Readers 1998

(This column first appeared in the December 28, 1998 Buffalo News.)

    At year end I write to thank my readers over the past twelve months and to update a few columns.

    My favorite among the many letters I received this year came from Odo Oliva of Lockport. Enclosed was his photograph of a polyphemus moth, a more handsome specimen than the one portrayed in my Peterson guide. Its soft brown wings are spread to reveal bright yellow and black ocelli. (Ocelli are false eye patterns that many entomologists believe give these giant silkworm moths the pattern of a still larger animal’s head, thus deterring predators. Peacocks show similar ocelli when they fan their tails.) Mr. Oliva reported that when he touched the moth it "spread his wings a little more so the black spots were more uncovered." This certainly supports the entomologists’ view as this kind of action would give the moth the appearance of opening those staring owl-like eyes.

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    Early this year I reported on the vagrant lazuli bunting that appeared at the Tiede feeders in Bethany – a first record for New York State. Recently the American Birding Association presented to Virginia Tiede its commendation award not for her identification of this bird but for her subsequent hospitality. The bird lingered for weeks, while almost 200 birders from across the eastern United States were invited (muddy boots and all) into the Tiede home to observe it.

    The nomination for the award reads, in part, "Each time I see a rare bird like this at someone’s feeder, I come away wondering whether I enjoyed the bird or the people I visited better. It certainly comes out at least a tie where the Tiedes are concerned."

    I hope that a similar award will be given to Don and Bernice Greenmun, a Binghamton couple who allowed many birders into their formal gardens this fall to see another state newcomer – an Anna’s hummingbird. When I was there with a group of Buffalo birders, three people arrived from New York City – by taxi! That certainly suggests the importance to regional bird watchers of this wanderer from the west coast.

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    Readers may recall a column I wrote about the cormorant "massacre" near Watertown. Approximately a thousand of these big fish-eating birds were shot on Little Galoo Island, presumably by local fishermen. My response to that incident was different from that of many of my conservationist friends. While I criticized the law-breakers, I recognized the concerns of those who find their fishing resource depleted, they claim by these birds, and I also noted the environmental damage the birds do, some of it here in the Niagara River. However, I also said: "The few available biological studies suggest that cormorants consume a meager diet of game fish" and I called for additional research.

    State officials and field workers have responded to this concern. Just this week Environmental Conservation Commissioner John Cahill announced the results of eleven new studies conducted this year. They support the fishing community’s position, indicating a significant effect of cormorant depredations on game fish, especially small-mouth bass.

    Already one environmentalist (without yet examining the evidence) is questioning the studies and accusing the commissioner of failure to identify and prosecute the cormorant killers instead. I find that posture unreasonable. I continue to deplore law-breaking, but something must be done about this problem. I also believe that we are better served if all of us concerned with the environment – and I include those who hunt and fish and trap in that category – work together to protect our natural resources.

    Thanks again to my correspondents and readers. You honor me with your attention and forbearance. -- Gerry Rising