ralph's crew added yet another 70 boxes in Merced and Mariposa counties, but, probably because of drought conditions, the number of fedglings did not increase. Only Tree Swallows seemed to have a good year. Ralph is thinking about adding some Burrowing Owl boxes. Lowell Young, YAAS Board President, said, "Bill's energy and commitment to this program has made a huge and positive contribution to the native bird population by increasing the availability of suitable nest cavities at our locations, as well as providing data that will help researchers. Very few people could accomplish what he's done—he's a dynamo! Maybe a bit of a crazy man, too, but in a good way; his dedication to the program and the birds is unmatched." A male American Kestrel incubates eggs in one of Bill Ralph's nest boxes. Photo © Bill Ralph By placing and monitoring nest boxes like this, Bill Ralph makes a positive contribution to the native bird populations of California. Photo © Megan Ralph

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