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

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Last Night I Dreamed of Feathers

White featherLast night I dreamed of feathers, there were feathers everywhere, on my head, my hands, and in between my toes . Some were white with blueish-black dots and a rufous shaft, some were black and brown striped, others were blueish green, but overall they were white. I dreamed that I blew down the middle of a bird’ s body to expose their skin. There were no full images of this bird, all I could see were the white breast and belly feathers. I dreamed that there were many feathers floating in the air as I sat and watched, they were flying with the wind along the ocean and the forest.

You may wonder, why did I dream of feathers? Well, feathers have surrounded me for the last two weeks during my time with Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO). As I learn how to band songbirds in southern Oregon, feathers and overall plumage are one of the main characteristics we carefully observe in order to identify species, determine subspecies, age, and sex.

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Taking the wing length on a female Oregon junco

On a daily basis we either drive to or set up camp at the site where we will be banding. We arrive before the birds are up, while it’s still dark. We then get the banding table ready and fifteen minutes before sunrise, we start setting up mist nets. Nets are checked frequently, birds are quickly extracted, and then processed. Processing time should take no more than two to three minutes in order to minimize stress on the birds. During this time, the bird is identified, banded, its age, and sex are determined, and measurements such as wing length and weight are taken. Additionally, by blowing on the body and wing feathers, one can check if molt, fat tissue, brood patch, or cloacal protuberance are present and record their extent. After all data is taken, the bird is safely released and we move to the next bird.

This may not sound too hard, but one must study a lot to get good at it. Specially to handle days like last week, when we had 109 birds!  Such days can be stressful and require being very efficient. This means already knowing what bandsize the individual needs, as well as, knowing the species-specific morphological characteristics and measurements that aid in determining age and sex. Knowing such, reduces the time one might spent looking through the reference book and allows for a fast processing time which is in everyone’s best interest (humans’ and feathered friends’).

With all the close avian interaction I’ve had and with all the reading and studying I’ve been doing on my free time, it is no wonder that I dreamed of feathers. But dreaming of feathers isn’t bad, I appreciate the beauty in every feather and I find it harmonious to watch them float. I hope I dream of feathers again.

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!