Blanca Wetlands Blitz Pt.I

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The other week I had the awesome opportunity to travel down to the San Luis Valley to shadow the two EFTA interns working at the Blanca Wetlands with the BLM.  What a fun week!  I arrived to Alamosa on a Tuesday evening and spent the night with Deisy at the BLM bunkhouse where herself along with two other BLM seasonals (one is involved with grassland management and the other fire management).  I had not seen Deisy since this past February during the EFTA “Celebrate Shorebirds” training, so it was great to spend the evening catching up with her!

The next morning, Mianna met us at the BLM offices in La Jara so we could all drive together to the Blanca Wetlands (which is about 20 minutes away) to go duck banding!  We met Mike and Rachel, who are private contractors with a wetlands ecological team, who showed us the ropes on their season of duck banding…they band the ducks on the Blanca Wetlands ponds every day over a span of six weeks.  The purpose of the duck banding is to obtain data and knowledge on the Cinnamon Teal populations at the Blanca Wetlands.  Throughout the morning we saw Cinnamon Teals, Green-Winged Teals, Ruddy Duck, Coots, and Mallards.We were to collect ducks from a total of seven ponds and at the end of the day we would band them all together.  The first pond was quite the experience!  We put on our thigh-high waders and stomped through the muck and mud of the pond to reach the duck traps that are placed in the middle of the pond…Desiy demonstrated the correct way to loose balance while trudging through the muck and she fell multiple throughout the day!  Collecting the ducks from the trap was by far my favorite part of the trip.  Once all the ducks were collecting (around 60 total) we brought them all to a central pond where students from Western State met us and helped us in banding the ducks.  We  spent the rest of the afternoon learning how to handle the ducks, venting the ducks (determining the sex), and placing bands on the ducks.  After a long morning and afternoon of collecting and banding ducks, we shifted to another pond to see a mock macro-invertebrate survey demonstrated by Portland and Anjelica (2013 EFTA Blanca Wetlands interns).  After spending a day in the field we ended the day by going around the town of Alamosa to place fliers around to advertise the family event Deisy and Mianna are hosting in a couple of weeks (Good Luck!).

More to come about my Blanca Wetlands Blitz!

Your birds are our birds too, P.II

Let’s recap. Through these posts you have seen that birds are: fun inspiration for games (yay!), way too cute for our good, scientifically interesting, and just ridiculously cool. Did you know, that birds are cultural too?

Woah, I know, it’s crazy. Allow me to explain…

Back in June I was contacted by an elementary school located from a town right outside of Bogotá, Colombia. The request was simple: “Do you know of a school that would like to make contact with us to talk about birds?”

Turns out, there was, in fact, such a school, and that school was right here in Philomath, Oregon. While coming from two completely different schools, countries, and even continents, they had a common connection. What, you might ask? If you can’t get the implication by now, I worry a bit for you, but I’ll help you out: BIRDS! This school in Usme has a neat program where they seek out connections with North American schools based on the shared wildlife. In turn, our Philomath-ian students were participants of the USFWS Shorebird Sister School Program, and have a whole semesters-worth of knowledge about migrating shorebirds. The opportunity was ripe and ready for the picking.

The result: these fantastic videos, prepared by our friends in Usme, Bogotá Colombia and our colleagues in Philomath, Oregon. I hope you enjoy, and take it as a testament to the power of birds to connect people far and wide.

First up: a video from the Eduardo Umaña Mendoza School addressed to Philomath Elementary:

And to follow: the response from Philomath Elementary to the Eduardo Umaña Mendoza School:

 

Rubber Duck in the Pond

After 44 long hours I now know that my job is such a privilege. I was able to participate in duck banding. I can truly say it was the greatest thing I have done all summer. We got to not only capture the ducks but we were also able to hold them and band them. The bands are for tracking the birds. I thought it would be simple, but venting the duck (determining the sex)  is much harder than I thought. Once the sex of the duck is determined, next is to identify if it is a juvenile or an adult. Both of these are factored into what size of band is used for the duck. The band must be able to grow with the bird and keep it from being restricted. I not only learned about banding but also different methods of holding the squirmy little things. It was a lot of fun and excitement to say the least.

We also had the privilege of having Cara down for some shorebird fun. It was such a great week to have her because not only was she able to help with duck banding but we also did a mock macro-invertebrate survey, shorebird survey, festival planning, and an amphibian survey. All the fun stuff that we do in a summer she was able to get sight of in a weeks time.

My life is starting to pick up pace. I will be a full time student, full time EFTA employee, and a part-time student life employee, as well as a full time event planner until September 13th. I am well aware that I am beyond crazy but the workload gets more exciting with every day that passes.

Life is never complete unless I have a Crazy Deisy May story. Here it goes! I have decided she has no coordination. This week she managed to stretch her legs far enough apart that she lost her balance while trying to shuffle her way through a pond to a duck trap. So, she lost her balance and fell not only once but three times. Her tan pants became a dark shade of gray from the soaking of water and muck. It is definitely apparent that her and I have become beyond close because instead of helping her and risking falling in myself I laughed and waited for her to get up and struggle her way out of it. It may be mean of me, I know, but she was able to finally get enough gusto to get unstuck and dry off somewhat and got back to the job. Love that girl!

Shorebirds of Newport, OR

If I had any doubts about my assimilation in Oregon, I confirmed my total transformation into a local yesterday afternoon by foraging a nature trail for berries. In season are the  Himalayan blackberries, an invasive fruiting plant that has taken hold of the coast. In my personal effort to control the pest, I found myself walking the Hatfield Estuary Trail. I know the area well: it was one of my shorebird survey sites. The migrating shorebirds are on their way back south now, and as I cautiously maneuvered my hands through the thorny depths of the blackberry bushes I could hear their “peeps” echoing through the mud flats.

http://invasivore.org -Photo courtesy of Sheina Shim

Himalayan blackberry: http://invasivore.org -Photo courtesy of Sheina Shim

In my closing weeks I am prepping documents for my successor to learn from my experience here. One of these was inspired by a moment of nostalgia that hit me on the trail. The first day I walked the trail I did not know what to expect, or whether or not I would be able to put the training EFTA gave me on shorebird ID into practice. Throughout the season, I slowly came to learn and love the birds that visited the mud flats, a learning process that I hope to kick-start with this shorebird field guide made just for the Yaquina Bay survey sites. While I was lucky enough to have Stephanie around to show me the ropes, I’m hoping this will help the next intern out in case no one is available to walk through the surveys with them.

These do not depict all of the bids that it is possible to see along the Oregon coast, or even within the Yaquina Bay area. For example, Sanderlings are very common to the coastlines. These lists include species that are likely to be seen more frequently than others within the mud flats of a estuary sites a few miles inland from the mouth of the Yaquina River to the Pacific Ocean. Though it is very basic, this could be helpful for someone, like me, who starts off a season with no knowledge of shorebird ID in this area of Oregon.

Enjoy!

Shorebird ID for Yaquina Bay-1  Shorebird ID for Yaquina Bay-3Shorebird ID for Yaquina Bay-2

Moving Rocks

The shorebirds are coming in by the hundreds! I have never had to count so many birds in one sitting or location. I was extremely overwhelmed by the large quantity and variation of shorebirds at the Blanca Wetlands for the fall migration! After a couple hours, I became used to counting that many birds… here is a hint for all birdwatchers out there: if there are more than 300… ESTIMATE!! It comes in handy, haha.

I also had the opportunity to go on a Bighorn Sheep Survey with Taylor and Loree. I was extremely excited to see some big horn sheep. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any! It took a three hour drive to get to our destination, a one hour hike to reach the top of the mountain, and three hours of looking at rocks. After a while I started imagining the rocks to move. I’d say “look it’s a bighorn sheep!… oh wait… just another moving rock!” hahahaha. Overall, it was a great experience and I was happy to find out that we weren’t the only ones that didn’t see any big horn sheep. Only one person out of 7 different teams was able to spot the rare creature known as the bighorn sheep.

I continue to help out with the macro-invertebrate surveys, organizing the macro data, and preparing last minute things for our festival/competition in a month. Wish us luck!