And it comes to an end…

Mianna Maestas:
Time is going by far too fast!

I live such a chaotic life that it doesn’t feel as though the festival was already a week ago!

Considering that our office will be moving to Monte Vista, the last two weeks of my journey will be spent helping pack up and getting the show on the road.

This week I spent my time cleaning things up from the festival and getting things organized so that everything is easier to find for next year. I also started a binder for the interns next year that give directions on games we used for outreach, our protocol, and other odds and ends that they may need. I know I will be around next year to help them out.

I am sad that Deisy’s time is over and that I have no one to pick on, laugh at, or spend time with. I am happy to see her be successful in Denver, but there are days that I just miss her presence.

I am not sure I like that summer is over because school is in full swing and I hardly get to see or spend time with my buddies from work. It makes me sad, yet excited because I know that I have the privilege to spend another summer with them and have even more good times together!

Until next time…..

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Band that bird!

At Klamath Bird Observatory we study birds using this nifty technique called bird banding. So I thought it might be useful to take some time to explain the art of banding and its importance to the study of birds.

Bird Banding. What is it anyways? Bird banding is a technique used by ornithologists to study birds by capturing them, taking measurements and observations of captured individuals, tagging them with bands or collars, and releasing the bird back into the wild. Bird banding is usually performed in conjunction with the collection of information on the weather conditions, vegetation, and the presence of other avian wildlife in the region. The latter can be done by either standing in one point and keeping a list of what kinds of songs and calls heard or by walking a specific area to record what is sighted and heard.

Why bother? Banding birds allows scientists to seek answers to questions about the bird’s habitat, how long a species lives, the bird’s breeding condition, and population. Studies done on birds via bird banding have allowed us to understand processes like

How do you catch them? The whole process takes only a few minutes and is always conducted with the bird’s health and safety in mind. Birds are caught with nets; which kind of net employed varies on the size and lifestyle of the type of bird the study is focused on. Mist nets are appropriate for smaller songbirds. These are ~12m x 6m nets made of a black threading string with five pockets extending the width of the net. Rocket nets are used for larger birds, like Turkey Vultures. This is an action-packed capture where you bait the net with a carcass and then shoot a net out at the bird. Waterfowl and shorebirds can be captured either with mist nets or nets released from helicopters. In both cases, trained banders are waiting in the brush to jump out and extract the bird to minimize any potential for a safety hazard to the birds.

Okay, congrats! You have a bird, now what? Once captured and safely removed, the banders will look at the bird’s feathers and examine the body to assess its age and sex.The bander will then collect other information of importance to the project being administered. This could include measurements of the bird’s wing, tail, beak, tarsus, and weight. Other data important to banding projects are signs of molt, blood samples, and toenail samples.

How to tell if a bird is male or female: For birds that are dimorphic, as in the male and female plumage are different year-round, the sex can be an easy guess. Most birds, however, have more subtle hints to their sex. In these cases, the banders may be able to look at the eye color or subtle plumage characteristics. If the bird is in the breeding season (ie. Spring and Summer), the bander can also gently blow on the bird’s stomach to look for a brooding patch or a cloacal protuberance. The brooding patch is a section of the stomach with featherless skin. In most species, the female will develop this in the breeding season to be able to better regulate the temperature of their eggs. A male, on the other hand, will develop a swelling in their cloacal area to hold semen. Seeing either of these morphological characters will indicate the sex of an adult bird. Outside of the breeding season, it could be close to impossible to know. Some birds just like to stay mysterious.

Bird banding is fun because it’s not only a great scientific approach for studying birds but also a wonderful educational tool. Many observatories and organizations for bird banding engage the public with nature through a live demonstration of bird banding. Since I don’t have the honor of hosting you in person, I will attempt to lure you in with some cute pictures. This is a VERY small sample of what we catch on a regular basis here in the Klamath Falls area:

Golden-crowned Sparrow: this is the first time I saw this little guy! It was a pleasant surprise to see the pretty, golden feathers on the crown. The amount of black vs. brown on the bird's head is telling of the bird's age. The more brown, the younger the bird. Want to take a guess? Taken by Kendall Norcott of Klamath Bird Observatory

Golden-crowned Sparrow This is the first time I saw this little guy! It was a pleasant surprise to see the pretty, golden feathers on the crown. The amount of black vs. brown on the bird’s head is telling of the bird’s age. The more brown, the younger the bird. Want to take a guess?
Taken by Kendall Norcott of Klamath Bird Observatory

Common Yellowthroat--one of my favorite birds to band, jst because it's so darn cute. Taken by Kendall Norcott of Klamath Bird Observatory

Common Yellowthroat One of my favorite birds to band, because it’s so darn cute.
Taken by Kendall Norcott of Klamath Bird Observatory

Spotted Towhee: this bird is dimorphic. The male has a slatey black crown, while the female has a grey crown with a brown wash to it. The eye ring of an adult bird is bold red. Can you tell what age and sex this bird is? Taken by Kendall Norcott of Klamath Bird Observatory

Spotted Towhee This bird is dimorphic. The male has a slate black crown, while the female has a grey crown with a brown wash to it. The eye ring of an adult bird is bold red. Can you tell what age and sex this bird is?
Taken by Kendall Norcott of Klamath Bird Observatory

McGillivary's Warbler: you can tell what kind of warbler it is by the disjointed white eye ring. Taken by Kendall Norcott of Klamath Bird Observatory

McGillivary’s Warbler You can tell what kind of warbler it is by the disjointed white eye ring.
Taken by Kendall Norcott of Klamath Bird Observatory

Alamosa’s First Shorebird Festival

Mianna Maestas-

I am proud to say that September 13, 2014 marks the first ever shorebird festival in Alamosa Colorado. All of the hard work that Deisy and I performed on top of all of our day to day tasks has finally paid off. It was great to see all the families out having a great time and participating in all of the events. It was such a treat to see all the smiling faces as the kids were able to participate in STEM programs such as solar car races, estimation games, and making bird feeders and paper owls. I think it helped a lot with the fact that they could win all kinds of cool prizes. We were able to give them all tattoos, stickers, bubbles, duck lip whistles, bird whistles, butterfly seed growers, and so much more!

I first want to say thank you to all the volunteers, participants, donors, and all that believed in us.  I also want to thank my bosses, Jill and Sue, for giving us the opportunity to get out there and do it no matter what the outcome may be, and I also want to thank all those that came to see what was going on, and I have so many ideas for next year. It would have not been possible without all the support.

We raised a total of 2,800 dollars! The entire festival paid for itself! Prizes included! Our families took home prices such as wolf creek ski resort passes, 3 month passes to Hooper pool, individual passes to Hooper pool, Gift certificates to Kristi Mountain sports and El Vallecito, and visa gift cards starting at 50 dollars. All and all the event was amazing and I am excited to see what it can become I am proud to say, WE DID IT!! We created our first festival! It took a lot of hard work but that hard work was worth every second just to see families coming together to enjoy time learning and competing.

Going South for the Winter

My time in Newport has come to an end, but thanks to Environment for the Americas my adventure in Oregon is still on the horizon. I was invited to work under the auspices of Klamath Bird Observatory to band birds during the Fall migration. Within the world of ornithology, KBBO is a powerhouse of scientific data purposed for the conservation of migratory bird species. Research coming out of the center contributes to understanding the habitat needs of wildlife, resulting in the publication of bird databases, the development of policy suggestions for documents like the upcoming State of the Birds report, the founding of citizen science projects, and the creation of education programs. Knowing their dedication to a higher caliber of science, I’m incredibly happy to be involved with KBBO projects on migratory birds. The Shorebird surveys of the EFTA Internship was a great segue into learning about the biology of birds through field research with KBBO. It is humbling to know that both EFTA and KBBO have confidence in my birding experience and skills to take on the task of catching and banding birds. Packing my bags in Newport was done with much anticipation for what lied ahead.

Bolting from the coast to the land they call “Southern Oregon” was a trip, to say the least; as soon as I passed the Cascades it was hard to believe that I was still in the same state, let alone the same continent. Within thirty minutes the landscape changed drastically. In place of lush temperate rain forests, violently windblown headlands, and the lingering scent of wet mud were conifers sparsely clinging to towering cliff sides, scrub and bush sucking the land dry, and the haze of dust getting flung up by pick-up trucks zipping down highway 97. Coming from D.C., where the humidity stubbornly reminds nature’s conquerors of the swamplands it once derived from, my body craves moisture. In Newport, as wet as it is, I already felt the strain of a dryer climate on my skin, leading me to immediately invest in a bottle of heavy duty moisturizer. Now that I’m in Klamath I realize that I am a wimp–the additional three bottles of Cocoa Butter in my shopping cart last week confirms that I am indeed in a new, much dryer, place and there’s a lot of new things yet to learn and discover about Oregon.

We didn’t spare any time. En route to Klamath Falls my friend and I stopped by Bend, Oregon to hike in Smith Rock State Park. It seemed too easy to not take advantage of. The route between Newport and Klamath practically invited us to take the mountainous detour; we would only be 45 minutes away. The park was epic, with lots of scenic views and trails for all sorts of recreational activities. In one path alone we crossed paths with birders, rock climbers, mountaineers, tourists, photographers, and adrenaline junkies hurling themselves off of the cliff side with a harnessed pulley system. The last of these outdoorist groups kindly dared us to take a leap. Cautiously scanning the drop from Smith Rock to the hiking trails [what seemed like] thousands of feet below, I decided against the impulsive temptation: I had places to go and birds to band.

The destination was a U.S. Fish & Wildlife cabin tucked away in mountainous forest alongside a big lake. I imagine a real estate agent would describe the place as “rustic.” It’s made of all wood, with cute little windows, picnic tables outside in the yard, and a back porch. Inside there is aged furniture to lounge on and an abundance of birding books, everywhere! It’s practically a birder’s dream here. There’s all sorts of cool birds that I’ve never seen before that hang out right outside our windows and all of the resources you can imagine available to you to identify them. On the drive in I already saw six species that were new to me. Little did I know what the next week would bring…

To be continued. Maybe there will be some bird pictures, maybe some videos…I hope the anticipation doesn’t kill you. Tune in soon.

Bird on!

EFTA’s 2nd annual America’s Latino Eco Festival

This past weekend, the Environment for the Americas headquarters team in Boulder, CO participated in the 2nd annual America’s Latino Eco Festival.  The festival is one of the world’s first environmental festivals hosted by Latino Americans.  Last year was the first year the festival was put into action, and we were also a part of the pilot year so it was interesting to see the development and changes to the festival from last year to this year.  This year, the festival was hosted at The Dairy Center for the Arts.  The week leading up to the festival was very busy and consumed with finalizing details, logistics, and helping the Art Director, Mary Powell, with art installations throughout The Dairy all week.  Every spare evening was spent towards working with the festival in some sort of way.  Environment for the Americas took on the responsibility of coordinating the education stations during the festival where we coordinated the following tables:

City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks:
The Bird Migration Game and Why Birds Migrate

Mary Powell (Boulder Valley School District, Uni Hill) and America’s Latino Eco Festival Artist, Alfonso Piloto:
Art Station

University of Colorado-Boulder Museum of Natural History
The Power of Pollinators

Environment for the Americas (us!):
Get Banded!
Who am I?-Bird matching game
Turkey Vulture Stomach Acid Experiment
Conservation at Home: How to Conserve Birds Around your Home

I was responsible for the Turkey Vulture Stomach Acid Experiment, and it was really fun!  The CU Museum of Natural History was able to provide us with a mounted Turkey Vulture which was great to have to a life-size mount to show kids.  All the kids, and even parents, really enjoyed learning about the vultures…they are amazing creatures and are a great representation of nature’s ability to have ecosystem workers in a natural way.  Did you know: Turkey Vultures eat dead animals and can smell a rotting carcass miles away!  Their wing span can be up to 6-ft wide and they can live up to 20 years and can be found all throughout the Western Hemisphere.  The point of the experiment was to demonstrate the extremely acidic stomach juices Turkey Vultures have to be able to eat dead and/or diseased carrion without getting sick themselves.  Overall, Turkey Vultures have a stomach acid pH from 0-1 (which is basically as acidic as battery acid!), whereas humans have a stomach acid pH of about 2.  We mixed ground up dried pasta noodles to represent bones, red food dye to be blood, water, and Alka-Seltzer  together and poured it down the Turkey Vulture’s “throat” (a tube attached to a funnel that was inside of a plastic water bottle) to see how it reacted with the “stomach juices” (white vinegar, which as a pH of about 2).  Kids loved to see the Alka-Seltzer react with the vinegar…any gross with kids is always a hit!

This is my last week with Environment for the Americas, so I’ll be highlighting my experience with EFTA in my next blog and in the meanwhile, I will be really busy finishing all the final tasks I need to get done before moving on to my next chapter with CO Parks and Wildlife!