Tag: geolocators

Volunteers from Humboldt State University help KBO recapture Yellow-breasted Chats returning from Mexico with valuable data

Introduction by Sarah Rockwell:
We described the start of the Yellow-breasted Chat geolocator project in a previous blog post (CLICK HERE TO VIEW). Geolocators are lightweight devices designed to track a birds’ whereabouts by recording daily light levels. These novel data can then be used to determine migratory routes and wintering grounds—we need to know where birds go when they leave their breeding grounds before we can understand potential conservation needs during migration and winter. Since then, we have recruited a Ph.D. student, Kristen Mancuso, who is supervised by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Environment and Climate Change Canada. KBO’s Executive Director, John Alexander, is an advisor on her committee. She is studying chats in British Columbia, northern California, and Mexico—throughout the range of the western subspecies. Here is a project volunteer’s account from last year’s field season!

By Kelly Commons, HSU Master’s student

On my first day with the Yellow-breasted Chat project, I woke up to a dark, early morning with more than a bit of chill to the air. Since it was my first day, I would have the help of veteran chat-catching volunteer Kachina Rowland and the project leader Kristen Mancuso. We were on the hunt (to catch and release!) chats that wore color bands on their legs which meant they also wore a geolocator device we needed to remove for its record of where they had been since last year.

We had made our way to a site the team had been to several times before (unsuccessfully) to catch the notorious Dark Blue-White-Dark Blue-metal (DWDX for short). As the sun rose high over the hills and the day turned long, Mr. DWDX had managed to evade our nets. In fact his constant chattering song seemed to mock our best efforts. Disappointed but still game, we tried elsewhere looking for color-banded chats in riparian forest overgrown with blackberries that chats seem to love. Chats make a confusing variety of grunts, chatters, and whistles, so we had to keep a sharp ear out for any of their more subtle call notes. We found several singing males, but none of them were color banded. The day ended warm and sunny but with just three more days left to find our chats!

The next morning we trudged through streams, rocky hills, and blackberry bushes and while we found several chats, none of them were banded. About to give up, we finally heard one last male singing in the distance and scouted his territory before calling it a day. We split up to opposite sides of this chat’s bramble. I caught glimpses of him flying back and forth across an opening in the trees, but I couldn’t see his legs well enough to tell if he had any color bands. I was moving to a better location when Kristen spotted him—and his bands! This male had a geolocator and we were determined to catch him the next day. A successful day deserves a reward and after we got back to camp we treated ourselves to s’mores around the campfire.

On the next to last day in the field, we trudged over and through yesterday’s streams, rocky hills, and blackberry bushes to set up nets for our newly found bird. We set up wooden decoy males by the nets even though the other birds the team had tried to catch weren’t falling for this trick. However, within minutes of playing a recorded male song at the decoy, our male flew in the net! Gotcha! We removed his geolocator, took measurements, feather samples, and snapped a few pictures before setting him on his merry way. We even had enough time left in the morning to try for old DWDX again! Nets and decoys were deployed for him but we weren’t able to repeat our morning’s luck. A lovely female Black-headed Grosbeak in the net did brighten my mood before we headed back to camp.

The last morning was full of promise as we attempted to catch DWDX one more time. We set up nets in a different location, but still weren’t able to convince him to come into our nets. We did, however, catch his previously unbanded neighbor and outfitted him with some spiffy new bands before we let him go. As the day wore on, we became less and less hopeful. However, a feisty Red-breasted Sapsucker caught in the net was just the pick-me-up we needed to end the day on a good note. We may not have caught our nemesis, but we left with smiles on our faces. Now Kristen moves on to British Columbia to catch returning chats there, as Kachina and I return to regular life, with a bit more knowledge and experience under our belts.

Editor’s note: The 2017 Yellow-breasted Chat banding team, comprised of PhD student Kristen Mancuso, KBO Research Biologist Sarah Rockwell, and Humboldt State University volunteers Kachina Rowland and Kelly Commons, recaptured three males with geolocators this season, nearly doubling the sample size from the Trinity River region. We even recovered one from a male who had dutifully carried his geolocator backpack since 2014!

PhD position, Migration and Wintering Ecology of Riparian Birds

Yellow-breasted Chat with a new geolocator (c) KBO 2015
Co-supervisors: Dr. Karen Hodges, University of British Columbia Okanagan, and Dr. Christine Bishop, Environment Canada.

Collaborators: Dr. Keith Hobson, Environment Canada, Klamath Bird Observatory, San Pancho Bird Observatory, Tierra de Aves A.C., MX

Many riparian birds in Canada occur at the northern edge of their range. There is little understanding of the overwintering locations, return rates, and survivorship of these birds relative to those in the core of their range. This research will primarily examine the range-wide patterns in overwintering locations and the factors that influence migration trends in riparian birds that nest in the dry interior of British Columbia (BC) and in Northern California.

This PhD position is designed as a comparative study of populations of two focal species, Gray Catbird, and Yellow-breasted Chat (endangered in BC). The student will use geolocator data, stable isotopes, corticosterone, and mercury analyses in collaboration with Mexican partners to identify overwintering locations, travel corridors, and stressors affecting these populations.

Preferred Qualifications: We are seeking a student with an MSc in ecology, biology, conservation, or related disciplines. We will look favorably on research experience with birds, including practical skills in bird banding and handling and identification. The successful applicant will have strong grades, likely with peer-reviewed journal publications, and GIS and statistical skills. We expect the successful applicant will also apply for graduate fellowships.

We ask all interested applicants to submit a cover letter, informal transcripts, and a CV to Dr. Hodges for initial screening (for full consideration, submit materials before December 15). Highly qualified candidates will be encouraged to apply formally to UBC Okanagan’s Biology Graduate Program for September 2016 admission; we strongly hope the student will be able to begin fieldwork in May 2016.

For questions about the position please contact:

Dr. Karen Hodges, karen.hodges@ubc.ca

For information about the Biology Graduate Program at UBC Okanagan:


Geolocators used to link breeding and wintering populations of Prothonotary Warblers


November 13, 2015

Contact: Jared Wolfe jdw@klamathbird.org

Prothonotary Warbler (c) Jim Livaudais 2015

ARCATA, Calif. — Prothonotary Warblers are stunningly beautiful and highly migratory birds closely tied to their preferred breeding habitat: swamps and other forested wetlands in the eastern United States. Scientists have noted that Prothonotary Warbler populations have experienced precipitous declines in recent years, prompting new research investigating the little known migratory behavior of this remarkable bird. As part of this effort, researchers from the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, Klamath Bird Observatory, Louisiana Bird Observatory, and Audubon Louisiana attached several geolocators—ultra-lightweight devices that record the time of sunrise and sunset each day—using a back-pack harness on several Prothonotary Warblers to identify their migratory routes and core wintering areas. The information collected by each geolocator was used to estimate the daily longitude and latitude of the bird.

“As part of this study, we deployed three geolocators on Prothonotary Warblers in Louisiana,” says Jared Wolfe, lead author and postdoctoral researcher with the Pacific Southwest Research Station and Klamath Bird Observatory. “After the breeding season, at least one individual completed its fall migration, over-wintered and made its way back to Louisiana where the bird was recaptured and the geolocator was retrieved.”

Data from the geolocator suggest that this bird traveled at least 5,000 miles through seven countries.

Researchers found that this Prothonatory Warbler’s migration pattern included an initial flight over the Gulf of Mexico from Louisiana into Central America, then east to the Greater Antilles for about one month, followed by a flight over the Caribbean Sea south to northwest Columbia where it remained for the duration of the winter. These findings contribute to a growing body of evidence that many migratory birds often use two or more wintering locations, or exhibit prolonged stopover behavior.

“Our results are the first to document movements of Prothonotary Warblers during their migratory and over-wintering periods,” says Erik Johnson, co-author of the study and director of bird conservation at Audubon Louisiana. “Based on the success of this study, we formed a coalition that includes researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and Audubon South Carolina where we deployed an additional 47 geolocators on Prothonotary Warblers in 2014.”

By increasing the breadth of the study, the team of scientists hopes to better understand the migratory and over-wintering behavior of Prothonotary Warblers to identify core areas of habitat that may require additional protection for the species. This study also demonstrates that geolocators can be safely used to document migratory connectivity of species of conservation concern.

The findings of this study were published in the September 2015 issue of the Journal of Field Ornithology. To read or download the publication, go to http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/49289.

Click here for a PDF of this press release.

Click here for press packet with a PDF and a high resolution image.


Klamath Bird Observatory, based in Ashland, Oregon, is a scientific non-profit organization that achieves bird conservation in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the migratory ranges of the birds of our region. Headquartered in Albany, California., the Pacific Southwest Research Station develops and communicates science needed to sustain forest ecosystems and other benefits to society. It has research facilities in California, Hawaii and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands.
This news release adapted from US Forest Service June 10, 2015 Press Release.


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