Ferruginous Hawk Telemetry 2015

Justine Kummer and I spent a few days down south near Pincher Creek, AB, with Bayne-lab graduate student, Jesse Watson, to catch his study species, ferruginous hawks (FEHA). Hawk work is VERY different from deploying automated recording units (ARUs) in boreal Alberta, which I am quite familiar with for my own study focused on bioacoustics. I’ve heard the Raptor Ecology and Conservation Team (REACT) has spent so much time driving throughout southern Alberta and Saskatchewan searching for and monitoring FEHA nests that they could have actually traveled to the moon and back (and then some)… I now understand how this could be the case.

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Feist, the great-horned owl that we use to provoke the hawks into the nets set up around her. The FEHA saw her as a threat and would dive at her, getting caught in the nets. (Photo: Natasha Annich)

For the most part, FEHA work consists of driving all over the prairies monitoring various hawk nests. Along with watching these birds from afar, FEHA researchers also peep into the nests to count and monitor the chicks, something that Justine and I got to experience as well. Jesse’s project on FEHA deals with tracking the movements of this species during the breeding season. This season he was interested in attaching transmitters on individuals nesting on transmission towers in the western edge of the study area (Fort Macleod region).

In order to get location data for the FEHA, Jesse attaches solar-powered GPS transmitters to the back of the male FEHA he catches. Males are selectively chosen, as they will explore the entirety of the home range of each breeding pair of FEHA to search for food to bring home to his female partner and chicks. Additionally, the male is responsible for defending his territory. The female will move a bit throughout this area, but most of her time is spent in the nest with the young, making her a less ideal candidate to track.

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Jesse Watson getting ready to remove the hood from the male FEHA that I was holding. (Photo: Justine Kummer)

On our third day of FEHA work, Justine and I got to experience the thrill of interacting with these birds. We managed to catch both the female and male of a breeding pair that were nesting on a transmission tower! It isn’t everyday that both of the adults get caught, so everybody was quite excited. We took measurements and weights from both birds and then released the female while Jesse worked quickly to stitch together the strands of the GPS transmitter backpack that was now sitting on the back of the male. Once the transmitter was secured, I got to release the male, and he headed straight back to his home on the transmission tower. It was an incredible experience, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to learn about the cool work going on in my own lab!

Now I am heading back to the boreal for more ARU deployments and to search for some broad-winged hawk (BWHA) nests for Jesse to trap at next. As an experiment, all of the boreal researchers should wear step-counters to see how close we’re getting to the moon with all of our walking!

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Getting ready to release the male FEHA with the solar-powered GPS transmitter on his back. (Photo: Justine Kummer)

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Releasing the male FEHA. (Photo: Justine Kummer)

Post by Natasha Annich

Grizzly Bear Research Field Update

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We began our 2015 field season in the Southern Rockies grizzly bear population unit of British Columbia.  We “opened” up all the hair traps, which consisted of clearing all old bear hair off of the barbed wire to ready the tree for subsequent collections.  Our main goal with this work is to monitor trends in grizzly bear demography using DNA-based mark-recapture techniques.  This project has been ongoing since 2006.
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Hair trap for collecting grizzly bear hair.

I also recently took part in capturing and collaring a female grizzly bear in the West Kootenays of BC.  We fit this female with a collar that we will use to track her movements, survival and help us to locate her when we are checking for annual reproduction (cubs).
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A grizzly bear collar.

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Grizzly bear with a collar.

This week I will find myself on the fringe of the Okanagan and the Kootenay regions where I will be leading an intensive DNA-based mark-recapture inventory of grizzly bears on the Granby and Kettle rivers.
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Post and photos by Clayton Lamb.

A Successful Day for the Ferruginous Hawk Crew

IMG_20150611_073336Jesse Watson is out catching Ferruginous Hawks for his research – he is studying the effects of industrial development on hawk movements. Today was a productive and exciting day – he caught a male and female Ferruginous hawk! It is rare to capture to both members of a breeding pair, so this is a particularly exciting catch. Both were banded, and the male was fitted with a GPS transmitter before being released. Check out Jesse’s research page for more information about his project.

Influence of anthropogenic development on Burrowing Owl habitat selection and fitness

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Corey holding a burrowing owl, photo by Kent Russell.

Bayne lab member Corey Scobie is defending his thesis on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 at 9am at the University of Alberta in Biological Sciences Building CW313. Come check out his public seminar: “influence of anthropogenic development on Burrowing Owl habitat selection and fitness.”

Anthropogenic development may influence the choices animals make and their resulting fitness. I examined habitat selection of Burrowing Owls at several scales and their resulting breeding season fitness. First, I identified the types of landscapes features Burrowing Owls prefer to have around their nest and examined the relationship between these preferred features and fitness. They prefer to nest in landscapes with more annual crop and more road surfaces; features that had an unexpected positive influence on fledging rate. Second, I tracked adult male Burrowing Owls with GPS dataloggers and examined owl space-use during the day and night. During the day, Burrowing Owls spent more time near fences and posts, but avoided roads with high traffic speeds. At night, human infrastructure influenced where owls spent time more than artificial sound and light. However, owl selection of landscape features at night did not predict reproductive success. Instead, I found owls that spent more time near the nest burrow at night had the greatest nest survival and fledging rates. Burrowing Owls are a generalist species that is able to breed successfully in developed landscapes.

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Burrowing owl on a fence post, photo by Janet Ng.

MSc opportunity: Density estimation of lynx during a snowshoe hare peak and decline

We are seeking a motivated student interested in using camera trapping to estimate the abundance of lynx in our study area in the southwestern Yukon. We have been studying snowshoe hares and lynx at Kluane Lake for almost 40 years. During much of that time we have obtained a relative abundance estimate of lynx via winter snow track transects. We are now poised to deploy camera arrays to estimate actual lynx density changes during a hare peak and decline. We have good estimates of snowshoe hares and numbers suggest they will peak in 2015-16. The successful candidate will be part of an energetic team (5 professors and 7 graduate students) studying the lynx-hare cycle. The project will involve extensive fieldwork during autumn and winter meaning that scholarship (NSERC or equivalent) support will be necessary. The successful applicant would enroll at the University of Alberta, Department of Biological Sciences.

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If you enjoy fieldwork and want to experience one of the most beautiful places in Canada during an exciting time in the hare-lynx cycle, this thesis opportunity is for you. Work could begin as early as September 2015.
Applicants should provide a CV plus a copy of their transcripts via email to Stan Boutin (sboutin@ualberta.ca). The competition will remain open until a suitable candidate is found.