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Nets, nets on the range

Posted by: charlotte-chang | June 9, 2009 | 2 Comments |

Amy Briggs (pomona ’10) and I will be running a Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) station and conducting point counts out in Valley County, Montana over the course of the summer. With any luck, the weather will be on the sunnier (i.e. not rainy) side so that we’ll have more time to spend in the field.

A MAPS station is a formal term denoting a bird-banding site supervised by a permit-holding bird bander. Bird banding entails catching a bird in a mist net (a superfine almost invisible net), and subsequently placing a federally-issued numbered metal band on their leg. Because the bird is so close (it’s in your hand!), the researcher can make very detailed assessments about its physical condition. This allows for researchers to track the persistence of different individuals (using the time between recaptures) as well as other population parameters, such as age structure. The Institute for Bird Populations (IBP), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) jointly administer an online database of bird bands so that recaptures and historical trends can all be analyzed using banding data.

Charlotte preparing equipment for the MAPS station

Charlotte preparing equipment for the MAPS station

John Carlson, a wildilfe biologist at the Bureau of Land Management, will be supervising our study, and Nina Karnovsky (both are experienced and helpful birders) is our faculty advisor. Nina has been extremely kind; she took the time out of her schedule to come bring me up to Fort Peck, Montana and is staying for a whole week to help set up our project.
Entrance to Cornwell Ranch, our study site

Entrance to Cornwell Ranch, our study site

We scoped out the study site today–it’s located in a valley at the Cornwell Ranch. The area is more or less ecologically pristine; there has been grazing which helps maintain the prairie but no development (save for a two-lane dirt road). The landscape is absolutely beautiful (think: grassland stream surrounded by cottonwoods, silver sage [which is soft and fuzzy to touch], prairie smoke [a fuschia flower], etc.) and the ranch is still in operation! It’s a cow-and-calf deal, meaning that they raise calves and maintain a population of breeding cows that graze on the surrounding grasslands. And on the real, the place is huge. It took us approximately 20-30 minutes just to drive from the gates of the ranch to the study site.
Beautiful, healthy cows

Beautiful, healthy cows

There were quite a few birds out today, including Western Meadowlark, Yellow Warblers, House wrens, a potential Bullock’s and Baltimore Oriole hybrid (exciting), Upland sandpipers, Long-billed curlews, Western and Eastern Kingbirds (think: Western = casual, Eastern = tux), Barn swallows (awesome), Spotted Towhees, Vesper sparrows, Clay-colored sparrows, McCown’s Longspur, and Chestnut-collared longspur. John heard a Spragues pipit near a cattle pasture but the cows were all mooing too loudly. However, apart from the birds, we saw an even rarer species: cowboys riding HORSES (not two/four wheelers). The group of cowboys ranged from around 3-5 years old to 50+ years old judging from the looks of things.
Young cowboy practising roping

Young cowboy practising roping

I got to eat some home-made peach cobbler (drenched in half-and-half, interesting) which was cinnamon-flavored gooey tastiness.
Charlotte eating peach cobbler

Charlotte eating peach cobbler

The cowboys mentioned that they really appreciate the work that John’s been doing with the local birds because it has further strengthened their commitment to preserving the habitat at their ranch. It also has given them a scientific basis to argue for preserving their land as a site of high avian activity and diversity.
Charlotte at the study site

Charlotte at the study site

Montana’s short-grass prairie is a rapidly declining ecosystem because of pressures to convert it to cropland and urban development (less of a threat now, but a huge player in areas such as California with our own highly threatened Coastal sagebrush ecosystem). It is a glorious landscape, and Montana isn’t called “Big Sky Country” for nothing–the clouds are so large and so close that it seems like you too could join an American robin hopping by your side and fly into the sky.

Glasgow is semi-rural and even in the trailer park, I’ve seen an abundance of species. So far, the “yard list” comprises: house finches, cedar waxwings, American robins (there’s a nest behind my trailer with at least 2 fledglings!), and Common grackles.

CHarlotte pointing out a robin\'s nest in the tree next to her trailer

Charlotte pointing out a robin's nest in the tree next to her trailer

We’re hoping to get the MAPS station up and running by this Friday! Wish us luck, and you can even help us out by thinking “rain, rain go away” (at least until the end of this week). Pictures will either be coming throughout the summer or at the end of August (I think I forgot my uploading cable, whoops).

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Responses -

Hi All,
It’s so great to hear about all of the adventures of team seabird, especially you guys on dry land. I’m looking forward seeing the pictures. Also Charlotte I know you can cook because I remember eating some tofu you made a while back.

Mmmm…I’m envisioning a zucchini mushroom broccoli pasta sauce. You could also slice zucchini and boil (using a tiny amount of water) with some diced tomatoes, cheese, and seasonings such as black pepper and sage to make a zucchini casserole. Maybe finely chopped broccoli would go well in there too.

The streambed in your study site is beautiful!!!! It is the quintessential spot from my dreams where I go lie for hours, read a good book, and watch the birds flit about. I’m happy you are having such a cool experience, Char!

Everyone–I have thoroughly enjoyed all the posts! About a week ago I checked and there were hardly any posts–today there were so many I was overwhelmed with goodness! I’m going to make reading the blog a regular break activity at work, so keep it up!


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