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SAN JOAQUIN RIVER NWR: Wildlife Photographer Becomes Citizen Scientist While Getting the Perfect Picture
California-Nevada Offices , December 16, 2015
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Photographer Rick Kimble observed a group of American White Pelicans at the San Joaquin River NWR near Modesto, CA.  Upon closer inspection, several of the birds had wing tags.
Photographer Rick Kimble observed a group of American White Pelicans at the San Joaquin River NWR near Modesto, CA. Upon closer inspection, several of the birds had wing tags. - Photo Credit: Rick Kimble/USFWS
Pelican
Pelican "75E" is clearly visible among a group of mostly sleeping birds at the San Joaquin River NWR. - Photo Credit: Rick Kimble/USFWS
The wing tag on Pelican
The wing tag on Pelican "3E6" (center) is barely legible in this photo. The information provided by the reporting of these bands highlights the importance of protected habitats, like those on National Wildlife Refuges, to the survival of this species – and others. - Photo Credit: Rick Kimble/USFWS

By Madeline Yancey

Many wildlife and nature photographers know that national wildlife refuges provide the perfect settings for getting superb pictures of wildlife. Sometimes photographers get to wear two hats at the same time: wildlife photographer and “citizen scientist.”

As a citizen scientist, the photographer, and other visitors for that matter contribute to the critical work of providing habitat and conditions necessary for their wildlife subjects to survive.

Rick Kimble is a frequent visitor and wildlife/nature photographer at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Stanislaus County near Modesto, California. While on one of his recent outings, Kimble shot a number of photographs of American white pelicans, three of which were sporting wing tags.

As anyone who spots a tagged or banded bird can do, Kimble recorded the information and sent it to the USGS Banding Program. For his efforts he was rewarded with a certificate of appreciation and interesting information about “his” three tagged pelicans.

Pelicans 3E6 and 75E were banded during the summer of 2012, as juveniles before they could fly. These birds were two of the young in a breeding colony at the Minidoka NWR in southeastern Idaho. Pelican 9A0 was banded during the summer of 2013, also as a juvenile. “9A0” was a youngster in a breeding colony of 55,000 American white pelicans on Gunnison Island in the Great Salt Lake, Utah – the Gunnison Island State Wildlife Management Area.

The pelicans on Gunnison Island fly every day to the nearby Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to feed on fresh fish. Young American white pelicans typically make their first migratory flight to their wintering grounds after fledging and then stay put, travelling only as far as they need to find food, until they reach the age of three. It is possible Kimble’s pelicans have just returned to their wintering grounds following their first summer as breeding adults.

Through Kimble’s observance and reporting of these banded pelicans, wildlife conservation professionals now know they began their lives on or near a national wildlife refuge. These birds use the refuges as nurseries, foraging grounds, and wintering grounds. Wetland habitats are required by American white pelicans for all phases of their life cycle. The information provided by the reporting of these bands highlights the importance of protected habitats, like those on national wildlife refuges, to the survival of this species and others.

American white pelicans once bred and nested widely across California in the lakes and marshes of the Klamath Basin, Modoc Plateau and Great Basin Desert of northeastern California, the Sacramento Valley, the Tulare Basin of the San Joaquin Valley, and the Salton Sea. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the number of nesting pairs exceeded 20,000 documented at 11 different sites throughout the state. However, since the mid-1900s human activities, particularly water diversions and the transition of land-use to agriculture have caused the species’ population to decline to the point it is now designated as a “High Priority Bird Species of Special Concern.”

Today, the American white pelican reliably nests at only two sites in California, both on national wildlife refuges – the Lower Klamath and Clear Lake NWRs in the Klamath Basin in northern California near the Oregon border. Clear Lake NWR has the largest nesting colony with 1,500 to 1,800 nesting pairs each year.

Monitoring wildlife populations is critical to understanding what they need to survive. Data collected through monitoring activities and observations by refuge visitors – photographers and others – provides refuge managers the knowledge they need to support wildlife species with the food, water, shelter, and space necessary for foraging, migrating, and raising their young. Refuge visitors turned “citizen scientists” by reporting their observations greatly increase the number of eyes and ears in the field, making them valuable partners in wildlife conservation.

All birds banded in North America are done under the authority of the North American Bird Banding Program. The program is directed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Canadian Wildlife Service. The USGS recognizes that the most important partner in the program is the person who voluntarily reports a recovered band. If you spot a banded bird, you can contribute to their conservation by reporting your sighting either online at www.reportband.gov or by phone, call 800-327-BAND.

-- FWS --

 

Madeline Yancey is a visitor services specialist at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Los Banos, California.


Contact Info: Jack Sparks, 209-826-3508, jack_sparks@fws.gov



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