Friday, July 30, 2010

Name That Bird!!

Let's see how good you folks are at IDing your birds.  I'm keeping score!  There are a couple of difficult ones here, so maybe just a smidgen of cheating allowed...but test yourself first!










Saturday, July 24, 2010

Prairie to the Peaks

Boise, ID from atop Lucky Peak
An abrupt transition.  After a seemingly quick field season searching for raptor nests in the lowlands, I headed straight to the highlands above Boise to start my next field job.  I remain working for the Idaho Bird Observatory (IBO), but I am now a bird bander, replacing my former title of nest searcher.  IBO has managed a banding operation at the top of Lucky Peak (just outside of Boise, above Lucky Peak Reservoir) for about 17 years, capturing and banding all the fall migrating birds, everything from small, perching birds (technically termed Passerines or "LBJ's"-Little Brown Jobbies- for all nonbirders) to owls to large raptors.  I have been hired for the capture and banding of the small dudes.

Moon setting over Boise

So how do we capture the birds? least to the birds.  We set up fine, mesh nets (we have ten total scattered around the top of Lucky Peak) which the birds cannot see.  When they fly into the nets (mist-nets, as we call them), they usually get all tangled up and can't escape (insert evil laugh here).  Then, dudes (like myself) and dudettes come bopping along every half hour and untangle them, trying not to lose them as they flap and wiggle around (when they do escape, we call it "flubbing" a bird.  The boss is not happy when we flub birds.  Minimizing flubbing is a priority.  I have only flubbed one bird so far...and, luckily, I at least got the band on it before it got away).

The mist-nets...note the near invisibility (there is mist-net stretched across the entire upper-right corner of the photo)  
The crew untangling a capture of eleven birds.
Unwittingly stuck.  (Nashville Warbler)

Sometimes, the untangle process takes seconds.  Sometimes, minutes.  Sometimes (mostly coming from me), yelling for "HELP!" from the more advanced bird untanglers.
Advanced untangler Heidi...often my untangling savior.
I always wonder what is going on in their little heads at these moments.
Once untangled, they are transfered into small bags so as to minimize injury and transported to the banding station, where they are processed (ie banded, ID'd, sexed, aged, measured, checked for muscle and fat, and weighed).
Using banding pliers (specifically made for banding birds) to place a small metal band on the right leg.  The band has a unique set of numbers that will identify that bird if ever caught again. (Yellow-breasted Chat)
Weighing sequence:

(Nashville Warbler)

Weighing a larger bird 
Measuring wing chord length (Yellow-breasted Chat)
Measuring tail length (Yellow-breasted Chat)
The blowing technique...used to push aside the feathers to see the amount of muscle and fat on the bird. (Yellow-breasted Chat)
The band. (Brown-headed cowbird)

Getting to handle these birds is a great privilege.  It's one thing to see birds flying around, which is very cool in itself, but getting to hold them in your hand, feel their quivering wings, reptilian feet, and soft feathers, hear them squeak and squawk as they try to escape, and look into their tiny but infinitely deep eyes is quite another thing.  There is much to be learned from these little birds.  If you are ever in Boise, you would never regret a visit to the top of Lucky Peak to witness the banding operations.  We'll even let you handle the birds!!  Let me know if you want to come up...and I hope you do!

For all birders...expect bird ID quizzes in the future!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Desert for a Moose to Wander

Heidi and I were pleasantly surprised to find a young bull moose in the most unlikely of places.  Wandering across the dry grass and sagebrush country of the Bennett Hills, the little dude was very far from any good moose habitat.  Most of the creeks in the canyons have dried up, and it is a long walk in any direction to any good eatins.  As weird as the sighting was, it exemplifies the importance of the conservation of corridors for wildlife.  As is, the Bennett Hills provide wonderful habitat for a great variety of desert (sage grouse, burrowing owls, pronghorn antelope, raptors, etc, etc) and non-desert species (as represented by the black bears and the Pacific tree frog mentioned and photographed in previous posts).  But the Bennett Hills are also a travel corridor, a passageway for dispersing individuals to get from one population to another.  The ability of wildlife populations to do so is critical in maintaining genetic diversity as well as reducing the effects of inbreeding in populations.  It also helps to establish or maintain populations that have been eliminated or reduced.

Humans are really good at destroying and fragmenting habitat.  This is why I love Idaho.  Even though there is aplenty of habitat degradation and elimination here in Idaho, there is also a gihugic (gigantic+huge) amount of habitat that is left relatively untainted, and will probably remain so for a long time.  Why?  Because Idaho has an amazing amount of country that is too difficult to access, explore, and exploit.  The mountains are too steep.  The deserts are too dry.  The roads are too rough and too far to travel.  "I can't grow my potatoes here with all this derned lava rock everywhere!"  And the government owns most of it.

Destruction is much, much easier than creation.  I admire all who take on the challenge of creating habitat instead of destroying it.  And conserving habitat these days is the same as creating it.  I am glad the Bennett Hills belong in the hands of the BLM.  I am glad there are still wanderers pilgrimaging across the desert.