Thursday, September 10, 2009

My newest office

With my return to school, my duties at the Idaho Bird Observatory have changed a bit. The songbird banding continues, but my morning classes don't allow me to participate to the same degree. The result is that I will be reducing my hours and shifting to hawkwatch instead of songbirds banding. Hawkwatch consists of counting each raptor that migrates over the watch site, which is regularly over 100 per day.
A couple of months ago I posted about My New Office at the IBO. I figured it was time to introduce you to my newest office on hawkwatch! While it can be very hot or very cold up there, it is an amazing place to work! The team generally watches from 10am-6pm daily, I will only be there on Mondays and when I fill in for others.
360 degree view from Lucky Peak (click to enlarge, then magnify)
Lucky Peak is a great place for a watch site. Migrating raptors tend to follow ridgelines or "leading lines" while on migration. Lucky Peak is the Southern most peak in the west Idaho mountains. The raptors are naturally led to this point by the ridge lines, then they fly over the Southern Idaho desert and in to Nevada. When setting up the IBO 15 years ago, the team tested a number of peaks, Lucky Peak was the luckiest with the greatest number of migrants visible.
The mountain just right of center in the photo is Bogus Basin Ski Area. Most of the raptors we count come toward us from this direction, especially the soaring raptors like Red-tailed Hawks. We also have to look lower as the Accipiter hawks (Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Northern Goshawks) tend to be hunting through the trees as they make their way toward us. The various raptors shift to different sides of the ridge based on the weather. On one day all of the soaring raptors were on the right, while the accipiters were on the left. On last Monday most everything thing was coming right over the top.
The crew consists of a minimum of two watchers, with three being preferred. When we have four or more available we utilize a different protocol where we split in to teams. The primary observers act as a normal team announcing everything they see. The secondary team is silent and logging raptors that they see that the primaries missed. The data generated from this protocol is being used in a research study to evaluate appropriate staffing levels and determine a statistical estimate of missed raptors so that we can more accurately judge the true migrating population. The primaries and secondaries switch off every hour.
Another advantage of hawkwatch is that the hawk banding station is located down in front of us. If they trap an interesting bird, we get to take a closer look. Last week, they caught a Merlin which is a small falcon. We only count about one per week migrating over, so this was a great catch. This was a after hatch year female, meaning that it is at least one year old. She is a beautiful bird, these photos don't do her justice. She had a slatey flat black color which was highlighted by her mocha colored spots.
Posing with the Merlin.

Merlin.

Look at that double tooth for tearing flesh!
I'll finish this post with a few left over photos from songbird banding. The first are of my favorite warblers - Wilson's, Townsends, and Macgillivray's.
Male Wilson's Warbler.

Female Townsend's Warbler.

Male Macgillivray's Warbler.
Lastly, one of the funnest birds I processed this year was a Hairy Woodpecker. She was tenacious and tried to peck me constantly. She even used her rapid fire pecking motion to get my hand pretty good. Here are some photos taken by Stephanie, one of other other banders.
Female Hairy Woodpecker.

Female Hairy Woodpecker pecking me!