KBO on Conservation

Male Spotted Towhee

I’ve spent some time talking about my experience banding for Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO), but I have not yet explained who are they and what they do. So let me discuss. KBO is a non-profit organization that focuses on the long-term monitoring of landbirds in southern Oregon and northern California.

They impact the community around them by performing Decision Support Tools (DST) which deliver scientific information to those in position to benefit birds and their habitats, such as land managers. One of the most recent ones developed, was a guide for private landowners on restoring oak habitat. The guide explains the importance of oak habitat, the role of private landowners in oak restoration, highlights oak species in the region, and gives instructions on how to monitor bird species to document ecological benefits of oak restoration activities. This document has contributed to such an extent that with the help of the Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network partners, 6,000 acres of federal state, and private land were restored. This benefited oak-depended birds like the Oak Titmouse and it was highlight in the most recent State of the Birds Report as an example on how conservation does work!

KBO has also been actively involved in the Trinity River Restoration Program. This program works to restore salmonoid populations that have been impacted by dams in the Trinity River in northern California. The restoration involves creating more riparian habitat that will benefit both fish and bird populations. For this KBO has been monitoring bird populations in that area for many years. They have expanded the bird monitoring by implementing two additional methodologies: one to determine whether birds are nesting in the recently restored riparian habitat, and if so, whether the young is successfully fledging. The results will allow for a better understanding of the restoration response and influence the adaptive management framework.

In terms of the banding data I collect with my team of six biological technicians, that is part of the effort to track population abundance, reproductive success, and survival of birds in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion. KBO works in conjunction with the Humboldt Bay Observatory with whom together operate on 16 different monitoring stations, estimation 10,000 bird captures a year. Banding data collected in addition to point count surveys, also goes to the National Park Service Klamath Network which aids national parks in the assessment of ecological integrity of the parks at stakes. The network includes Crater Lake National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Redwood National and State Parks, Whiskeytown National Recreational Area, and the Oregon Caves National Monument where mist-netting surveys are implemented.

KBO also performs environmental education. They have recently developed a Northwest Nature Shop, where kids in elementary and middle school can explore and gain a deeper sense of place by learning about to their local ecosystems and land issues. However they have long been involved with developing curriculum for interested teachers, performed classroom visits, field trips and camps, and visits to their monitoring stations.

These are only a few, of the many ways in which KBO is contributing to conservation in our local environment. I invite you to read their story or make a donation to save migratory birds at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/saving-migratory-birds

Good Mourning Dove

I'm trying to wake up while not disturbing any ghosts!

I’m trying to wake up while not disturbing any ghosts!

I think it was a great idea to go birding at the cemetery on the week of Halloween, props to whose ever idea that was. I was able to tag along to Green Mountain Memorial Park, to go birding with a group of bird lovers that head out with owner of the Wild Bird Center, Steve Frye. It was my second outing with Steve and company, and I felt exceptionally confident of my abilities, maybe it had to do with me having capable binoculars this time. I even took a crack at identifying a raptor, and to my surprise was right on the money. I’m still astounded at how easy it is for experienced birders to identify birds simply by a evanescent glimpse of them or a snippet of their call. Isn’t there a saying about how patient mothers are or something? Well, they should replace mothers with birders because I tell you it is a truly difficult skill that one has to develop and maintain to become a birder. I’m glad there are people like the ones in the birding group that are not just very knowledgeable, but also very inviting. They can smell out a newbie like me and instead of casting me off they are excited to share with me what they know. Like, how a black-capped chickadee and a mountain chickadee differ in that the latter has a broad white eyebrow, or that just because a bird is blue, doesn’t make it a blue jay and a well secluded mourning dove in a tree is not a baby pigeon, whoops!

Can you guess what this is?

Can you guess what this is?

Well it’s great to see that we birders (I consider myself one now) are a friendly bunch! I was touched by the hospitality in such a way that later that day I decided to take my young cousins on a birding expedition. They cheered in unison when I asked them “¿Quieren ir a ver los pájaros?” although I doubt they’ed ever been birding, but they were game and so was I. So we hopped in the van and they in their car seats and we drove to Waneka Lake, where we walked around the lake and had some close encounters with canadian geese as we made or way to a marsh in the back where a handful of mallards sat. They asked me a lot of questions, some of which I answered and then some of which had me pondering them as well. I realized as we sat on the steps of the observatory deck, the girls switching between binoculars and pointing out the ducks, that the little encouragement and generosity shown to me by the expert birders had trickled down into myself and now my cousins. It makes a big difference when experiencing something new that those that have already been there make an effort to support those who have yet to indulge. Hopefully that adventure we took will ignite a desire for birds and nature in those kids, and they too can one day be engaging the new guy on the bird walk, teaching him what they know about mourning doves and chickadees.

Encounters with White–Crowned Sparrows and their Life History

White-crowned sparrow at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, OR

White-crowned sparrow at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, OR

One of the most common birds we band during the Fall in Southern Oregon and northern California is the charismatic white-crowned sparrow. This bird was a favorite of mine while living on the Oregon coast for their beautiful song that is described as “seeee zreee chidli-chidli chi-chi-chi twee”. As I roved around Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, I’d always see one perched on the top of a shore pine singing from the top of his lungs (most likely a male, females rarely sing). Its singing at the same time as waves crashed against the rock cliffs were heart-warming and made a pleasant peaceful place to work. Now, I have the joy of being even closer to these birds as I band many of them on their migration.

It is impressive to think that these small 29 grams creatures can migrate as far as 2,600 miles from southern California to the Alaskan tundra. But among the five known subspecies, not all nest in the tundra, some breed in the high alpine meadows and forest edges along the subarctic. There is also a “Pacific” group that remains resident to the coast year-round. In all of these scenarios they look for brushy and open habitat, deciding to make their nest on bare ground with plenty of grasses around.

Females are in charge of the nest-building taking 2-9 days to find all the essential supplies. They gather twigs, coarse grasses, pine needles, moss, bark, and dead leaves to create a 5 in. in diameter cup. Once done, they line their 2-inch deep nest cup with fine hairs and grasses. Clutch size varies from 3-7 eggs, with up to three possible broods in one breeding season. Females also incubate the eggs for about 10-14 days. Once hatched, nestlings will stay in the nest for another 10 days before fledging. The males will use this time in the nest to learn their song. However not directly from their father, but from the general tunes they hear around the nesting site. For this, white-crown sparrows have different song dialects among regions. The dialects will differ on pitch at the trills and buzzes. This fact has attracted a lot of research and I find it fascinating that a male living at the edge of two regions can be bilingual and able to sing both regions’ songs.

Now that it is fall, they don’t usually sing, but I’m happy to see them again. They are stopping at frequenting thickets, weedy fields, agricultural fields, roadsides, and backyards on their way to California and Mexico where they will winter. Others are wintering as north as Washington, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, and Maryland. So it is important for us when banding, to properly identify them among the five subspecies. We focus on the lores, bend of the wing, underwing coverts, and bill color, which so far I have only seen the Gambel’s and Puget Sound subspecies.

The banding site at Grant Pass is where I have seen the most, likely for its brushy habitat. White-crowned sparrows are ground foragers, searching for seeds of weeds and grasses, which they complement with a great number of caterpillars, wasps, beetles, and other insects. But, additionally they eat some grains and fruit like blackberries, which is what the Grant Pass site is full of. I remember the first time I saw a white crowned sparrow there, I thought it was bleeding from the mouth! There was a lot of reddish- purplish color on the beak, which had soaked through the bird bags looking like fresh blood. But, I was relieved when my fellow bander pointed out that it was simply coloring from the blackberries it had eaten.

It’s interesting to get know different species of birds and watch their different behavior as we walk through the sites during our area searches. There are things such as the “double scratch” behavior that I wouldn’t have noticed unless I took the time to walk slowly and quietly around the site. This behavior is common in white-crown sparrows, it involves hopping backwards, turning leaves over, and then hopping forwards followed by a pounce.

It’s the  small encounters such as this that make a banding day special. I’m eager to see what new encounters I’ll have and new appreciations I’ll make.


Banding partner, Kendall with adult Gambel’s white-crowned sparrow

A Bag of Surprises


Placing a songbird in a breathable, appropiate-sized cloth bag, allows the bird to relax and feel safe until it is time to process it

There are only two ways of bird banding: ordinary banding, and banding with passion and nurturing love. I pick the latter. I don’t just band to put a metal ring on a bird’s foot and let it go, I band because I believe in the future of conservation and because I love all the feathered little creatures of this world. I have fun observing, taking measurements, and simply being close to these carriers of joy and inspiration. Not only that, but I’m surrounded by spectacular sceneries and wonderful people (my crew members) everyday. One of the things I love the most about bird banding is that every cloth bag is a surprise, you don’t know what bird will be inside until you pull it out, and SURPRISE IT”S A KINGLET! or IT’S A VARIED THRUSH! This and the fact you never know what you’ll encounter in the field is  what makes the job thrilling and exciting.

For example this week, Chris (crewmember) and I drove down to our two California banding sites and the drive alone was an adventure. The two sites Antelope Creek and Topsy Grade are the most remote sites, out of seven, and require 4×4. Topsy Grade is a public road, but is neither maintained by the federal nor county governments, so it is an unpaved and rocky. The dangerous part is going up a steep ridge on a very narrow, one-way road. There was loose-falling rock on one side and several boulders on the path, that in order to avoid, we had to come very close to the edge of the cliff. Most of our attention went on maneuvering the stirring wheel, but we couldn’t help to get distracted by the beautiful Klamath River as we looked down to our right. After an hour of driving on this road and a few scares, we finally arrived at the campsite where we dipped our bodies in the river and relaxed. That evening, the air was warm and we birdwatched as the sun went down. We observed a couple of Townsend’s solitaires that were calling from the trees and a great horned owl as it swooped down in front of us to catch a small rodent.

Driving on Topsy Road

Driving on Topsy Road

The next day we saw another Townsend’s solitaire, this time in one of our nets. We were excited to band the bird, as it was the first one of its kind that we had processed. It was a week of many firsts because we also caught a female sharp-shinned hawk during our last net check at Antelope Creek. Catching hawks when monitoring songbirds it’s always a surprise since the nets aren’t designed to catch raptor-size birds. Luckily, when you have a raptor in a net they don’t get badly tangled, but they have strong feet and talons that can tear skin. So, when I saw the sharpie I quickly called Chris to assist me. He jumped with excitement! This raptor was the highlight our day. Together we successfully removed the hawk from the net and while one person had a firm hold of the bird and its feet, the other one took the wing length and looked for molt limits. Another day, we had pileated woodpeckers! These birds were much bigger than I imagined them. When I first saw them in the net, I thought they were crows until I noticed the red crown and quickly realized I was wrong. In these birds, contrary to the hawks, we had to watch for the bill, which can cause serious harm. So we kept their heads far away from our faces to avoid their instinct to peck at us. The woodpeckers were also much more fidgety than the hawk, and even though they don’t have talons, their feet are strong and scratched our hands hard. Among other special catches, we had a varied thrush, which is very common in Oregon, but we hadn’t caught any this season. There was also the swamp sparrow, they’re like the song sparrows in the east coast but here in Oregon, they are a rare sighting.

The sharp-shinned hawk from Antelope Creek

The sharp-shinned hawk from Antelope Creek

As you see, such is my week bird banding. More often than not, it is something new to confront or a “cool bird” that we get fascinated about. In the beginning, new bird species were a hassle and sometimes stressful to process, but at this point not knowing how to age and sex new birds is a fun game of putting all the pieces together to come to a conclusion. Pretty soon, I’ll get a different kind of thrill when everything I have been working on will be tested on the North American Banding Council evaluation. This thought alone makes the hairs in my body pin up and my adrenaline rise, getting my body ready to flee or fight. But I choose to remove worrisome feelings from my body and  fight my fears with will.  I know that as long ad I receive each day with open arms, learn and study as much as I can, I will be alright.

Be the leader that you are

Robert G. Stanton, former Director of the National Park Service, came to speak at the University of Colorado. Mr Stanton grew up during the civil rights era of the 60’s. He was the first African-American National Parks Service Director. He went on to do many great things for the National Park Service, the American public, and in many ways, paved the road for people of color in the environmental field. He delivered a motivational talk on the history of the park services, the importance of the preservation of our parks and the importance of a diverse group of future stewards. He is what many would call a natural born leader and he knows exactly who he is. I am also very fortunate to know who I am. That is a strange thing to say, but at the same time how many of us can answered that with full clarity. On Wednesday morning I drove down to Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, where I attended a workshop hosted by the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education and the Denver Foundation on inclusiveness in non-profits. The workshop was to be run by an Angela Park, founder of Mission Critical (look her up when you get the chance), advisor in some sense for the white house, and someone that looked like she knew her stuff, yet I didn’t know what to expect.

2013 EFTA Intern Michelle Mendieta (Left) 2015 EFTA Intern Carlos Lerma (Right)

2013 EFTA Intern Michelle Mendieta (Left) 2015 EFTA Intern Carlos Lerma (Right) at the CAEE and Denver Foundation workshop on non-profit inclusiveness.

The reason I share this with you is because of what I learned on that Wednesday at that workshop, that helped me shift my perspective. Angela Park opened her wonderful workshop with a very important message, consider yourself a leader in this field of inclusiveness. That’s it! I want to make sure that very single being, no matter what color, gender, age, orientation, belief or what, is in one way or another involved in conserving their beautiful earth and the creatures that live on it. Now that’s some inspiration! She added that we could not be effective leaders without “answering the why” and what she meant was, why is it important to your organization to become diverse (in all sense of the word), why is it to you. We all chuckled as she gave us some comedic renditions of previous environ groups she’s worked with struggling to answered the simple question of why; many of them not being able to conjure a reason that didn’t seem self-interested, but she said it’s okay if it’s a selfish reason as long as it’s YOUR reason. See that is what is most important; you can’t be inclusive because it is “the right thing to do,” while it is totally the right thing to do there has to be a clear, concrete reason that will guide your organization to inclusiveness. She continued on to talk about identity, as an individual, group, organization and so on. Now this is were I felt that a lot of us could learn more,  because the topic of identity is so complex and convoluted, I don’t think half of us even know what to call ourselves and others. That’s the thing about people, we can’t help but just label everything, and this was my problem. I Identify as Latino, very proud of it, and that’s how every person of any background should be, proud of it. The problem is when you let your group identity become your individual identity and maybe I had let my group identity slip a little into who I am as and individual. That’s why when Angela reminded us that while in some ways we might associate with the subordinate group, in others we might be part of an oppressive dominant group, whether conscious of it or not. Yes I am Latino, but I’m also a male and heterosexual, which give me big time privilege when it comes to certain things in life.

It is crucial for us moving forward that we all understand that we have some privilege in on way or another. I can’t disproportionately say that I am at a disadvantage because I am Latino, I have advantages in so many other ways. Mr. Stanton was an African-American student at Huston-Tillston University when he first started working for the Park Service, during arguably one of the most difficult times to be a person of color. Yet we can see now 50 years later, that back then he embraced his privilege and decided to be a leader; to know who he truly is and not let himself be defined as someone who is disadvantaged, but instead someone who through hard work and perseverance is a reminder, just like a monument is or a state park, to all of  us that we can all be leaders in the field of inclusiveness as long as we are willing to acknowledge and accept all the parts of who we are.