Wednesday, December 30, 2009

BBC on a new band for penguins

Although I like the story they are trying to portray, this BBC article leaves a lot to be desired. Apparently there are flying penguins at the South Pole now. At least they got the southern hemisphere right.

Big Mac, Elephant Island Jan. 2007

The flexible leg bands are an interesting idea. If I remember right, when they first tried metal leg bands they wound up sitting on the top of the foot and caused lots of problems wearing on the foot. They apparently also built up with lots of ice as the birds moved in and out of the water. I would be worried that the latter problem would not be tested well in the zoo and they may still have problems in the wild, but I am glad to see them trying it in a controlled situation first.

Marking penguins has always been a problem because of the way the stand and move through the water. One not-to-be-named country's research group wound up using plastic beaded zip ties with a flat flag on one end that had a unique number on it. We found a number of them on penguins at the research site I worked at and we wound up cutting them all off when we found them because they were causing horrible lacerations at the base of the flipper where they had been placed. They would have been lost to the researchers when the penguin died anyway and this way at least the penguin lived.

Little Mac, Elephant Island, Jan. 2007

Metal flipper bands still seem to be the best way to efficiently mark penguins for most studies. They can be easily noticed and read at a distance and appear to cause only minimal problems for some individuals. It would be really nice to get even better at marking these birds though.


I want to take a minute to thank all of you who have commented on my posts over that last few months that never received a reply back. I want you to know that I appreciate them all and I have replied to all of the with witty replies and insightful additional comments - alas they never made it out of my brain and into the comments section. I am going to continue to blame my work project that is consuming so much of my thought process. So thank you again and please keep dropping by and leaving your comments, they really are appreciated.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Cold and Rusty

Here is what a graph of the temperature here (in red) looks like for the last 3 days (temps are in degrees Fahrenheit).

It's been cold. Thankfully we did our Christmas Bird Count during one of the warmer days on Monday. Seven of us tallied 43 species this year, which is respectable for our count considering how few people we had to cover the area and how cold it has been. I had a great day walking along the edge of the river. We didn't find any species that were very unexpected except the Iceland Gull that has been hanging around this winter so far.
I did find a male Rusty Blackbird, one of three or four that have been residing along a spring creek below the dam where there is a bit of open water, and a melanistic American Robin that showed up in Mom and Dad's backyard the following day.
Yesterday I got out in while it was sunny with my camera and managed to endure the cold temps for a bit. I caught up with the blackbirds again and managed to get a few photos as they foraged along the little bit of remaining open water on the creek.

Although they look much like a Brewer's Blackbird during the breeding season (glossy black with a pale eye), in the winter they acquire their striking namesake rust and black plumage.

Rusty Blackbirds are one of the rarest of the North American blackbirds and also one of the least known. Seventy percent of the Rusty Blackbird population breeds in the boreal forests of Canada and population trends suggest that populations of this species are declining. The Boreal Songbird Initiative web site has more information about this species and other boreal birds, many of them my favorite Montana migrants that breed in the increasingly impacted forests just north of here.

They are associated with boggy or swampy areas in their boreal breeding grounds and I have always found them associated with water in the winter or during migration.

They apparently build rather large, bulky nests which they do not reuse. The abandoned nests are often used by Solitary Sandpipers in subsequent years.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Guys and Dogs

It has been a long fall. I am working on the wildlife section for a plan for over 3 million acres of land and it is consuming me. Hence the lack of posting around here.
I had a great diversion from work this fall in the form of four of my best friends spending a week here. We are all wildlife biologists that met a quarter of a century ago at the University of Montana. We usually all get together every few years in the fall to go hunting. The past few times it has been here at Fort Peck. We have had a lot of good times over the years and although the definition of what a good time is has changed as time has passed, this year was no different.

We did some bird hunting.

Addie retrieves a Sharp-tailed Grouse

Murphy - The old guy makes a retrieve

We also spent a lot of time visiting, telling a few stories, and having a beer or two.

Uncle Tim reading to the boys.

It is really nice having friends that even though we haven't really talked in months, as soon as we get together we pick up right where we left off.

Ben, Tim and Riley


Tom and Gracie

Tim and Riley

It was a great week with the guys and our dogs. I really appreciate their friendship and I look forward to the next time we get together.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More (better) Gull Photos

Dad sent me these two much better photos of the same gull that I posted photos of yesterday

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Iceland Gull?

My Dad found this gull a few days ago. Looks like an Iceland to me but certainly not a "classic" small billed Iceland. Not the best photos and hopefully I can get some better ones. Comments?

It's always about communication

Here is a link to a wonderful story about a working dog that just needed a little help to do his new job. It's also, in many ways, a wonderful story about Montana. Thanks to Betty Anderson for sending me the link.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


The Buffleheads have been foraging close to shore lately and I was able to get some photos in some decent light the other day.

I really like when I the sheen on their head is captured in a photo.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Fall

The fall rut is on with the local Mule Deer. We have a number of deer that hang around town and these guys were pretty obvious as they started keeping company with the resident doe herd.

But that was before hunting season started. Even though the area they have been hanging around in is closed to hunting, it appears that all the bigger bucks have disappeared.

Some people (I will not call them hunters) apparently cannot resist the lure of antlers no matter what.

I am glad I got these photos before they disappeared. Even though they are "city" deer and a bit of a nuisance for those of us with gardens and other deer goodies in our yards, it is sad that they are the victims of the lust for antlers that seems to drive some people to disregard laws and treat our wildlife resources with such disrespect.

The Deck is Done

Laura and I finally got the deck done a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully the weather has held off a bit so we were able to get it stained too. Now for the siding, windows, back deck, landscaping, trees to plant, fence gates to fix....
I would like to thank my brothers-in-law Larry and Dave, and sister Chris for their help and advice.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Falling from the Sky Again

A year and a half ago I posted a few photos of Canada Geese falling from the sky here. Today the conditions were about the same and again, geese were falling from the sky. I had a ring-side seat as flock after flock returned to the river after feeding in the grain fields. They maintained altitude until they were just about to reach the shoreline, then they slipped sideways (or flipped completely over) and dropped out of the sky, turned into the wind towards the horde that had already arrived, slipped more wind out from under outstretched wings, dropped their feet, cupped their wings, and then backpeddled in the wind and settled in the water where they could find room.

This ranks right up there with watching a summer lightening show, Snow Petrels, and displaying McCown's Longspurs.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

State of the Art - Greater Sage-Grouse

Most of the content from an upcoming Studies in Avian Biology devoted specifically to Greater Sage-Grouse had been posted to the SageMap website. Ecology and Conservation of Greater Sage-Grouse: A Landscape Species and Its Habitats is being produced by the Cooper Ornithological Society and published by the University of California Press and has been released online under an agreement between the authors, COS and UCP. The 24 chapters in the monograph have been authored by 38 experts and provide the latest information and innovative ideas on how Greater Sage-Grouse can be conserved in the face of an onslaught of impacts to the bird and its habitat throughout the west. One chapter in particular, Chapter 22 -Energy Development and conservation tradeoffs: systematic planning for sage-grouse in their eastern range - Kevin Doherty, David Naugle, Holly Copeland, Amy Pocewics, and Joseph Kiesecker, rather than merely criticizing the current lack of effective conservation measures for sage-grouse, provides an innovative and plausible method for conserving sage-grouse while also providing for energy development.

If you have any interest in Greater Sage-Grouse this will provide you with the best information to date concerning this species and it is wonderful that the contents have been made public in advance of the publication date so that many more individuals can have access to the information. I will still be buying the publication when it becomes available.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Greater Sage-Grouse and Energy Development

A recent article in the online journal PlosONE outlines the projected impacts of oil and gas development in the U.S. Intermountain West. Mapping Oil and Gas Development Potential in the US Intermountain West and Estimating Impacts to Species outlines the projected declines in Greater Sage-Grouse based on modeling the distribution of future oil and gas wells based on the potential for oil and gas resources to be present. The authors project that there would be a 7% to 19% decline from the 2007 levels and impact 3.7 million acres of sagebrush and 1.1 million acres of grasslands and the species that live in those habitats if oil and gas development were to occur at the projected rates.

Figure 2. Oil and gas simulation results for the two scenarios.This map illustrates the location and extent of expected development in the two scenarios. Areas in orange depict growth for the anticipated scenario. Areas in red depict growth for the unrestrained scenario. Bar graphs show the quantity of development projected for each scenario. Core areas for sage-grouse are shown to highlight expected areas of future conflict. (Click on the image to enlarge).

They also provide solutions to avoid these projected impacts by a creative combination of approaches to enhance access in some areas in exchange for avoidance of others, or outright purchase of already leased land in important habitats by the federal government of other interested parties. They also note the species in grassland and sagebrush ecosystems are under stress from a number of stressors including wind, solar, coal, oil shale, and uranium and they suggest that this model could be used for these stressors as well and could account for cummulative impacts from all of them. These proactive measures could be used by regulatory agencies and land managers to avoid "business as usual" and avoid impact to areas crucial for species conservation.

Copeland HE, Doherty KE, Naugle DE, Pocewicz A, Kiesecker JM (2009) Mapping Oil and Gas Development Potential in the US Intermountain West and Estimating Impacts to Species. PLoS ONE 4(10): e7400. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007400