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

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