Another day, another bluebird trail for Mr. Alfred Larson. Yesterday Wild Lens accompanied the Bluebird Man on yet other bluebird trail in southwest Idaho. Al has several trails, but the two big ones we’ll be documenting for our film Bluebird Man are in the Owyhee Mountains and Prairie, Idaho. Yesterday we visited the Prairie trail, where Al has had up to 155 nest boxes. Prairie is a remote “town” located in a beautiful valley along the south fork of the Boise River between Arrowrock and Anderson Ranch Reservoirs. What a gorgeous area, and we had a great day of filming.
A bluebird box along the Prairie Trail. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
The Prairie Trail is different from the Owyhee’s in that we find Western and Mountain Bluebirds in the same location. Roughly 30% of Al’s nest boxes in Prairie are occupied by Western Bluebirds. At one Western Bluebird box, we noticed some interesting interaction between the Tree Swallows and bluebirds. We trapped a female Western Bluebird in her box (she was brooding 4 young chicks), and while Al was placing a numbered leg band on her, a pair of Tree Swallows swooped down and tried to claim the box as their own. What a pair of aggressive birds these were!
A Tree Swallow swooping in to claim a bluebird box. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
A Tree Swallow at a nest box with bluebird chicks inside! Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
However, the male bluebird would have none of it. On two separate occasions he flew in and literally tackled the smaller swallow to the ground right in front of the nest box! After two passes, and after we placed the female back in the box, the Tree Swallows finally relented on gave up on taking over the box. High competition for nest sites indeed!
A female Mountain Bluebird defending her nest box. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Throughout the day we managed to trap 6 different female bluebirds in their boxes. Two of them already had numbered leg bands on them (stay tuned for more information on these individuals), but 4 did not. Being able to see these female birds in the hand was fantastic, and we hope they continue to have a successful breeding season.
The brood patch of a female bluebird. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Adult female bluebird in the hand. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
We will have another update on this trip soon as too many exciting things happened for just one blog post!
In order to tell the story of the complete nesting-cycle of bluebirds in Bluebird Man, one of the critical scenes we needed to capture was bluebird copulation. At this early stage in the breeding cycle, male and female bluebirds pair up together and occupy a territory that contains a nest box or natural cavity. It is here that they begin to build their nest, and that instinctual hormonal drive tells the male he needs to begin reproduction. Yesterday, we were able to capture this crucial life-history stage in the Mountain Bluebird.
The female we were observing was perched atop a stunted Juniper tree, and as the male made passes overhead, she began to shake her wings, presumably as an invitation for the male to proceed. This series of still images from our video documents what happened next. The male flew in and landed directly on female’s back, and in that split second copulated with her. It only takes songbirds a very short amount of time to do this.
Male Mountain Bluebird landing on the females back. Still images from video by Neil Paprocki. Click on the image for a larger view.
But, if you look closely enough, it appears as if the male passes off a piece of food to the female while copulating with her! It is unclear if the male actually gives the piece of food to the female, or if he is just using this as a tactic to mate with her. In animal behavior circles, this is called a “nuptial gift” or “courtship feeding”, and occurs when a male passes along a piece of food or other ‘gift’ to the female just prior to, or during, copulation. Presumably, the gift entices the female to mate with the male, and also may provide the female with a measure of how fit and strong her male is.
Male Mountain Bluebird passing along a ‘Nuptial Gift’. Still images from video by Neil Paprocki.
The reason I say it is unclear if the male actually gives the female food while copulating is because just after the male hops off the female’s back,she takes a piece of food from his mouth. Did the male provide the female with two small pieces of food? Or did he bait the female into copulating first, and then gave her the food? It appeared to me as if the latter happened. Either way, it was extremely fun to capture, and we were excited to document this behavior for the film. Doesn’t it appear as if the male and female are “kissing” in the picture below?
Male passing along a piece of food after copulation. Still image from video by Neil Paprocki.
Production for Bluebird Man has started out with a bang! The Wild Lens team returned from British Columbia yesterday evening after a successful 4-day shoot with our neighbors in Canada. We captured some amazing footage of Western Bluebirds, documented the North American Bluebird Society’s perspective on bluebird conservation, spent a day in the field with a PhD student studying Western Bluebirds, and also a day with the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of British Columbia. Overall we had a busy and productive trip.
Matthew Podolsky documents the work of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
We spent Monday and Tuesday with North American Bluebird Society (NABS) president Sherry Linn who resides near the Okanagan Valley of south-central British Columbia. Sherry provided us some fantastic perspective regarding the history, mission, and goals of NABS and bluebird conservation. We were also able to capture great Western Bluebird scenes along Sherry’s own bluebird trail (she has over 10 boxes on the property). Providing NABS and other groups with a tool to excite and inspire the next generation of bluebird conservationists is one of our top priorities, and gaining their perspective was vital to our film. We thank them for their continued cooperation: what a fantastic organization they have been to work with thus far!
Adult male Western Bluebird. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Wednesday we took a brief break from bluebirds and spent a day in the field with Lauren Meads of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of British Columbia. Lauren has been filming for Wild Lens since 2012 and graciously allowed us to bunk at her house during our trip (thanks Lauren!). A Burrowing Owl re-introduction and captive breeding program was initiated in British Columbia after being extirpated (or locally extinct) in the 1980s. Populations in BC are slowly growing, however Burrowing Owls are still an endangered species and Lauren works to raise captive birds to be re-introduced to the wild. Wild Lens has been assisting Lauren in creating a video the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC can use to help inform and educate people about the plight of Burrowing Owls in Canada. By spending a day in the field with Lauren, we were able to capture some additional footage we can use for this piece, as well as give Lauren some useful filmmaking tips.
British Columbia Burrowing Owl. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Matthew Podolsky giving a filmmaking tutorial to Burrowing Owl biologist Lauren Meads. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Thursday found us back on the bluebird trail as we accompanied Queens University PhD student Catherine Dale for a day of bluebird research. Catherine is studying the Western Bluebirds of the Okanagan Valley. This population of bluebirds is unique in Canada in that a proportion of the population remains in the valley year-round, surviving the cold winter eating mainly berries from Russian Olive trees. Catherine is trying to determine why some birds stay for the winter, and what reproductive advantages they may gain from surviving the cold BC winters. During the breeding season, many of Catherine’s bluebird boxes are along the edges of vineyards as the Okanagan Valley has over 200 wineries, and this is where we spent most of our time. What a beautiful landscape to be able to conduct bluebird research in, we were certainly in awe.
Vineyards dot the landscape of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Catherine was attempting to trap male bluebirds to determine if they were individuals that had wintered in the area, or migrated south for the winter. She was also collecting samples for some Isotope work, which can help determine where a bird has spent the winter by analyzing the chemistry of the nutrients they store in their body from the food they eat. We spent several hours with Catherine attempting to call in male bluebirds to boxes with a Western Bluebird decoy and song playback. Placed in front of the box was a mist-net that will ensnare a bird that flies into it. After several unsuccessful attempts, we managed to trap two adult male bluebirds. A pretty good day all-in-all!
Adult male Western Bluebird in the hand. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Adult male Western Bluebird wing. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
With production of Bluebird Man underway, we look forward to filming in Idaho, where our main story will take place. Sunday we will spend our first day of the season with Al Larson, the inspirational subject of our film. Tomorrow we will be traveling out to the Owyhee Mountains, and we look forward to capturing the energy and enthusiasm of his first visit to the remote mountain region where he grew up. This will mark the beginning of his 36th season of bluebird monitoring. Astounding!
Wild Lens is excited and proud to be partnering with the North American Bluebird Society on the production of Bluebird Man, our new half hour documentary about Al Larson and bluebird conservation. The North American Bluebird Society (NABS) was founded in 1978 in response to declining bluebird populations, especially those of the Eastern Bluebird. Thanks to the efforts of NABS founder Dr. Lawrence Zeleny and other bluebird conservationists, nest box trails across the country have aided in the recovery of bluebird populations. Wild Lens is thrilled to be collaborating with NABS, and we’re excited that this organization’s rich history of bluebird conservation will be a part of our film.
To capture the unique perspective of the North American Bluebird Society, we will be heading across the border to Canada in just a few days! For the better part of a week, we will call the Okanagan Valley of southeastern British Columbia home. This is where NABS president Sherry Linn resides on a small piece of property with her very own bluebird trail. Wild Lens will be interviewing Sherry and getting a tour of her bluebird trail. This will be an important interview for the film as we hope to gain valuable information from NABS about the history and continued success of conservation efforts for the bluebird and other cavity nesting species. This will also be our best chance to film Western Bluebirds, as Al’s bluebird trails in Idaho being occupied mainly by Mountain Bluebirds. We hope to update everyone while we are shooting in beautiful British Columbia, and will have a full report on the trip once we return after April 26th.
Mountain Bluebird. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
This trip also marks the official start of production for Bluebird Man, and we are excited and hopeful that this film project will be a successful one from start to finish. Wish us luck, and we will keep everyone updated with photos, videos, and blog posts throughout the entire production process. We will see you across the border!
Now that Scavenger Hunt has been released for purchase on DVD by Cinema Libre Studio, Wild Lens is excited to announce our next film project: Bluebird Man, which will begin production in late April 2013. Check out the new website for more information on Bluebird Man. Here is a brief synopsis of the film along with a short teaser trailer:
For over 30 years, 91-year old Al Larson has monitored 300 bluebird boxes in southwestern Idaho: Can we help inspire the next generation to continue his legacy of environmental stewardship?
In Idaho, local legend Al Larson has become synonymous with bluebird monitoring and conservation. Al grew up in the remote Owyhee Mountains of southwest Idaho in the 1930s, and developed a love for birds and wildlife while working as a ranch hand. Al dropped out of school after completing the 8th grade and the remote wilderness of the Owyhee’s became his classroom. Al still vividly remembers the first bluebird that he saw while working on a ranch in this remote corner of Idaho. Although he didn’t know the species name at the time, this sighting would stick in his mind for decades to come.
91-year old Al Larson. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Many years later, Al was inspired to return to the remote mountains of his childhood by a National Geographic story about bluebird conservation. It was here in 1978 that he set up his first bluebird boxes. 35 years later at age 91, Al is still monitoring his bluebird boxes in the Owyhee Mountains. Al monitors every stage of the breeding process from egg laying, to hatching, to the fledging of the bluebird chicks. When the chicks reach a certain age, Al bands each one with a uniquely numbered federal aluminum leg band. Al has banded almost 27,000 bluebirds in the past 35 years.
Male Mountain Bluebird on a juniper. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
As Al begins to think about his legacy, he wonders what will become of his bluebird trail once he is no longer able to care for it. Can he inspire the next generation to have the same dedication and enthusiasm he has carried with him all these years? We hope to answer these questions and more through the telling of Al’s unique life story.
What we need from our supporters:
We need your help to raise $11,500 by May 15th, allowing us to begin production on Bluebird Man. Scavenger Hunt was funded almost entirely on private donations from devoted followers, and Bluebird Man may be no different. We have already secured $5,000 in seed money from previous projects, but we still need your help! As of March 1st, all donations received by Wild Lens will go directly towards the production of this film until it is funded. Individual donation and corporate sponsorship levels can be found on the Bluebird Man Website.
Additionally, we have established partnerships with the North American Bluebird Society and the Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and will be working closely with both of these organizations throughout the production process. We are deeply honored to be working with these well-established organizations, both of which have played critical roles in bluebird conservation efforts. These partnerships will undoubtably make Bluebird Man a stronger film.
Stay tuned for more soon as we will have regular production updates for everyone once filming starts in the next month.
2012 was the first full calendar year of existence for Wild Lens, and we wanted to recap the year and extend a special thank you to everyone who supported us in 2012!
Our first feature length documentary “Scavenger Hunt” continues to raise awareness for the lead poisoning issue in California condors, other wildlife, and humans, and was awarded by 5 film festivals in 2012. Special Jury Prize by the Yosemite International Film Festival, Honorable Mention at the Vegas Cine Fest International Film Festival, Finalist at the International Wildlife FIlm Festival, Official Selection at the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, and Official Selection at Film Fest Twain Harte. 2013 has already been big as we signed a distribution deal for “Scavenger Hunt” with Cinema Libre Studio! The official release date for the film is March 5th 2013 when it can be purchased via several online distributors. Many more details about the release will be announced in the coming weeks.
Condors at the Grand Canyon. Photo by Tim Hauck.
In addition to feature films, Wild Lens initiated a Webisode-based project early in 2012 with great success. We reached out to field biologists around the globe who were interested in documenting important wildlife conservation issues through film. We received an overwhelming amount of volunteer support for this project from field biologists, producers, and editors. This project is almost completely driven by volunteers, and we want to thank all of you for the time and energy you devoted to this. Completed film projects included work conducted at the Idaho Bird Observatory, vulture declines in Africa, ptarmigan in Alaska, effects of shade-grown coffee on birds in Central America, and conservation of the Maasai giraffe in Africa. We continue to work on several of these projects and will be releasing more docs in the coming months on treefrogs in Thailand, antbirds in Costa Rica, landbird monitoring in Alaska, greater sage-grouse conservation, and burrowing owl conservation. Thanks again to all our volunteers and we are looking forward to continuing this project in 2013 under the guidance of newly elected board member Sean Bogle.
2012 Webisode Collage. Clockwise photo credits starting from upper left: Sean Bogle, Erin Strasser, Neil Paprocki, Tatiana Gettelman, and Adair McNear.
We also experienced a significant loss in 2012 as our Board Chairman, Mark Podolsky, passed away far, far too early. Mark’s role in the formation of Wild Lens, coupled with his invaluable experience in the non-profit sector proved second-to-none. He will be deeply missed by all of us. The outpouring of support we received following his passing was simply tremendous.
Wild Lens held several successful fundraising events in 2012 as well. Our first was in October: Kegs4Kause held at Payette Brewing Company in Boise, Idaho. Our year end fundraising event was held in December in the form of a Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer benefit concert at the Visual Arts Collective in Boise. Local band Idyltime also was generous enough to perform that evening. Both of these events could not have happened without our dedicated crew of volunteers who were on the ground making sure all went according to plan. The attendance we received at these events from our friends in Boise was simply outstanding, and we wanted to thank everyone for coming out to support us!
Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer perform for Wild Lens supporters. Photo by Eddie Chung.
Finally, and most importantly, we received over $26,000 in private donations from over 60 supporters during 2012. Average donation: $400. Simply put: OUTSTANDING! To this point, Wild Lens has existed almost purely on donations from loyal and committed supporters like yourself. We are so grateful to everyone who donated to Wild Lens in 2012; be it with a generous check or by volunteering your time to help at events, filming or editing videos, and so many other countless ways! To put it bluntly, this small non-profit would not be able to continue its existence today without the support we have had from each and every one of you. 2013 will be an exciting year for Wild Lens, and to all of you who have supported us in the past, continue to support us, and will support us in the future: We won’t let you down! Our mission is, and always will be, to help raise awareness for wildlife conservation issues through research and documentary storytelling. This we promise you.
Devoted Wild Lens volunteers and supporters. Photo by Eddie Chung.
Chiromantis hansenae female and her eggs. Photo by Adair McNear.
August 10th, 2012: We’ve been having a dry spell so the frogs’ activity has dropped, although the past few days have been wetter, so breeding should pick up again soon. In the meantime I thought I’d share how we’re collecting data on the frogs – and incidentally, collecting awesome video of the frogs’ behavior – because it’s a pretty cool method! When we locate a newly laid clutch of eggs, we set up a timelapse camera on a tripod that runs 24 hours a day (at night we switch on a low intensity light, just enough so we can see if the female is still present).
Time lapse camera "watching" a clutch of treefrog eggs. Photo by Adair McNear.
With this continuous surveillance, we end up with 4 or 5 days-worth of footage to then analyze. It takes about 5 days for the eggs to mature into tadpoles, which then drop into the water and hatch. The female is present and sitting on her clutch about 80% of this time, which understandably is mostly her remaining still, and not too fun to film in real time. However, with the timelapse footage, we’ve been seeing condensed views of the females attending to their clutches. These have included predation attempts from ants and carnivorous katydids, with one female managing to fight off a katydid twice her own size! Another female had to scare off a male Chiromantis hansanae who was fruitlessly attempting to mate with her (the females are not receptive when they are guarding their clutches). I’ve attached some photos of one of the timelapse cameras set up in the field, and a couple of cropped screenshots that it has captured. ~ Adair McNear
Chiromantis hansenae female leaping away from her eggs. Screenshot by Adair McNear.
Chiromantis hansenae stands guard over her eggs at night. Screenshot by Adair McNear.
** The following is the second in a series of blog posts by Wild Lens biologist Erin Strasser. Her work in Honduras will be depicted in a Webisode during the coming weeks. **
Fabiola, Brett, and I wait patiently amongst the coffee branches, hoping to catch a glimpse of cinnamon- brown, straining to identify sounds beyond the ear numbing chicharras, or cicadas. What we are so eager to find is the Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), one of our focal neotropical migrants and a species of special concern due to population declines over the past several decades. At first glance the Wood Thrush or zorzal del bosque may not be the most charismatic species. However with their bold black chest spots, blank stare, bobbing motions as they forage in the leaf litter, and their agitated and bursting “pit pit pit pit pit” call they quickly piqued my interest.
Coffee plants dominate the understory in this shade-grown coffee finca. Mist-nets were often set up between rows of coffee, requiring meters of rope to tie back plants. Photo by Brett Bailey.
Sammy Manzanares, one of our Honduran guides assists with the setup of a mist-net. Photo by Brett Bailey.
The Wood Thrush spends its breeding season in deciduous forests of eastern North America. As a neotropical migrant (NMB), that is, a bird that breeds in North America and migrates south to Latin America for the winter, the destruction and fragmentation of both breeding and wintering habitat are suspected factors in this species’ decline. Shade grown coffee fincas (farms) may act as a winter refuge, mimicking natural habitat by providing cover from predators and dense leaf litter necessary for foraging. However, depending upon the size or quality of certain habitats, or the number of Wood Thrush defending winter territories in an area, birds may be forced to move into more disturbed or less favorable sites potentially lowering their chances of survival.
A Wood Thrush. Photo by Erin Strasser.
A major aim of this project was to gather information on Wood Thrush overwintering habitat requirements in Honduran shade-grown coffee fincas and adjacent forest fragments. What factors influence overwintering survival, movement patterns, and prepare birds for the long migratory journey back to the breeding grounds?
Coffee plants grow in the highlands. Photo by Erin Strasser.
To monitor thrushes we trapped birds, marked them with individually numbered federal aluminum bands and a unique color band combination, and more often than not, fitted them with a small (< 1.5 gram) VHF radio transmitter. These transmitters were designed so that if we were unable to recapture birds and retrieve them, they would fall off after several weeks. After approximately 6 weeks the transmitter’s battery dies. In the case of a few of our birds, there was enough time in the season to replace the transmitter and continue tracking for several weeks.
Fabiola Rodriguez processes a Wood Thrush. Photo by Brett Bailey.
A Wood Thrush models its newly placed VHF backpack transmitter. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Although we captured most of our birds passively with strategically placed nets, we also used playback, a thrush decoy, and a concentrated net arrangement. During these episodes, we spent countless hours crouching under coffee, slipping down muddy hillsides, rushing birds towards the nets and dealing with misleading radio signals bouncing off of wet, shiny leaves and streams.
Our decoy "David Bowie" who unfortunately failed to succeed in landing us a thrush. Decoy and photo by Erin Strasser.
This season we were able to capture over two-dozen Wood Thrush, and place transmitters on about 20 individuals. One of our birds was aptly named “Boise” in reference to its Boise State University influenced orange and blue color bands. Birds such as “Boise” were tracked several times a week. Locations were pinpointed by visual observations and/or triangulation: the art of taking several GPS points and associated bearings quickly and from various angles. While “Boise” remained fairly loyal to its territory in a shady finca, other birds congregated at sites for only a few days before moving on, while others divided time between coffee fincas and adjacent forest.
A color banded Wood Thrush nicknamed "Boise". Photo by Fabiola Rodriguez.
Brett’s research will likely elucidate why and for how long certain birds utilize a particular area and whether this is related to age, sex, or body condition. At a larger scale, studies such as this will help biologists identify how to effectively integrate forest corridors, fragments, and shade to maintain or increase viable NMB habitat. In turn, this may increase the value of shade-grown coffee for local coffee cooperatives and their farmers while promoting fair-trade and sustainable coffee farming practices. If you are interested in supporting NMBs and fair-trade cooperatives, and purchasing shade grown coffee, visit Café Solar’s website. Also, visit Brett Bailey’s webpage for more info on his research.
Stay tuned for more on our research and adventures in Honduras. All I can say is we encountered a lot more than birds. – Erin Strasser
** The following is the first in a series of blog posts by Wild Lens biologist Erin Strasser. Her work in Honduras will be depicted in a Webisode during the coming weeks and months. **
This past January, I traveled to Honduras to assist Brett Bailey, a masters student at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst with his project exploring habitat requirements for neotropical migratory birds (NMBs) overwintering in shade-grown coffee farms and adjacent forest fragments. As NMBs have been experiencing long-term declines, much of the neotropics are being cleared for agriculture, and the demand for coffee has increased, this research aimed to not only quantify suitability of coffee habitat for NMBs and but also to inform more sustainable forms of coffee agriculture in the region. To do this, Brett, myself, and Fabiola Rodriguez, a graduate of Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras spent three months conducting point counts, banding migrants and radio tracking a species of special concern, the Wood Thrush.
Recently depulped coffee beans are initially sun dried on large, cement patios. Photo by Erin Strasser.
A Magnolia Warbler, one of our focal species. Notice the red dusting of pollen on its face. Photo by Fabiola Rodriguez.
The next several blog posts will highlight my many exciting, frustrating, dirty, entertaining, and educational experiences while taking part in this research. More importantly, I hope that after reading these posts you all will have second thoughts about buying sun, or traditionally grown coffee.
January 3rd, 2012: Brett, Fabiola, our guide Sammy M, and I arrived in Subirana, a small pueblo situated in the northwestern highlands of the Department of Yoro, Honduras in the heart of coffee country. Our first stop was to visit a local coffee cooperative, Cooperativa Mixta Subirana Yoro Limitada (COMISUYL). Aided by The Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI) (mesoamerican.org), COMISUYL has recently established a solar/ biomass coffee drier, lowering production costs and increasing the coop’s sustainability by utilizing 80% less electricity than conventional driers and eliminating wood fuel.
COMISUYL’s new and sustainable coffee secadora. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Typical traffic encountered in Subirana, Honduras. Photo by Erin Strasser.
After meeting many of the hardworking Hondurenos involved with the coop and enjoying my first cup of organic, shade grown, local coffee we headed out for the 45-minute drive to the farm where we’d be living for the next 3 months. We winded and bumped through country dotted with small coffee fincas (farms, or plantations), cleared areas for cattle grazing, pine woodlands, and secondary growth forests. Arriving at Finca Santa Fe, we were greeted by Allan and Cindy Manzanares and their 2 ½ year old daughter, Aubrey. The Manzanares family, like many of the people of the region, farm coffee and aim to do so in a sustainable way. In areas where sustainable farming practices such as using organic fertilizers, integrated open canopy (IOC), and shade grown coffee are employed, water sources are preserved, erosion is reduced, soil is enriched, and in Honduras alone, provides overwintering habitat for over 58 species of migratory songbirds.
Finca Santa Fe nestled in the highlands of Honduras. Photo by Erin Strasser.
The next morning we woke to the haunting CAOOWW call of the Collared Forest Falcon, interrupted by the constant cockle-doodle-doing of the farm’s two roosters. After pulling on our rubber boots and grabbing our trekking poles, we departed for a tour of the finca. Almost immediately we encountered a mixed species flock. Wilson’s Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Black-throated Green and Black-and-White Warblers, flitted around in the canopy above the coffee gleaning insects from leaves and branches. Later that day, we set out to locate suitable locations for mist-nets. Our goal was to trap and color band our seven focal NMB species (Wilson’s, Black-throated Green, Black-and-White, Magnolia, Tennessee, Golden-winged, and Chestnut-sided Warblers), as well as place radio transmitters on several Wood Thrush.
A male Golden-winged Warbler, a declining neotropical migrant of Eastern North America. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Over the course of several days of trapping in both coffee and an adjacent forest fragment we captured many resident and migratory birds. Each morning after downing a hearty (and greasy) breakfast of fried plantains, handmade corn tortillas, eggs, beans, and of course, fresh coffee we’d open our 10 nets and set up our banding station in the flattest possible location. Every 30 minutes from sunup to late afternoon we did the rounds, anticipating the new species we’d encounter wrapped in our nets. Migrants were fitted with individually numbered, aluminum, federal bands issued by the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory (http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/), a unique combination of color bands and we took a series of morphometric measurements and indices of condition before being released. This allowed us to identify birds as they flitted through the canopy in mixed flocks and determine if a particular type of habitat supported birds in better condition or specific age or sex cohorts.
A recently color banded Black-and-White Warbler. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Fabiola Rodriguez holds a resident species, a Blue-crowned Motmot. Photo by Erin Strasser.
One of our most exciting captures was a tiny White-Breasted Hawk, a relatively unstudied forest accipiter which is closely related to and resembles the Sharp-shinned Hawk, a common raptor of much of North America. As I found this particular bird on my birthday, we dubbed him my “birthday bird”.
The birthday bird, a White-breasted Hawk. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Our first week was a success with many migrants and few ticks. Next time I’ll talk more about our adventures luring in and trapping the enigmatic Wood Thrush. – Erin Strasser
Amphibians may be the worlds most threatened taxonomic group with an estimated 30% of worldwide populations being threatened, and over 40% experiencing population declines. These numbers, coupled with an extinction rate over 200 times the normal-background extinction rate, are leaving researchers all over the world grasping for answers to the causes of these mass declines and extinctions. Some proposed causes include habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, pollution, and increased ultraviolet radiation.
Chiromantis hansenae mating. Photo by Adair McNear.
Wild Lens biologist-filmmaker Adair McNear is currently working with University of Singapore PhD student Sinlan Poo at Thailand’s Sakaerat Research Station studying the reproductive ecology of an endemic treefrog, Chiromantis hansenae. This treefrog’s reproductive cycle is closely tied with the start of the monsoon season, and one of Sinlan’s research goals is to gain a better understanding of how global climate fluctuations may impact this little-studied species in the face of worldwide population declines. The following is a brief report from Adair on how the start of breeding season is progressing.
Chiromantis hansenae female laying eggs. Photo by Adair McNear.
“The wet season is a little slow in coming, so while the frogs are indeed breeding (rains are intermittent, so it’s not a drought situation), its not the peak of breeding season yet, and chances to film the frogs in the study site are still pretty unpredictable. However things should pick up a lot once we start getting more storms, so for the time being I’ve been trying to get some general monsoon/predator “b-roll” and will work on getting the interview footage with Sheila in the next couple of weeks. There is also a good amount of frogs in aquariums for a controlled subset of Sheila’s research; these frogs will be a lot easier to film but may not have that “natural” look. ~ Adair McNear”
Chiromantis hansenae. Photo by Adair McNear.
Stay tuned for more detailed updates from Adair as she continues to monitor the breeding progression of these frogs!