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.
These scientific voyages help gain a better idea of what species of mammals, birds and amphibians utilize this eight mile section of river. They are also fun opportunities to connect with others from the Nature Mapping community, while learning a bit more about local ecology and wildlife identification along the way.
Why have we been asking you to help us collect data along the Snake River for 10 years?
Teton County Habitat Value Map. Areas in green represent “high value” while yellow represents “intermediate” and red represents “low value”.
For starters, if you look at the Teton County Habitat Map, you’ll notice Teton County has labeled nearly all of the habitat along the Snake River green, meaning “high value” for wildlife. You’ll also notice most of what is considered “high value” is riparian habitat; rivers, lakes, streams, and adjacent vegetation. Riparian habitat is relatively scare in Wyoming; it only comprises 1.2 % of Wyoming’s total surface area (for comparison, sagebrush dominated ecosystems are estimated to cover as much as 60% of Wyoming’s landscape). Yet a majority of the state’s animal species rely on it at some point during their life cycles, making healthy riparian zones (like the Snake River bottom) disproportionately important to maintaining healthy wildlife populations.
Floating the river at regular intervals for a decade has provided Nature Mapping Jackson Hole with a long term data set we can provide to scientists (like those involved with the construction and maintenance of the levee system) to gauge the health of the Snake River in our area. This is especially important because the stretch we float, flows mostly through private land where wildlife managers do not regularly conduct systematic censuses.
We can also begin to explore trends in the data ourselves. For instance, we’ve seen a decrease in beaver and otter sightings over the course of our float surveys. Are we noticing a decline related to what has been observed in Grand Teton National Park, where beaver populations have decreased by up to 80% over the last 40 years? On the other hand, sightings of Bald Eagles have increased each year since 2015. Last year, we set a record with 222 Bald Eagle observations (average 12 per trip), which trumped the previous record set in 2017, of 171 (average 8 per trip). Along with Bald Eagles, observations of Canada Geese, Spotted Sandpipers, and Common Mergansershave all been on the rise each of the last four years.
View of the Snake River looking south off the port side bow.
Lead volunteer Tim Griffith generously compiles a full report of our observations at the end of each float season. You can read Tim’s full 2018 report here. You can also check out previous years of data here and let us know if you can identify any wildlife trends on your own!
Our Bald Eagle data is also a great example of how we should be careful when making conclusions from our float data. For instance, each of the last three years our Bald Eagle sightings have peaked in mid-August, which also happens to be when river flow (or discharge) is at .or near its weakest. One might conclude that the low-water means easier fishing and scavenging for the eagles, and that Nature Mappers have discovered that this is the time a birder is mostly likely to encounter an eagle on the Snake River. But perhaps less discharge simply means a slower float, and thus more time for Nature Mappers to sight eagles from the boat?
Flow rate of the river is one of many hidden variables that we should be aware of when we make data comparisons. Everything from shifting river channels to the skill and number of nature mappers on board can influence what we observe. What we can say for sure, is that float data shows presence (not absence) of wildlife species. Our data is still extremely helpful in understanding what creatures are utilizing the Snake River corridor and potential timing of usage, such as when birds are migrating, and if timing of migrations is changing. Thanks to the number of variables at play, Snake River Float Trips are a fascinating study in how complicated getting a full understanding of an ecosystem can be!
If you’d like to sign up for this year’s floats you can contact us at email@example.com or Tim Griffith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Trips depart from the Wilson Boat ramp early, Sunday mornings. No prior boating experience is needed.
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!
Three mule deer does and a fawn spotted on the Sept. 10, 2017 float trip. Photo credit: Forest Dramis.
A quick step into the dory and a careful shifting of weight with binoculars raised and off we go, five lucky Nature Mappers floating the Snake River on a sparkling Sunday morning. We glide swiftly and smoothly under the Wilson Bridge (with the chittering of swallows and clamor of traffic overhead) and emerge, calling out: “Two, no three Ravens!” “16 Tree Swallows, I think? They move fast.” “Look, a Great Blue Heron!” “No, Osprey!” “Both!”
As we flow downstream, we scan the shorelines, water and sky, and settle into intervals of excitement and tranquility. A designated Nature Mapper jots down the tally for common species and takes GPS points for unusual sightings. A morning’s count can include eight Bald Eagles, a moose, numerous Spotted Sandpipers, Common Mergansers, Yellow Warblers, nesting Bank Swallows and a flotilla of American White Pelicans. Or perhaps we spy a marmot family basking on a rock, or a beaver up a backwater.
For seven years, Nature Mappers have been gathering data on wildlife thanks to A.J. DeRosa, owner of Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures. A.J. donates his handcrafted wooden dory and an expert boatman every Sunday morning from May to October. With this opportunity for consistent data collection, Nature Mappers have been able to record trends and shifts in species’ numbers and locations over the summer months (May-October), year to year. We are beginning to discern patterns in species’ migrations, nesting locations, and possibly, with time, impacts of flooding, dike vegetation management and river use.
These results are possible thanks to over four-dozen trained nature mappers and friends participating each year. Ace volunteer Tim Griffith schedules the teams and often adds his expertise on the floats. Since Tim started coordinating the trips with A.J., many species’ sightings have increased significantly. Tim has a fine ear and eye for the birds! Please read Tim’s 2017Nature Mapping Jackson Hole Snake River Float Trip Annual Report here. It includes a species list and numbers; the special conditions of 2017 during the spring flood and its effect; and the season’s variation in eagle numbers. Be sure to contact Tim if you wish to volunteer on a Snake River Float Trip this summer!
An idyllic setting, Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures Tipi Camp is a wildlife rich habitat Photo credit: Forest Dramis
by Susan Patla, Non-game biologist for WGFD and NMJH Science Advisory Committee member
The call of a loon echoing across a still mountain lake is a sound that embodies the essence of wilderness. Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), in partnership with Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGFD), recently completed a fifth field season to monitor and study common loons in Wyoming. This project has been funded through a generous grant by the Ricketts Conservation Fund to determine the conservation status of loons in Wyoming and four other states. The loon is the rarest nesting bird species in Wyoming and a designated species of conservation concern. The Wyoming population is also the most southern nesting group in North America and isolated from the nearest neighboring population in Montana by over 200 miles. While migrating loons can be seen across the state both in spring and fall, breeding pairs currently occur only in the northwest part of the state.
Since 1987, Yellowstone NP and WGFD have been monitoring the presence of loon pairs and fledged chicks. In 2013, BRI expanded on this effort through increased monitoring of pairs during the nesting season and the capture and banding of adult loons. In 2017, there were 21 territorial pairs documented (15 of which were in Yellowstone), and at least 12 of these attempted to nest. Eight pairs successfully hatched a total of ten chicks and all survived to fledging. Seven unpaired adults and one immature loon were also seen. One territorial female adult was captured and banded, and young were banded at two additional sites. Results from blood and feather samples for mercury and genetic analyses will be available later. BRI also deployed nest rafts at four sites and worked with agencies to implement management measures to protect nesting pairs.
Compared to 2016, Wyoming had one fewer territorial pair and productivity was slightly lower than previous years. Nest success was affected this year by the above average snowfall, and late ice-out on many of the nesting lakes which were still frozen in early June. Rapid runoff resulted in flooding at a few sites also. Surveys of many backcountry lakes were also restricted in the early season due to lingering deep snow conditions. Productivity, however, over the study period has been above the 0.48 chicks surviving per territorial pair needed for population stability. Loons have been seen in recent years in the Wind River Range although no nesting pairs have been found. In the future, translocation of chicks may be considered to help expand the nesting population in Wyoming. Major threats to this population include human disturbance of nest sites, drought, and water quality. Mercury contamination, which has been a problem in New England loons, does not appear to be affecting Wyoming loons. All documentation of loons by Nature Mappers is greatly appreciated by BRI and the partner agencies to help in understanding the distribution and movements of this magnificent bird.
Click the image to enlarge and back button to get back to post. Photos by Mark Gocke, WGFD.