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FOS

By Nic.Korte

FOS is birder shorthand for "first of the season." What an exciting time it is! Just a few days ago the FOS black-chinned hummingbird was posted on the Western Slope Birding Network (Subscribe at: wsbn-subscribe@yahoogroups.com). Black -chinned hummingbirds are common in Western Colorado. In another month, they will be seemingly everywhere. But, the FOS! That is something. Birds are migrating. All is right with the world.

Migration is the harbinger of spring, or as in Spanish...La Primavera...a beautiful word for those of us at northern latitudes. "La Primavera" connotes flowers, and bright colors and warmth.

Ironically, I am writing this in Costa Rica where La Primavera is supposed to be the onset of the rainy season. Instead, it is dry with record heat. Speaking of climate change as a fact...is a fact here. Some rains will undoubtedly come, but fewer and more severe storms seem to be the pattern.

So where am I going with this? Recent studies on a small scale, and anecdotal remembrances by some long-term birders suggest bird populations are down throughout Costa Rica, although diversity remains high. Which brings me to a major disappointment. I will never see a golden toad.  

My first visit to Costa Rica in the late 1980s, was also in April. The rains of La Primavera were supposed to begin. They didn't...at least not right away. Some scientists were eagerly awaiting the first rains because that was when the famous golden toads...the symbol of the Monteverde Cloud Forest...came out to breed. The scientists were mildly concerned because so few had been seen the year before. One scientist I spoke with suggested the sparse rains of the previous year probably suppressed or prolonged breeding activities such that the toads were simply missed during the annual census. The general feeling was of optimism and excitement at the prospect of witnessing a marquee nature event...the emergence of golden toads for a night of unusual color and sound in the cold, dark cloud forest of Monteverde. Only, it didn't happen.

I read later that no golden toads were found that year...nor the next...nor ever again. The Golden Toad has been declared extinct. Studies eventually showed that a bacterial infection delivered the killer blow to the golden toad population, but several studies have also suggested links to climate change that either contributed to the drop in population or created a state of unusual vulnerability.

So, I am no longer as sanguine as I await FOS reports. We wait for that first hummingbird or yellow warbler or Swainson's thrush. Birds that remain abundant, such as these, are arriving earlier. http://www.abcbirds.org/newsandreports/releases/120326.html  While change in nature is a constant, these changes are far more rapid than any shown in the fossil record http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/03/28/the-sixth-great-extinction-a-silent-extermination/. Let's not take FOS reports for granted. We need to appreciate and maintain all they represent...welcoming habitat here, productive habitat on the winter range, and a climate that takes care of all of nature...including us.

Join one of Grand Valley Audubon’s Spring Bird Walks--every Wednesday and Saturday through May. Follow the GVAS Facebook page, the website (audubongv.org) or send an email to audubongv@gmail.com to find out where to go and when to meet. There are “loaner” binoculars and checklists. You will learn a lot and have an enjoyable beginning to your day.  

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