California Condors in Zion National Park

California Condors Zion National Park: Click for a larger image - Keith Day, a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Natural Resources, views a California condor nest from the Human History Museum in Zion National Park. The male condor died earlier this year as a result of lead poisoning, but the female and chick appear to be doing well. Photo Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Click for a larger image – Keith Day, a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Natural Resources, views a California condor nest from the Human History Museum in Zion National Park. The male condor died earlier this year as a result of lead poisoning, but the female and chick appear to be doing well. Photo Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Condors in Zion National Park:
Here we have Zion National Park. We’re looking up the canyon at all these beautiful, beautiful cliffs and rock structures. This is one of the reasons [why] people come, but when you talk to people who come here, even from around the world, one of the things on their list is condors. Can I see a condor? So there’s a lot of interest about condors and to think that in Arizona and Utah we have probably a quarter of the California condors that exist in the whole world, that’s kind of an exciting thought.

My name’s Keith Day. I’m a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in Cedar City, Utah and I am responsible, in some regard, for California condor management.

All of the releases for this population have occurred in Arizona and this population is focused around the Grand Canyon ecosystem. The birds discovered Utah and really started moving up into Utah by 2005. And now, essentially, any bird will travel to Utah at some point in time for some period of time during the year. And this pair in Zion this year moved into the main canyon. They’re in an area where they’re actually visible from the visitor center and the administration center and the museum, so we’ve been able to keep a close eye on them. The chick has been produced, it’s been observed on several occasions, which is really exciting. The park has been really good about condor issues and maintaining support for the condor recovery program and they’re really excited to host the first nesting pair in the state of Utah for a couple of hundred years. The sad thing about it is the male of the pair was found dead and so the female is raising the chick by herself and apparently doing just fine, the chick is still thriving.

There is paleontological and archeological evidence that condors existed across the country in historic times. As white settlement increased there seems to have been some impact on the condors and one of the biggest things is lead poisoning. That was recognized years and years ago as one of the challenges for condors. We still have that issue. We’ve done really well as far as establishing this Arizona-Utah population and the populations in California. But, we still have death in the population and when we can determine the cause of that death, the majority of them are due to lead poisoning. Studies have indicated that lead poisoning is tied most specifically to lead ammunition and although it’s a good thing to have remains of game animals in the field for condors, it’s not a good thing if they have lead in them. And that’s what’s led to the voluntary programs in Arizona and Utah to ask hunters to use non-lead ammunition when they’re hunting in condor range. And we’ve had a lot of support for that here in Utah.

To see them soaring around, especially when they’re on the wing on a thermal they’re really really quite graceful. You know they have that distinct black feathering on the adults with the white under the wing. I just enjoy seeing wildlife and I think that most people in Utah do. We talk about one of our mottos in Utah is “Life Elevated” one of the reasons people come to Utah is because of the wild aspect, the scenic aspect, we have a diversity of habitats, and the wildlife aspect. We have a whole panoply of things that add to the value of life in Utah because of our wildness and condors are a part of that. And the fact that they’re a listed species and they’re so few really kind of accentuates that in that regard. Well this is Keith Day, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources California condor recovery program, in a windy day in Zion National Park. Thanks for listening to Wild About Utah and take care.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Text: Jessie Bunkley. Wildlife technician, Utah DWR/Jessie Bunkley, Graduate Teaching Assistant, BNR, Utah State University with assistance from Keith Day, Utah DWR

Sources & Additional Reading

California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) recovery plan. Third revision., US FWS, http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/singleitem/collection/document/id/1246

California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), ECOS Environmental Conservation Online System, US FWS, http://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?spcode=B002

Bat Netting within Antelope Island State Park

Bat netting on Antelope Island: After the sun sets, fine mist nets are raised high into the air to capture passing bats. Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
After the sun sets, fine mist nets are raised high into the air to capture passing bats.
Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

[Sounds of a bat echolocating]

Jessie Bunkley – The sound you are hearing is a bat echolocating through the darkness of the night. Bats use sound to detect their surroundings. They produce frequencies that are much higher than what we’re able to hear and as those sound waves hit objects in front of them and reflect off the bats interpret the echoes to sense their environment. What you’re hearing is a bat detector that has taken these high frequency sounds and cut them down to a level that we can hear.

Adam Brewerton – I’m Adam Brewerton. I’m the wildlife conservation biologist for the Northern Region with the Division of Wildlife Resources.

Jessie – And I’m Jessie Bunkley. I’m a wildlife technician with UDWR.

Bat netting on Antelope Island: Large ears and prominent nose glands are conspicuous features of this appropriately name Townsend’s big-eared bat. Her thumbs are also visible as she holds them in front of her face. Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
Large ears and prominent nose glands are conspicuous features of this appropriately name Townsend’s big-eared bat. Her thumbs are also visible as she holds them in front of her face.
Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Adam – And our bat survey tonight out at Antelope Island we’ve been pretty successful so far. We’ve caught a little brown bat and we’ve caught seven Townsend’s big-eared bats. It’s part of the statewide species distribution and occupancy study and we’ve got several survey locations that have been randomly selected out of a grid system. So Antelope Island is just one of those randomly selected sites. In addition to that it’s also close and convenient for people to come out and learn about bats so that’s why we’ve invited [the] public to come out and join us tonight.

Jessie – To capture the bats we’ve set up several mist nets, which are very long, fine nets. We have stacked the nets two or three nets high and we use a pulley system to raise and lower them.

Adam – They fly into the net and they get caught and tangled. We go get the bats out as gently as we can and we come back for the measuring and weighing and identifying. It helps us to track relative species occurrence throughout the state. So being able to say that the species is doing well or declining or increasing. We can really only say that based off of how frequently we catch it in different places relative to other species.

[Bats echolocating and squeaking in the background]

Bat netting on Antelope Island: A Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) is carefully untangled from a mist net. Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
A Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) is carefully untangled from a mist net.
Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Jessie – Bats are the second most diverse group of mammals, right behind rodents. There are over twelve hundred species of known bats throughout the world and this represents about twenty percent of all mammals. In Utah we have eighteen species that regularly occur in the state.

Adam – The wing membranes connect all their fingers together so their hand is shaped very much like ours, their thumb sticks up with a little claw hook on it, and then that membrane stretches between their finger digits. They’re cool because they’re interesting, they’re unique, they’re the only mammals that fly, they’re skeletal structure is totally different than other mammals, they echolocate, they’re intelligent, social, they live in a completely foreign world that we can’t really understand how they view the world through echolocation. What makes them interesting too is just so much that we don’t know and [there is] so much more to learn about them.

Jessie – For Wild About Utah that was Adam Brewerton and I’m Jessie Bunkley signing off from Antelope Island State Park.

Bat netting on Antelope Island: Adam Brewerton, the conservation biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Northern region, holds a Townsend’s big-eared bat after taking measurements and examining her. Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
Adam Brewerton, the conservation biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Northern region, holds a Townsend’s big-eared bat after taking measurements and examining her.
Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Bats & Echolocation, Holly Strand, Wildaboututah, https://wildaboututah.org/bats-and-echolocation/

Bat Echolocation recordings from the Western Soundscape Library at the University of Utah Marriott Library,

Credits:
Images: Courtesy US FWS and USDA Forest Service
Text: Jessie Bunkley. Wildlife technician, Utah DWR/Jessie Bunkley, Graduate Teaching Assistant, BNR, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Bat Conservation International. 1997. Bat Chat: An Introduction to Echolocation
http://www.batcon.org/, http://www.batcon.org/resources/media-education/learning/bat-squad/bat-squad-ep-4-bat-chat-join-the-bat-squad

Wilson, Don E. 1997 Bats in Question: The Smithsonian Answer Book. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC http://www.amazon.com/Bats-Question-Smithsonian-Answer-Book/dp/1560987391

Bats Live, Prince William County Public Schools, Manassas, VA, http://batslive.pwnet.org/

Bat Week 2015
Sometimes misunderstood, bats are important and fascinating animals. Watch this video to learn some bat facts, find out what challenges are facing bats today and what you can do to help #savethebats.
Bat Week Video from USGS, US FWS and The Organization for Bat Conservation

Bats are Important/Fascinating, Bat Conservation International, Inc. 2016, http://www.batweek.org/index.php/about/bats-are-fascinating

13 Facts About Bats, US Department of the Interior, Blog, 10/24/2016, https://www.doi.gov/blog/13-facts-about-bats

Desert Tortoise Research in the Red Cliff Desert Reserve

Desert Tortoise Research in the Red Cliff Desert Reserve: Ann walks a transect looking for desert tortoises in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve in southwestern Utah. Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
Ann walks a transect looking for desert tortoises in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve in southwestern Utah. Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Hi, I’m Ann McLuckie and I work with the Division of Wildlife Resources working primarily on desert tortoises within the Red Cliff Desert Reserve. (Sound of walking in the background) We’re going out in the field today and we’re going to do a transect. We’ve done transects since 1997 and our ultimate goal is to estimate population densities and those densities will allow us to look at how tortoises are doing and then if we get densities over time we can see are the populations increasing, decreasing, or are they stable. What we’ve learned is that we have had some pretty dramatic events, such as wildfires in 2005 and a severe drought in 2002, that have impacted tortoise populations. So we’ve seen tortoises fairly stable until those two events and since we’ve actually had fairly stable populations, but at lower densities.

Oh – here’s a fresh tortoise scat! So where there’s a fresh tortoise scat there’s got to be a tortoise close by. (Sound of walking) Oh, I think I see a tortoise. I think it’s in a burrow. I’m going to get the mirror (sound of Ann setting down her backpack and unzipping it). Oh yep, there it is and I think we can get it because it’s right by the edge. Let’s see I’m going to crawl into the burrow here. Let me get my gloves (sound of gloves being removed from a plastic bag and rocks scraping). Ok there, I think I’ve got it.

Desert Tortoise Research in the Red Cliff Desert Reserve: Ann McLuckie, a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, uses a mirror to direct sunlight into the depths of a desert tortoise burrow. Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
Ann McLuckie, a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, uses a mirror to direct sunlight into the depths of a desert tortoise burrow. Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

So when we get a tortoise we take three measurements, two width measurements and one length measurement called the carapace length. The carapace is the upper shell of the tortoise and it gives us an idea of how old the tortoise is. So I’ll measure the tortoise. Ok. (Sound of calipers on the tortoise shell). Oh, this looks like an adult tortoise. Let see, let me sex it. The tortoise shell is made of the carapace, which is the upper shell, and then the plastron, which is the lower shell or the belly of the shell basically, and the gular is the bony plates that are under the chin. So males have a concave plastron and that allows it to mate with females so it can fit over the female shell and males also have a large gular.

Click for a larger view of an adult Desert Tortoise. Courtesy & Copyright 2009 Kevin Durso, Photographer
Adult Desert Tortoise
Gopherus agassizii
Courtesy & Copyright 2009
Kevin Durso, Photographer

We give each tortoise that we encounter a unique file number. On the edge of the carapace are what we call marginal scutes and those are just smaller sections of the shell and each of those marginal scutes is assigned a number. Whatever marginal scutes we file we add up those scutes and that gives that tortoise a unique number. So the number that this tortoise that we’re filing right now is going to have, let’s see, (sounds of flipping through datasheets) it’s going to have 3096, so that will be its number. (Sounds of filing the scutes). Ok, I think that’s about it. And we have encountered tortoises that have been previously filed and we have a whole database of those tortoises so we can just go back to our database and figure out when that tortoise was first encountered, where it was first encountered, and get to know a little bit about that tortoise.

I’m Ann McLuckie in the Red Cliff Desert Reserve signing off on Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Text: Jessie Bunkley. Wildlife technician, Utah DWR/Graduate Teaching Assistant, BNR, Utah State University with assistance from Ann McLuckie, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Sources & Additional Reading

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, http://www.redcliffsdesertreserve.com

Desert tortoise monitoring plan, Red Cliff Desert Reserve, Washington County, Utah (Publication / Utah Division of Wildlife Resources), Richard Fridell, 1998, https://www.amazon.com/tortoise-monitoring-Washington-Publication-Resources/dp/B0006R3LYO

World Turtle Database, EMYSystem Species Page: Gopherus agassizii, http://emys.geo.orst.edu/ (Search for “Desert Tortoise”)

Grover, Mark C., DeFalco, Lesley A, Desert Tortoise(Gopherus agassizii): Status-of-Knowledge, Outline With References, USDA, 1995, http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_int/int_gtr316.pdf

Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, Mojave National Preserve, http://www.mojavenp.org/Gopherus_agassizii.htm

Gopherus agassizii (COOPER, 1861), The Reptile Database, Peter Uetz and Jakob Hallermann, Zoological Museum Hamburg,
http://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Gopherus&species=agassizii

Desert Tortoise, Animal Species, Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search
/Display.asp?FlNm=gophagas

Desert Tortoise Information and Collaboration, Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program, http://www.mojavedata.gov/deserttortoise_gov/index.html

Bird Banding in Red Butte Canyon

Bird Banding Red Butte Canyon: Volunteers and members of the Şekercioğlu lab who run the bird banding station in Red Butte Canyon. From left to right: Kyle Mika, Jennifer Bridgeman, Kylynn Clare, Anna Vickrey, JJ Horns, Ahmed Bwika, and Patricia Gao.
Volunteers and members of the Şekercioğlu lab who run the bird banding station in Red Butte Canyon. From left to right:
Kyle Mika, Jennifer Bridgeman, Kylynn Clare, Anna Vickrey, JJ Horns, Ahmed Bwika, and Patricia Gao.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

[Sound of walking on gravel]

J.J. Horns – Our lab name is the Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology lab and our work focuses on how human land use affects different types of wildlife.

J.J. – I’m J.J. Horns.
Patricia Gao – I’m Patricia.
Ahmed Bwika – I’m Ahmed.
Anna Vickrey – I’m Anna Vickrey.
Kyle Mika – I’m Kyle Mika.
Jennifer Bridgeman – I’m Jennifer Bridgeman.
Kylynn Clare – I’m Kylynn Clare.

Bird Banding in Red Butte Canyon: J.J. Horns, a graduate student in the University of Utah Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology lab, observes a yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia) that was recently measured and banded.
J.J. Horns, a graduate student in the University of Utah Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology lab, observes a yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia) that was recently measured and banded.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

J.J. – Here in Red Butte Canyon we monitor migratory songbirds as they move through and try and get a picture of one, what is the bird community like in Utah. That’s why Red Butte Canyon is such a nice place to work because it’s a protected canyon so it gives an idea of what the natural state of birds along the Wasatch should be like. And we monitor their populations, look for any population level changes, and we look for changes in their migration, in the health of the birds, and try and understand how human effects like land development and climate change are affecting these bird communities.

Metal leg bands with unique numbers are attached to each bird, like this spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus), allowing individuals to be identified in the future if they are recaptured.
Metal leg bands with unique numbers are attached to each bird, like this spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus), allowing individuals to be identified in the future if they are recaptured.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Ok, so we’re ready to go around and check our nets.

Anna – The mist net is this really superfine, hard to see material with shelves in it. So when the bird flies into the net it kind of falls into one of these net shelves and that material is so fine, especially if you put it in front of a tree, that the birds don’t see it and so they’ll just fly right into it, fall in, and we come around frequently enough that they’re not in there for a long time.

J.J. – So this is a bird called a spotted towhee and based on how brown that head is

Blowing the feathers away from the body allows researchers to examine a bird's fat levels and overall health. An inspection of this spotted towhee also reveals a brood patch, indicating it is incubating eggs.
Blowing the feathers away from the body allows researchers to examine a bird’s fat levels and overall health. An inspection of this spotted towhee also reveals a brood patch, indicating it is incubating eggs.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Anna – And the eye color, right?

J.J. – and the eye color, we can tell that it’s a little baby, just born this year. Towhee squawking in the background. When the bird lands in the net like this they get all tangled up, they get the net around their wings and around their legs, and so what we do is we carefully take it off of any part of their body where it’s tangled up and then we put them in these little bird bags. And the bird bags are just little cloth sacks that keep the bird warm and because they’re kind of dark the bird stays really calm.

Blowing feathers away from the head reveals the skull beneath, enabling the bird's age to be determined. The pattern of skull ossification on this black-headed grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) indicates it is an adult.
Blowing feathers away from the head reveals the skull beneath, enabling the bird’s age to be determined. The pattern of skull ossification on this black-headed grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) indicates it is an adult.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Jennifer – It’s a baby yellow warbler!

Kylynn – Spotted towhee.

J.J. – Black-headed grosbeak.

Mourning dove.

Kyle – Song sparrow.

J.J. – So this is a yellow warbler. So as part of the banding we take the age and the sex and then a bunch of morphological measurements. We can tell this one’s a male by those brown streaks on the breast and we can also tell it is an older bird. It’s been around for at least one year because of that nice yellow edging on those tiny feathers there.

[Sound of JJ blowing the bird’s feathers away from its body.]

A mourning dove is examined closely by a scientist at the Red Butte Canyon bird banding station. Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
A mourning dove is examined closely by a scientist at the Red Butte Canyon bird banding station.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Let’s say a CP of one. A CP is a cloacal protrusion, it’s what males get when they’re breeding. Sound of blowing. No brood patch. Brood patches are where birds will loose feathers on their stomachs so they can incubate eggs. Sound of blowing. No fat. Birds deposit fat in a really predictable way. They have a little cavity where their collar bone is. Sound of blowing. No body molts. Not growing any feathers on his body. Wing is sixty-two and his weight is 8.4.

If anyone is interested in helping out bird conservation just in their day to day life, if you have cats either keep them inside or buy them a cat bib or a couple of bell collars. That’s probably the number one thing you can do to help bird conservation.

Everyone – For Wild About Utah this is the Şekercioğlu lab in Red Butte Canyon!