Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ode to Lower Colorado River Vegetation Surveys

LCR vegetation data collection

The fourth component of our riparian bird surveys on the Lower Colorado River involves performing a detailed habitat assessment for four of the LCR MSCP covered species: Gila Woodpecker, Bell’s Vireo, Yellow Warbler, and Summer Tanager. For each species, habitat assessments are conducted in known territories and paired non-use sites. The assessments are comprised of a wide range of measured variables that describe vegetation structure, plant species composition, and abiotic factors that may affect the presence or absence of the species above. Surveyors collected habitat data at ten use and ten non-use territories for each of the four covered species in September and October, 2012. Surveyors also deployed HOBO units (to collect automated abiotic data for a full year) at six of the ten use and non-use territory centers for each of the four species.


We had a wonderful crew- all of which have worked on the bird survey portion of the project as well- out collecting data this fall. It is challenging work! Here are two reflections from the field crew along with a few photos to give you an idea of the job…..


Living in the Veg
A poem by Michelle Tobin

We get up before the sun
To get that crazy veg stuff done.
Roll out of bed, pull on clothes,
Eat some breakfast, off we go!
The sun rises, as we drive
And we begin to come alive.
Now we arrive where we must park,
Thankfully, it’s not still dark.
Jump right out, grab our packs,
rods, tert poles, tapes, and snacks.
Now we hike and seek to find
The center points and hope they’re kind.
Striding swiftly in the open,
Come what may, we won’t be broken.
Through thickest TAMRAM and Mesquite,
Mud, slopes, water, sand, and heat.
On to we are not sure where,
What, the center’s really there?!
Break through veg to make a line,
Put up flagging, now that’s fine!
The flagging’s up, the plots laid out,
Now there’s no time to sit and pout!
Count those TAMRAMS, all those stems!
Take short breaks for silly whims.
Count the corners touching sky,
Check hits to pole up really high.
Measure tree trunks, see how tall.
Move through branches, but do not fall.
We all love POPFREs and SALGOOs,
But TAMRAMS get a lot of boos.
Arrowweed stomps, but also stabs,
While mesquite pokes, tears, and jabs.
We deal with all these, plus some more,
And, when we’re done, we’re very sore.
Lots of walking, ducking, crawling,
Climbing, sloshing, slipping, falling.
We wonder how to walk upright
And, “Just what time will end our plight?”
And, “Will the mosquitoes ever die?”
And, “Why are they thickest where it’s most dry?”
At last we return to our 4-wheeled friends,
But this is not where our story ends.
No, we do this again and again,
Day after day, but still we grin.

Reflections from Jennifer Wilcox:

Eight weeks and ninety veg surveys ago we did not imagine it could be done.  But here we are, on the other side of much blood, sweat - and a few tears.  An accordion folder plump with data sheets is a testament to the teamwork and high spirits maintained by our small crew over the course of the season, and with a little distance, we can now reflect warmly upon our time spent collecting vegetation data along the Colorado River.  

The following was written in the midst of the season:

“As we plunged through the densest thickets of tamarisk and fallen cottonwoods with the morning sun already burning high above us, we did not wish for water.  As we tunneled for miles through narrow vegetation with the humidity already threatening to suffocate us, we did not wish for air conditioning.  As we crawled beneath fallen logs and combed our way through willow tangles whilst swatting-away famished mosquitoes, we did not wish for insect repellent.   As we waded through caliginous standing water, feet sucking into the sticky bottom, we did not wish for kayaks.  And as we endured sharp stabs from forgetful sticks and branches, we did not wish to be done with our work.  No, we wished only for a chainsaw.”

Thanks to the wonderful crew for their contributions: Michelle Tobin, Jennifer Tobin, Cyrus Moqtaderi, Jennifer Wilcox, David Henderson, and Lead Dawn Fletcher!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


In September, we completed the fall bird surveys down at Warm Springs Natural Area, in Moapa, northeast of Las Vegas.  Our surveys had a bit of a delayed start because of a flash flood ripping through the valley - most of the waters had subsided by the next day, though the muddy soils resulted in a beautiful morning fog settling over the valley.

"Desert" Black Swallowtail
We found 65 species on the site during the surveys – most were Gambel’s Quail, Red-winged Blackbirds, White-crowned Sparrows, House Finches, and Abert’s Towhees, of course.  There were a lot of fun migrants moving through, as well: scattered MacGillivray’s and Nashville Warblers, and lots of Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers.  

Butterflies were everywhere within the fields – Monarchs galore, along with the occasional Desert Black Swallowtail.  Between my time here and my visit to Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge on my way north, I saw more monarchs than I’ve ever seen before in Nevada!

Red-naped x Red-breasted Sapsucker hybrid

Three of my most interesting finds were: 

(1) Red-breasted Nuthatches!  Birders throughout Nevada have been reporting larger than normal numbers of nuthatches -- perhaps a result of widespread cone failures to the north.

(2) Phainopeplas -- We had more than 10 times the number of Phainopeplas that we usually find.

(3) A hatch-year Red-naped Sapsucker x Red-breasted Sapsucker hybrid.  At first glance, it appeared to be a Red-naped - except that there are red feathers in the white portion of the cheek.

We’ll be returning in January/February to look at the wintering bird community – so stay tuned!