This post is a little late, but this blog turned nine years old earlier this month (7-April-2021)!

Over the nine years I have been creating for this blog, I have written a total of 276 posts. These posts have been collectively viewed a total of 73,181 times by 57,204 visitors who came from 167 countries all around the world, and 84 of which decided to become followers of the blog! I am so grateful that each of you decided to spend some of your time with me here on this blog, and I hope you continue to find the information you find here valuable.

This year also included the launch of whole new branches for A Birding Naturalist into different forms of social media in the form of a YouTube channel called A Birding Naturalist and an Instagram account called abirdingnaturalist! I hope you explore both of these new platforms and subscribe and follow me there. Your support is tremendously appreciated.

This new year of A Birding Naturalist is going to be an exciting one. My commitment to sharing the knowledge of the natural world is a strong as even, and I hope you continue to join me on this journey!

Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) are a species that is growing more and more numerous, and this is a problem.

Mute Swans are the “classic” swan from stories and art. They are large and showy and beautiful and these traits are exactly why they have been introduced to North America. Birds were brought from Europe in the 1800s and released in parks, gardens, etc. as ornamental additions (New York was the original release area). These birds have since reproduced and spread across the continent as far north as New Hampshire, as far south as Florida, and as far as west as California.

Adult male Mute Swan (Cygnus olor). Source: USFWS digital library.

They are becoming problematic for several reasons. One is that they are quite aggressive, and will chase and bite humans if that human trespasses on the swan’s territory. Another is that they consume quite a bit of food. They are big birds reaching up to 25 to 30 pounds, and that means they eat about eight pounds of aquatic vegetation every day. That is food which is then not available to native birds, and it disrupts habitat for native birds, mammals, fish, and other species. And a third reason is that the swans are directly aggressive to other species of bird driving them off nests, breaking eggs, and killing the chicks of other species, and so displacing those other species from areas where they would otherwise live. With habitats becoming ever smaller and more fragmented, this can mean the native species can be left with no where to go.

These problems have all contributed to Mute Swans being added to California’s restricted species list in 2008. This listing means the birds cannot be imported, transported, or possessed in the state without a permit. This has not completely prevented the swans from beginning to become established in California. Small populations can be found in Petaluma and the Suisun Marsh. I suggest that removing this species while the population is still small is the best course of action. There is every reason to suspect that the population will grow, and as it does so, the problems listed above will become more and more apparent. However, control will become more and more difficult.

One interesting thing about Mute Swans in North America is that they do not migrate very much. There are certainly some, relatively short, seasonal movements that occur in some parts of the continent, but not much. Certainly nothing compared to the long migrations that Mute Swans in Europe engage in. The evolution of this behavior in a novel environment illustrates how different geographic regions can cause a species to adapt and change. This behavioral evolution could then lead to the evolution of a new species, if it persists and becomes dramatic enough.

So, what can you do to help native birds and habitats, and prevent Mute Swans from taking over? If you spot a Mute Swan in California, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Invasive Species Program by sending an email to: invasives@wildlife.ca.gov or calling 886-440-9530. Together, we can act as citizen scientists to gather data that tracks where these birds are and how they move around. This data will help us all make the best and most informed decisions we can about this species.

Thanks for visiting my blog. If you are interested in other ways to connect with me, here are a couple of options:

YouTube – A Birding Naturalist

Instagram – abirdingnaturalist

I read something a couple of days ago that troubled and saddened me in so many ways. It was a personal account by a young woman of how she was sexually assaulted. Various search engines and social media platforms brought this article to my attention because it involved birders. In her blog post, Aisha White told of how she began exploring the world of birding in 2020. Among the many people she met included a prominent figure in the birding community where she lived. This person is a science communicator, he leads birding tours, has a large online platform, and he hosts a successful documentary series on birding with a large following.

He raped Aisha.

You can read the full story in Aisha White’s own words, here.

Now, the person who did this terrible thing to Aisha White is black and I am white. And, I realize that as a white person, I may be accused of racism when I denounce a black person. I hope that does not happen. But I am also a man, and as such have a responsibility to hold other men accountable for their actions.

So, let me be very clear. Sexual violence is intolerable and has no place in the birding community.

Additionally, I am a science communicator, and play a small role in the birding community as well (though no where near what the man in question has held). As a birder and science communicator, I want to bring more people into the birding community. I want to share knowledge of the fascinating world we live in with them. I want to inspire people to want to learn more! The actions of this man taint such efforts by the all the rest of us.

The various organizations that had worked with this man have canceled those associations. He was fired from the American Bird Conservancy, where he worked, and the documentary series has been canceled. Legal investigations will move forward to determine the facts of the case, and what paths forward could be taken. But, I think dissolving the associations with the man in question were appropriate actions for those organizations to take.

I think that stepping forward and sharing an experience like this with the public takes a lot of guts. Aisha White, if you ever read this, I see you, I hear you, and I am sorry that this ever happened to you. I hope that you find a way to continue exploring the world of birds and that your love for them continues to grow. Know that there are many people in the world who will stand by you and will be happy to help, if you like. I am one of them.

A GoFundMe page to support Aisha White’s legal costs can be found here.

This is a developing story and may be edited and adjusted as more information becomes available.

A few years ago, I wrote a post called Lizards, Ticks, and Lyme. It explained how Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) have a blood protein that kills the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease, and this is one of the major explanations of why Lyme Disease is so much less common in the Western USA.

Well, new research (see references at the end) has added a really intriguing facet to the Tick-Lizard-Lyme story. This new research focuses on the southeastern USA. The southeast is another area where Lyme Disease rates are very low. But why? The southeastern USA has populations of Black-legged Ticks (members of the genus: Ixodes), which are the ticks that can carry Lyme Disease. The region has the mammal species such as deer and mice that act as reservoirs for Lyme Disease. People in the southwest get bitten by ticks, just like other parts of the country. So why is Lye Disease so much more common in the northeastern USA than the southeastern?

Well, once again, it looks like we can thank lizards. Skinks are a group of smooth-scaled rather lovely looking lizards and they are one of the preferred hosts for ticks in the southeastern USA. In the northeastern USA mice are the much more common host to ticks. And this sets up a roadblock for Lyme Disease in the southeast because skinks have been shown to be really bad transmitters of Lyme Disease. Mice, on the other hand, have been shown to be very effective transmitters of Lyme Disease.

A Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Photo credit: Animal Spot)

It is not yet known if the stinks blood contains proteins that actually kill the Lyme Disease-causing bacteria, or it there is something else about skinks that reduces transmission rates, but this difference in host does help to explain why Lyme Disease rates are so much lower in the southeastern USA as compared to the northeastern USA.

So, fence lizards and skinks both contribute to reducing Lyme Disease in the areas where these lizards are found. Pretty fascinating stuff! I am very much looking forward to learning more about this subject as more research is done. Do other lizard species also reduce the occurrences of Lyme Disease? Does skink blood kill the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease? What is the blood protein that the fence lizards produce that kills the bacteria, and can it be synthesized? So many questions!

I hope you follow this story, and are as intrigued by it as I am. I will certainly write more as more is discovered.

Here are some sources for further reading: a Science News article, and an SF Gate article.

What follows is a series of interactions between myself and a publishing company called Best Version Media (BVM) that I found to be unsettling and distasteful. It has resulted in me withdrawing my contributions to BVM publications. This story gets a little long, so I will be posting it in several parts. Here is part 6.

In part 5, I shared a letter that I wrote to PERSON 3 (name not included for sensitivity reasons), and senior manager of BVM. That letter was part of a set of back-and-fourth emails between me and BVM employees. Here is PERSON 3’s final response to me which was sent on 9/15/2020.

Dear Aaron,

You are entitled to disagree with our company’s policy as you clearly already had.We have never been a platform to discuss race or other social issues and that will not change. 

If you are telling me that you are not racist or sexist I will believe you. The way in which you expressed your views could have been more clear though as I was not the only one who read them as I did.  

As far as contributing writers, BVM does not pay any contributing writers. Most pay us. Many want to contribute because they know how much notoriety they get from our magazines or they just really enjoy writing about a particular topic. If you took issue with this then 4 years ago would have been the more appropriate time to do so.

In the spirit of understanding it is probably best and most accurate to say that neither one of us wants either discrimination or mertitless recognition based off of race, gender, etc and leave it at that. 

Have a great week

PERSON 3 name and title

So, that is that.

After reading this response, and thinking about it for a bit, I decided that I could no longer contribute to BVM publications.

I continue to stand by everything I wrote in my article and subsequent letters. And I think that the responses from PERSON 3 display a thinking that I find very distasteful. The fact that PERSON 3 represents and speaks for BVM is why I have stopped contributing to their publications, and why I am publishing this whole exchange here.

I leave it to a candid world, and you dear reader. If you made it through all six parts of this story, you have my thanks. What conclusions do you draw from these writings? Was I out of line? Was PERSON 3? What do you think about all of this? If anyone wants more details and names of the individuals involved in this exchange, comment below and we can discuss further.

Disappearing Bees

Bee populations have been having a hard time for a while now. Species of bee all around the world have experienced significant population declines that have persisted for decades. But it has been difficult to get a sense of the full magnitude of the issue since so many of the bee population studies focused on a single species, or a relatively small geographic area.

In 2020, researchers at the National University of Comahue in Argentina took a more global look at the loss of bee diversity. These researchers published a paper used data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility which is a platform where researchers and citizen scientists can record sightings of bee species, and that is available to the public.

By examining observations of bees around the world they found that the number of bee species observed from 2006 to 2015 was only about 75% of the number of species observed before 1990. That is not a very long period of time, and these declines were despite the fact that more and more observers are adding more and more observations to the platform each year. To clarify, this does not mean that 25% of the world bee species have gone extinct, but it does mean that they have become so rare that people are not encountering them. Although, becoming extinct is one potential reason for no longer being observed.

One of the bee species, in particular, that has declined rapidly is the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis) which was once found across much of the mid-western and northern USA. This species has declined by nearly 80% since the late 1990s. This decline lead the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as federally endangered in 2017. This was the first species of wild bee in the continental USA to ever be federally listed and so gain the protection of the Endangered Species List (several species of bee native to Hawaii have been given this status prior to the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee).

Rusty-patched bumble bee on culver’s root at University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum. Photo: Susan Day/UW–Madison Arboretum.

The listing of the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee and the research on the dramatic and sustained reduction in abundance of global bee biodiversity both serve to highlight the loss of bees and other insects. This is an often overlooked section of lost biodiversity. The extinction of a rhino species is much more eye-catching than the extinction of a bee species. But loosing bees and other insects is having, and will continue to have, profound impacts on the natural world around us, and so should not go unnoticed!

What follows is a series of interactions between myself and a publishing company called Best Version Media (BVM) that I found to be unsettling and distasteful. It has resulted in me withdrawing my contributions to BVM publications. This story gets a little long, so I will be posting it in several parts. Here is part 5.

After reading the letter in part 4 of this series from PERSON 3 (name not included for sensitivity reasons), I wrote a response to him on 9/15/2020. Here is my letter to PERSON 3.

Dear PERSON 3,

In reading your response to my letter from the company perspective, it seems I need to clarify the point of that letter. My hope was that Best Version Media (BVM) would reconsider the blanket policy of never discussing racial or social issues. That is still my hope.

In response to your personal comments, I have a few personal comments of my own.

Reading your responses, personal though you stated them to be, I was surprised at how unprofessional you were. In my article and letter, I do not attack BVM, you, or any other individual. I did not call BVM names, nor did I do so to you or any other individual. I would expect that you would extend the same basic courtesies to me.

You claim that I advocate that birds should be named for people solely based on skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. This is simply false. Nowhere in either my article or letter do such statements appear. I do advocate for greater diversity and representation in bird names and for greater inclusion in the birding community. I disagree with you that calling for greater diversity, inclusion, and representation can be classified as racist or sexist.

I have been a regular contributor to four different BVM publications over the past four years with no compensation. Given this, I was surprised by your responses. It seems a poor business decision, and again very unprofessional, to attack your own contributors.

I will end by saying that I hope your responses to my article and letter do not represent the “best version” of individuals that your company claims to promote.


Aaron N.K. Haiman

PERSON 3’s second letter to me will appear in part 6.

Have you ever seen a v-shaped flock of geese fly overhead and wondered, why do they do that? In this video I share some information explaining this interesting behavior. I also talk about the other species that also fly in v-shaped flocks, and dispel an oft repeated myth.

If you enjoy the videos I am creating, two ways to stay informed would be to subscribe to the A Birding Naturalist channel and/or become a follower of this blog.

Eurasian Cranes (Grus grus) flying a v-formation (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

What follows is a series of interactions between myself and a publishing company called Best Version Media (BVM) that I found to be unsettling and distasteful. It has resulted in me withdrawing my contributions to BVM publications. This story gets a little long, so I will be posting it in several parts. Here is part 4.

In part 3, I wrote a letter of concern to BVM hoping that they rethink their stance that they simply will not publish materials that discuss race or racism.

I received a response from PERSON 3 (name not included for sensitivity reasons), an individual very high in the management of BVM. This is not the individual that I originally addressed my letter of concern to. Here is PERSON 3’s response to me on 9/11/2020.

Dear Aaron,

Thank you for reaching out. I am more than happy to address your article and letter of concerns from the company side of things. BVM is not a news source nor are we a platform for people’s personal social convictions. There are other places for that and we are not it. We do not cover the topic of race in any way either. It is not part of our company’s business model to “discuss” race in our magazines or online.

On the personal side, I find both your article and letter disturbing. Your article advocates that a bird be named after someone purely due to how they identify their sex or what race they are? No mention of education on the topic or identifying species or anything.  These are extreme sexist and racist views to have in 2020. To promote that anyone should have or not have honorable mention purely due to the shade of skin color they have is disgustingly racist and insulting to those of any race. 

To promote a view that someone should also be elevated this way purely because of gender (or gender identification) is equally wrong and insulting to women. Furthermore, to imply that others should not have a bird named after them for no other reason than there are too many “white men” with birds named after them is appalling.

I encourage you to see people for the human dignity they all have and not the way they identify as or their shade of skin color. Respect everyone, love everyone and see everyone as a person not a demographic. Only then will everyone be treated equal. Please learn to treat everyone equal.

Thank you     

PERSON 3 name and title

My response to this letter will appear in part 5.

This video is from a recent visit my family and I made to Staten Island in the central Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Staten Island is a 9,200 acre reserve owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy specifically to provide foraging and roosting habitat for Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis) and also waterfowl, shorebirds, and many other species.

If you enjoy the videos I am creating, two ways to stay informed would be to subscribe to the channel and/or follow this blog.

Sandhill Cranes (Photo courtesy of the USFWS – John Magera)