Thursday, April 30, 2020

Spring has sprung!

Photo courtesy of Don DesJardin
Spring is here and now it finally feels like it! With the lingering wintery weather and crazy social conditions, it has hardly felt like it. But today it is 75 degrees and my resident Mockingbird is singing his little heart out. For now, I can forget about being cooped up at home, because my yard birds are so busy! I have been enjoying sitting outside listening to this Mockingbird’s mimicry. His song is easy to pick out because he doesn’t use any original phrases, every element of his song is taken from things he has heard in his surroundings, and he repeats these in phrases of 3, constantly changing and rotating between sounds.  It is fun to identify what he is mimicking, and then to use these clues to try to decipher the places he has been and who he has been hanging out with. He has been singing a lot of different Ruby-crowned Kinglet song phrases, plenty of California Scrub-Jay screams, and lately he has been adding phrases that I can only interpret as car alarms! I watch him as he sings from atop the ornamental Trees-of-Heaven in my backyard. But the story doesn’t end with a raucous male Mockingbird serenading my neighborhood. A second silent bird seems to be following him around.  Based on their behavior I assume this to be a female and potential suitor for my resident copy-cat. As I sit here, I hear another Northern Mockingbird begin to sing a few blocks to my west, I wonder if this silent bird I have been watching is in fact female, and if she has chosen her mate yet.

This time of year most birds are thinking about their biological reason for existence: reproduction.  If you watch and listen to the birds in your yard you can easily pick up on these cues.  You may have noticed the early mornings are a bit noisier lately, this is because male songbirds are advertising and attempting to attract mates.  They use their song to defend the territory from other males, and they also sing to attract females. If you are able to watch them for a while, you may be lucky enough to observe other behaviors associated with breeding.  

If you see a bird carrying something in its bill, pay attention to where it goes and what it does with its load. It could be carrying material with which to construct its nest. During this season of courtship males may bring their prospective mate an attractive food item to demonstrate their prowess. For example, male flycatchers will often bring their mates big showy insects like butterflies and dragonflies, presumably to impress or to demonstrate their hunting capability.  Later in the season, they will be bringing food to feed hungry females stuck on the nest incubating eggs. After this, the eggs will become nestlings that will need to be fed constantly. Being a bird parent is a busy business, and involves a lot of food-carrying!

It is now a few hours later, and while I am strolling around the block, I see a Northern Mockingbird hop into a dense hedgerow with a mouth full of dried grass stems. To the field-trained eye, this behavior is clearly associated with nest-building. This particular hedgerow is about 100 yards from my house, so I wonder if this bird is one of the pair I have been watching in my Tree-of-Heaven. Now that I have discovered the location of a nest, I can pay attention to various clues to tell me if the Mockingbirds in my yard are the same ones using my neighbor’s hedgerow. I will start to cue in on which direction the birds come and go from, I will listen for how close other Mockingbirds are, and if I am lucky I will be able to follow one from my yard to my neighbor’s. By paying attention to these little things, I am able to interpret so much about the birds that share the neighborhood with me.

You can do the same thing in your yard, if you notice a particular bird hangs around a lot, stay put and watch it for a while.  Maybe you will get the chance to see it carry some fruit from your ornamental shrub to its mate that is waiting just around the corner.  Maybe it has even decided your yard has enough resources to sustain its brood this year. By paying attention to the subtle things they are doing, you can learn a lot about them and their world. At the end of the season you may even be lucky enough to see them toting a brood of clumsy, fuzzy, fledglings around the yard!

- Ned

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Grasshopper Sparrows!

While conducting field work this past breeding season, my randomly generated IMBCR plot found me in Northern Nevada’s Owyhee Desert.  IMBCR stands for Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions, and is a program developed by the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies in 2007.  Since then, a number of organizations have collaborated with the Bird Conservancy to conduct these surveys across much of the American West.  Each breeding season these surveys are completed from North Dakota to West Texas, Colorado to California, Washington to Arizona, and many places in between.  Three years ago, GBBO joined this partnership, and began surveys in Nevada, Arizona, and California.  The large scope of these standardized surveys creates a powerful tool to monitor birds at a regional level, including conservation priority species across the breadth of their ranges.

So back to the Owyhee Desert, where I’m driving roads that haven’t seen traffic in who knows how long.  After finding a newly-eroded canyon through my access road, I nearly gave up on this survey, but Ben (my survey partner, who was doing a nearby Nevada Bird Count transect) and I finally ended up finding a navigable alternative and got to camp well after dark.  When I woke up, I was in a landscape that I didn’t know existed in Nevada.  As far as I could see was lush perennial grassland, several species of grass, waist-high Great Basin Wild Rye among them.  My first impression as I started walking from camp was the almost deafening chorus of Western Meadowlarks.  It wasn’t until minute 2 of my second point that I heard it, almost dismissible as insect noise, this quiet, mechanical “tsk-tsk-tzzzzz”.  At first I did pass it off as a Grasshopper, but it was so regular and a little too loud, and then it clicked. Grasshopper SPARROW! After nearly 10 minutes of staking out this particular cluster of bunchgrass, I finally saw him and my suspicions were confirmed. Tucked just below the highest point of the grass was a small, squat, flat-headed, relatively large-billed sparrow cocking his head back and singing his insect-like song. 

As my survey went on I encountered several more, and by the end of the morning I had conservatively counted 11 singing males.  This species has been on my radar ever since I heard tales a few years ago of these guys in northern and eastern Nevada, but I had never come across them.  Jean Linsdale, back in 1951, reported them as a summer resident in small numbers in the northeast part of the state, but records have been sparse.  Not surprising then, when I finally found them, I was in one of the most inaccessible parts of Nevada. The combination of distance from town and rough roads (where roads exist at all!) makes the Owyhee Desert pretty much off limits to most Nevada Birders. Given all this, and factoring in annual variation, it is hard to tell what is actually going on up there. Maybe there are always loads of Grasshopper Sparrows singing their hearts out in the Owyhee Desert with no humans to hear them, or maybe we had a bonanza year because of higher precipitation levels and greater growth of grasses and forbs.  We will be surveying there again in 2020, so we’ll report back then!

The Owyhee Desert is not the only part of the state that is largely inaccessible and has unique habitat.  With such a large area and such concentrated populations, Nevada has long been one of, if not the most under-birded state.  This combined with other factors led to the creation of Great Basin Bird Observatory and the first edition of the Nevada Breeding Bird Atlas 20 years ago….and 20 years later there are still new things to learn about Nevada’s avian community. So for those who are willing to get off the beaten path and explore a bit, who knows what you might find!

For those who are unfamiliar and/or curious, the Owyhee Desert is Northeast of Winnemucca, in between the Santa Rosa and Independence Mountain Ranges. It sprawls into Idaho to the North, and peters out as it hits the Owyhee Bluffs to the south, about 30 miles north of I-80.  It can be accessed from the south via Midas, but the primary entry points are on the east side through the Duck Creek Indian Reservation and the Town of Owyhee or by Wilson Creek Reservoir.

- Ned Bohman

(The photos are from Ben's survey of the nearby Nevada Bird Count transect.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Wayback Machine: Birding in the Ruby Mountains, July 2019

At the end of the field season, we held a public field trip to the Ruby Mountains.  We all had a great weekend, camping and birding in Lamoille Canyon, and even saw the target birds that we set out to see!

Folks arrived on Friday evening, and we enjoyed a pot-luck dinner while getting to know everyone. Once the campfire went out, everyone went to bed early to prepare for Saturday’s hike. The plan for Saturday morning was to start hiking up to Island Lake at 7 in hopes of catching views of Himalayan Snowcock at the top, before it got too late. 

By 6:30 Saturday morning everyone was raring to go chase down these elusive Asian chickens.  We left camp shortly thereafter and got to hiking.  We were greeted by singing a Lazuli Bunting and Fox Sparrow at the trailhead as well as a not-so-cooperative Dusky Flycatcher sallying about the aspen along the start of the trail.  The birds on the hike up were quite active, with Rufous and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds enjoying the abundant horsemint and Indian paintbrush, while singing MacGillivray’s Warblers and Green-tailed Towhees provided a nice soundtrack to hike to. At one point 6 Clark’s Nutcrackers stopped in to pose for us on a very picturesque snag. The birding along the hike may have delayed our arrival at the top where we could find Himalayan Snowcock, but was too enjoyable to rush!

Himalayan Snow-Rock
We made it up to the beautiful Island Lake cirque at 9:00, and a few members of the group had gotten an early start and were already at the upper cirque by then. It was not long before the most bird-like rock any of us had ever seen was spotted.  Perched perfectly at the top of the ridgeline with a pale head and brown body, a few people saw it move, some even saw its feathers ruffle in the wind. We were so pleased; we had spotted our Himalayan Snowcock within minutes of getting to the cirque. After everyone had gotten a look, we decided to hike up closer to the snowfields to see if we could see any Black Rosy-Finches. It was not until 15 minutes after we had spotted the Himalayan Snow-Rock, that we determined our bird was, in fact, just a rock.  We did not let that take the wind out of our sails though, we continued on to the upper cirque and got to enjoy the sound of a few distant snowcock calling. We met up with the other members of the group here, and they excitedly asked us if we saw the birds they were pointing out to us. When we co
nfusedly said that we hadn’t they informed us they were watching us scan the ridgeline while they were watching 2 snowcock and jumping up and down and pointing trying to get our attention! At least somebody saw the target birds! We remained in the upper cirque for about an hour without seeing any actual snowcock before deciding to hike down. So while only 2 of the group actually saw snowcock this day, we all heard them call, and enjoyed a place with near-unmatched beauty in Nevada. We finished the walk with 33 species, and returned to camp for lunch.

After lunch, we went to South Fork State Recreation Area to see if we could spot some water birds.  This turned out to be more productive than we initially thought, yet not so riveting to keep us there for more than half-an-hour. Wilson’s Phalarope of various ages in varying plumages kept as entertained, as well as a juvenile American Coot that had a few of us scratching our heads. We made a group decision to go try for Bobolink before heading back to camp for the BBQ.  We left the reservoir with 16 species, and headed for the ranch lands of Lamoille.  After getting there it took just 5 minutes to spot a flock of Bobolink across the field. We conservatively counted 12 birds. The females and juveniles were most cooperative, the males only let us get brief views as they flitted about the tall grass. It was nonetheless enjoyable to be on the breeding grounds of such a range-restricted species in the state.  Shortly after 5:00 we headed back to camp to chat about the day and enjoy Hamburgers and Hotdogs. We left Lamoille with 12 species, including a few Wilson’s Snipe that were hanging out in the cattle corral.

Once back at camp, Barbeque fixings were already underway. The Barbeque was a great success.  We all had a lovely time chatting and enjoying charcoal-grilled burgers and dogs.  We got a campfire going, and got to planning for Sunday and making S’mores. Since we had diverged a bit from the schedule, and saw our Bobolink ahead of schedule, and some folks wanted to try again for snowcock, we had some figuring to do.  Most folks wanted to do their own thing and have a leisurely hike on the trails around camp. Some even enjoyed Thomas Canyon so much that they booked an extra night to explore the area some more. So we decided that a few of us would try again for snowcock, this time a bit earlier.  While everyone else would enjoy Thomas Canyon at their own pace. Now that we had a game plan, everyone enjoyed their final marshmallows and we doused the fire and headed to bed.

We began the hike before 6 AM this time, in hopes that our birds would be vocalizing. We also did not stop for birds on the way up, we were determined to see snowcock this time.  As soon as we got to Island Lake, we began hiking to the upper cirque. Once there, we hoped we would hear snowcock vocalizing. We did not, but after about 10 minutes Mike had spotted birds on the ridgeline. When we got the scope on them we all determined that they were in fact moving (definitely not rocks this time), and that there were 4 of them.  We all got fantastic looks at the snowcocks and watched as they slowly climbed up and over the ridgeline. After the last of these 4 disappeared we watched another and another pop out of the alpine vegetation onto the rocks of the ridgeline. Before we headed down we agreed that we saw 9 snowcock climbing around on the rocky ridgeline!

Once back to camp we didn’t have much time before we had to check out of the sites.  So we made the rounds and bid everyone farewell. All in all, we had a great weekend meeting new friends, enjoying camp meals, and seeing good birds (Even if a few of the group have to change their life list to say “Himalayan Snow-Rock”). It was great to see everyone coming out to bird with us and enjoy the Ruby Mountains.

Thank you for coming out, Ellen and Adib Alaware, Tina Nappe, Bill Bowers, Nicole and Mike Carion, Judy Duffy, Don Van Patten, Chris and Rosie Howard!!

-Ned Bohman

Trip Species List

  1. Cinnamon Teal
  2. Mallard
  3. Western Grebe
  4. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  5. American Coot
  6. Killdeer
  7. Wilson's Snipe
  8. Wilson's Phalarope
  9. Ring-billed Gull
  10. American White Pelican
  11. Himalayan Snowcock
  12. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  13. Rufous Hummingbird
  14. Great Blue Heron
  15. Turkey Vulture
  16. Golden Eagle
  17. Red-tailed Hawk
  18. Cooper's Hawk
  19. Hairy Woodpecker
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. American Kestrel
  22. Prairie Falcon
  23. Western Wood-Pewee
  24. Cordilleran Flycatcher
  25. Dusky Flycatcher
  26. Warbling Vireo
  27. Black-billed Magpie
  28. Clark's Nutcracker
  29. American Crow
  30. Common Raven
  31. Horned Lark
  32. Tree Swallow
  33. Violet-green Swallow
  34. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  35. Barn Swallow
  36. Cliff Swallow
  37. Mountain Chickadee
  38. Rock Wren
  39. House Wren
  40. Mountain Bluebird
  41. Townsend's Solitaire
  42. American Robin
  43. American Pipit
  44. Black Rosy-Finch
  45. Swainson's Thrush
  46. Hermit Thrush
  47. Cassin's Finch
  48. Pine Siskin
  49. Chipping Sparrow
  50. Brewer's Sparrow
  51. Savannah Sparrow
  52. Fox Sparrow
  53. Dark-eyed Junco
  54. White-crowned Sparrow
  55. Lincoln's Sparrow
  56. Green-tailed Towhee
  57. MacGillivray's Warbler
  58. Yellow Warbler
  59. Lazuli Bunting
  60. Bobolink
  61. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  62. Red-winged Blackbird
  63. Western Meadowlark
  64. Brewer's Blackbird
  65. House Sparrow

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Surveying Birds in Arizona's Uplands

Feral burros. Photo by Lauren Harter
Early in the spring of 2018, we conducted the first season of Arizona Uplands surveys, a project with Arizona Game & Fish as part of a larger study on the impacts of feral burros (donkeys) on Arizona wildlife and ecosystems. Burros were imported to Arizona as early as the 1600s, and eventually established feral populations as they escaped or were abandoned by prospectors in the 1800s. Equids have a different tooth structure than native ungulates, so can have heavy impacts on native vegetation that have evolved for approximately 10 thousand years in their absence. Feral burros can also compete with, and in many cases outcompete, native animals for food and water sources. As such they are the focus of management and study by federal and state agencies. Our goal with these bird surveys is to investigate the impact of burros on breeding bird populations.

Surveys were conducted in two areas, the Havasu Herd Management Area in western Arizona and the Lake Pleasant Herd Management Area north of Phoenix. We surveyed 60 plots in each area, with plots including areas with and without burros, with and without surface water, and other variables taken into consideration.

Over the course of the season in these 120 surveys, we documented a total of 128 bird species. Surveys took us to new areas for all five seasoned surveyors, from Lake Pleasant; Castle Hot Springs; and flats around Wittmann; to the Bill Williams River; Cactus Plain, Buckskin, and Needles wilderness areas; and the difficult to access Mohave Mountains. Once we have obtained a few more years of data, we hope to be able to inform future burro management based on good science.

- Lauren

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

In Search of the Elusive Desert Thrashers

Walking through thrasher country.  Photo by Michelle Tobin

Bendire's Thrasher, Jen Tobin
The Desert Thrasher Survey season began this year at the end of March and just wrapped up a few weeks ago in mid-June. Nevada’s team is part of a larger network of governmental agencies, non-profits, and volunteers (The Desert Thrasher Working Group, DTWG). The DTWG is dedicated to improving our understanding of these enigmatic Thrashers, and recently has developed a standardized survey protocol for these birds. After much deliberation the DTWG decided on an area search survey approach, creating survey plots 300x300m to be surveyed within 40 minutes. This protocol was based off of surveys conducted by Point Blue Conservation Science. By conducting practice surveys we believed that at this size within a desert landscape the surveyor should be able to detect a thrasher on the plot and survey multiple plots in one morning/field day. To allow for variation in detection as well as arrival times for Bendire’s thrashers (Le Conte’s thrashers are a non-migratory species) we decided to survey each of our plots three times during the breeding season.

The 2018 surveys spanned the entire known U.S. range of the LeConte’s and Bendire’s thrashers. Surveys were conducted in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. Approximately, 450 plots were surveyed across these states.

Le Conte's Thrasher nest. M. Tobin
In total Nevada surveyed 126 plots:112 which were part of the region-wide survey effort, 12 were exploratory surveys, and 6 plots were revisits to areas where thrashers were found last season. As part of the survey protocol each of the 118 plots (112 region-wide and 6 resurvey plots) plots were surveyed three times throughout the season. Due to time constraints the exploratory plots could only be surveyed two times during the season. Therefore, our total survey effort for the season was 378 surveys.

In addition, to surveying for birds on each plot habitat assessments were also conducted at the plot center. We used a point center quarter method to evaluate the habitat. In addition, we recorded information on fruit-bearing shrubs, Yucca species, ground cover and composition, and measures of disturbance and invasive species.

In 2018, in Nevada, we also began our adopt-a-thrasher program. This program was designed so that volunteers could revisit known Bendire’s Thrasher territories and document presence/absence of this species. We focused specifically on Bendire’s thrashers, because this species has been very difficult to capture on surveys, and multiple questions still remain about the basic life history, phenology, and occurrence of this thrasher.

Le Conte's Thrasher nestlings, Jen Tobin.
We are currently in the process of entering all our data from the season, but preliminary numbers suggest that our thrasher counts are higher than last season. We recorded at least 16 observations of Bendire’s thrashers this year, which appears to be double the number we observed in 2017. For LeConte’s thrashers, to date, we have entered 165 records for these birds. However, this represents multiple visits to plots and therefore could be an inflated number of actual territories. We hope to finish up data entry by the end of June, and have more concrete numbers and an analysis of our habitat data by the end of the summer.

 - Dawn

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Surveying birds in Arizona grasslands

Central Arizona grassland.
Last year, we began working with our partners at the Arizona Game and Fish Department on grassland bird surveys in spring, summer, and fall. The state of Arizona has several programs aimed at restoring historical grasslands across the state, with the goal of improving habitat for wildlife such as pronghorn as well as improving rangeland. The main purpose of our surveys was to understand how these ongoing grassland treatment activities are affecting breeding birds. For bird surveys, the AZGFD also partnered with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies to use their Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) program. We started the season in central and northern Arizona, covering both public and private land across Yavapai and Coconino counties. In July and August, once the monsoon rains began to fall, we moved to southeastern Arizona. There, we surveyed ranches in Graham, Cochise, Santa Cruz, and Pima counties.  

Pronghorn kept us company on some surveys.
In central and northern Arizona, surveyed habitats ranged from high desert grasslands sprinkled with acacia and prickly pear, to rolling hills of pinyon-juniper, to prairie dog-dotted flats. Thrashers were particularly interesting in this region. Crissal Thrashers were common throughout, and we found quite a few Bendire's Thrashers (one of our focal species on our thrasher project) in open juniper-barberry woodland east of Flagstaff. We even turned up a very rare Brown Thrasher near camp in the same area! In southeastern Arizona, most of our surveys were in semidesert grassland, in both the Sonoran and the Chihuahuan deserts. Here we were serenaded by the cascading songs of Cassin's Sparrows on nearly every survey, as well as the bouncing-ball song of Botteri's Sparrows and of course the ubiquitous Black-throated Sparrow. In a few pure grassland sites, we recorded the very local breeding Grasshopper Sparrow. In July, we enjoyed watching the monsoons build over the mountains almost every day, but were only caught in a few downpours!

We're looking forward to continuing and even expanding this monitoring effort to increase our understanding of grassland birds in Arizona this year!

We kicked off our southeastern Arizona grassland surveys in mid July with some beautiful scenery

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Who We Are, and Why We Work

Several of us were talking last month about why we do what we do – what started us down this path, and why we keep on it.  We thought we’d share those thoughts with you in 2017, in a series of interviews.  In this preamble to the series, I’ll talk a little bit about Great Basin Bird Observatory, what it is and why it’s here, and then move on to introduce myself - since in the successive installments, I’ll be transitioning to the role of Interviewer!

GBBO is a non-profit science organization dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats in the Great Basin and adjoining regions, through research, partnerships, and education.  We are not an advocacy organization: our agenda is to collect the best bird (and other wildlife) information that we can, and to share that information with land managers, biologists, and the public (and not necessarily in that order!).  We were established in 1997 – incredibly, this year is our 20th Anniversary!  We will be celebrating that with the 2017 Great Basin Bird Conference, from May 17th to the 21st, and you can find more information about it here.

Our origin story:

Nevada Bird Count Transects
Back in the late ‘90s, biologists, managers, and other sundry bird enthusiasts began to gather information on the birds of Nevada for a Partners-in-Flight [1] bird conservation plan for the state.  In the process, it became clear that there were a lot of holes in the knowledge available about Nevada’s birds and their status within the state.  GBBO was formed in 1997 to try and meet that need, and the Breeding Bird Atlas project was born.  While the atlas field work started up in 1997, it really picked up steam in 1998, and continued through 2000.  Ted Floyd was the Director of GBBO at the time, but he eventually moved on to new projects (including his current work at the American Birding Association), and Elisabeth Ammon was brought in as the new Director in 2002. 

Elisabeth started up the Nevada Bird Count program in 2002, a statewide monitoring program that consists primarily of point count transects.  We now have 15 years of data collected across almost 1000 transects located across Nevada and into adjacent states.  Not all transects are surveyed each year – some transects have only been surveyed once, while others have been surveyed year after year.  In some cases, where transects were established prior to the GBBO’s NBC program and were pulled into the NBC framework – such as those established by Elisabeth in the late ‘90s along the Truckee River - we now have close to 20 years of data!

LCR project area, courtesy BOR
As the decade wore on, the number of biological staff began to increase, taking a big leap up in 2008 when (among other things), we began our work on the Lower Colorado River (LCR) program.  For the LCR program, surveyors conduct area searches in riverside habitats, mapping birds’ locations – and where possible, their territories.  Overall, more than 1000 plots have been surveyed using their rapid area search method, and approximately 150 plots have been surveyed using their intensive survey method!  It forms an enormous database of location-specific information.

While these have been our largest, and most overarching programs, we do a wide array of research and monitoring - everything from lagomorph surveys (rabbits and hares) and small mammal community studies, to Golden Eagles to Pinyon Jays to Elf Owls.

My origin story:

As for me, I’m the daughter of a forester/former farm kid and a zoologist, and most of my earliest memories are of field sites, camping trips, and backpacking adventures (evidently in those earliest adventures, I was the one in the backpack).  My parents hunted, dad was a keen wildlife watcher, and mom gardened, embraced her inner geologist, and watched birds – plus she was always bringing bug larvae into the house “to see what they grew up to be.”  With that upbringing, it’s probably not surprising that for as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a wildlife biologist.  It’s also become evident over the years how helpful it was to be able to – without realizing it – absorb how they dealt with the many and interesting situations that crop up whenever you spend a lot of time in the outdoors, hiking in different terrains, and driving crazy roads!

After several years of school and working on everything from bats to plants to birds, I ended up as a biologist at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, in southeastern Oregon.  It was there that I was introduced to GBBO, when Ted Floyd was looking for atlas volunteers – so my field tech and I worked some atlas blocks into our survey schedule on Hart’s sister refuge, Sheldon NWR, in northwestern Nevada.  Later, when Elisabeth came on board, I helped out with some of the point count transects in the Sheldon area.  By 2005, I’d moved on from Hart Mountain & Sheldon, and was working in a much more office-bound position, daydreaming about field work on my lunchtime bird walks.  Serendipitously, a position as the monitoring coordinator opened up here at GBBO.  You can probably picture me in that moment – chained to a computer in a beige cubicle under fluorescent lights, with little thought bubbles arising from my head:  Birds!  Field work!  Nevada!  GBBO!   (Very) long story short - I applied for the job, and started up here in 2006.

The things that drew me to apply are the things that have caused me to stay.  I love that work draws me outside, and that that work occurs at different scales.  For some projects, I am exploring new areas; for others, I am digging into well-known locales and communities.  Plus, the different protocols give me greater insight into the natural world – for example, our point count transects extend across 2 miles of habitat (not including the hike into them, of whatever length), which allows me the opportunity to see the changes in habitats across the landscape, and how birds, other wildlife, and plants respond to the different conditions.  Our intensive area searches, on the other hand, allow me the chance to closely observe the same plot of ground over and over again – sometimes for years – and really dig into the seasonal and annual variations.  And that’s not including our mammal surveys or our species-specific surveys for birds like Golden Eagles or Snowy Plovers!  I’m not a lister by nature [2]; while I enjoy finding vagrants and all of the natural history that is involved in that, my driving interest is in why birds (and other species) call a particular location home – for a year, a season, or even a temporary rest stop on a migratory byway!    Our primary field season occurs in April through July, though there is work scattered throughout the year.  When I’m not in the field, I’m in my “chained to my laptop” mode.  Some of that is more necessary than fun – the payment made for enjoying the rest of the job.  But some of it is also a core joy – having the opportunity to dig into the data that were collected during the field season, and turning up new connections I didn’t know existed, confirming some thoughts about relationships, and complicating or even upending others!  Lastly, this job has given me the opportunity to work with and mentor some fantastic, outdoorsy, bird/mammal/herp/bug/plant-loving people.  The staff here are a close-knit, supportive bunch, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn and grow.  Plus, we’ve had some brilliant folks come through the Nevada Bird Count, who continue to go on to do amazing work.  I have so enjoyed getting to know them, have learned from them and been inspired by them – and I hope they can say the same of me!

All the best in 2017!

[1] Partners-in-Flight is a collaborative partnership and network dedicated to bird conservation throughout the Americas, and includes government agencies (federal, state, county, and local), non-profit organizations, researchers, and individuals throughout the Western Hemisphere.  Their website is here: , and you can download their recently-completed (2016) landbird conservation plan for the US and Canada from the site.

[2] I do keep lists, though – one of my favorite listing “games” is not a presence/absence species list for the counties within Nevada, but a list of species by county with their breeding status – e.g., confirmed, probable, possible, and observed – and trying to get as high a breeding status for all of the species in all of the counties that I can.