Wednesday, August 18, 2010

That was fast...

After completing my Flammulated Owl surveys early in the summer and taking a little time off, I have spent the last 4 weeks banding songbirds at the Idaho Bird Observatory's Lucky Peak site. The time flew by and that assignment is now complete, although the team will be banding until October 15. This week I am at school orientating for my new masters program in Raptor Biology and my teaching assignment which begins next week.
It hasn't been all fun and games. In addition to banding songbirds I have been completing the data entry for the owl surveys (completed this morning), updating the final report on our owl season (still work in progress), updating my undergraduate research manuscript for resubmission to The Condor (ornithology journal, completed on Monday and distributed to my reviewers), and performing background research on my potential master thesis projects. Wedged in between we have been mountain bike riding, camping in the woods to pick huckleberries (good season), etc. It has definitely been a busy 4 weeks!
The masters thesis work is progressing. My lead project would be working on the breeding ecology of Northern Goshawks within the Sawtooth National Forest. It would be an excellent project, but I need to find some money to fund it. My second choice, requiring fewer funds, would be to study predator prey relationships during autumn migration. This would be a continuation of my undergraduate research. I am meeting with my thesis committee next week to flesh out more of the details of both options.
In a previous post about songbird banding, I covered the process and some of the work involved. I thought I should share some other interesting experiences. When cold weather first arrives in Idaho it is often a shock to these small bird species, especially the juveniles. When we are processing a cold bird we will occasionally put them in our shirt to warm them up. Last year, I had a juvenile Ruby-crowned Kinglet that didn't want to leave. A few weeks back, on our first really cold morning of the season, I had another Ruby-crowned Kinglet friend. I first should say that the Ruby-crowned Kinglet is one of the smallest birds, other than hummingbirds, that we process. They weight roughly the same as 1 US quarter. After processing a juvenile bird, I released it in my hand. The bird did not fly away but instead climbed my jacket up to my shoulder. I walked over and sat down. The bird remained. Everyone went to get their cameras and returned to take a picture. It was a good 5-10 minutes before he/she flew off.
Juvenile Ruby-crowned Kinglet on my shoulder.
Speaking of small birds, we occasionally process hummingbirds as well. We do not have a banders permit for hummingbirds, but we do take basic measurements before releasing the bird. We just don't catch enough of them to focus on banding. The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird we catch at 2.5 grams (1/2 weight of US quarter), but we also catch Rufous and Black-chinned Hummingbirds which are about 50% larger.
Me processing a juvenile female Black-chinned Hummingbird.
Since juvenile Rufous and Black-chinned Hummingbirds are difficult to distinguish, especially females, we often have to consult the reference books to be sure we have a correct identification. The books also help on other species in identification, aging, and sexing.
Checking in reference book for positive ID.
Hummingbird feathers are so thin you can actually see right through them. It is amazing that these birds can fly 10's of thousands of miles.
Juvenile female Black-chinned Hummingbird.
I will still spend more time up at the bird observatory, but on a less regular basis and on a mixture of activities. For example, I will probably train the new hawkwatch crew next week (counting migrating raptors overhead as they migrate) and I look forward to spending time in the hawk trapping blind after we begin hawk banding next week. I still encourage people to go up and visit. It is a great experience.

1 comment:

David said...

Rob, great pictures! They makes me miss Lucky Peak. Hope you guys have a great year, and good luck on the masters project!