Christmas Bird Count 2019

Christmas Bird Count: Mourning Dove Pair Courtesy Pixabay www.pixabay.com
Mourning Dove Pair
Courtesy Pixabay
www.pixabay.com
On December 14th, I will join several others for an exciting day of counting bird species and numbers in our lovely, snowy valley. The numbers will be entered on a database that will be shared globally.

Count Data:
The data collected by observers over the past 120 years has allowed researchers to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space. This long term perspective is vital for conservationists. It informs strategists to better protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues, with implications for people as well.

The count has special significance for our changing climate’s impact on birds which is disrupting populations and their spacial distribution that are changing at an accelerating rate.

The report:
Audubon’s 2014 Climate Change Report is a comprehensive, first-of-its kind study that predicts how climate change could affect the ranges of 588 North American birds. Of the bird species studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. The models indicate that 314 species will lose more than half of their current range by 2080. Adding to this, a recent study by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology reported a 29 percent decline in North American bird populations since 1970.

142 species of concern are found in Utah including our state bird, the California gull and our national symbol, the bald eagle. Averaging the most recent 10 years, Cache valley has seen 16 species increase and 11 species decline. Of course we would need a much broader sweep to know the true story of these species, but our data may play a significant part in the overall analysis.

Audubon’s Climate Initiative, encourages its members to take steps to address the climate change threat in their backyards and communities. Visit their website at audubon.org for how to take action.

Many Citizen Science programs exist for families to participate in- https://www.birds.cornell.edu that have generated reams of data over many years showing the species diversity and abundance of birds in North America and globally. Our valley Christmas Bird Count occurs next Saturday, December 14th. Contact bridgerlandaudubon.org for details. Always a good time gathering important data!

And please, keep those bird feeders full as we enter the coldest month of the year!

This is Jack Greene for Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/service/license/
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Sat, Dec 14, 2019 Logan, Utah Christmas Bird Count, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/save-the-date-sat-dec-14th/

Bridgerland Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count Page, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/cache-valley-christmas-bird-count/

Utahbirds.org, 2019 Christmas Bird Count Schedule, (Local) http://utahbirds.org/cbc/cbc.html

National Audubon, Christmas Bird Count, https://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count

Greene, Jack, Cache Valley Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and Climate Change, Wild About Utah, December 11, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/cache-valley-christmas-bird-count-cbc-climate-change/

Kervin, Linda, The Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 16, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/the-christmas-bird-count/

Cane, James, Kervin, Linda, The Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 9, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/christmas-bird-count/

Liberatore, Andrea, Ruffed Grouse and the Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 8, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/ruffed-grouse-christmas-bird-count/

Greene, Jack, Climate Change and the Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 12, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/climate-change-and-the-christmast-bird-count/

The Ecology in and around the Logan River

Belted Kingfisher Ceryl alcyon Courtesy US FWS, C Schlawe, Photographer
Belted Kingfisher
Ceryl alcyon
Courtesy US FWS,
C Schlawe, Photographer
Logan River ecology is about connections between highlands and lowlands, water and land, life in and around the river and resources that support that life.

The river begins in southeastern Idaho and runs 53.5 miles to its confluence with the Cutler Reservoir in Utah’s Cache Valley. The river transitions from mountain riparian, characterized by low growing willows and coniferous trees, to the valley’s lowland riparian where it’s dominated by a variety of shrubs, cottonwoods, and willow trees. Both wildlife and plants change along this elevational gradient giving the Logan River greater ecological diversity than might be found over hundreds of miles of a flatland river.

Rivers move water. They also transport sediments and nutrients that drop out of the water wherever the current slows, for example on floodplains during spring floods. This is why floodplains, or riparian zones, have such productive soils.

The rich soils and water available on the floodplain support a wide diversity of plants. These plants in turn provide underlying layers for insects, nesting sites for birds, and water-cooling shade that harbors the heat sensitive cutthroat trout. Plants also drop their leaves into the river providing food and nutrients to aquatic insects.

One insect found in the Logan River is the mayfly, a graceful macroinvertebrate with unique upright wings and a delicate silhouette. The female adult drops her eggs on the river’s surface which then fall to the river’s bottom. The nymphs hatch within a few days or weeks. They spend the next year moving along the river’s bottom hiding among vegetation, rocks, and fallen leaves. After a year, nymphs swim to the surface and molt into duns which fly to nearby riparian vegetation. After a couple hours duns shed their skins and become brightly colored adult mayflies called spinners.

Male spinners form a swarm over the water to attract females who fly into the swarm. Pairs mate in flight; after mating the female flies down to the river to deposit her eggs, and dies shortly thereafter.

A large number of mayflies do not complete their life cycle as they are eaten by fish, spiders, bats and birds.

Bonneville cutthroat trout, Utah’s state fish, subsist largely on aquatic insects including mayflies. Feared to be extinct in the 1970s, biologists searched the state for Bonneville cutthroat trout and when a population was found in the Logan River, wildlife managers and USU scientists teamed together to ensure the cutthroat population became and remained robust.

American Dipper Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
American Dipper
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer
Hundreds of bird species eat aquatic insects; one bird, however, specializes in eating aquatic insects under water. The American Dipper, walks on the bottom of Logan River using its wings like a submarine’s diving planes to keep it from bobbing to the surface. Walking along the river bed, the dipper turns over small rocks and sunken sticks to uncover and eat insect nymphs.

Other riparian birds, like the belted kingfisher, are fish-eaters. This handsome, crested, steel blue bird can be seen perched in the trees next to the Logan River eying fish beneath the surface. At times, kingfishers will hover directly above the water announcing their presence with a loud, rattling call. At the right time, the kingfisher dives headlong into the river using its long, sharp beak like a tweezers to catch small fish.

Rivers, like the Logan, and their riparian zones, support some of the richest biological diversity in the West. They are forceful and ever-changing, but provide all that life needs to survive and thrive in a compact area. These are dynamic ribbons of green and blue that connect land to water, plants to animals, and humans to nature.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright ©
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Co-Authored by:

Sources & Additional Reading

Geologic Map of the Logan 7.5′ Quadrangle, Cache County, Utah, Utah Geological Survey, 1996, https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/misc_pubs/mp-96-1.pdf

Williams, Stewart J. Lake Bonneville: Geology of Southern Cache Valley, Utah, Geological Survey Professional Paper 257-C, US Department of the Interior, 1962, https://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/0257c/report.pdf

Biek, Bob; Willis, Grant; Ehler, Buck; Utah’s Glacial Geology, Utah Geological Survey, September 2010, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/utahs-glacial-geology/

Christmas Trees

Christmas Trees Planted Outside Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Christmas Trees Planted Outside
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
With the loss of millions of trees recently, due to fires and drought, it’s good to be reminded of the many, many benefits that trees provide to people…as well as the planet. Remember that they clean the air of impurities, produce oxygen, raise property values, provide homes for wildlife, prevent soil erosion, clean rainfall as it percolates down to groundwater, produce shade in hot summer months, provide building materials, produce food, and this list could go on. The point is that most everyone will agree that trees are a real plus factor for Earth and its inhabitants.

And, not meaning to bring up a point of controversy, some people are starting to wonder about the connection of trees to the Christmas Season.

Christmas trees started as a pagan ritual in many countries where people believed that evergreens would keep away witches, evil spirits, ghosts, and sickness. But Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition, as we now know it, in the 16th century. Even in the 19th Century most Americans felt that the indoor tree was still a pagan symbol.

Eventually, the tradition was accepted in England and East Coast America when popular Queen Victoria, and her German Prince Albert, were shown standing around a Christmas tree. Soon, trees from floor to ceiling were hauled into homes and decorated with fruits, nuts, popcorn, and homemade ornaments.

Big Box Store Trees Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern Photographer
Big Box Store Trees
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern Photographer
There are current pros and cons to this tradition and it’s now being viewed by many as something to be reconsidered. If our current tradition is maintained, and as human population continues to grow, more and more trees will be harvested, whether it’s from U.S. Forest land, or Tree Farms. Consider these numbers: It takes about 6 to 8 years for a tree to mature. More than one-million acres of land are planted for Christmas tree harvests, and around 36 million trees are cut and sold by Christmas tree farms each year.

Big Box Store Live Trees Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Big Box Store Live Trees
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
So, now as we consider the historic losses of trees, and their numerous benefits, many people have dropped the Christmas tree tradition feeling that having a cut-tree in their home for a week or two is wasteful even if it is eventually chipped and recycled. Some have opted for artificial trees, but that brings up issues about plastics.

The best option more people are trying is buying a smaller, live, potted tree that can be planted outdoors. But that can be tricky. Keep the tree indoors for only a few days, then place it outside in its pot, insulate it with mulch, and water it if the soil dries out. Or perhaps there is space near a window inside your garage. Then plant it in late March or early April to enjoy and contribute to the many benefits of trees that were mentioned at the start of this program. Whatever your choice, have a Merry Christmas.

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Lead Audio: Courtesy and Copyright
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Hellstern, Ron, The Hidden Life of Trees, Wild About Utah, August 26, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-hidden-life-of-trees/

Wohlleben, Peter, The Hidden Life of Trees, Jane Billinghurst, Translator, Greystone Books Ltd., 2016, https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Life-Trees-Illustrated/dp/177164348X

Kuhns, Michael, Utah Grown Christmas Trees, Extension Utah State University, Extension Forestry Specialist, November 4, 2015, https://forestry.usu.edu/forest-products/utah-grown-trees

Sagers, Larry, Using A Living Christmas Tree To Decorate Your Home, KSL, December 3, 2011, https://www.ksl.com/article/18337807/using-a-living-christmas-tree-to-decorate-your-home

Winter Songs

Winter Songs: American Dipper Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
American Dipper
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer
Most of our songbirds have taken their songs and headed south. Even robins and meadowlarks have ceased their lovely melodies that carried well into the fall months. But there are a few noteworthy choristers that have remained- Townsend solitaires and N. American dippers. Not only do they sing beautifully (anthropocizing here) but they vocalize for different reasons than most. The breeding/nesting season has long since passed, which is the primary reason birds sing- attracting a mate and defending their breeding territory from other males.

So one might ask why sing? Both of the species mentioned are defending their feeding, not breeding territory. Townsends switch from insects to berries during the winter months, including juniper berries (actually cones) which they have a special penchant for. I’ve witnessed many instances of them doing battle while defending their tree from intruders. They often perch on the highest branch daring others of their kind to pick a berry. Females defend as well.

In my cozy little canyon they begin migrating down from their high mountain nesting territory in October filled with song, which is supposedly different from that used during courtship. Townsends keep good company as members of the thrush family which include bluebirds, robins, and various other thrush species- all known for their enchanting refrains. A flock of thrushes is known as a hermitage, interesting considering there is one named hermit thrush, quite common in our mountains.

Winter songs: American Robin Turdus migratorius Courtesy US FWS Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer
American Robin
Turdus migratorius
Courtesy US FWS
Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer
Robins, also berry eaters, are welcome guests, and often share the same tree with the solitaires. Considerably larger than their cousins, they feed unmolested.

The dipper sings its river song as it flits along streams. The varied notes are complicated and loud, possibly to compete with the rushing waters where it resides, including water falls. They will lay claim to a stretch of stream and like the solitaire, daring another of its kind to trespass. I’ve witnessed this amazing songster singing full tilt during white-out blizzards, challenging the storms intensity with its brazen refrains. “The dippers song is strong and sweet, made up of a great variety of trills and flute-like passages, delivered with great spirit and brilliance.”

I’ve not attempted to measure the length of its feeding domain, but assume it varies depending on food abundance. This little “penguin of the Rockies” as I call it, will dive underwater using its wings to stroke along the stream bottom while capturing its prey, which may include small fish. Constant preening with oil from near the base of its tail keeps it dry, and high density feathers provide excellent insulation. The cold waters must bring relief from comparatively frigid winter air.

I once observed a most unusual mating behavior when a pair of lovers suddenly spiraled up well over a hundred vertical feet from the stream, where they are otherwise tethered. Is this usual during courtship? I’ve only seen in on one occasion. Nature is full of mysteries and shock factor. Never say never! The Audubon Climate/bird reports Solitaires lose 92% of their summer range and an 88% loss for dippers by 2080, and their songs as well. This means more miles on my bike and less in my car.

This is Jack Greene- most fortunate to be part of this Wild Utah!

Credits:

Images: American Dipper, Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
Images: American Robin, Courtesy US FWS, Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Bengston, Anna, Robins in Winter, Wild About Utah, March 13, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/robins-in-winter/

Cane, James, Winter Song Birds, Wild About Utah, Feb 3, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/winter-song-birds/

Porter, Diane, Learning Bird Songs in Winter, 2009, http://www.birdwatching.com/tips/earwatching_winter.html