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Tag: Oregon Vesper Sparrow

KBO tracks the first Oregon Vesper Sparrows!

Written by Dr. Sarah Rockwell

Vesper Sparrow (c) Frank Lospalluto

The unique Oregon subspecies of Vesper Sparrow, roughly estimated at just 2,000 birds, is of conservation concern. It is currently under review for listing under the Endangered Species Act because of its small population size and declining trend. One of the biggest challenges in identifying ways to help migratory species is the fact that we don’t know where they are for most of the year. Vesper Sparrows breeding in Oregon are only here for about half the year, from mid-April to early October. Because different subspecies of Vesper Sparrow mix on the wintering grounds in California and are not visually distinguishable, until now, we only had a rough idea of where Oregon Vesper Sparrows spend the non-breeding months. This study will help answer questions essential for future conservation efforts – where are these birds going during migration and winter, and what challenges might they face there?

To address this critical knowledge gap, we expanded KBO’s ongoing Oregon Vesper Sparrow research to include using miniaturized archival GPS tags to track the migration of sparrows breeding in the Rogue Basin. In 2020, we captured 10 males via target-netting at our Lily Glen study site, color-banded them, and deployed GPS tags using a leg-loop harness attachment (for more details and photos of this process, see here ). In 2021, we located and recaptured four of these birds to retrieve tags and stored data. Three of the tags successfully recorded these individuals’ fall migration and/or wintering locations; one also contained the spring migration track!

Non-breeding season movements have never been tracked in this subspecies before, and results from these first three birds are incredibly interesting in their variation. You may have already followed the adventures of Po, Gram, and Affy in our recent series of Facebook posts, where we learned where they traveled during migration, but we will recap the highlights here and below in a video. One male (Po; in green) departed Lily Glen on Sept 19 on what appears to be a “false start” migration attempt – he spent one night about 25 km southwest of Tule Lake and then headed right back to Lily Glen – a behavior that we hadn’t recorded before, and in fact, would have been nearly impossible to observe without the GPS tag data. He left Lily Glen again on Sept 24 and sped down to his wintering grounds in just two days. This was also the only individual for whom we also captured spring migration – Po left his overwintering area on the evening of Apr 9, made two short stopovers just east of Vina, CA, and Redding, CA, and was back setting up his territory at Lily Glen by Apr 15.

Another male (Gram, in blue) left Lily Glen on Sept 19 and spent two weeks on an extended fall stopover outside of Chico, CA, before arriving at his wintering grounds in October. A third male (Affy; in pink) chose a more westerly route and had multiple short fall stopovers, including at Sutter Butte, an interesting geological formation made of eroded volcanic lava domes outside of Yuba City that provides a habitat island in the highly developed Central Valley. Unfortunately, Affy’s GPS tag stopped functioning mid-October, so we do not know his final wintering location. The two birds we have wintering locations for (Po and Gram) spent the winter near Raymond, CA, and El Rancho, CA, in what appears to be oak savannah habitat in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

This study is the first to identify precise migratory stopover sites and overwintering areas used by this imperiled subspecies, and it addresses a critical information gap for future conservation efforts. So far, it seems like the Oregon Vesper Sparrows are using grassland and oak savannah habitat in the foothills east and west of the Central Valley as a stopover and overwintering habitat and avoiding the heavily agricultural Central Valley. We retrieved additional GPS tags in 2023, and after analyzing the data, we will use this information to assess whether conservation actions are warranted at non-breeding sites.

The Bureau of Land Management, Carpenter Foundation, Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund, and Oregon Wildlife Foundation supported this GPS-tracking work.

 

Video: https://youtu.be/wKNi96ffKAY 

Cover photo: Oregon Vesper Sparrow (c) Frank Lospalluto

Nest Searching Technician and Internship Available

KBO is looking to fill two positions Nest-Searching Technician and a Nest-Searching Intern for our Oregon Vesper Sparrow demography research program. We are contributing to a range-wide study to understand the causes of decline in this imperiled subspecies. Primary duties will include nest-searching and color-band resighting in meadows of the western Cascades and occasional data entry or other tasks based.

Oregon Vesper Sparrow with color bands (c) Frank Lospalluto
Oregon Vesper Sparrow with color bands (c) Frank Lospalluto

Over the last several years, KBO field crews spent their spring mornings diligently watching Vesper Sparrows go about their business. The birds typically arrive from their wintering grounds in mid to late April and begin to settle in for the summer breeding season. We have witnessed the males defending their territories and attracting mates, watched as they paired up and the females began nest building, and observed them incubating their eggs and raising their young (for an intern’s account of his experience nest-searching, read his blog on the KBO Call Note). Field crews have located over 100 nests! Preliminary findings suggest nest success is within the expected range for a ground-nesting bird and likely not a cause for concern, although late-season hail and snow in 2021 caused the failure of many nests. Changes in spring weather patterns may exacerbate threats to this species in high-elevation meadows.

Resighting efforts have taken place annually to keep track of how many of these banded birds survive and return to the area year after year. Early findings show lower return rates for juveniles, which is not surprising because young birds are more likely to leave home and disperse to a different site for their first breeding season. After resighting efforts are completed in 2023, we will estimate the annual survivorship of adult males and females and fledglings. Join us in the endeavor to understand the Oregon Vesper Sparrow!

The full job description for Nest-Searching Technician is available here.

The full job description for Nest-Searching Internship is available here. 

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.

https://youtu.be/Vy6UMBV-qts

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.

Vesper Sparrow Video Premiere

Photo was taken at Lilly Glen of an Oregon Vesper Sparrow by Frank Lospalluto.

Join Klamath Bird Observatory and Vesper Meadow Education Program for the premiere of the short film “From the Field – A Study of the Oregon Vesper Sparrow” by Daniel Thiede. We will hear from Program Director Jeanine Moy about the restoration work and connection to the community being done at Vesper Meadow. Then Dr. Sarah Rockwell will give a brief talk about the research KBO is conducting on the Oregon Vesper Sparrow, followed by a short walk in Vesper Meadow to a Motus node. The afternoon will conclude with a showing of the film, with time afterward for discussion and questions. Come learn about this little brown bird and experience one of the beautiful places it calls home!

Refreshments and light appetizers are included. Dress for the weather as this event will take place outside at Vesper Meadow and in an open-sided barn. Wear sturdy walking shoes if you plan to join the walk.

This event is hosted at Vesper Meadow and will be from 4 pm – 6 pm on October 10th. This event is limited by the number of attendees. Register below to reserve your spot.


Klamath Bird Observatory follows CDC guidelines. KBO events are being offered with COVID-19 safety as KBO’s primary concern. Proof of vaccination will be required for all in-person participants. All individuals attending an event must also fill out the Waiver of Liability form that will be emailed to you once you register for the event. Paper copies will be available at the event. Please do not attend the event if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Masks are not required but wear based on comfortability.


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.

Educational Videos from Vesper Meadow

Oregon Vesper Sparrow (c) Frank Lospalluto

Klamath Bird Observatory has been working with Vesper Meadow to engage and educate the community on the Oregon Vesper Sparrow. Vesper Meadow is a former agricultural pasture that is being reclaimed by a community-powered restoration effort. They developed two educational videos on the work that is being done to help this imperiled species by KBO and other partners. Click here to learn more about KBO’s work on the Oregon Vesper Sparrow.

Learn how scientists are monitoring the Oregon Vesper Sparrow, an imperiled species estimated to be down to around 2,000 individuals. See how nests are found, how fledglings are monitored, and how annual survival is observed using Oregon’s first MOTUS network, currently in place at Vesper Meadow. See how the ongoing data collection and partnerships with scientists with the Klamath Bird Observatory help inform our restoration efforts to help save this species from extinction. Support for this video comes from the Oregon Birding Association.

Research to Save the Imperiled Oregon Vesper Sparrow


 

Photo (c) Vesper Meadow

Learn how native plants provide prime nesting habitat for the Oregon Vesper Sparrow, an imperiled species whose population is down to around 2,000 individuals and includes over 80 nesting pairs found so far at Vesper Meadow. See how volunteers engage in converting areas of Vesper Meadow from invasive to native plants in an attempt to provide more nesting habitat and food for this namesake species. Hear from our partners in restoration at The Understory Initiative who are helping to monitor how creek restoration efforts affect water flows and plant populations where Oregon Vesper Sparrows build nests and raise their young.

Habitat Restoration for the Imperiled Oregon Vesper Sparrow 

 

 

 

Using Motus Technology to Inform Conservation of the Oregon Vesper Sparrow

 

Handheld radio telemetry antenna detects tagged birds away from the main Motus station.

Fall 2020 saw the installation of the very first Motus station in Oregon at the Vesper Meadow Restoration Preserve in partnership with the Vesper Meadow Education Program. The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a collaborative research network using automated radio telemetry stations to study the movements of small organisms. Tags are small enough to be carried by birds, bats, and even bees. Motus tags emit a radio frequency that can be detected by a nearby Motus station anywhere in the world, and the number of stations is quickly growing.

Motus LifeTag

We are using Motus technology to enhance our ability to track movements of the at-risk Oregon Vesper Sparrow. In 2021, we searched for nests of this ground-dwelling bird at Vesper Meadow, and placed Motus- compatible LifeTags on 12 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 post‐fledging period when they are particularly vulnerable, and explore dispersal of birds returning to nearby meadows next spring. We also set up an array of 18 Motus nodes around the edge of Vesper Meadow to supplement our main Motus station there. Four 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 and habitat use. We collected tens of thousands of detections of our tagged fledglings from the node network over the months of June-October – and likely a lot of radio frequency “noise” from other stray signals – and we look forward to sorting through and analyzing those data this winter.

Adult Oregon Vesper Sparrow at the Lily Glen field site. (c) Frank Lospalluto

The Oregon Vesper Sparrow is a subspecies of conservation concern, and it has been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act due to its low population size and declining trend. We have noted low rates of fledged young returning to our field sites at Lily Glen and Vesper Meadow for their first spring as breeding adults. Motus technology will help us determine the cause – are young birds having trouble surviving the vulnerable post-fledging stage, or their risky first round-trip migration and winter? Or are they simply moving away from the meadows where they were born and choosing other nearby meadows to try raising their own young? A handheld radio telemetry antenna will allow us to more easily locate any tagged birds that disperse away from our main field sites to other nearby meadows next spring.

In addition to enhancing our Vesper Sparrow research, the Motus station at Vesper Meadow has detected two Lewis’s Woodpeckers migrating from MPG Ranch lands in Montana, one Swainson’s Thrush that was banded in interior British Columbia, and a Western Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover from coastal British Columbia – 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 the USFWS, MPG Ranch, Oregon Wildlife Foundation, and private donations.

Click here to learn more about our work with the Oregon Vesper Sparrow.

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

Vesper Sparrow Film site is now live!

We have some exciting updates to share with you all here at Klamath Bird Observatory. The Oregon Vesper Sparrow research we have been working so hard on is being turned into a short-film documentary! Local photographer and videographer Daniel Thiede has spent countless hours in the field with us this past year to help document our research efforts. We are thrilled to announce the Vesper Sparrow Film site is now live! Click on the link below to view the trailer for the film and to donate to the Oregon Vesper Sparrow research and documentary. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and need your support!

CLICK HERE to visit the Vesper Sparrow Film website.  

The Oregon Vesper Sparrow Pooecetes gramineus affinis can be found west of the Cascade Mountains. This subspecies has been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act because of its small population size and declining trend. Breeding Bird Surveys indicate a statistically significant declining population trend of ~5% per year. The 2010 estimated range-wide population size was <3,000 birds, and more recent information suggests that number is closer to 2,000 birds.

Understanding the causes of population decline is critical to informing conservation action. A group of collaborators are contributing to a three year range-wide study to assess limiting factors. The study will assess whether birds are successfully producing young, surviving the winter, and dispersing to nearby habitat to identify where within the annual life cycle conservation actions are needed.

With the Oregon Vesper Sparrow currently under a 12-month review to determine whether listing under the Endangered Species Act is warranted, it is critical to understand subspecies variation for this species. Improved understanding of variation in morphology and vocalizations of the Oregon Vesper Sparrow subspecies, compared with other Vesper Sparrow subspecies, may have major conservation implications.

KBO, along with project partners in the Puget Lowlands in Washington (Center for Natural Lands Management), as well as the Willamette Valley (American Bird Conservancy), and a graduate student from Southern Oregon University, have been in the field collecting data to help us understand what makes this subspecies unique. Next year our efforts will continue, and our work on subspecies variation will be expanded to include the Great Basin Vesper Sparrow populations P.g. confinis in eastern Oregon.

Please continue to tune in to KBO and the Vesper Sparrow Film websites to receive updates on this important work.

Field Notes and Early Findings

Oregon Vesper Sparrow with color bands (c) Frank Lospalluto
Oregon Vesper Sparrow with color bands (c) Frank Lospalluto

In 2018, Klamath Bird Observatory began in-depth monitoring of the survival, nest success, and habitat preferences of Rogue Basin birds located near Howard Prairie, east of Ashland, Oregon. This research is being replicated by partners in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the Puget Lowlands in Washington to get a picture of Oregon Vesper Sparrow population health across its entire range.

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