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The Blade, Toledo, Ohio, Steve Pollick Column: Whimbrel’s Flight Challenging

June 17, 2008

By Steve Pollick, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

Jun. 17–A hook-billed shorebird known as a whimbrel has made an amazing 3,200-mile flight in fewer than 146 hours from the Delmarva Peninsula on the East Coast to breeding grounds in the High Arctic on the Alaska-Yukon border, stopping briefly en route in the western Lake Erie marshes.

Researchers from the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary and The Nature Conservancy tracked the bird, an adult female nicknamed Winnie, via a miniature satellite tracking device weighing just a third of an ounce that was affixed to its back.

The researchers said that the six-day flight challenges conventional scientific thinking about long-distance migration routes. They added that it also underscores the ecological importance of such areas as the Delmarva, which includes portions of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Not to mention the parallel importance of the famed, highly valued western Lake Erie marshes where the whimbrel took its first rest stop.

Joe McClain, a William and Mary spokesman, said it was not determined which of the southwest Lake Erie marshlands the whimbrel used on its flight. The largest holdings are the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge complex and adjacent Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, which together include some 7,000 acres.

The bird was released May 23 and flew northwest at an average of 22 mph, covering 3,200 miles in no more than 146 hours, according to Bryan Watts, the conservation center director. The whimbrel, a member of the curlew family, stands about 17 inches tall and has a wingspan of about 32 inches.

Checkpoints along the route after southwest Lake Erie include boreal forestlands/tundra west of JamesBay/Hudson Bay, the Barren Grounds tundra of the central Canadian arctic, and the large lakes/tundra country of the Northwest Territory.

“This discovery sets a new distance record in the flight range of this species and highlights the hemispheric importance of the Delmarva Peninsula as a staging area for migratory shorebirds,” said Watts. Like the Delmarva, the southwestern Lake Erie wetlands zone already has been incorporated into the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network and the long-flying whimbrel demonstrated why.

Watts and Barry Truitt, chief conservation scientist for TNC, have been studying the importance of the rich feeding grounds of the Delmarva to whimbrels and other shorebirds, which winter in Central America and South America.

Scientists had thought that the western population of whimbrels, which breed in Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories, followed a Pacific Coast route while the eastern population, which breeds south and west of Hudson Bay, follows the Atlantic Coast.

But the satellite-tracked whimbrel surprised all hands by following a transcontinental route northwest toward Alaska. It ended up in the McKenzie River corridor on the Alaska-Yukon border.

Sycamore and white oak trees that seem to be losing their leaves or are showing just sparse foliage likely are suffering from anthracnose, a defoliation disease, according to the Ohio Division of Forestry.

“The diseases appear to some extent each spring, but symptoms are unusually severe this year,” said Dan Balser, forest health administrator for the division. “Diseased trees will be stressed but should survive with little permanent damage.”

The cool moist spring is blamed for the severity of this spring’s outbreaks. The anthracnoses are leaf and twig diseases caused by a family of closely related fungi and they prevail as leaves begin to emerge from buds and expand.

New shoots should emerge by early summer from buds that otherwise would have remained dormant. Summer heat and dryness should protect new shoots from attack by the fungi, so the affected trees are expected to leaf-out again.

Be aware, however, that some trees and limbs may be weakened and subject to branch dieback or insect attack. Other hardwoods such as ash and maple also are subject to anthracnose varieties, though sycamores and white oaks seem most affected this spring, the forestry division said.

Hunters interested in participating in random drawings for controlled deer and waterfowl hunts on selected state areas this fall have until July 31 to submit applications, the Ohio Division of Wildlife said.

Applications can be filed on-line at wildohio.com for $3 per hunt and mail-in applications can be submitted for $5 per hunt. All fees are nonrefundable.

Special deer hunts are set for Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Lucas County; NASA/Plumbrook Station in Erie County; Ravenna Training and Logistics Site in Portage County; Mosquito Creek State Wildlife Area in Trumbull County; Killdeer Plains State Wildlife Area in Wyandot County, and Old Woman Creek National Reserve in Erie County.

Waterfowl hunts are planned for Ottawa refuge, Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area in Ottawa County, Mosquito Creek, and Mercer State Wildlife Areas in Mercer County.

The early muzzleloader deer hunts at Shawnee, Salt Fork, and Wildcat Hollow public hunting areas no longer are controlled hunts. Those interested in participating in the special season, Oct. 20 through 25, no longer need apply for a controlled hunt permit but will need valid general hunting licenses and deer permit. Mail-in applications are available by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE. Successful hunters will be notified by mail in September. Details are available on-line at wildohio.com.

Steve Pollick is The Blade’s Outdoor Editor E-mail him at spollick@theblade.com Read more Steve Pollick columns at www.toledoblade.com/pollick

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