by Kate Maley, Lead Bird Bander
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.
by Max Frankenberry, Assistant Bird Bander
Jackson Hole has officially entered the season of sun and snowmelt. Tourists are making their way through town to and from the parks, and the bustle around downtown Jackson has gotten exponentially louder. But step outside of downtown to the National Elk Refuge, a Cache Creek trailhead or even your own backyard, and you notice that human sounds aren’t the only noises that get louder this time of year. Choruses of birds at dawn, trills of surprised ground squirrels in the afternoons and the croaks of frogs in the evening remind us that this is quite the time to be alive in the mountains.
Boreal chorus frog – Gibbon Meadows; Credit: Neal Herbert; May 2014
These symphonies are enjoyable and relaxing to say the least, but they can also be valuable identification tools for Nature Mappers! Learning to ID bird songs, frog calls and even mammal sounds opens your range of observation drastically. Boreal Chorus frogs may be experts at wetland camouflage, and can even avoid our eyes when we’re right on top of them, but learn to recognize their calls and those hidden creatures become as obvious as a moose in the sagebrush. And what better time to start than the summertime! Many species are the most vocal during this time of year, and a walk down your street in the early morning or in the evening can be a great place to begin soaking in those summer sounds.
Wildlife Identification by Ear Resources
Attached below are some excellent resources for learning amphibian and bird songs in particular. Our Nature Mapping database has been especially lacking in amphibian observations, and we know they are out there! Identifying wildlife by ear is a valuable skill, and practice makes perfect. The more practice you put in, the more species you can confidently Nature Map this summer!
Calls of Wyoming’s Frogs and Toads – https://www.wyomingbiodiversity.org/index.php/Initiatives-Programs/CitSci/rocky-mountain-amphibian-project/wyomings-amphibians/amphibian-calls
Bird ID Skills: How to Learn Bird Songs and Calls – https://www.allaboutbirds.org/how-to-learn-bird-songs-and-calls/
Mammals Sound Gallery – http://www.bioacoustica.org/gallery/mammals_eng.html
“You can’t be unhappy in the middle of a big, beautiful river.” – Jim Harrison
On Sunday, May 6, I had the privilege of participating in my first Nature Mapping Snake River float trip. And what a trip it was!
Along with fellow “bird nerds” Jon Mobeck and Tim Griffith (trip leader/coordinator) and guide Adam “Dutch” Gottschling, I spent two hours of the morning floating the eight-mile stretch of the Snake River between the Wilson bridge and Jackson Hole Vintage Adventure’s Tipi Camp.
Having recently moved to Jackson from the relatively flat plains and forests of the upper Midwest, I have a long way to go before I look up at the grandeur of the Tetons with anything but complete and utter awe. So, had we merely floated for two hours looking only at the river and surrounding mountains, without seeing any wildlife, I personally would have considered my Sunday morning well spent.
That said, we ended up observing over 40 species of birds, mammals and amphibians along the river and in the area immediately surrounding the Tipi Camp. Not bad for the first week of May! (Indeed, I’ve since learned that this is on the high end compared to historic species counts.)
Highlights included 54 American White Pelicans (the largest number ever recorded on one trip), one Swainson’s Hawk, one Merlin, a Greater Yellowlegs and two moose. Though, based on the excitement in the boat, to call the Merlin and Greater Yellowlegs mere highlights is a gross understatement. For good reason too! It turns out only a handful of each species have been spotted by volunteer citizen scientists since the trips began in 2010.
I’d like to say it was beginner’s luck, but I’ve spent enough time appreciating the wild spectacle that is nature to know that to try to claim any credit is silly at best. Besides, who knows what will be seen throughout the rest of this summer? Either way, this trip was an awesome start to what is sure to be an amazing float trip season. Even without such a notable species list, I feel lucky to have been a part of such an experience—to have spent the morning exploring an area of nature that few have the chance to see in a way that even fewer are able to see it.
JHWF partners with AJ DeRosa’s Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures to provide this incredible opportunity to float down the eight-mile stretch of the Snake River between Wilson Bridge and South Park and to collect important data about the various species of mammals, birds and amphibians that use it. Trips take place every Sunday morning from May 6, 2018 through the end of September. Cost is $30 per participant. To learn more, visit the Snake River Float Trip webpage or call the office at 307-739-0968. To sign up for an upcoming trip, contact project coordinator and expert birder Tim Griffith at email@example.com.
Species Counts Along the Snake River
May 6, 2018 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Canada Goose 144
Barrow’s Goldeneye 1
Common Merganser 24
American White Pelican 54
Great Blue Heron 3
Turkey Vulture 4
Bald Eagle 6
Swainson’s Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Spotted Sandpiper 10
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Belted Kingfisher 4
Northern Flicker 4
Black-billed Magpie 6
American Crow 14
Common Raven 3
Tree Swallow 50
Bank Swallow 5
Cliff Swallow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 7
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 11
Mountain Bluebird 7
American Robin 31
Yellow Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) 5
White-crowned Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 47
Red-winged Blackbird 11
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Brewer’s Blackbird 7
Species Counts at Jackson Hole Vintage Adventure’s Tipi Camp
May 6, 2018 10:15 AM – 10:45 AM
Canada Goose 3
Green-winged Teal 2
Common Merganser 2
Ruffed Grouse 1
American White Pelican 4
Spotted Sandpiper 3
Downy Woodpecker 1
Common Raven 1
Tree Swallow 1
Black-capped Chickadee 6
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
American Robin 5
Yellow Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) 5
Dark-eyed Junco 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 4
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Brewer’s Blackbird 2
Frogs ? (unable to get an exact count)
By Sarah Ramirez, Teton Raptor Center Research Technician
It’s nearly impossible to drive around the Jackson area without seeing a wooden platform attached to a powerpole or freestanding. This summer, Teton Raptor Center will utilize citizen scientists to monitor over 60 osprey platforms throughout Teton County (excluding Grand Teton National Park’s, as they monitor their own). These platforms will be checked once a month, starting in April and finishing in August, and will determine occupancy by Canada Geese and nesting productivity of Osprey. Data collected in past years by Nature Mapping Jackson Hole volunteers has been integrated into the ongoing Teton Raptor Center-led project.
In the last few years, Canada Geese have been nesting in osprey platforms in Teton County. Since they migrate into the valley weeks, if not a month, before osprey do, they generally nest beforehand and take claim to these platforms. Canada Geese prefer to nest in open, unobstructed areas, and these platforms most likely give their eggs/goslings a better chance against mammalian and reptilian predators. Teton Raptor Center has developed a nesting platform that tilts downward while the geese are looking to nest, and are pulled flat once the Osprey return to the valley. With our monitoring activities, it is important to note how many and which nesting platforms are being used by Canada Geese, so we can correctly place tilted platforms in needed areas.
Keep an eye out for osprey nesting this season! Regardless of where you see Osprey, Nature Mapping their locations and behaviors can help us learn more about their needs and preferences, ensuring that they thrive here into the future.
by Frances Clark
Two moose for the count by Gigi Halloran
First the stats, then the fun.
We had a windy day with off-and-on light snow, pretty good visibility, and temperature ranging from around 8 degrees to 18 degrees Farenheit in the Jackson area. We had 80 Moose Day volunteers on 33 teams covering 53 different areas. Unfortunately 14 teams struck out…no moose. This is always disappointing to the hardy observers, but “0” is important data, as well. We can get a feel for where the moose don’t go regularly over the years or the variability of their movements.
So where did the moose show up? Wilson once again had a high proportion: about 27 in different clusters and pairs. Grand Teton National Park from Kelly a bit north and west over through the Solitude development had approximately 25. Another eight were seen in the Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis area, including three spotted by Bryan, a guest staying with Randy Reedy. Bryan was getting into his car while Randy was out scouting! Volunteer time: five minutes. Jason Wilmot of USFS and partner saw 15 moose snowmobiling out to the end of the Gros Ventre road. Last year the team saw a remarkable high of 57 moose. Sarah Dewy and Steve Kilpatrick saw five moose in the Buffalo Valley area vs. 20 last year, and an overall low for that territory. The north and southern extremes of our count area had no moose. The total number of moose is 94, but we will double check for a couple of possible overlaps. This number is roughly average–87 is the average count, excluding two high years (2011 – 124 moose; 2017 – 172 moose –both years with alot of snow).
The most observed moose was one browsing and then sleeping along a row of willows just west of Stilson in Wilson. Over eight people reported seeing it there. We will count it once.
Eight mappers saw this moose, but it was counted once. By Amy Conway.
Other Highlights of the Day Besides Moose:
Several observers saw bald eagles in courtship. Bernie, Diane and Alice saw one pair of adults where the male bird was about 75% smaller than the female–this was an extreme example of a typical size difference in raptors females and males.
That team also sighted Townsend’s Solitaire and Snow Buntings on their territory south of Jackson. Morgan Graham took a picture of a Northern Shrike down in the same vicinity.
Trumpeter Swans, Barrow’s Golden-eyes, Mallards and mergansers were treats along the creeks and rivers.
Two groups of 15-16 elk were seen in different corners of Wilson. Pine Grosbeaks, European Starlings, woodpeckers, Great Blue Herons and coyotes also delighted Nature Mappers, especially those who did not see moose!
Thank you all for keeping your eyes out for moose in Moose Day 2018! The moose thank you, we at Nature Mapping Jackson Hole thank you.
Moose hiding but counted on Moose Day by Kathy McCurdy