Wednesday, June 15, 2016

BioBlitz 2016 at Great Basin National Park

A few weekends ago, ten of us from GBBO, plus some friends, ventured out to Great Basin National Park for the 2016 BioBlitz where we engaged in a weekend of interesting talks, great people, and some fantastic birding. Most of us, even a few that have lived or worked in Nevada for years, have never actually visited the park, which is crazy because it is absolutely stunning! Mountains that spring out of the valley floor, low light pollution accentuating the starry sky, and the ability to escape into incredible, breathtaking landscapes and solitude. Even during a busy BioBlitz weekend, there were times I couldn’t hear the sound of another human being. I was told there are areas in the southern portion of the park where you can go and not see another person for days, even in the peak visiting season. The busiest area was probably Lehman Caves, and for good reason! It felt as though we were walking through King Triton’s castle (pardon the Little Mermaid reference) or some other subaquatic world. The tour guides were entertaining and kept the hour and a half tour interactive the entire time. The only negative was not getting a chance to see the endemic cave pseudoscorpion (Microcreagris grandis) rumored to be seen that day. The park hosts a BioBlitz every year, and previously had focused on invertebrates. This year, they decided to join other National Parks in a national birding BioBlitz to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. The park service chose this particular weekend, May 20-22, because it coincided with the week of International Migratory Bird Day, National Citizen Scientist Day, Endangered Species Day, and the International Day for Biological Diversity. Busy week! This is just one of many things the National Park Service is doing to celebrate their 100 year birthday. If you want to find out more about it, you can check out their website:


Great Basin National Park happens to be a great place to have a birding BioBlitz with such a variety of habitats, ranging from the valley’s salt deserts, to dense sagebrush, bustling riparian zones, pinyon-juniper, coniferous forest, up to the alpine zone on Wheeler Peak! The park also lays claim to some of the oldest living trees in its three bristlecone pine groves. Elisabeth gave an informative talk the first night on the different birds that might be seen in the different habitats, and ways to identify them. Hers was the one of over a dozen engaging talks given over the weekend directed at birders of all skill levels, including live demonstrations of birds and reptiles. Participants had the opportunity to hone their bird whistling skills, learn the basics of identification, and practice avian illustration.

Of course the main activity of the weekend, at least for GBBO folks, was birding. The first night at camp we tracked down the singing Spotted and Green-tailed Towhees, and stood in awe at a Cassin’s Finch’s impressive mimicry. Also at camp were Black-headed Grosbeaks, MacGillivray’s Warblers, Warbling Vireos, American Dippers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Western Tanagers, Chipping Sparrows, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a rafter of Wild Turkeys with poults. We listened for owls and Common Nighthawks, but the wind and rain made that difficult. There were scheduled birding tours in the mornings, and a few of us from GBBO led some of the groups. It was a great opportunity to explore the park and engage with other birders. The tours we led were beautiful; winding through aspen and coniferous forest with elements of sagebrush and pinyon-juniper communities. The first morning we had a layer of fresh snow that complemented the bright white trunks of aspen and accentuated their fresh green leaves. Mark Dorriesfield mentioned the snow was probably the highlight of his first tour, even with singing Virginia’s Warblers.

Tour leaders recorded all the birds seen and heard on their routes by all participants in an attempt to record as many of the species that occur in the park as possible. Some tours were more education-based, teaching the basics of bird identification and pointing out the different songs and calls of common species, while others were focused on data collection using point counts. Throughout the course of the weekend 1843 birds were recorded of 73 different species. The most common species included Mountain Chickadees, Cassin’s Finches, Pine Siskins, American Robins, and Clark’s Nutcrackers. These were seen or heard on nearly all the scheduled tours. There were a few species that really needed to be sought out, including Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Goshawk, Gray Flycatcher, Common Poorwill, and American Dippers. A full species list is included at the bottom, including order of abundance.

One of the greatest things about the BioBlitz was the variety of people that came out to participate. There were professional birders, beginning birders, birding photographers, and folks that knew nothing about birds, but were interesting in learning and interacting with their natural environment. It was impressive the number of young kids in attendance that had fantastic identification skills for their age and were excited to share that knowledge. I think everyone in attendance probably learned something new over the weekend, and got to enjoy the beauty of Great Basin National Park in the process. Thanks to Gretchen Baker and all the staff and volunteers at the park that put the event together. Here are some of the things GBBO folks enjoyed most about the weekend:

As mentioned, Mark said his highlights would include “seeing the Snake Creek Valley covered in freshly fallen snow on Saturday morning, getting amazing looks at a gorgeous adult dark morph Ferruginous Hawk on the drive in to Snake Creek Sunday morning, and seeing a young goshawk pursuing a Dusky Grouse along a ridgeline later that morning”.

Noah must have been on the same tour- “I loved the hikes with expert birders as well as meeting local people interested in birds and conservation. The variety of attendees made it a fun and educational experience. My favorite birds were the Goshawk and dark morph Ferruginous Hawk I was fortunate to see. A great weekend in an amazing landscape.”

And Grace added “I was so impressed by all the bird enthusiasm and knowledge of everyone there. That's the most bird talk I've ever experienced in one weekend!”

You can find pictures of the event on the national park website and on our facebook.  Below is the list of birds we recorded, along with their abundance rank.

- Kelly

Common Name
Abundance Rank
Dusky Grouse
Wild Turkey
Turkey Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Northern Goshawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
Spotted Sandpiper
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Common Poorwill
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Red-naped Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Dusky Flycatcher
Gray Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub-Jay
Pinyon Jay
Clark's Nutcracker
Common Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee
Juniper Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Dipper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Mountain Bluebird
Townsend's Solitaire
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Virginia's Warbler
MacGillivray's Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Green-tailed Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Brewer's Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
Cassin's Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak
Unknown Passerine

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Preparing for Another Spring along the Lower Colorado River

Kayak surveys at the Bill Williams NWR. Photo source: Dawn Fletcher

Great Basin Bird Observatory is gearing up for the 2016 field season, set to start in early April.  Typically our season begins a bit earlier in March, however, this year the entire crew is returning and these old pros will need significantly less training on our field protocols and bird identification.   We are lucky to have such a great crew returning, with many of the members on their fourth and fifth seasons with us, and one member returning for his seventh season. 

What keeps crew members coming back season after season?  One major draw to the project is our survey method, the area search and spot mapping method, which allows surveyors to spend time thoroughly scouring a survey area recorded all birds they see and/or hear and any evidence of breeding.  This method in particular gives surveyors an opportunity to intimately learn about the resident bird species on their survey plots. From these types of surveys a wealth of natural history information can be gained, such as onset of the breeding cycle, initiation of migration, and timing of the fledgling period, to name a few. 

Hammond’s flycatcher caught during mist netting birds volunteering on a BOR project. Photo source: L. Harter

Leopard lizard observed during surveys. Photo source: D. Fletcher
Throughout our surveys we have also documented many rare species of birds using the lower Colorado River and some even nesting, such as confirmed breeding of a Nutting’s flycatcher, the first breeding record for this species in the United States.  Each our surveyors record several rarities to our study area including nesting Tropical Kingbirds and Rufous-backed Robin.  In addition to observing lots of interesting species of birds, crew members have also seen a myriad of wildlife including mountain lions, bobcats, badgers, skunks, javelinas, beavers, coyotes, and several species of snakes and lizards. 

California Leaf-nosed Bat caught during mist netting bats volunteering on a Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) project. Photo source: Lauren Harter
Lastly, in addition to GBBO's monitoring project, there are several remarkable research projects occurring along the river, which our crew members have been able to volunteer on during their free time. These include mist netting and banding birds and bats, lowland leopard frog and Mexican garter snake surveys, and Elf owl, Cuckoo, Southwestern willow flycatcher and Marsh bird surveys.  We are so excited for the upcoming field season and grateful to have an awesome field crew that comes back year after year. 

Were you on the LCR field crew?  If so, tell us about your experience!  


Many days and nights spend birding together as a field crew. Field crew 2015 birding together at Lake Havasu.  Photo source: D. Fletcher

Water crossings are common during surveys. Photo source L. Harter