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.