The Broad-Winged Hawk Quest

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An adult male broad-winged hawk waits to be released following transmitter attachment. Photo by Jesse Watson

This summer, Erin Bayne’s lab at the University of Alberta in Edmonton assisted in the capture and deployment of various tracking devices on the broad-winged hawk and 4 other boreal bird species including; rusty blackbird, olive-sided flycatcher, palm warbler, and common nighthawk. This study is part of a collaboration with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, in Washington D.C., as part of their Migratory Connectivity Project. Little is known about the paths these birds use on their migration but we can add to our knowledge by using emerging GPS technologies that led to development of transmitters which have, in the past, been too heavy to attach to birds!

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An active broad-winged hawk nest. Photo by Frank Pouw

The broad-winged hawk is the only raptor of the 5 nesting species of interest in Northern Alberta. One might think because they are much larger than songbirds that finding them would be easier. However, this was not the case. Lab colleagues observed several birds incidentally, however, the broad-wings demonstrated how elusive they could be. It took several days of surveying to pin down an active nest at which to trap. At a second site with territorial adults we were unable to locate the nest after intensive surveys! Coincidentally, these two sites happened to be only a few kilometers apart.

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The broad-winged hawk trapping crew – Jesse, Walter, and Frank. Photo by Natasha Annich

After finding the two pairs of nesting hawks we monitored them for several weeks to insure they were still actively nesting. During the first week of July it was time to begin trapping so our crew of three headed to the forest. To capture the nesting adults we lured them in with a live great-horned owl (affectionately named Walter).

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Walter prepares to catch a broad-winged hawk. Photo by Anjolene Hunt

An owl lure is effective because the adult hawks are uneasy with the presence of an owl near the nest site and swoop down to try and scare the owl away. We set up dho-gazas (a netting made of thin material that is difficult to see) around Walter and he did his best to lure the hawks right into the net.

It took Walter only 10 minutes on his perch to lure down his first catch of the day, an adult female broad-winged hawk. Good job Walt! We spent the next few minutes taking measurements and attaching the transmitter. The units are small, 9.5 gram solar transmitters which are attached like a backpack. Each unit has 2 solar panels on the top face which allows them to charge continuously while on the hawks’ back.

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Adult female broad-winged hawk with transmitter visible, our first successful capture. Photo by Jesse Watson

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Adult female broad-winged hawk. Photo by Jesse Watson

On our third day we successfully captured an adult male at the adjacent territory. At this point we thought we’d run out of options and we didn’t have a lot of hope in catching a third hawk. Luckily, as we began to consider wrapping up our trapping effort, our redoubtable Field Coordinator Alex MacPhail came through with a broad-winged detection. A morning was spent trying to re-sight the bird and we chanced upon the pair and their nest. The following day we captured another female and were able to deploy our third transmitter, concluding our hawk quest!

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Our second adult female broad-winged hawk. Photo by Jesse Watson

Of the boreal species in this study, the benefit of working with the comparatively larger broad-winged hawk is that they can carry heavier transmitters. This is great news for biologists who are interested in when and where the birds migrate. Every few days the transmitters send their data to a server where we can login and download the most recent movements. We are anxiously awaiting the beginning of fall migration so we can learn where broad-wings from Alberta’s boreal forest winter and which corridors they use to fly back “home”.

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Adult female broad-winged hawk. Photo by Jesse Watson

You can track the broad-wings as they finish up on the breeding grounds and prepare to migrate south for the fall and winter.

Post by Jesse Watson, photos by Jesse Watson, Anjolene Hunt, Natasha Annich, and Frank Pouw.

Learning to See the Forest for the Trees

My brother Graeme and I recently completed a month of field work in the Bayne Lab deploying Automated Recording Units (ARUs), a technology dedicated to recording sounds made by forest inhabitants (specifically targeting birds and amphibians). We deployed these devices across deciduous, coniferous, mixed woods and wetland habitats in Alberta’s boreal forest ecoregion to detect the varied wildlife within.

Graeme and I had the opportunity to deploy ARUs at over 150 different locations, each with their own fascinating vegetation structure, hydrology and wildlife community. It would be difficult to capture the diversity of habitats in only a small section of Central Alberta’s boreal forest but, we found one piece of data that provides a glimpse into its intricate beauty:

Photographs of the forest canopy.

Photo1Standard data collection included photographing the local vegetation in four directions, as well as straight up to the forest canopy. This canopy photograph is never the same and captures forests which are at once stoic, vibrant and complex.

Photo2The majesty of the boreal forest is immediately evident to those who have visited and, apparently, maintains this appeal when viewed from any angle.

Photo3(Cam’s Favorite Canopy Shot)

Post by Cam and Graeme Nordell

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.