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Official Video Release of “From the Field – A Study of the Oregon Vesper Sparrow” by Daniel Thiede

Sarah Rockwell talking about a MOTUS node.

Thank you to everyone that attended the world premiere of the short documentary “From the Field – A Study of the Oregon Vesper Sparrow” by Daniel Thiede at Vesper Meadow Restoration Preserve. We are beyond grateful to have partners like Jeanine Moy, Director of the Vesper Meadow Education Program, who provided the space for this event and continues to support our research.

At this event, we celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day by acknowledging the land on which we work as traditionally occupied and cared for by the Takelma, Shasta, Modoc, and Latgawa peoples; and heard from Jeanine about how her program is working with local tribes to recenter Tribal members at Vesper Meadow, integrate traditional knowledge into restoration practices, and provide access to their ancestral homelands, First Foods, and other resources. Attendees also heard a short talk from KBO Research Biologist Sarah Rockwell about Oregon Vesper Sparrow research, took a short walk to view the first Motus wildlife tracking station in Oregon and a satellite node, and enjoyed the video premiere.

Vesper Sparrow Stephens flipped cropped (72dpi 11x17)
Oregon Vesper Sparrow (c) Jaime Stephens

We are officially releasing the documentary for public viewing. Join Daniel and KBO on a journey to understand the ecology of the at-risk Oregon Vesper Sparrow and the causes of its decline. Daniel covers the life history of this handsome little brown bird and the field methods and new technology that KBO is employing to study its life cycle year-round. Through beautiful imagery and graphics, he tells the story of KBOs’ continuing research to understand the decline of the Oregon Vesper Sparrow, a subspecies of conservation concern unique to the Pacific Northwest, and look for solutions.

Don’t forget to check out our website and learn more about the Oregon Vesper Sparrow and KBO’s work. The Oregon Wildlife Foundation funded the Vesper Sparrow video. Our ongoing Oregon Vesper Sparrow research has been supported by the BLM’s National Conservation Lands Management Studies Support Program, Carpenter Foundation, Charlotte Martin Foundation, Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, MPG Ranch, Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund, Oregon Wildlife Foundation, Oregon Zoo’s Future for Wildlife Fund, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Coming this Field Season: Oregon Vesper Sparrow and Technology

Spring has sprung, and migratory birds are making their way back to the Klamath Siskiyou Bioregion. Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO) is preparing by dusting off field gear, mapping out survey sites, and hiring summer staff. Each staff member has their own favorite thing to look forward to this field season: starting a new project, expanding an active project, or wrapping up data collection.

Dr. Sarah Rockwell, one of KBO’s Research Biologists, is excited to be expanding the Oregon Vesper Sparrow GPS tracking project. KBO will be deploying more tags at our Lily Glen study site near Howard Prairie. Sarah will also be training partner Bob Altman with the American Bird Conservancy to expand the study and place GPS tags on Oregon Vesper Sparrows in the Willamette Valley this summer. KBO will look at the Willamette birds’ migratory routes and overwintering areas, and compare them to the data KBO has gathered from birds in the Rogue Basin.

Oregon Vesper Sparrow (c) Frank Lospalluto

This summer KBO will also continue to deploy MOTUS tags on late-stage Oregon Vesper Sparrow nestlings. In previous years, very few juveniles have returned to the same meadow where they were hatched. To investigate this, Sarah will be putting MOTUS nodes out in new meadows surrounding past sites, expanding her search for these birds.

Oregon Vesper Sparrow Nest

Sarah is wrapping up collecting resight data for the Oregon Vesper Sparrow this summer – by resighting individually color-banded birds year after year, she can analyze their annual survival. KBO has also studied the sparrows’ nest success and habitat preferences in past years. The vegetation characteristics of sites where the sparrows choose to place their nests could be used to encourage land managers to plant beneficial vegetation. Other partners are collecting parallel data in the Willamette Valley, OR, and Puget Lowlands, WA, for similar use. The Oregon Vesper Sparrow is under review to potentially be added to the federally threatened and endangered species list, and Sarah hopes these data will help contribute to a decision.

This summer Science Director Jaime Stephens is excited about the ongoing Oregon Vesper Sparrow project. “KBO has been focusing our field research on this species for nearly a decade. A challenging part of science is that it can take a long time to gather the necessary data. In the next two years, KBO expects to have results available from this project that could be very impactful. These include nest success and breeding season habitat relationships, and as that wraps up we are moving on to MOTUS and GPS tagging to study non-breeding season movements. We are finishing an exciting part and moving on to an even more exciting part of the project.”

To learn more about the Oregon Vesper Sparrow and KBO’s conservation science projects click here. “Coming this Field Season” is a blog series highlighting the different projects that KBO staff are working on this summer. Subscribe to the blog and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to be notified of the next article.

Expanding Research with Cutting-Edge Technology


Oregon Vesper Sparrow (c) Frank Lospalluto

In recent years, we have expanded the project with the deployment of archival GPS tags to track migration and overwinter locations of Oregon Vesper Sparrows that breed in the Rogue Basin. We successfully captured 10 males at our Howard Prairie study site in 2020 and placed GPS backpacks on them using a leg-loop harness. Because the GPS tags are very small, and the batteries are not powerful enough to transmit data, tagged birds need to be recaptured the following year to retrieve the stored data.

In 2021, we located and recaptured four of these GPS backpack-wearing males! Three of them had fully functioning tags with fall migration and/or wintering locations recorded, and we look forward to sharing these exciting new results soon. In 2022, we tagged 15 more birds at our Rogue Basin study site, as well as worked with partners in the Willamette Valley to tag 10 more birds there. In 2023, we recaptured 5 of these birds and are excited to analyze the novel location data on these tags! This subspecies has never been tracked year-round before, and our work will uncover critical information about the migratory routes and overwintering areas used by this imperiled subspecies. This will help answer a question essential for future conservation efforts – what challenges might these birds be facing during migration and winter? Do birds breeding in the Rogue Basin and Willamette Valley use the same migration routes and winter locations? If not, how might these conservation challenges differ for disparate breeding populations?

To read more about this effort and see photos, check out the Klamath Call Note blog at How to Track an Oregon Vesper Sparrow. Our GPS research was made possible with funding from the Carpenter Foundation, Oregon Wildlife Foundation, and Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund.

Vesper Meadow Motus Antennae (c) Klamath Bird Observatory
Vesper Meadow Motus Computer (c) Klamath Bird Observatory

The year 2020 also saw the installation of the very first Motus station in Oregon at the Vesper Meadow Restoration Preserve, supported by Montana’s MPG Ranch. The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a collaborative research network using automated radio-telemetry arrays to study the movements of small organisms. Tags are small enough to be carried by birds, bats, and even insects. Motus tags emit a radio frequency that can be detected by a nearby Motus station anywhere in the world. Our ongoing research includes tracking local Oregon Vesper Sparrow movements using Motus technology at this site, and migratory movements as the western Motus network develops. Further, our Motus station will provide location data for other research projects, recording any tagged organism that passes by on its own migratory journey. The east coast has a well-established Motus network that has led to exciting new discoveries in animal migration. We are excited to be at the forefront of developing a Motus network in the western U.S.

In 2021 – 2023, we searched for nests of this ground-dwelling bird at Vesper Meadow and placed Motus-compatible LifeTags on 35 Oregon Vesper Sparrow nestlings that were nearly ready to fledge. LifeTags are solar-powered and emit a signal every few minutes during daylight hours for the lifetime of the bird. The automated “resighting” and location estimation from this new technology will help us study habitat use, movements, and survival of young birds during the vulnerable post‐fledging period, and explore the dispersal of returning birds to nearby meadows in the following spring. We also set up an array of Motus nodes at Vesper Meadow to supplement our main Motus station there. A subset of the nodes formed a mini-grid around two of the nests with tagged nestlings, and this will serve to pilot the use of this technology to track precise fledgling locations. We collected tens of thousands of detections of our tagged fledglings from the node network over the months of June – October 2022, and we will analyze those data, plus this new data collected in 2023, this winter. A handheld telemetry antenna and Motus nodes placed in nearby meadows will allow us to more easily find any tagged birds that disperse to other meadows in the future.

In 2022, one of the fledglings tagged in 2021 passed by the Motus station, pinging off the tower three times between April 24 and May 13. This was very exciting! Because this individual did not seem to stay in this area to breed, we would never have known it was there – and that it had survived the winter – without the Motus tag. In addition to enhancing our Vesper Sparrow research, the Motus station at Vesper Meadow has detected many other birds as well, including fiveLewis’s Woodpeckers migrating from MPG Ranch lands in Montana, a Swainson’s Thrush, Western Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Plover that were tagged in British Columbia, and a Dunlin and Long-billed Dowitcher that was tagged in California’s Central Valley. So the station is assisting other researchers with their migration tracking projects as well! Our Motus station, node network, and tagging effort were made possible by MPG Ranch, USFWS, Oregon Wildlife Foundation, Oregon Conservation and Recreated Fund, and private donations.

Motus LifeTag
KBO Volunteer with CTT Handheld (c) Kevin Spencer