As Nature Mapping Jackson Hole nears its landmark 1000th certified Nature Mapper, I thought it would be fun to write an article featuring a couple of newer Nature Mappers who were just trained in the last year. Many of you have participated in Nature Mapping and its variety of projects since its inception in 2009, but lots of new Nature Mappers have joined our ranks recently and we warmly welcome them!
Kathy O’Neil and John Norton have been visiting their property in the Teton Valley since 2006 and finally made the area their home in 2020 after Kathy retired from a career as a physician specializing in women’s imaging radiology. John describes himself as “never having been career minded,” but had a variety of interesting experiences throughout his working years. He served in the US Air Force for 10 years, during which time he received an MS in Astronautical Engineering. After leaving the Air Force, he cycled across America, “married his best friend [Kathy],” and moved to Salt Lake City where he worked as a consultant for a variety of organizations.
Kathy loves living in the Teton Valley, a “beautiful community” where she has already become heavily involved in conservation and wildlife projects. She hopes to become even more involved, as she trains to become a certified Idaho Master Naturalist through the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and continues her education through opportunities with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation. Kathy and John both enjoy skiing, hiking, and viewing wildlife. John describes the GYE as “providing a canvas for doing all the things I love to do.”
The couple tuned into the virtual October 2021 Nature Mapping Certification Training together from their home in Driggs, ID. They heard about JHWF’s Nature Mapping program through the Teton Regional Land Trust, as well as involved friends, and immediately began participating in a variety of Nature Mapping projects. Both have submitted data to Casual Observations and Project Backyard as well as attending JHWF Continuing Education seminars and snowshoeing to count moose during Moose Day.
When asked what their favorite animals are, John and Kathy had very different, but equally beautiful answers. Kathy described her ex-feral Siamese cat Smudge, who she rescued. John’s favorite animal is any animal he is near that is undisturbed by his presence. To me, their answers are those of two conservation heroes. Through the action of rescuing a feral cat, Kathy saved not only the life of the cat, but also the lives of the many birds, small mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians the cat would have killed over the course of its life as a feral. John’s attempts to view wildlife without disturbing them means he values the safety of the animals on the landscape over his own self-interests such as viewing the animal more closely or getting a great photograph.
All of the Nature Mapping projects they have participated in have been fun for the couple, but they particularly enjoyed Moose Day for the organization and collective effort by citizen scientists. They were also thrilled to participate in Casey McFarland’s tracking class and other continuing education opportunities through JHWF. Together, Kathy and John have submitted more than 100 Nature Mapping observations in a little more than half a year. John’s favorite observation was of a flock of Bohemian Waxwings that he observed this winter in the Teton Valley. He described loving the sounds they made and how the flock “moved through the sky as if it was one organism, an angel.” Kathy’s favorite observation was of a moose that she found sleeping near her bedroom window one morning this winter. She described the experience of realizing they had spent the night only 15 feet apart as one she will not forget.
The couple participate in citizen science because they desire to give back to the wildlife they love. John says, “we share this planet with life forms that modern society has learned to completely ignore, abuse, and destroy.” Through citizen science, he hopes to bring more awareness to these issues. Kathy appreciates that the data she provides will “help policy makers, scientists, and the general public better understand the needs of wildlife.” Both people think that it is important for humans to share the planet with our fellow denizens “in a more respectful way.” Kathy and John are inspired to participate in citizen science because they value personal responsibility and science. Kathy, with her background in medicine, “has a deep respect for science and believes there is an immense potential for deepening our collective knowledge through the contributions of citizen science.” John eloquently states that citizen science “provides a foundation of understanding through thoughtful practices by ordinary people.”
In conclusion, John states, “life is a quilt work of experiences and Nature Mapping is one, recent, piece of the quilt that makes it bigger and warmer.” Through Nature Mapping, Kathy has learned how much there is to see when one pays more attention. When asked what they hope to get out of Nature Mapping into the future, they responded that they hope to share the experiences they have with friends and family, while “contributing to the ongoing health and resilience of wildlife in the GYE.” They each had a bit of advice for other Nature Mappers. John encourages folks to “slow down, watch, and listen,” and Kathy says, “It is valuable work. Stay engaged.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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)