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Author: Caitlyn Gillespie

A Shuffling of Species

A reporter from Oregon State University’s Terra magazine is taken into the Bear Creek Watershed with Klamath Bird Observatory’s John Alexander to talk about biodiversity hotspots, climate change and partnerships. John discusses how KBO and its partners are working to create decision support tools for land managers. One example being computer models of species distribution for different temperature scenarios of the future. To learn more click here to read the full article. 

Bird Bio: Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Bird Bio: Pacific-slope FlycatcherPacific-Slope Flycatcher Photo © Jim Livaudais 2012.
By: Jenna Curtis, KBO Research and Monitoring Intern

Formerly grouped with the Cordilleran Flycatcher as “Western Flycatchers”, the Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) was recognized as a unique species in 1989. Though vocally and morphologically distinct, it is still challenging for many birders to distinguish this species from the visually similar Cordilleran. In fact, the Pacific-slope Flycatcher’s name “difficilis” refers to how difficult it is to separate this species from its more easterly cousin!

The Pacific-slope Flycatcher is a common breeder in low and midelevation forests. This species is often associated with riparian, or streamside habitats, and has been found to prefer mature and old growth forests. Its breeding range extends from southern Alaska to Baja California. In winter, the Pacific-slope Flycatcher migrates to central and western Mexico, where its territories commonly overlap with the Cordilleran Flycatcher.

As the name implies, the Pacific-slope Flycatcher’s diet consists primarily of flying insects, which it catches by “hawking” – flying up to grab insects from a central perch – or by gleaning from leaves and branches. The small size and yellow-green color of this species makes it hard to spot in shady forests. It is more often identified by the high pitched, nasally “Pst-SEET pstick seet!” song given by advertising males. The Pacific-slope Flycatcher is a Partners in Flight stewardship species and is one of the species being monitored by our long-term monitoring program within the Klamath Network National Parks. KBO monitoring data show that the Pacific-slope Flycatcher is the most commonly detected species in Redwood National and State Parks, where it is strongly associated with redwood forests. There are some indications that the Pacific-slope Flycatchers is declining in moist forests of the Pacific Northwest. Continued monitoring and collaborative efforts to conserve the moist,   late-successional forests inhabited by this bird will be needed to maintain healthy Pacific-slope Flycatcher populations.

This article appears in the Summer 2012 Newsletter.

Sources: Marshall, David B. et al, eds. Birds of Oregon: A
General Reference. Corvallis: Oregon State University
Press, 2003.; Lowther, Peter E. 2000. Pacific-slope
Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis), The Birds of North America
Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca,
NY.; Partners in Flight North American Landbird
Conservation Plan. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New

Federal Cuts Trim Aftermath Gold Ray Studies

Gold Ray Dam Photo (c) Klamath Bird Observatory

County officials are in search of new funding after the federal budget cuts caused NOAA-fisheries to pull its $275,000 grant. This money was allocated to the final two years of a five year study to monitor the effects on the Rogue River after the 2010 Gold Ray Dam removal. Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has granted the county $135,385 which will go to aspects of the study where county officials believe there is the most to learn. One of the financial changes affects the Klamath Bird Observatory’s long-term monitoring efforts of the upstream riparian habitat and its bird populations. Jaime Stephens, KBO’s research and monitoring director believes continuing that aspect of the study for several future years would add valuable information about the impact of the dam removal upstream as well as to the riparian restoration work. KBO will seek funding to continue its long-term monitoring efforts. To read this full article in the Mail Tribune click here.

Out of the Mists Come Knowledge of Little-Known Endemics

Out of the Mists Come Knowledge of Little-Known Endemics085 348 Rufous Hummingbird 7048
Costa Rica Bird Observatory (CRBO), one of Klamath Bird Observatory’s partners, was featured in the inflight magazine Nature Landings. The banding effort for the observatory started in 1994 with seven banding sites around Tortuguero, an area long considered important for migratory birds. At these stations detailed data about each bird, both neo-tropical migrants and resident birds, are collected and used to help conserve avian populations. With declining populations and migratory birds having to content with factors such as climate change in both Latin and North America, establishing partnerships across political boundaries is a big step for conservation.  Read more about the natural history around CRBO, its accomplishments and partnerships by clicking here.

Bird Bio: Hermit Warbler

By: Liz Williams, KBO Education and Outreach Project Leader

A Hermit Warbler on its wintering grounds in Guerrero, Mexico. Photo by Jim Livaudais © 2011.

During the breeding season, the Hermit Warbler (Dendroica occidentalis) can be found in coniferous forests along the west coast of Oregon, Washington, and California, in the Cascade mountains of western Oregon and Washington, and in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. This species winters in montane pine, pine-oak, and cloud forests of Mexico and Central America through Nicaragua. A small, insectivorous warbler, it has a yellow head, white underparts, and gray upperparts. Males have black throats, while females’ throats are grayish, with some black. The species is known to hybridize with Townsend’s Warblers, resulting in birds with plumage characteristics of both species.

The Hermit Warbler is a habitat specialist. During breeding it is most often found in the interior of cool, moist, mature coniferous forests, from sea level into the mountains. It is most abundant in stands over 30 years old, and is not generally found in stands under 20 years old, or in stands that have been extensively thinned. As the Hermit Warbler usually resides high in the canopy, it is more often heard than seen. The male’s variable song is multi-part, consisting of 3 or 4 buzzy notes—“zeegle zeegle zeegle”—; followed by a rising-and-falling ending phrase—“zee-o-seet.”

The Hermit Warbler is a State of the Birds western forest obligate species, meaning that it is dependent on coniferous forest habitats. It is also a Partners in Flight Watchlist Species. Partners in Flight’s Conservation Strategy for Landbirds in Coniferous Forests of Oregon and Washington identifies the Hermit Warbler as a focal species for mature, multi-layered, closed canopy forests. Through improving habitat conditions for Hermit  Warbler, it is thought that other species that depend on older coniferous forest habitats will also benefit.
Graphic for Hermit Warbler

There is concern that the Hermit Warbler may be declining due to extensive loss of mature forest habitats. The 2011 State of the Birds report indicates that National Forests support 51% of Hermit Warblers breeding in the United States. This high level of stewardship responsibility provides the U.S. Forest Service with a unique opportunity to reverse potential declines in Hermit Warblers through appropriate forest management that will, in turn, improve habitat conditions for a variety of western forest obligate species.

Protecting and restoring the Hermit Warblers’ habitat throughout its breeding range will require collaborations among non-governmental organizations like KBO, the Forest Service, and other public and private forest mangers in Oregon, Washington, and California. Broader collaborations among international partners will also be necessary to ensure connectivity between Hermit
Warblers’ breeding, migratory, and wintering habitats.

This article appears in KBO’s Fall 2011 Newsletter.


Conscious Wine and its Connections to Birds

Check out this fun video with Jeff Weissler of Conscious Wine and John Alexander of the Klamath Bird Observatory. They discuss the missions of both KBO and Conscious Wine, as well as the benefits that arise when wine makers choose to make environmentally conscious decisions. Plus, don’t forget about the Wings and Wine Gala fundraiser on September 17th at Historic Hanley Farm.

Bird Bio: Swainson’s Thrush

Bird Bio: Swainson’s ThrushSwainson's Thrush Picture
By: Robert Frey, KBO Biologist and Banding Project Leader

One of the most commonly heard, although seldom seen, birds of its range is the sedately plumed and melodic songster Swainson’s Thrush. It was named for William John Swainson, a much-accomplished English (and later in life a New Zealander) ornithologist, malacologist, entomologist, and artist. Mr. Swainson has had nine bird species named for him (Swainson’s Francolin, Hawk, Toucan, Fire-eye, Antcatcher, Flycatcher, Thrush, Warbler, and Sparrow).

The western-breeding Catharus ustulatus ustulatus group has a more russet color tone to its upperparts plumage. The boreal- and eastern-breeding C. u. swainsoni group is more brownish-olive. All have pale buffy “spectacles” and sing a wonderful ascending-note, flute-like song.

Swainson’s Thrushes nest across the boreal regions of North America, throughout much of the intermountain west, and along the Pacific Northwest coast.

They are associated with deciduous woodlands and riparian habitats in our region, specifically with a dense shrub layer; a habitat affinity shared by the Wrentit. They are also common in mixed conifer/deciduous forests. Western populations winter in Mexico, while boreal and eastern populations winter southward to Amazonia and further into Argentina’s southern lowlands – some traveler!

Although this species is numerous, with an estimated population of 100,000,000, there is evidence of Pacific Northwest populations declining since 1966. There is also evidence that the Swainson’s Thrush is particularly vulnerable to building strike mortalities, especially during migration.

Interestingly, the root word of Mr. Swainson’s family name, swain, is an Old English term for a male lover or admirer, or a country boy. We can’t say that this suits William John very well, but it may just be a wonderful occurrence of word evolutionary convergence for the sweet-singing son of
swain thrush!

This article can be seen in the Summer 2011 Newsletter.

Sources: Altman, B. 2000. Conservation strategy for landbirds in lowlands and valleys of western Oregon and Washington. PIF; Gruson, E. S. 1972. Words for birds: A lexicon of North American birds with biographical notes. Quadrangle Books, Inc., New York, New York; Marshall et al, eds. 2003. Birds of Oregon: A general reference. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon; Rich et al. 2004. Partners in Flight North American Landbird Conservation Plan. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.

Animal Nature: A week for great blue herons

Animal Nature: A week for great blue herons, sea lions, bald eagles and liger

028 19 Great Blue Heron 1907

The great blue heron is North America’s largest and most widespread heron, it has also been Portland Oregon’s city bird since 1986.

Every year in Portland heron enthusiasts gather the first week in June for Great Blue Heron Week. Ross Island was known for one long standing heronry, a nest site for herons, which held about 55 nests in adjacent trees. A few years ago a pair of bald eagles moved in, after heron chicks were being taken from the nests the herons moved on to a different location. Other heronries are thriving, holding up to 100 nests. The Klamath Bird Observatory is involved in surveying heronries throughout Oregon to determine the number of breeding adults. To read the full article on Oregon Live click here. 

Bird Bio: Golden-crowned Sparrow

By Bob Frey, KBO Biologist and Banding Project LeaderThe Golden-crowned Sparrow is known for its distinctive golden crown stripe. Photo by Jim Livaudais © 2011.

Remember Flower Power – a slogan used as a symbol of passive resistance and non-violent ideology in the 1960s? The Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) is a big believer— flowers are very nearly all it eats! Studies have found that plant material makes up 95% to 97% of this songbird’s natural diet, with flowers comprising up to 50% of this.

This large sparrow of the north country nests exclusively in Alaska and western
Canada, on the ground in habitats above the treeline. It is found in western California, Oregon, and Washington only during the winter, spring, and fall seasons. The Golden-crowned Sparrow is a common feeder bird, though preferring to forage on the ground, often flocking with other sparrows. Dark-streaked brown upperparts, light-brownish underparts, a long tail, and a distinctive yellow (golden) crown distinguish it from others in the lowland brush or field edges it frequents. The yellow crown is bordered with dark stripes and is most bright in mature individuals.

The scientific genus name Zonotrichia is Greek for “bird with bands,” an allusion to the crown stripes – from zone for band (or stripe), and trichias for small bird. The species name atricapilla is Latin for “black hairs”, coined from ater or atri for black and capillus for hair, referring to the black bordered crown.

Although there is some evidence of this species increasing in number, there is concern that not enough is known, and that monitoring is insufficient in its northern range—an important challenge for researchers and land managers. The data that KBO collects from Golden-crowned Sparrows captured in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion during the migration and winter seasons contribute greatly to our understanding of this species’ conservation status in North America.

Sources: Marshall et al., eds. 2003. Birds of Oregon: A general reference. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon; Gruson 1972. Words for birds: A lexicon of North American birds with biographical notes. Quadrangle Books, Inc., New York, New York; Martin et al. 1951. American wildlife and plants: A guide to wildlife food habits. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, New York; Rich et al. 2004.
Partners in Flight North American Landbird Conservation Plan. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.

This article appears in KBO’s Spring 2011 Newsletter. 

Wings Across the Americas

Yellow Warbler (c) Jim Livaudais

Klamath Bird Observatory’s executive director John Alexander has recently been awarded for his years of effort in conservation through international partnerships. The U.S forest service awarded him the Wings Across the Americas award, recognizing the partnership between KBO, Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad in Costa Rica and Dr. C.J Ralph of the U.S Forest Service in Arcata, CA. Through their efforts many Latin American biologists have been brought to the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion for an extensive six month bird banding training. The trained biologists are then able to use these skills back home to help expand the network of scientists throughout the Americas. Data collected through this partnership will help computer modeling tools show projections of how birds will likely react to changes in climate, the environment and land use in the future.  The goal is for these tools to help public land agencies make decisions about land use practices. Many of the species seen here in the spring and summer are migratory, therefore conserving habitat in Latin America not only benefits the endemic birds found there, but also the migrants we commonly see here. To read the full article and learn more about what Klamath Bird Observatory and its partners are doing, click here.