Friday, July 24, 2009

Swimming amongst the Ducks

We went to the Valley today after work to go swimming in a very cold mountain river, and there was a family of Mallards that I got to swim with. I didn’t have my camera, so I do not have pictures. It was so much fun. They let me get really close as they foraged and fought the current. There were also Common Mergansers (a new species for me in the park), but they weren’t as friendly.

Photos on Facebook

I finally got to upload photos at the Ahwahnee hotel in the Valley. Incidentally, it is the hotel that the hotel in "The Shining" is based on.

A Day for Rattlesnakes and Hummingbirds, not together

July 17, 2009

We have a four day break, so I am doing some extra banding in Sequoia National Park. We banded at Zumwalt Meadow and got 38 birds, a high for that site. We had ten Rufous Hummingbirds today! I extracted and processed three of them, but the mature male with breeding plumage was nowhere to be found. I did get a nice hatch year male with a developing gorget. He was beautiful.

Hummingbirds can be tricky business, but it is so much fun. We don’t band them, but we can record age and sex. Age can be determined by examining the bill for corrugations that disappear as the bird grows older and by plumage. Sex and species can also be determined by a combination of plumage characteristics, usually the tail feathers (R2 and R4).

I really like working with hummingbirds; I might want to continue working with them in a specialized hummingbird banding program or in graduate school. I’ve decided I want to add the Peterson Guide to Hummingbirds to my wish list. I got to peruse it in the bookstore at Mono Lake two weeks ago. It has beautiful pictures of every species in North America for both genders and every age class as well as great range and life history information. In the back there is a picture of an albino Ruby-throated Hummingbird. That’s what I need to see!

I also saw my first Western Rattlesnake today. He was massive (>3 feet), but I think the Timber Rattlesnake I almost stepped on when I was a kid was larger. We found him crossing the path, and he went into a thicket near where we have some of our nets. We were able to get really close to him (not within strike distance), and he didn’t coil-up or exhibit defensive behavior. I was a little paranoid when checking nets for the rest of the day; a snakebite is NOT what I need right now. I wish I knew more about reptiles (I loved them when I was little); maybe I will take herpetology in the spring. I would love to be able to handle snakes safely.

Stumpy the Junco

July 15, 2009

Earlier this season at White Wolf we had an Oregon Junco that had been banded wrong in a previous year because someone did not use the leg gauge to determine the right size. Its right foot had died and we had to amputate so it would not get infected. It was a really sad day, especially because Jeff said he has never recaptured an amputee. We didn’t even have the heart to band the other leg. Today made the situation a little better because we recaptured the amputee junco. His leg was completely healed over with no signs of infection. The bird did not seem to be greatly impacted by missing a foot; he even had a cloacal protuberance (breeding characteristics). It made us so happy that he was alive and doing well. I sent him away with a shiny new band (this time correctly size and attached) on his left leg. He even perched on a nearby tree with ease. Go Juncos!!!

Intelligence of Corvids

July 10, 2009

We were really bored this afternoon, so we decided to suspend a peanut from a tree branch with dental floss to see if the Steller’s Jays could figure out how to get it. We expected him to figure out how to pull up the string up and hold it with his foot, but in true corvid fashion he did something totally unexpected and decided to wrap the floss around the trunk of the tree. It didn’t take him long to untie the string and get the peanut, but I think the California Ground Squirrels still have them beat. This one was massive. Is it possible for a squirrel to get diabetes from overeating?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pine Grosbeaks are Weird

White Wolf might not be the most productive site, but it always delivers in diversity. Today we finally got the poorly named male Pine Grosbeak. It’s not a real grosbeak and is more closely related to finches. We want to rename it the Big-billed Pine Finch, but we will just have to see what bird authorities say. I came up to the net and a male and female were right there next to each other. I made sure to put them in an order or my carabineer so that I would assuredly get the male. Pine Grosbeaks have this weird habit of chilling on the ground after they are released. It’s not like wing strain; they just sit there for some reason. The male sat there for a while and they foraged before flying off fine. We also got a female and a hatch year Pine Grosbeak that day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rufous Hummingbird


I finally got the Rufous Hummingbird today. It has been one of the birds I came here to see, and today at White Wolf, we got a juvenile female.

Tuolumne Meadows and Mono Lake


We finally got out of Hodgdon today!!! Jeff, Alan and I decided to go to Tuolumne Meadows to do some birding and alpine hiking. Tuolumne Meadows is amazing. We saw White-crowned Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbird in the meadow. At the visitors center I got a new book, Introduction to the California Condor, by Noel and Helen Snyder. I am really excited to start reading it; I love condors.

We went hiking to a lake at Gaylor Lake where we were looking for Rosy Finches. We didn’t find any, but I did get to see the Clark’s Nutcracker!!! It’s the bird at the top of the blog. I was so excited to see such an amazing bird.

After our hike we drove just a bit further to Mono Lake. There is a nice restaurant there where I got the infamous fish tacos that everyone has been telling me about. Mono Lake is beautiful. There are beautiful calcium carbonate deposits called tufa formed by freshwater springs. These springs must be few and far between because Mono Lake has three times the salinity of sea water. The birding there was great. New on my Yosemite list were Canada Goose, European Starling, Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalarope. The birds’ feathers are really matted because of all the salt. Phalaropes are amazing; they feast here on brine shrimp during the summer before a grueling migration to South America.

Banding with the Big Cheeses


We had a surprise when we were banding at Crane Flat the other day; Sarah, the park bird biologist, told us that Dave DeSante, founder of IBP, and Rodney, who currently heads the institute, would be visiting. Both are amazing banders, and have an amazing enthusiasm for birds. They were in the park working on survey transects that Dave has been doing for thirty-two years (without missing a year). We were a little nervous about them coming, but everything was totally fine. They are both really nice, and they said they were really impressed with our speed in processing birds and excitement about banding in Yosemite. On their first net run there, Rodney came with me, and said he thought I was doing very well.

There was a little conflict between our group here and Dave DeSante. Jeff has always told us that we should close nets if they look windy or hot, but Dave thinks it can leave a great impact on the data. It was a classic conflict between field biologists and data managers. Dave seemed a little callous at first, but when we talked about it, he is just concerned that we are taking good data. There is no reason for being here having a minor impact on birds if our data cannot be used. Rodney suggested that we make shorter net runs (~10 minutes). We are still closing nets when in doubt, but it is nice to have other solutions.

Acorn Woodpecker


The other day we got an Acorn Woodpecker, and I was the one who found it so I got to extract it. As much as Red-breasted Sapsuckers get tangled, this was that much worse. It had the prettiest eyes; they were sliver with a little bit of pink.