As wildlife conservation professionals, we remind ourselves to celebrate the successes. Sometimes we get so wrapped into understanding and mitigating the challenges facing wildlife that we feel frustrated. In these moments, it is sometimes in our best interest, our community’s best interest, and the best interest of the ecosystem to also tally up and celebrate the successes we have achieved. By doing so, we rediscover the wind in our sails. By sharing our observations of our successes, we hope to provide inspiration for our colleagues and friends (all of you!) to continue your conservation efforts!
We are happy to recognize a list of recent achievements that we and our colleagues have made happen. Did you follow the hard work that the County did to update the Wildlife Feeding Land Development Regulation (LDR) this spring? Did you know that the LDR does not include land in the Town of Jackson? Jackson manages wildlife feeding concerns separately from the County and they have embarked on discussions about their Wildlife Feeding Ordinance.
At a recent Town Council meeting, staff and Council members were unanimously in favor of improving the language in the ordinance to provide better security for bears and other wildlife. Councilman Rooks aptly summed up the sentiment in the meeting, “We are blessed to live in bear country and we need to act like it.” The Town will go through two more iterations of reviewing the ordinance language before they approve tighter restrictions on wildlife feeding, whether intentional or not.
Do you remember when JHWF installed ‘wildlife ramps’ on the Snake River levee? That project fledged circa 2015 in the hands of Jon Mobeck, then ED of JHWF, and Steve Brandenburg, board member JHWF. The goal was to make it easier for all wildlife, but especially hooved animals, to access the river by giving them a path though riprap (large, uneven rocks) in which an ungulate could easily break a leg. Three ramps were built and trail cameras immediately captured images of elk, moose, deer, and even coyotes drawn to this new, preferred access to the Snake River.
This summer we worked the with Teton Conservation District to install additional wildlife ramps along the levee system near the Wilson Bridge. The additional ramps augmenting the impact of the existing ramps by increasing the number of easy access locations on the many miles of riprap along the levee Our trail cameras are currently in place, collecting images of wildlife using the ramps. We can’t wait to show you what we’ve found!
Another win for wildlife in our community has been the system of exclusionary fencing and wildlife underpasses on S. Hwy 89, between Melody Ranch and Hoback Junction. Preliminary data has already shown a reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions (especially involving mule deer) as animals are learning to use the underpasses to move beneath the roadway.
Last month, we worked with our partners at WYDOT, Teton Conservation District, Wyoming Game and Fish and Teton County to design, order, and install signage on the many pedestiran gates along this stretch of roadway. When these gates are accidentally left open, wildlife are able to access the highway instead of being funneled by the fencing to the underpasses. Ensuring the gates stay closed is important in order to allow the fencing and underpass system to do its job moving forward.
Of course, there are staffing successes to report too!
We can’t say enough about the work ethic and positive attitude of our summer intern Charlie Brandin. Charlie played such an important role supporting our bird-banding team in action this summer. She also eagerly pitched in on several fence pulls and helped us collect data on existing fences in Grand Teton National Park as part of a major fence inventory project we’re undertaking with both the Park and Bridger-Teton National Forest.
While Charlie recently departed to begin her junior year of college on the East Coast, we are now looking forward to filling a new, full-time position of “BearWise Jackson Hole Program Manager.” This position will allow JHWF and our BearWise Jackson Hole partners to better address the persistence of human-bear conflict here in Teton County. Our goal is to have the new Program Manager out in the field helping to reduce conflicts by mid-November!
In recognition of all of this and more, won’t you join us in celebration?
This year, Vicki Morgan and Kevin Perozeni will head up our MAPS bird-banding stations at Boyle’s Hill and the Kelly Campus of the Teton Science Schools. Vicki will be returning for her third summer in a row, while Kevin will be joining us for the first time!
Vicki Morgan – After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Vicki Morgan has been working as a roaming biologist and bird bander across the United States. Her past wildlife-related jobs were in areas such as South Carolina, Illinois, American Samoa, Washington DC, NYC, Maryland, and Montana, where she studied and banded birds ranging from hummingbirds to hawks. Vicki has been an avid birder from a young age, and she also enjoys expressing her love of nature through art (fun fact: Vicki actually Minored in ceramics). Vicki spent the winter in Alpine and is returning for her third season as Lead Bird Bander with JHWF.
Kevin Perozeni – Kevin’s educational background includes graduating with honors research with a Bachelor of Science from The Ohio State University, majoring in Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife. His research thesis involved studying the survival of wintering birds in an increasingly changing urban environment. Since graduating last year, Kevin traveled across the country to work in a variety of field positions. He conducted bird banding at Powdermill Nature Reserve, Pennsylvania as well as banding in Cape May, New Jersey. Last summer he explored the open plains of Kansas, researching threatened grassland species. Kevin also has experience working as a Naturalist within the Cleveland Metroparks, supporting public outreach and education. In his free time, he can be found birding or storm watching, always scanning the skies for all the new experiences that nature consistently brings! Kevin is excited to hold the position of Assistant Bird Bander with JHWF this summer.
Hilary Turner | Nature Mapping Program Coordinator
Our MAPS bird-banding program is experiencing an eerily slow start to the 2021 banding year.
So far, we have captured 193 birds of 32 species. Of those 130 were newly banded, 47 were recaptures, and 16 left our hands unbanded.
Although we are only 7 species short of our total from last year, the overall numbers are fewer than in previous years. For example, on one morning we captured zero Yellow Warblers, which are typically our most numerous species (see what we banded in 2020).
We can’t say for sure what the cause is and we won’t know exactly how different this season was until we analyze our data. However, it has been interesting to experience what has seemed like an unusually slow spring migration and start to the breeding season.
Mountain Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring
Nature Mapping citizen scientists began another season of Mountain Bluebird nestbox monitoring on May 1st 2021. Our bluebird trail is comprised of 112 boxes mounted on the National Elk Refuge fence along Hwy 89. These boxes are monitored by 14 volunteers.
These hardy volunteers brave mud, ants, and empty nestboxes to ensure accurate and quality data collection along the bluebird trail. We are ever grateful for their good work!
This year, seven nestboxes have been occupied by Mountain Bluebirds and many more boxes are occupied by Tree Swallows and House Wrens. The first wave of bluebird nesting is almost over, but a couple bluebird pairs have already initiated new nesting attempts for their second broods.
JHWF is color-banding Mountain Bluebirds as a part of our effort to understand survivorship, dispersal, and site fidelity of the bluebirds in Jackson Hole.
This year we have banded 35 Mountain Bluebird nestlings and two adults that we caught opportunistically. We also color banded two Mountain Bluebird adults that we caught at our Boyles Hill MAPS banding station.
If you see a color-banded bluebird in or near Jackson, write down the color combination, note the location, and report the sighting to reportband.gov or Hilary@jhwildlife.org!
After nine weeks of banding birds this summer, JHWF’s first MAPS season has officially come to an end. Every Wednesday and Friday sunrise, from June 6th to August 3rd, was spent setting up nets, collecting data on the birds we caught, and attaching small aluminum USGS-issued bands to their legs. All in all, this season produced 677 total bird captures, with 453 new birds banded this season.
Bird banding is a highly-effective research method used worldwide for tracking bird movement, survival rates, and reproduction success. Banders are trained in specialized bird handling, safety, and data collection, and can only legally band birds if covered under state and federal permits. Each band number is unique to each individual bird. Banders report both new bands placed on previously unbanned birds, and bands that are on birds that they recapture after already being banded before. Other data like age, sex, weight, and various conditions are also collected and reported, forming the massive database of information that USGS and various ornithological groups manage and analyze.
Lead Bird Bander Kate Maley attempts to age this Red-shafter Flicker (Colaptes auratus) by inspecting flight feather characteristics
Assistant Bird Bander Max Frankenberry measures the wing chord length of a Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) Photo credit: David Hopkins
MAPS stands for Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship. It is a specific banding program begun by the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP), with a goal of better understanding survival rate and nesting success while birds are at their summer breeding grounds. JHWF bands birds following IBP protocol — opening nets at sunrise and closing them six hours later — and submits data to the IBP database. This builds on the years of previous data collected on birds in Jackson Hole from Teton Science Schools (TSS) and Teton Raptor Center (TRC), who helped transition the program to us this year. Our two banding locations, Teton Science Schools’ Kelly campus and Boyle’s Hill on their Jackson campus, have been contributing data without a break in observations for 28 and 16 years respectively. Kelly is one of the longest operating MAPS stations in the country! Long-term, uninterrupted data sets are crucial to understanding trends in bird population shifts. Thanks again to TSS and TRC for making the transitions between organizations so smooth!
The 2018 season ended with 180 recaptures (out of 677 total captures) of previously banded birds, with several of these birds having been banded even before the 2017 season. Much like years before and not surprising to those of us that live in Jackson Hole, our most popular species caught were Yellow Warblers and American Robins (AMROs). In total, 109 new Yellow Warblers (or YEWAs in banding code) had bands placed on their legs this year, many of them young birds born this summer. YEWAs are doing just fine in our valley! American Robins were our second most common bird this year, with 57 new birds banded. While we had constant flows of incoming YEWAs and AMROs, we also had a few particularly exciting individuals as well. By far the most unexpected were a pair of Belted Kingfishers, each caught a week apart from each other! While kingfishers are not uncommon here, they are rarely caught in banding stations, mostly due to their preference for flying much higher than the nets and perching on trees overhanging water.
Male Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
Female Belted Kingfishers have a rusty belly band (Megaceryle alcyon)
Belted Kingfishers have detailed white patterns on their flight feathers – we can use these to figure out how old the birds are!
We were excited to say the least. Other species that graced us with their surprising presence were a very vocal Olive-sided Flycatcher and a juvenile Brown Creeper. We also had 40 birds that were captured and released but not banded, including large number of Rufous, Calliope and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds (our banding permit does not allow hummingbird banding – that requires additional specialized training). Overall we captured 45 different species of birds over 9 weeks. This guaranteed that we never had a slow morning at either banding station!
Other wildlife sightings always kept us on our toes throughout the season – early mornings at Kelly and Boyle’s Hill allowed us views of several moose and calves, foxes, a grizzly bear, a family of otters, and even an elusive mountain lion! Sunrise work with birds in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem meant bear spray and our favorite badly-sung show tunes had to always be at the ready.
Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi)
Male Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)
Juvenile Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)
We want to thank all who have made this program possible. This effort to track birds in our valley really does contribute extremely valuable data to a great continent-wide program. The MAPS data has resulted in many highly regarded publications on the state of bird populations in North America and new ways to manage and preserve them. Thanks for being “for the birds”!
Below is a full list of the species we captured and banded this season. Look them up and try to spot some of them in your own backyard!
Since Chuck Schneebeck started the Bluebird Trail in 2003, members of the Jackson community have endeavored to create nesting habitat for Mountain Bluebirds and other native cavity-nesters along the southwestern edge of the National Elk Refuge. After many years of observation and data collection, at least one thing is clear: the birds are definitely using the nestboxes! But what effect are the boxes having on the population?
While we focus on Mountain Bluebirds, we are equally pleased to see other native cavity nesters using the nestboxes! Tree Swallows are the most abundant nesters along the Bluebird Trail, though they arrive after most bluebirds have settled into their territories for the season.
In 2017, JHWF began expanding upon the existing data and investigating new questions when our previous bander Allison Swan and monitoring volunteers started placing USGS aluminum bands and a unique series of color bands on Mountain Bluebird nestlings and one adult female. These color bands, or “bling,” allow us to identify each individual bird as it disperses from its nest and, hopefully, returns to a similar area the following year to raise some little bluebirds of its own!
Still in the early stages of the banding project, we don’t have many definitive answers yet, but we are learning lots! Of the 98 bluebird nestlings that were banded in 2017, only a handful have been resighted this year. This isn’t as surprising as it may initially sound, however. The first year of a bird’s life is the hardest as they learn to fend for themselves and navigate migration. Optimistically, we estimate that around 50% or fewer birds make it back to their breeding grounds in their second year. Once back in Jackson Hole, they disperse from their original nest site to independently begin a family of their own. Where do they go? That’s one of the things we’re hoping to discover!
Max Frankenberry, Assistant Bander, secures the color bands on a nestling to help ensure they will stay on and be able to be spotted next year.
While migration is still a taxing journey for adult bluebirds, they do benefit from experience. In addition, adult bluebirds tend to have higher site fidelity, meaning they are more likely to return to the same site to breed for multiple years. So far, the one banded adult mountain bluebird did, in fact, return to the exact same nestbox where she was banded in 2017!
Admittedly, 2018 was a tough year for nestbox inhabitants as almost half of the nestboxes were within a stretch affected by predation events. (Exact numbers are still being determined as we close out the season and compile the data.) In response, we placed a number of predator guards that are recommended by the North American Bluebird Society. Fortunately, most of the guards did seem to effectively prevent the depredation of a second nesting attempt. Even with the challenge of a predator, nearly all of the 112 available nestboxes were occupied by native cavity nesters (Mountain Bluebirds, Tree Swallows and House Wrens). Of the Mountain Bluebird nests, about 75% successfully fledged young. In total, 72 nestlings were banded in 13 nestboxes (some had two broods throughout the season).
Now, we’ve reached the point in the season when bluebirds of all ages disperse from their nest sites and seem to gather into groups by age to take advantage of the last of summer’s bounty and fatten up before migration. So, if you keep an eye out for “Bluebirds with Bling,” you’re likely to see some from the 2018 cohort (indicated by a peach color band on the bird’s right leg, closest to the body) and possibly some from 2017 as they group up prior to beginning journey south.
Meet one of the members of 2018’s cohort of bluebirds! The location of the peach color band (top right) will allow us to easily identify it as having hatched and been banded this year. Left: Black over Green, Right: Peach over Silver
Last year was also the first year of the Dubois Community Bluebird Trail. The project continued in 2018 with 35 nestboxes monitored by 9 volunteers. We’re still waiting to finalize the data prior to analyzing the results from the season, but we’re looking forward to what we find out!
Thank you to all our hardworking volunteers and partners in both Jackson and Dubois who make this project possible!
Nancy and Blair Butterfield were kind enough to give us an update and tour of their nestboxes when we visited Dubois in July.