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The Southwestern New Mexico Audubon Society serves communities in four counties;
Silver City, Deming, Lordsburg, Glenwood, Cliff, Reserve, the Mimbres Valley, and the Gila National Forest.

Learn more about the Goals, Advocacy & Action your
→ SWNM Audubon Membership supports!

Southwestern New Mexico Audubon Society 2021 Annual Picnic & Election of Officers

On Friday, September 3, 2021, Southwestern New Mexico Audubon Society held its annual picnic at Little Walnut Picnic Pavilion in the Gila National Forest. Members and visitors enjoyed the beautiful site and perfect weather by socializing, bird watching and eating dinner. Covid-safe practices were observed. Rachelle Bergmann, Secretary, called the meeting to order to hold the election of officers. This happens every two years, in odd numbered years at the annual meeting. Positions considered this year were in accordance with our newly revised by-laws.

  •  President-Vacant
  • Treasurer/Membership–Rachelle Bergmann
  • Secretary–Susan Slade
  • Nominees could also be accepted from the floor. No additional nominations were made.

Rachelle introduced herself and Susan Slade as prospective officers. A vote was taken approving Rachelle and Susan for two-year terms. Board-appointed positions were reviewed. Several positions remain open and efforts to fill those will be ongoing. Anyone with interest/expertise in those areas and a desire to serve is encouraged to apply to the SWNMA Board.

Appointed Board Positions:

  • Education–Myoshi Renard
  • Conservation–Vacant
  • Communications–Vacant
  • Publicity–Vacant
  • Programs, Field Trips–Megan Ruehmann. Emily Pollom will assist Megan and Vynce Bourne with Programs and Field Trips.
  • Ravens Distribution–Russell Wiegman
  • Ravens Editor–Patricia Taber

The election meeting was adjourned at 6:15 pm. Members and visitors reported on some of their summer bird sightings. One new member related his recent sighting of a Gray hawk in the San Vicente Creek area and passed the sighting along to John Gorey and Megan Ruehmann.

Twenty-one kids and family members took part in a Kids’ Bird Walk on Oct 9th at San Vicente.

Led by the events committee of SWNMA, the group met at the Hwy 90 overpass and had a quick orientation on binocular use. Our Chapter’s 10 pairs of binoculars that were purchased with the Audubon Collaborative Grant were appreciated and put to good use! We had a lovely stroll underneath the cottonwoods along the still lush riparian corridor of San Vicente. The creek was running fairly high and autumn colors were just beginning to show.

Though we didn’t spot any of the unusual species that are occasionally being seen this fall (Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Gray Hawk), a handful of our more common residents were around for us to study shapes and calls. One participant pointed out a Turkey Vulture catching thermals high above us; another found several different species of grasshoppers; someone made a boat out of fallen cottonwood leaves while providing details on forest gnomes; another latched a molted cicada shell on their parent’s sweater; someone else asked the difference between Ravens and Crows as they cawed overhead.

Back at the trailhead each child picked out a prize – nature books, butterfly and raptor guides were donated for the event by SWAG (they have a fantastic selection of books– go take a look and pass on your support!). Everyone loved taking part in this type of gathering and we hope to hold more Bird Walks in the future!

Male House Finch with eye disease.
Errol Taskin, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

In the House Finch vs. bacteria arms race,
so far it’s a draw—and the battle rages on.

Ithaca, NY—Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientists have been tracking the effects House Finch eye disease for more than 25 years. The disease causes red, swollen, watery, or crusty eyes. Afflicted birds can recover, but may die because they cannot see well enough to find food or avoid predators. The latest analyses, based on the observations of Project FeederWatch participants from eight northeast states, addresses the long-term impact of the disease on House Finch populations and points to the role of the finch immune system in the bird vs. bacteria battle. The findings are published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

We have an escalating arms race,” says Cornell Lab researcher and lead author Wesley Hochachka. “Finches who become infected but survive acquire some immunity to that version of the bacteria and its predecessors. The bacteria evolve to get around the strengthened finch immunity. Then birds acquire immunity to the latest strain, and the cycle keeps repeating.

The study’s authors believe that acquired immunity—when the immune system creates antibodies in response to an infection—is actually driving the arms race between the birds and the bacteria. They say imperfect acquired immunity, just like imperfect vaccines against human pathogens, creates the conditions needed to favor the proliferation of new strains of the bacteria that can overcome immunity acquired against existing strains of bacteria.

Immunity can also develop through genetic changes to the House Finches, but this would be a relatively slow process, requiring multiple years for genetically novel and resistant finches to become widespread. In contrast, genetic changes to the bacteria can proliferate within hours—so fast that populations of House Finches can't possibly evolve a defense quickly enough.

We should really pay more attention to the role that acquired immunity can play in the dynamics of disease in any animal,” said Hochachka. “Interactions can be much more complicated when both the host and the disease are able to change rapidly.”

The overall House Finch population was cut in half during the initial outbreak when the bacteria jumped to finches from poultry in 1994. House Finch populations now are mostly stable at their current, lower level. Hochachka says that's surprising because in other tracked animal diseases, the typical patterns are either that the animal populations rebound or fluctuate widely following the initial disease outbreak. But he thinks the finch population is not likely to return to pre-disease levels.

The finch eye disease dynamic has parallels to human health and the use of vaccines to give people acquired immunity to diseases. Here also, imperfect immunity—vaccines that do not provide perfect protection—are believed to accelerate the spread of new strains of pathogens against which vaccines are ineffective. “The emergence of new diseases is going to keep happening,” Hochachka said. “We just have to develop methods and systems for dealing with it as best we can when a lethal disease appears.

— Cornell Lab of Ornithology