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IBO continued its work in Mozambique at Gorongosa National Park in 2017. We are now tracking both African White-backed and White-headed Vultures using satellite telemetry (Check out this map on our web site). A team visited the park in June and successfully deployed 6 transmitters on White-headed vultures. This species is one of Africa’s most endangered vultures.
Tracking the birds will help us understand vulture movements and identify threats to their populations. These studies by IBO are part of a continent-wide effort to better understand vulture movements and further their conservation.
Western Ecosystems Technologies, Inc. (West) was a key part of our 2017 efforts. They provided the satellite tracking units and helped us attach the transmitters. West employee, Eric Hallingstad, has been instrumental in ensuring continuation of this project.
New partner, André Botha, a South African biologist with The Endangered Wildlife Trust, was also a critical member of the 2017 team. He worked with us to capture raptors and deploy transmitters and wing tags. Andre has been a leader in development of the newly completed African-Eurasian Vulture Multi-species Action Plan. We’re excited to see new partnerships like these develop as the Gorongosa project grows!
Five-year Lucky Peak veteran, Teague Scott, started his MS in Raptor Biology at Boise State University this summer. His project is focused on the critically endangered vultures of Gorongosa. Teague will analyze satellite tracking data, compare movements of the different species, and describe nesting activity within the park.
For a third year, IBO mentored and hosted a Mozambican intern to our Lucky Peak research site. Amemarlita de Matos has a strong interest in birds and science and was a fantastic Lucky Peak intern this fall. She is assisting IBO in Gorongosa with the vulture research as well as road-based raptor surveys designed by our own Robert Miller. Ame’ has also conducted a study of nesting Pink-backed Pelicans at Gorongosa.
We are looking forward to continuing our research at Gorongosa over the next three years, with support from the Greg Carr Foundation, McDanel Land Foundation, Western Ecosystems Technologies, Inc., Boise State, and others. The annual meeting of the Raptor Research Foundation will occur next November in Kruger National Park, South Africa. We plan to have a strong showing at this conference, presenting data on vulture movements and nesting behavior, results from raptor surveys, and more!
Thanks to all IBO staff, funders, Gorongosa park staff, and dozens of others who have made this important work possible!
For years IBO has dreamed of adding pollen sampling to our summer hummingbird monitoring project to help us learn more about hummingbird diet. Thanks to some funding provided by the Murdock Partners in Science Program we have finally been able to make that a reality!
The Partners in Science Program
In 2017 we started an exciting new project as part of the Partners in Science Program. This program pairs high school teachers with researchers at universities to provide two summers of research experience for science teachers. We’ve had three successful Murdock teachers work on songbird banding projects in the past–Larry Barnes, Lindsey Lockwood, and Steve DeMers — but 2017 marks our very first hummingbird Murdock project.
We lucked out and found a great teacher to take this project on. Kate Dircksen from Capital High School is a science teacher with a background in Botany. This made her the perfect candidate for this project since she knows a lot more about Idaho’s wildflowers than we ornithologists do!
Hummers and Climate Change: Why does this matter?
Hummingbirds evolved to use day-length cues to decide when to migrate. In the past, day-length was matched with plant flowering and hummingbirds nested during peak blooms. Climate change is causing a breakdown in this connection; flowers are appearing earlier because of earlier springs. But hummingbirds follow the same day-length every year and may arrive too late to catch peak flowering.
Pollen samples from hummingbird foreheads will help us learn what plants hummingbirds use and when. We want to document their favorite plants and understand how climate change affects these. This will be important for planning the best way to conserve hummingbirds in the future.
Discoveries this summer
For our first summer we focused on building a pollen library from plants at our hummingbird research site in Idaho City. Kate collected and made microscope slides of more than 90 pollen specimens. We catalogued pollen grains from more than 70 different species of wildflowers in the Boise National Forest.
At the end of this summer we collected 6 test samples of pollen from hummingbird foreheads in Idaho City, and compared these samples to our pollen library. By using a microscope to view the samples we were able to discover species richness and diversity for each sample.
Next summer we’ll focus on collecting more samples from hummingbird foreheads. Kate will use the pollen library to identify the pollen and determine what plants make up the diet of Idaho City hummingbirds.
Follow this link to find out how YOU could be a driving force in hummingbird conservation!
The IBO’s popular “Curlews in The Classroom” had an amazing 2017 season! IBO Outreach Coordinator, Heather Hayes, reached more than 5,400 students throughout the Treasure Valley. Through this program, 28 schools and more than 180 classes learned about the biology, life history, and threats facing North America’s largest shorebird, the Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus).
Our unique Curlews in the Classroom presentation gives students the opportunity to meet “real life” IBO biologists, and brings first-hand knowledge and engaging stories from the field into the classroom. Students also learn about satellite tracking technology used to track curlew migration back to Idaho during March and April. Students can follow the birds on this interactive map throughout the school year.
After the initial program, teachers in the program build upon what the students have learned with some of IBO’s activities, games and STEM lesson plans (math, geography, writing, ecology, physics) that incorporate curlews.
Did you know that each Long-billed curlew that receives a satellite transmitter needs a name? Every season we like to have some fun with the students and partners that are a part of the programming and hold a Curlew naming contest! All submissions are posted on the IBO’s Facebook page and put to a public vote. Some pretty creative names were submitted this year but a few stood out above the rest.
We would like to congratulate Middleton Middle School for naming two of our curlews “Athena” and “Zeus” from the Orchard Combat Training Center. The Boise Watershed Environmental Education Center also joined in on the fun and chose the name “Curly Fry” for one of the curlews who nests on the City of Boise’s 20 Mile South Farm. Thank you to all that participated and don’t forget to start thinking of creative names for 2018!
Curlews need YOUR help! Follow this link to aid in curlew conservation research!
The Short-eared Owl has experienced a long-term, range-wide, substantial decline in North America. It is believed that the population has declined by up to 60% in the past 50 years. The species is considered “climate endangered” by the National Audubon Society Climate Project and is considered a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in Idaho and many other western states. However, specific information as to the cause and magnitude of the decline is unknown. Traditional survey methods such as the Breeding Bird Surveys and Christmas Bird Counts are not sufficient to address the conservation needs of this species.
For the past three years IBO staff has provided in-kind support to develop and lead a west-wide survey of Short-eared Owls known as WAFLS – Western Asio flammeus Landscape Study. The program began in 2015 as a partnership between IBO and the Idaho Bird Conservation Partnership. Our goal was to specifically support the Idaho State Wildlife Action Plan.
The program engages citizen-science volunteers from across
the state in a statistically-rigorous survey for Short-eared Owls during the owl’s spring courtship period.
Our early success was due in large part to our generous volunteers! These results influenced the Idaho State Wildlife Action Plan and we published an article in Avian Conservation and Ecology (Miller et al. 2016). In 2016, the program expanded into Utah through a partnership with Hawkwatch International. And this year, the program expanded further into Nevada and Wyoming through partnerships with Nevada Department of Wildlife and the Teton Raptor Center.
330 participants contributed over 3,400 hours to complete surveys
across the four states in 2017. Over 80% of the contribution came from citizen-science volunteers.
In partnership with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Pacific Flyway Council, and additional state partners, IBO applied for a Competitive-State Wildlife Grant (C-SWG) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
We recently received word that we were awarded the grant!
This will fund the WAFLS program expansion to all eight western states for the next three years (adding California, Montana, Oregon, and Washington).
The grant will fund work to expand and operate the program for the years 2018 – 2020. IBO will continue to provide leadership for the overall program. This will include survey design, implementation, data collection and management, analysis and reporting. In addition, IBO will continue to coordinate the volunteer effort within Idaho.
The result of our work will continue to inform State Wildlife Action Plans by providing habitat-specific trend information, addressing key research questions (e.g., owl friendly grazing practices), prioritizing specific conservation measures, and continuing our general advocacy for the species. We expect to continue to publish scientific advancements in peer-reviewed scientific journals. We will also continue our engagement with the world-wide owl research and conservation community.
If you live in one of the eight survey states and would like to become involved, let us know!
You can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Surveys require just two evenings of your time in the March – May time frame (timing dependent upon survey elevation). We will provide you with training, materials, and instructions. No experience is necessary!
Check out the Boise State Press Release about this project here.
Did you know that birds use high frequency calls to find each other at night?! This is one theory explaining why many bird species emit short (40 -150 ms), mid- to high frequency (3-10 kHz) vocalizations called Nocturnal Flight Calls (NFCs) during migration. Recording NFCs, especially in the eastern US, has become a viable method to monitor migrating birds.
Nighttime-flying songbirds are hard to count during migration.
This project will help us monitor their movements!
More data, especially isolated NFCs from western species, will improve automated classifications of recordings in the field of bioacoustics. This Fall, the Intermountain Bird Observatory, in collaboration with and funded by the MPG Ranch in Florence Montana, piloted a research project recording NFCs in a Portable Recording Station (PRS). Think of a dark, sound-proof recording studio for birds!
IBO Research Biologist, Christian Meny, worked with University of Montana Bird Ecology Lab’s (UMBEL) bird banders on a floodplain site at MPG Ranch to run the PRS. After banding, birds were placed in the PRS- an acoustically isolated recording booth operated in a dark hunting blind in order to simulate night.
Our recordings will help calibrate computers so they
can count and identify flight calls of birds passing overhead
Birds in the PRS experience a minute of complete silence, followed by two minutes of stimulus playback (recordings of NFCs given by conspecifics or closely-related species), and then another minute of silence. Birds sampled include warblers, sparrows and thrushes because of their families’ known proclivity for emitting NFCs during migration.
Overall, we recorded a total of 84 NFCs! Highlights include true NFCs “elicited” from Orange-crowned Warblers, Gambel’s White- crowned Sparrows and from one individual Fox Sparrow. Various vocalizations were recorded from Chipping Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, Dark eyed Juncos, MacGillivray’s warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Song Sparrows and Wilson’s Warblers. These data will help classify and catalogue bioacoustics data in the Intermountain west, and contribute to other bioacoustics projects including MPG Ranch’s Project Night Flight: an effort consisting of 20 passive microphones recording the night sky (and migrating birds) across much of the Bitterroot River Valley in Montana.
If you asked a room full of birders, biologists, and researchers alike this question “How many of you have seen a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Idaho?”, probably only one or two hands would raise, and the rest of the room would roll their eyes and sigh in an expression of their desire to see one of these elusive birds. So what is the deal with cuckoos?
The western population of Yellow-billed Cuckoos is recognized as genetically distinct from the eastern population and has declined dramatically in size and range extent since the 1950’s. This decline is mostly due to loss of large cottonwood galleries and riparian habitat. This population was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in November of 2014. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are more commonly encountered in southwestern states like California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Idaho represents the more northern extent of their range and the status of cuckoos in Idaho is not clear.
In 2017, IBO received a contract to conduct surveys for Yellow-billed Cuckoos within the Bureau of Land Management’s Shoshone Field Office. This area contains a large swath of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposed Critical Habitat, as well as other potentially suitable habitat for Yellow-billed Cuckoos. To conduct these surveys, we applied for and obtained a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service federal permit allowing us to use playback (broadcast of cuckoo vocalizations) to survey for these rare birds. It is important to note that only people specifically permitted can use playback to detect cuckoos.
A small crew, lead by Tempe Regan, with assistance from Jay Carlisle (IBO Research Director), Jeremy Halka (IBO Research Biologist), and Idaho Fish and Game biologist Ross Winton and his technician Austin Young, were able to survey 19 sites completely, visiting them four times, each visit two weeks apart, from June 15 to August 15. Most of the surveys were in the Little and Big Wood River drainages. Overall, they surveyed a total of 197 points, four times, for a total of 788 individual survey points for cuckoos. Although they spent hours, days and months looking for cuckoos, they only detected a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on just three of 788 individual survey points and at one of 19 sites. All of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo detections occurred on the same day at the same site!
The first cuckoo!
On the first day of cuckoo surveys, Jay looked at Tempe and said “So, do you think you are going to get a cuckoo this summer?”. She laughed and replied “Yeah, one!”.
Just minutes later, on June 16, 2017, they detected a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at point five of that morning’s survey!
They heard the bird giving the typical “kowlp” contact call after the second sequence of broadcasts had just ended. Tempe and Jay looked at each other in disbelief and mouthed “no way, did you just hear that!?” almost simultaneously. Eventually, they were able to see the bird before it flew away and estimated it was just 20 meters from them!
After they calmed down and had collected the necessary data, they moved to the next survey point (point six), and again detected a Yellow-billed Cuckoo – first as it silently flew in from the southeast, and then when it gave the “kowlp” call from across the river. Finally, at the last point (point eight) of the site, they detected a Yellow-billed Cuckoo again giving the “kowlp” contact call, and then observed it feeding ~ 34 m away. It made for an exciting morning and believe them when they say a Yellow-billed Cuckoo hunting for caterpillars is a cute sight indeed!
However, they had no idea how right Tempe was when she predicted it would be downhill from there. Sadly, this proved to be true and they did not detect another cuckoo at this site or at any other site for the rest of the season!
We cannot determine with certainty the actual number of cuckoos detected during the morning of June 16, as it may have been just one cuckoo following them along. Most likely, they detected a migrating cuckoo because that detection was during their first and earliest visit to the site (when cuckoos are still migrating, especially into the northernmost extents of their range – i.e., Idaho).
Next year, we hope to continue standardized surveys for cuckoos in the BLM Shoshone Field Office and potentially expand the areas to be surveyed. We also may begin work to find funding to research other aspects of the biology of these seldom-seen, but often-sought-after birds.
Every year from early-May through mid-July, IBO sends numerous technicians out to the wilds of Idaho, Montana, and Utah to conduct point-count style bird surveys for a large-scale monitoring program called the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR).
Coordinated by Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, since its pilot season in Colorado in 2008, IMBCR has grown to become one of the largest avian monitoring programs in the country.
In 2017, it was implemented in 14 western states across a wide variety of public and private lands. This year marked the largest IMBCR effort put forth by IBO as well with a total of 26 technicians and staff members who completed a total of 598 surveys in the deserts, prairies, wetlands, and mountains across Idaho, Montana, and Utah.
In 2017, we detected a whopping 244 species with many notable sightings! The five most frequently detected species on all IBO completed surveys were Western Meadowlark, Horned Lark, Brewer’s Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Some of the most noteworthy species include: Costa’s Hummingbird and Hooded Oriole in Utah, Lark Buntings and Great Gray Owl in Idaho, Chimney Swifts and Tennessee Warbler in Montana, and many Greater Sage-Grouse detections throughout all three states.
On October 7th, IBO held our first ever benefit and it was a “sweet” success! We partnered with “Waffle Me Up” restaurant of Boise for a beautiful fall morning at our Boise River Banding Station. Over 100 people came down to the river to enjoy the crisp fall air and amazing waffles while learning about the exciting migratory songbird research IBO scientists are conducting in this riparian habitat. We love educating the public about songbird biology, migration and the local habitat these birds rely on for their survival.
Many people are surprised to discover that our banding stations are kept running solely through donations and grants. Since 1993, IBO ornithologists have been dedicating their lives to bird conservation efforts every single day.
We conduct important migratory research and provide unique hands-on science opportunities through outreach programs, locally and all year long. We rely on donations from people who share our passion for birds and want to be a vital part of the driving force behind preserving their future.
Proceeds from the “Waffles and Warblers” benefit will help the Boise River Research Station remain open so that we can continue our research, outreach and education in 2018.
Thank you to EVERYONE who participated- we appreciate your support!
This year marked some really exciting advances for our Boise River Project, with big strides forward for the site development, outreach, and research aspects of the project, including plans for a capital campaign!
IBO has worked over the past 5 years to secure more than 20 acres of property along the Boise River along Warm Springs Avenue in southeast Boise. First, in 2012, Boise State worked closely with Idaho Transportation Department to secure management of a parcel of river bottom at the Highway 21 bridge site. A few years later, the university purchased an adjoining parcel of riverfront using annual interest accrued on IBO’s Diane and Winston Moore Family Endowment. The power of this lasting gift continues to benefit IBO in the most significant ways!
A Master Plan
We have used the property over the past few years to develop an outreach and education program headed by our Education Director, Heidi Ware. Recently we have created a conceptual master plan for this area to enhance its natural features and to develop infrastructure that will aid in our outreach activities in the future.
The plan includes restoring a natural side channel of the river to improve fish and wildlife habitat, developing an interpretive trail system, spanning wetlands with raised boardwalks to protect critical habitat, constructing wildlife viewing blinds, restoring upland habitats, and creating pollinator gardens on the properties.
We have identified multiple funding opportunities and have submitted applications to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for restoration of the side channel and other habitat improvements. We have also submitted an application to Boise City under their Open Space and Clean Water Partnership Program for development of interpretive trails and boardwalks.
Planning for the Future
We plan to initiate a fundraising campaign working closely with the Boise State development team to create a programing endowment of $1.5 M that would support our educational efforts at the site in perpetuity.
We will need your help to do all of this!
A City Park
A new and exciting twist which has surfaced recently are plans to develop a Boise City park on the adjoining property located along Warm Springs Avenue. Aaron Howell, a private individual, has purchased this property and plans to develop the park and donate it to the city, naming it after his wife Sue. The park will have facilities to accommodate exercise as well as provide Greenbelt access, but will also have a science-based theme. We are very excited to work with Mr. Howell and the city to create a park theme and park amenities that will promote access to and use of IBO’s properties.
We believe that linking management of a city park and an adjoining natural area will create a valuable and long-lasting legacy for residents of the City of Boise. We plan to cooperate with Mr. Howell and the city to ensure that the park has features that can be shared with Boise State such as bus accessible parking facilities, covered meeting space that can be used for outreach, and trails joining the two properties. This new twist has breathed new life into this age-old dream of IBO’s of having a local, accessible, natural property for year-round education and outreach!
We are happy about new (and old) partners that have surfaced to lend support for this project, such as the U.S. Army corps of Engineers, Boise City, The Boise River Enhancement Network, Idaho Rivers United, College of Western Idaho, and of course, our long-time partner Golden Eagle Audubon Society. The Land Group, headed by Dave Koga, generously created the concept plan, and a new friendship with the Boise State Construction Management group will ensure quality and economical construction of new amenities on the property.
Thanks to generous sponsors, we were able to purchase a shipping container to serve as an education shelter on the site. Thank you to Golden Eagle Audubon Society, Wild Birds Unlimited of Boise, Madeline George Garden Design and Nursery, Barbara Howard, Anthony Hill, and Matthew, Jennifer, & Derek Miller. We have plans to add a community mural to the walls of our shelter in 2018.
In 2017 we reached more visitors than ever! We hosted seven springtime field trips to watch birds, test Boise River water quality, and study mammals on our array of trail cameras.
Over the summer, we saw more than 300 of you at our MAPS banding sessions.
And this fall we reached more than 600 visitors at our daily autumn migration banding! We held field trips for more than 15 different Treasure Valley schools, hosted limited-mobility visitors (thanks to the easy access the site provides), and Heather organized our first Veterans field trip.
To top off a great fall season, we held our first “benefit for the birds” at the river! Be sure to check out Heather’s update to hear how our Waffles and Warblers event went!
2017 marked our 3rd year of breeding season banding on the Boise River. The “Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship” protocol is an important continent-wide monitoring effort that the Institute for Bird Populations coordinates. With both Lucky Peak and the Boise River serving as sites for this project, we acquired some great data about what is happening in our region with breeding birds.
If you’re a birder and want to see a Yellow Warbler in July or August, we can safely promise you that you’ll see them if you visit our Boise River site. We banded hundreds of Yellow Warblers on the river this summer, including some of the fattest Yellow Warblers we’ve ever seen. Normally a Yellow Warbler weighs about 9 grams, but the birds in August were so fat that they weighed in at 13 grams!
Although probably one of the most widespread species in North America, Yellow Warbler populations have been slowly declining across the continent. Monitoring projects like ours are collecting valuable information about their population trends and what habitats they rely on most. The habitat at our Boise River site seems to be ideal to support a very healthy Yellow Warbler population during post-breeding dispersal and migration.
2017 was our FIRST EVER fall migration season along the river. Although we didn’t have much money in the bank, we took the chance and hired technicians for a fall migration project. We banded daily (except in bad weather) from September 1st to October 20th. In the end, we collected data on more than 1,000 birds of nearly 30 species that migrated through the Boise River site. This gave us the best picture yet of what happens at the Boise River during migration and what kind of stopover habitat it provides for birds.
It cost us $4,000 to run our station for 2 months in 2017. We have about $1,000 in our budget for 2018 so far, thanks to our Waffles and Warblers event.
Follow this link and support our efforts in 2018 by selecting our Outreach Program in the designation.
Thanks to a grant from the Idaho STEM Action Center we were also able to deploy trail cameras on site. These cameras provided great fodder for student inquiry about mammals, humans, and how they co-exist in the wildland-urban interface on the Boise River. Here are a few of our favorite photos from the site:
IBO continues to expand its staff as a result of expanding support and capacity. Thanks to efforts of our Research Director Jay Carlisle and IBO staff biologists Robert Miller and Jessica Pollock, IBO’s research budget grew again in 2017. We currently have ~$1M in grant funding spread over ~25 different projects. Wow!
This increased support required that IBO again expand its ranks in 2017, hiring Jeremy Halka (past IBO Curlew field team and Lucky Peak Trainee) and Tempe Regan (graduating Boise State MS student and past IBO International Intern who worked in Spain).
These two worked jointly to manage IBO’s IMBCR (grid-based point counts) projects within the Intermountain West, but also lent their support to our studies of Long-billed Curlews, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Forest Service woodpecker surveys, as well as lending a hand at Lucky Peak this fall. Tempe also helped coordinate a collaborative effort to establish a new raptor count site in Djibouti, which hosts one of the largest concentrations of migrating raptors in the world.
Ever increasing demand for IBO education and outreach lead to the hire of Heather Hayes, who headed up the “Curlews in the Classroom” program during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years (read more about Curlews in the Classroom in this article). She also worked this past fall to schedule and host all the visitors to Lucky Peak, and has been a huge help with developing outreach efforts at the Boise River site.
Also new to the IBO team is Teague Scott, former Lucky Peak Trainee of 5 years. Teague was accepted into the MS in Raptor Biology program at Boise State and will be assisting IBO with its vulture research in Mozambique at Gorongosa National Park. Look for other graduate students to begin IBO projects in 2018 in Wyoming and at Duck Valley Indian Reservation!
We are pleased to welcome these new IBO team members and are honored to work with such a talented, intelligent, and driven group of people!
Thank you all!
Intermountain Bird Observatory | IBO@boisestate.edu | 208-426-4354 | Corner of Capitol Blvd and University Drive