Wednesday, April 30, 2008
This morning one of the first emails I looked at when I arrived at work was from Beth Madden, wildlife biologist at Medicine Lake NWR. It was just one line that said:
"the crane is still here if you want to see it!"
That started to hurt. Then after I replied that I was half tempted to make the drive she wrote back to tell me that it indeed had been in the same field on Sunday and I had driven right past it. That did it. I called Dad and coerced him into going to Medicine Lake and taking me with him. I haven't chased a bird in a long time and it was fun heading out with Dad to see if we could make the two hour trip before the bird left.
We did. We stopped at the headquarters to get the latest info from Beth and found the crane had moved from the field to a small bay on the east side of the refuge and was hanging out about a quarter mile from the road with a bunch of Tundra Swans. We arrived where Beth said it would be and there it was. We got good looks at the bird as it moved around a bit. Then it tucked it's leg up and it's head under and joined the Tundra Swans for an afternoon siesta.
Click on the image to enlarge (you may need it on this one)
Although we were close enough to the bird to get good looks at it, it wasn't the best photography situation. It could have been worse if we had arrived a bit later though. Then I could have pointed out that the white sleeping bird in the center of the photo has longer legs than the other sleeping white blobs in the photo. There were no bands on this bird and I am not sure how many of the remaining Whooping Cranes are unbanded.
This all makes me wonder about my longspur hunt last weekend. If I was unable to notice a 6 foot white bird in a stubble field, it leads me to question my ability to find a very small rather nondescript bird in a stubble field. Not bad for a trained wildlife observer huh. More photos and stories of other birds from our trip tomorrow.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I kept checking the flocks of Sandhill Cranes I saw looking for the large white one but it was never there. My friend Doug Smith observed the bird, a single unbanded adult on Monday morning on his way to work and reported it to the refuge.
I guess I will have to head that direction again this fall to look for Smith's Longspurs and Whooping Cranes on their way back south.
Monday, April 28, 2008
"This is one of my black-flagged birds from Saskatchewan - band number 93753, marked originally as an adult female at Lake Diefenbaker, SK in 2004 (nest DN-04-03)[combination is black flag upper left, dark blue over yellow (faded) lower left, presumably metal upper rt, yellow (faded) lower rt]. In 2005, she nested in Alberta, and since then has only been reported from the wintering grounds in southern Texas, so was obviously nesting where no one was looking."
So the bird I saw is at least five years old and hangs out on the beaches in Texas during the winter. Anyone in Texas remember seeing this bird? If anyone in Canada finds this bird this summer I would love to hear from you too!
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Despite many miles driving through stubble fields of wheat on Saturday and Sunday I was unable to locate any Smith's Longspurs. The consolation prize however was thousands of Lapland Longspurs in a couple of fields. I have seen Lapland Longspurs annually for as long as I can remember but only in the winter. These were all in breeding plumage so in a way it was a new bird for me.
It was amazing how many were gathered in the two fields and they were all singing on top of it so the sounds were also new. I did make a three longspur weekend out if it with observations of Chestnut-collared and McCown's all in breeding plumage as well.
I did see a few flocks of longspurs that looked like the photo above and I was unable to figure out what they were.
Northeastern Montana is incredible dry and most of the potholes I looked at were just salt pans with no water. It was also quite cold with a few snow drifts hanging around. Thankfully I brought along my Flatcoated Retriever heater to keep me warm in the back of the truck last night.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
A couple of weeks ago Laura talked to me about a big purchase she would like to make. Our friends were selling their dining room table, chairs, and hutch and Laura really wanted to buy them. Ours were ok but most certainly acquisitions made during a different period in our lives.
We got the table at the Salvation Army in Bozeman 15 years ago. It was ok but it was starting to show some age - it was probably at least 15 years old when we purchased it. The chairs were purchased at a garage sale about the same time. They were ok too but not that well made and the joints were really loosening up. We had already lost one during a dinner party in Bozeman. Steve Bodio was telling a story that required lots of hand gestures (pretty much any story for Steve!) and all of a sudden he disappeared from the end of the table - the chair had come apart underneath him! I was noticing I thought of that event pretty much every time I sat at the table these days. The hutch had no current match but Laura has wanted one for a long time.
So, shortly after Laura asked me about purchasing the set I called Tami and told her that we would like to purchase the set but also asked her if she would tell Laura that they decided not to sell it. Tami was a willing partner in crime but struggled with being able to tell Laura that they had decided not to sell it because she knew how disappointed Laura would be. She pulled it off quite convincingly though. My next conversation with Laura was her telling me that she wasn't going to get the dining room set after all. I knew that she was disappointed but she understood the reasoning that Tami had given her.
Fast forward to this Wednesday. I was in Lewistown for meetings and Laura was taking the boys to Billings, 4.5 hours away, to do some shopping and get out of town for a few days. I was meeting her there on Friday because I had another meeting and we were going to return on Friday evening. Tami, her husband Kelly, son Zach, and a crew of young men met my Mom (yes she was in on it too) at our house and they removed the old table and chairs and put the new set in the dining room. Laura just happened to call the house at that time to check messages and Mom answered the phone not expecting it to be Laura. She stumbled through a rather lame excuse as to why she was at the house while Tami headed out the door so she wouldn't accidentally be heard talking to the boys. Whatever excuse Mom used (she can't even remember now) worked and Laura still didn't suspect anything. Tami gave me a call and let me know that part of my plan was complete. She even added a nice touch while talking to Laura on Thursday and told here she was making a flower arrangement for a friend who had recently gotten some new furniture.
Friday afternoon we headed home from Billings. As we got close to Fort Peck I told Laura I really had to go to the bathroom so I needed to run in the house right away. I also asked her to bring the new orchid (yes another one) into the house and put it on the table right away so it was out of the way. I ran into the house, turned on all the lights, grabbed my video camera, and waited in the kitchen. Laura soon came in the house, around the corner, and my plan worked just like I had imagined it would. Complete surprise!
The set looks great in our house- including the flower arrangement from Tami - and of course Laura really likes it. We have finally graduated from the grad school furniture!
I owe a big thanks to my partners in crime who helped me pull this off - Tami and Kelly Burke, Zach and his friends, plus my Mom.
The new stuff.
Monday, April 14, 2008
This one is sitting on a former Swainson's Hawk nest north of Glasgow. One of my other usual spot to find a Swainson's Hawk nest in the spring is also not available this year. It was a rather small Willow tree at a reservoir in the south part of Valley County. I drove past the spot the other day when I was coming home from a grouse count and something was missing. The whole tree was gone. I couldn't remember it being that old of a tree that it might have just fallen down so it was a bit of a puzzle until I got near where the tree used to be to find a well chewed stump.
It was a beaver that did it. The funny part was the tree wasn't that big and it was only one of two trees on the reservoir and the other, now gone as well, was even smaller. I don't know how the beaver managed to survive getting to this reservoir either as it is at least four miles to the nearest tree and there is no year round water flowing from the reservoir - it only traps water from snow and rain events and after that is over the downstream portion of the drainage dries out. The remains of both trees were very well chewed and there was not a speck of bark left on the stumps that remained. I suspect that the beaver did not make it through the winter on that meager diet.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
The most likely culprit, a Golden Eagle, based on evidence at the scene of the crime. Very little of the grouse was left. Only a piece of the pelvis, the head and lower mandible, and feathers remained. There was one large mute (eagle poop) streaked through the middle of the feathers.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Jason had previously surmised that we would blast the net at about 0620 so I was waiting to see how this would work as the birds moved around. About 0550 I heard something on the radio that was not real clear but I did hear something about the net. I was wondering if he had told Kala he wanted her to blow the net when there was a loud boom, a flash of light, lots of flying dust and birds. I had my answer.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Odm Midnight Miracles "Highland" (I need to get a few more photos of the flowers because these makes the long petals look the same color as the lower part of the flower and the lower part is really much more pinkish red and the upper petals more brownish red than these photos depict - I also need to start learning some orchid terminology!).
I owe Julie Zickfoose a big thanks for answering my questions and providing me with a very good list of resources. Julie has some wonderful orchids that she occasionally posts about. I got a good reminder about how beginning birders must feel with my beginning orchid questions and Julie was great and helped me keep this plant going. Now for more plants!
Here are a couple of my favorite orchids growing wild in Torres Del Paine National Park.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
The name of our group comes from the term applied to the US/Canadian border in this area by the Native Americans of the Northern Great Plains during the late 19th century. It described a boundary where the policies of governments changed for the Native Americans (or First Nations people in Canada). For the Native Americans fleeing the U.S. Army, the land north of the 49th parallel meant refuge. Sitting Bull and his band of Sioux made it across the line after the Battle of the Little Bighorn but Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were decimated just south of the line. A fascinating article about the history of the Medicine Line can be found here. Although the border politics have changed since then it is still very present and a still a barrier in many ways.
One of the objectives of the CMLN is to promote communication about ecology and conservation between the political entities in the region, primarily between the US and Canadian people but also between Alberta and Saskatchewan. Often our understanding and maps of our shared species of interest end at these borders but the animals themselves are not confined by political boundaries. We are working towards having information be seamless across these borders to match the realities of the ecology and species we work with and thus provide better context for each individual project at the state or provincial level.
This image from our website shows some of the species for which we have common concerns; Swift Fox, Greater Sage Grouse, Loggerhead Shrike, and Burrowing Owl. It also includes a map of the core area of interest, the Milk River basin. Other species of interest include: Baird's Sparrow, Sprague's Pipit, McCown's Longspur, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Long-billed Curlew, and Pronghorn Antelope to name a few.
The image below is a product of one of the projects I have been involved in and was produced by Bryce Maxell and his crew at the Montana Natural Heritage Program. It is a probability of occurrence map for the Baird's Sparrow and it demonstrates one of the issues we are dealing with. Each of the dots on the map is a bird count location from the database (not all counts but we are working on getting there). The black dots represent a count where at least one Baird's Sparrow was found, the gray dots a count where no Baird's Sparrows were found. Notice the big white areas around Montana. There are a lot of bird counts going on there too and one of the goals of our group is to find a way to make these sorts of predictive models for species occurrence relative to the entire breeding range of many of the species we are concerned with on both sides of the borders and across state and provincial boundaries.
I couldn't help but put in the following map too. It shows a predicted occurrence map for 12 grassland bird species in Montana. You can see how important the area in Valley, Phillips, and Blaine Counties is for these species. It isn't much ground when you consider the extent of the Great Plains and the former breeding range for many of these species. If we were able to extend this picture further north it would certainly extend into southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, but not too far, which is why many of the species we are dealing with are considered Endangered just across the border in Canada - Greater Sage-Grouse, Swift Fox, Burrowing Owl and Sprague's Pipit to name a few.
In addition to the grassland bird data we discussed Greater Sage-Grouse populations dynamics along the border including some fascinating genetics work conducted by Krissy Busch. I will tell you more about that later but it involves the results of the analysis conducted on feathers gathered from the leks across the region, a truly trans-boundary project. Energy production, primarily shallow gas but also wind energy, and it's impacts on wildlife populations were also discussed. This is one of the primary threats to populations of wildlife in the area - right after the continued threat of loss of native prairie to conversion to cropland.
It was a great three days and on top of the excellent talks and discussion I was able to visit with good friends I haven't seen for a while. There is a really good group of people involved in this effort.I was also able to look around the small community of Elkwater a bit. My friend Beth Madden, Wildlife Biologist at Medicine Lake NWR found a pair of Merlins apparently nesting right across the street from the motel we were staying at and I got a few photos of the male. The female was often in the neighborhood screaming at something.
There were very many Black-capped Chickadees. More than I had observed in one spot in a long time. West Nile Virus must not have made it to the Cypress Hills yet.
Wild Turkeys had been introduced in the area and were quite common around town.
I just couldn't resist ending this post with another "mammal with an attitude" photo.