February 5, 2005 [LINK]

Death to Mute swans?

There is a growing controversy in Maryland over the planned killing of Mute swans, which many people believe are destroying aquatic vegetation upon which fish in the Chesapeake Bay depend for reproduction. A letter to the editor in the Washington Post earlier this week claimed that a bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R) would "gut" the Migratory Bird Treaties signed with Canada and Mexico. I am skeptical of this, however. Mute swans are not migratory, and in any case the fact that they are from Europe, not North America, means they are not covered by Federal laws prohibiting hunting or killing of native birds. Starlings, House sparrows, and Rock pigeons are not protected for good reason: They enroach upon the habitat of native species, some of which -- such as Bluebirds -- suffered terrible declines for most of the 20th Century. The writer, Michael Markarian, an official of the Humane Society, claims that the question of which birds are really "native" to North America is complicated, but I am unaware of any such controversies. Mute swans are graceful creatures, but that doesn't entitle them to proliferate at the expense of other species. They can be very aggressive toward humans or smaller waterfowl. Mr. Markarian certainly has a point that a bigger threat to the Chesapeake Bay comes from waste runoff from corporate poultry farms. Gilchrest should show that his concern for the environment is sincere by pushing for tighter regulations on agricultural polluters.

Coincidentally, waste runoff has reached dangerous levels in Augusta County, where agribusiness is king. In fact, Lewis Creek, which flows through downtown Staunton, was recently deemed unsafe by state health officials.

Red-tailed hawk While driving around Augusta County after doing my recycling chores this afternoon, I saw several Red-tailed hawks (including this one, about 80 yards away), plus two Kestrels, one of which repeatedly hovered and dove toward its prey. None of the hoped-for Horned larks or American pipits previously sighted by Allen Larner were present, however. Along Bell's Lane I saw two Great blue herons, some White-crowned sparrows, and some Bluebirds. At the big pond (now half-thawed) nearby, I saw at least a thousand Canada geese and (probably) two Redheads (ducks).

UPDATE: Thanks to an e-mail message from Allen Larner to the Shenandoah Birds list serve, I can confirm that those were Redheads I saw today. My first sighting of that species was Jan. 25, 2003.