By Brandon Breen, KBO Science Communications and Outreach Recently, I went paddling for bird conservation on the Trinity River in northern California. I traveled here for ten days as a biologist for the Klamath Bird Observatory; my job was to conduct bird surveys by kayak along several stretches of the river, along with my field partner Frank Lospalluto, a pleasant and generous man with a vast knowledge of natural history. Klamath Bird Observatory operates with the understanding that birds are environmental indicators. A landscape that can support healthy populations of native birds will have enough habitat complexity to support most other forms of wildlife. If some bird species are absent or declining, we can use knowledge about their species-specific habitat relationships to identify important habitat features that are likely underrepresented on the landscape. On the Trinity River, and in partnership with the Trinity River Restoration Program, Frank and I were monitoring birds as indicators of the quality of the riparian habitat. We started our work when it was still dark. I opened my tent flap each morning and walked out under a star-filled sky. I then drove to meet Frank at our put-in location for the day, where we unloaded and inflated our kayaks and organized our paddles, life vests, dry bags, clipboards, datasheets, GPS units, range finders, snacks, and extra clothes. At about this time the eastern sky was beginning to lighten. We then shuttled one of our cars to the take-out location, and returned to the kayaks in time to push off into the river at sunrise. The mornings were cold and the humidity generated by the river added a penetrating chill. Splashes from rapids gave us our morning jolts. Each morning I watched with desire as the sunlight slid down the mountains to the tops of the nearby trees and then finally to the shores and the river and me. It was glorious coming into direct sunlight for the first time each day. Pleasant temperatures, however, were short-lived, and before long the sun climbed higher into the cloudless sky and blazed. Frank worked one side of the river and I worked the other. We pulled ashore every three or four hundred meters to conduct our bird surveys. Song Sparrows, Yellow Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Tree Swallows were most common, and we also heard or saw plenty of Black-headed Grosbeaks, Warbling Vireos, and Orange-crowned Warblers, among others. We recorded every individual bird we saw or heard during a 10-minute period, and estimated their distances from us. Standardized data like these allow scientists to estimate bird densities on the landscape and determine the population sizes and number of species that a landscape can support. Once a point was completed, we signaled to each other across the river and then pushed our kayaks back into the flow. There is an authenticity to field work that is refreshing. The field biologist wakes at the richest time of day and stays out in the heat and the wind and the rain. Field work can certainly be grueling, tedious, and uncomfortable at times, but it also offers bright lights of experience, like floating a few feet beneath an American Dipper nest located on the underside of a bridge, or watching bald eagles fly overhead. Interestingly, the field biologist spends his or her time in a community of life in which humans, if not altogether absent, are minor characters. Over time, the field biologist transitions from a visitor to a member of this new community. The inhabitants become more familiar and visible. You begin to recognize a Yellow Warbler from the first note of its song. You scan the sky for the Ospreys you know are nesting nearby. You know where to listen for the Black-throated Gray Warblers, where their buzzes and rhythms drift down from the uplands. (Learn more about KBO’s work on the Trinity River through our document Bird Monitoring as an Aide to Riparian Restoration: Findings from the Trinity River in Northwestern California.)
22 July, 2013 By Brandon Breen, KBO Science Communications and Outreach An Oregon Junco originally banded in the Central Valley of California (on 19 January, 2008 by Point Blue Conservation Science, formerly PRBO) reappeared four and a half years later, on 10 October, 2012, at a Klamath Bird Observatory banding station located 20 miles east/northeast of Ashland, Oregon. The junco was recaptured at 5,000 ft elevation in an alder-dominated riparian thicket at Johnson Creek; the surrounding landscape is mature conifer forest managed by the Bureau of Land Management. This area is one among many that this junco depends on as it travels widely in search of food, shelter, and suitable habitat for raising young. New information on bird movements, both within and between countries, is necessary for bird conservation and sheds additional light on the remarkable life histories of migratory birds.
By Robert Frey, KBO Research Biologist 16 July, 2013 KBO biologists captured, banded, and released an Ovenbird today at our Upper Klamath Lake field station – a species rarely encountered in Oregon. It was determined to be an after-hatching year bird (hatched in 2012 or before), age and sex unknown. The Ovenbird is considered a regular transient in Oregon (that is, the species is encountered at least once a year somewhere in the state). KBO has banded and released two other Ovenbirds – one in 1997 and another in 2004. Cool bird!
Harry Fuller, Klamath Bird Observatory Board President I learned two things today about White-headed Woodpeckers: (1) The “white” head is not all white up close and (2) the male has a brood patch as well as the female, meaning he helps incubate eggs. How did I find out? I visited a Klamath Bird Observatory bird-banding site near Upper Klamath Lake. The bird banders are gentle, using no pressure and no squeezing. The birds are held on their backs when measured, allowing the hand to support a given bird’s weight. The birds are released by opening the hand near the ground with the bird in an upright position, allowing each bird to seek its own escape route and first perch. This bird population research project is now almost two decades old, and it is one of the longest-running, annual data collections in the western United States. Each bird’s general condition, feathers, weight, gender, and age can help tell a lot about how a breeding population is doing—and this is information that often can only be collected from birds in hand. A population with a high percentage of older birds (not yearlings) is a good sign of a healthy breeding situation. The two White-headed Woodpeckers banded today were both 3 year old birds, a good sign. This species is not often caught, but it is regularly observed at this location near Rocky Point, Oregon.
Harry Fuller, KBO Board Member Up at 4AM. On the road before 5AM. Parked on a dirt road in sagebrush country before 6AM. It’s 34 outside, fingers turn numb because the windows have to be open to shoot pics. Four male Sage Grouse are on the lek. The huffing, puffing, dancing and bellow notes of the annual lek performance are underway by the time we can see them. The males pull their head down into their inflated white feather ruffs and then re-extend their necks. At the same time they are inflating and deflating their twin air sacs, which are blanketed by thick white feathers. At 7:06 AM at an unseen signal all four males fly away. Their performance is done. Our day is well underway. The next hours of birds and photos will be a bonus. Our Klamath Bird Observatory photo trip to Malheur is a success before we’ve even had breakfast. (Harry Fuller shares an experience from a recent KBO conservation bird-watching outing to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. To learn more about upcoming KBO field trips, visit the KBO Website and look under Trips and Events at the bottom left.)
Pablo “Chespi” Elizondo, Costa Rica Bird Observatories Executive Director Background: Klamath Bird Observatory and USDA Forest Service Redwood Sciences Laboratory have a long-running international capacity building program that is supported by the Forest Service’s International Programs. Costa Rica Bird Observatories is one of the most notable success stories. Emerging from monitoring effort that began over 20 years ago in Torutgeuro, Costa Rica Bird Observatories is now a fully-fledged and sustainable program. Costa Rica Bird Observatories includes 13 field locations where long-term monitoring efforts are ongoing, a support network for coordinated banding efforts throughout Costa Rica (Red de Anilladores de Aves de Costa Rica), and an international capacity building program of its own, that is working towards developing monitoring efforts throughout central and south America as part of the Western Hemisphere Banding Network (Red de Anilladores de Aves del Hemisferio Occidental). The White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus) is a migratory bird that breeds in the southeastern United States from New Jersey west to northern Missouri and south to Texas and Florida. This species winters in eastern Mexico, northern Central America, Cuba, and the Bahamas. White-eyed Vireos rarely occur in Costa Rica. Garrigues and Dean (2007) indicated that there were very few records for Costa Rica, “… one record for the Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí area (Jan 2004); and one report of a bird seen and heard in Monteverde (March 1997).” eBird only shows two other records (one from 2012, and one from 2010) (eBird 2013). This year at Costa Rica Bird Observatories we captured three individual White-eyed Vireos in Tortuguero, one at our Airport station (Nov-19-2012) and two at the Caribbean Conservation Corp station (Nov-11 and Dec-14 2012). Two of the individuals were unknown age, but suspected to be young birds, and one was confirmed to be a hatch year bird by observed molt limits between newly grown formative (i.e., 1st adult) and retained juvenal (i.e., fledgling) feathers. There have been additional White-eyed Vireo observations in Tortuguero this winter; Daryl Logh, a well know birdwatcher from Casa Marbella, has seen this rare vireo a couple of times this year. Ornithologists suggest that individual birds that stray beyond their wintering range (i.e., vagrants) such as White-eyed Vireos in Costa Rica, are predominantly young birds. Our capture data collected over the past 20 years in Tortuguero provide plenty of additional evidence that rarities and vagrant birds are usually younger individuals. For example, 6 out of 6 Black-throated Blue Warbler and 8 out of 8 Yellow-breasted Chats, both rarities to the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica and captured at our Totuguero stations, have been young birds. Literature cited eBird. 2013. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York. Available: http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: April 4, 2013). Garrigues, R. and R. Dean (2007). The Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press. Hopp, Steven L., Alice Kirby, and Carol A. Boone. 2010. White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=506316