Sunday, June 22, 2014

Back in La Grande Oregon and Greeted by a Pleasant Surprise

When we were in La Grande in April, on our way to Malheur NWR, we were camping in the Northwoods Manufacturing (the manufacturer of our fifth-wheel)  parking lot. It ends up there are open fields and old trees around the area. We had a pair of Swainson's Hawks on the fence right next to our spot. We were fortunate to actually see them mate- right on the fence next to our spot. Here is one of the adults from April. We suspect they have been mating here long term.

Upon our arrival to Northwoods yesterday we were greeted by 3 Swainson's Hawks flying in the sky above our spot. One is an obvious immature! Yeah- success!!

Adult Swainson's Hawk seen yesterday.

We had a wonderful day birding along the Grande Ronde River that flows through La Grande today.

This Tree Swallow was busy feeding babies:)

This American Robin was enjoying a cherry in between feedings.

This male American Kestrel was also enjoying a meal in-between feedings. It is obvious many adult birds are busy feeding their young.

This MacGillivray's Warbler was busy defending his territory. We imagine he must have a nest in the area.

We saw 3 different Calliope Hummingbirds along the river. The males were all sitting on top of trees spaced out approximately 50 yards apart defending their territories. These are the smallest hummingbirds in North America.

This Spotted Sandpiper was communicating with its mate upstream.

This Red-naped Sapsucker looks like he is collecting food for the brood.

The world is full of beauty and wonder,

Turtle and Hawk

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Mini Tern and Gull Workshop from the Great Basin

Malheur NWR provided us with an unexpected opportunity to see and learn about a few species of gulls and terns that we previously knew little about. Keep in mind Malheur is located in the Great Basin of the United States. Gulls and terns are the last species that we expected to see here. But in fact, during breeding season they are quite common.

 We were just finishing up a long day of counting Sandhill Cranes and were surprised to be visited by a large group of newly arrived Black Terns. Black Terns winter in South America and breed in a few areas of North America including Malheur NWR.  We had seen them in the Klamath Basin before but from a distance that made it difficult to get good views. Here we were presented with the opportunity to really get to know the Black Tern.

The Black Terns began hanging out at Marshall Pond located at Malheur HQ so we had more opportunity to watch these beautiful creatures as they fed on insects and fish.

As part of our Boca Lake marsh survey we also had the wonderful experience of seeing the Black Terns nesting in the marshy areas -see photo below. The dark spots are the Black Terns sitting on their nests amongst the Eared Grebes and other waterfowl. Just imagine there are hundreds and hundreds of these "nesting spots" in this lake.

Another gull we had an opportunity to see was Bonaparte's Gulls. Unlike the Black Terns, the Bonaparte's Gulls simply pass through the Malheur NWR on their way to their nesting grounds up north. We thought we were too late to see them but were surprised one day with a small group of adult and immature Bonaparte's flying through feeding on the insects at the water's surface. We had an amazing chance to really get to see the differences and similarities of the adult and immature Bonaparte's Gulls! The white outer primaries and black trailing edge on the wings help me to tell the difference between the Franklin's and Bonaparte's Gull as well as Bonaparte's partial eye ring is not as intense as the Franklin's.

This encounter with the Bonaparte's was really helpful since they look very similar at first glance to the Franklin's Gull which breeds in the area. Like Black Terns, Franklin's winter in South America, specifically along the Pacific west coast. We have mentioned that Franklin's Gull is one of our favorite birds because, as they fly in large groups, they sound like laughter from the sky. These gulls are colonial nesters which means they nest together even though they are monogamous. See photos below.

Note the red/rosy blush on the Franklin's chest.

Caspian and Forester's Terns look similar from a distance. A closer look helps to identify the Caspian Tern as being much larger with an all orange bill. Malheur NWR recently built an artificial island on the refuge to encourage greater breeding of the Caspian Terns in order to predate the young carp and to minimize their impact on Columbia River juvenile salmon.

The Forester's Tern is a smaller tern with a black tip on the bill and has a deeply forked tail.

Ring-billed Gulls can be confused with California Gulls but easily differentiated by their yellow eye during breeding season. See the distinguished yellow eye of the Ring-billed Gull below:

The world is full of beauty and wonder:)

Turtle and Hawk

PS- we are preparing to leave Malheur NWR for the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in one week. We will be there through the end of August. We will be much more remote and have very limited access to phone or internet for weeks at a time.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What are we doing here at Malheur NWR, besides having an amazing experience?

Years ago this refuge was managed for the birds, specifically for the Sandhill Cranes. It was understood if you manage the refuge to provide great habitat for the cranes you would be providing great habitat for all of the birds.

These cranes have 2 young chicks hidden in the grass - notice the alert position of the parent below.

Now the refuge is managed to deal with the invasive carp population that was actually introduced back in the 1950s as game fish.

The carp at work devouring all plant and animal life!

The carp act as virtual vacuum cleaners - devouring all of the food from the lakes and rivers. Their populations get so big that they begin to cannibalize each other resulting in lakes that are sterile of any other plant or animal life. The lake water looks like chocolate milk, not green-blue with patches of algae or water plants you would expect to see. So that translates into little or no food for the waterfowl. Thus the refuge is now managed to try to manage the carp population. They are trying anything they can such as the installation of fish screens, draining areas and refilling once the carp are gone & exploring the viability of having commercial fisherman fish them from Malheur Lake.

The person we take our work direction from is an employee with Portland Audubon. Audubon is working with the refuge to assist in creating lasting bird survey protocols with a consortium of local stakeholders that are interested in the survey data. Bob and I are some of the first to test out these new protocols as they are being created. It is really neat because we actually provide input to help improve the protocols as well as set them up. For instance, we just completed setting up three survey transects for a study of Reed Canary Grass habitat.

We were involved with performing Greater Sandhill Crane nesting surveys in the south end of the refuge. Some of the photos are below.

Sorry for the fuzzy photo but this is the only photo of a crane on the nest. They are typically very hidden.

The survey protocols are laid out for 6 different sections of the refuge. We would perform one to two surveys a day depending on time. Some of the surveys would take a few hours and others would take the better part of the day. Each section protocol includes specific GPS coordinates for each observation point. We use our GPS to identify the designated observation point. At that point, Bob would get the scope out and I would survey the area with binoculars. If we identified a crane, we would mark the location and time of sighting on a map. I would then locate the spot on Google Earth on my iPad to obtain the GPS coordinates of the crane sighting. We would collect all of the sightings and input them into a data sheet when we got back to our trailer and then hand the data in to our Audubon lead.

Bob & I on the job

The survey work takes us to beautiful places on the refuge. Many of the locations are behind the locked gates in areas not open to the public.

One of our other duties was performing waterfowl surveys at a place called Boca Lake. This lake was filled with carp so they actually drained the lake and let the area dry out. They have now begun filling the lake back up. We are performing the waterfowl surveys to document what birds are utilizing this area. The good news is that we have found the largest concentration of waterfowl that we have seen in the refuge here in Boca Lake- yeah!
We document the pond depths for each survey.

We are so fortunate to see some amazing wildlife while out there surveying. Please enjoy the photos below:

This Short-eared Owl hangs out on a post on our way to our surveys.

This American Bittern shook his head and puffed out his face feathers. We had never seen a Bittern do that. They typically have a posture with their head pointing straight up in the air with a beautiful long neck.

The White-faced Ibis have recently made the refuge their home. They used to breed at the Bear Valley Refuge in Utah. The refuge experienced huge floods in the 80s and much of their habitat was destroyed so they found Malheur NWR:) These birds feed and nest in the marsh areas. At any time during the day you can look up in the sky and see flocks of White-faced Ibis flying in formation.

There used to be large populations of Trumpeter Swans in the U.S. but they almost went extinct because of the plumage trade. Currently there are 6 Trumpeters in the refuge. The 2 below have hatched these 2 adorable chicks:) Notice the band on the parent on the right.

You can hear and see Killdeer flying about trying to get your attention away from their nests.

Huge flocks of American White Pelicans make Malheur their home.

We have seen quite a few Black-crowned Night-Herons feeding on the refuge. This is wonderful since we have not been seeing them in many of the areas that we used to.

Great Blue Herons have a rookery on the refuge.

The Western and Clark's Grebes are beginning to arrive. At the end of the summer and early fall you will be able to see the grebes with their babies riding on their backs:) This is a Western Grebe below:

Franklin's Gulls nest here. It is such a treat to hear and see these huge flocks of gulls flying above. Their calls sound like laughter in the sky:)

The magnificent male Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage

A male Ring-necked Duck

This pair of Horned Grebes recently showed up. This area is out of their typical breeding range so it was a treat to see them in breeding plumage.

Bobolinks are a bird species of concern due to their decreasing population. They winter in Argentina and breed in North America. The refuge Bobolink population is the largest in Oregon and is the western most significant breeding site for this species. The refuge sponsors a Bobolink survey in early June when the Bobolinks arrive on the refuge. We participated in the survey today. We saw over 80 Bobolinks in our section! We look forward to hearing the other folks' numbers.

Female Bobolink

The male Bobolink is an incredible sight! They have a very loud distinctive song that they sing as they fly above the meadows and marshes displaying for the females.

We have started to perform brood surveys looking for young waterfowl. The surveys include 7 ponds. These will continue through the summer.

Again, the surveys allow us access to some beautiful places.

Our first brood included the 2 Trumpeter Swan chicks:)

It appears that the waterfowl are still on the nest so some other juvenile birds we have seen include....

this baby American Robin- look at that gape:)

We came across this newborn Killdeer chick running down the middle of a dirt road. The parents were frantically flying around trying to divert attention from the chick. I had to get out to the truck to herd it to the side of the road.

Who couldn't love a face like this Yellow-bellied Marmot? We see these characters running across the highway all of the time. 

The world is full of beauty & wonder,

Turtle & Hawk