bearriver Blog : migration

Marbled godwit encounter

A note from recent visitors!

"Lots of marbled godwits at 2 p.m. in shallows along east leg of auto tour route.  Estimate of 2,000.  Sky was filled with brown with bars.  They circled around into reeds to the south but eventually cam back in smaller groups flying fast and close to water.  Eventually re-gathered in large group flying 200-400 feet high like starlings. This was a sight we had never witnessed before!." From:  John E. Houser and Dennis Allen

A bit more about Marbled godwits. Marbled godwits breed from central Canada south into Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota.   Large flocks of wintering Marbled godwits can be found in southern California and western Mexico. The Refuge is an important staging area for Marbled godwits as part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem. Refuge may host up to 6 percent of entire population during fall staging periods while entire Great Salt Lake system may host up to 19 percent (Oring et al. 2000).  A five-year survey of the Great Salt Lake yielded a mean population of 15,125 (July-August) (Paul and Manning 2002). The Refuge mean from the five year survey was 8,867 Marbled godwits. They are some of our earliest migrant arrivals with the first waves coming as early as late July, but they are also some of the last to leave just before the Refuge ices over.

Uncommon for shorebirds, Marbled Godwits sometimes forage almost exclusively on plant tubers during migration. Main food items taken on interior staging areas and breeding grounds are insects (particularly grasshoppers), aquatic plant tubers (sago pondweed), leeches, and small fish. In Idaho, foraging birds noted as common on large mudflats, occasional on moderate mudflats caused by reservoir drawdowns. In Manitoba in fall, Marbled Godwits feed in shallow water with soft mud substrate. They feed primarily by probing substrate, but known to glean insects from water surface or terrestrial habitats, and small fish from shallow water.

Photo by: Larry MuenchMarbled Godwit  foraging, by Larry Muench

Whether we are open or closed, the seasons march on...

 I speak for everyone when I say ‘it’s great to be back!’ We are working hard at getting back on schedule.  The birds are here in full force, the waterfowl hunting season has opened, birders and photograhpers are here as well. Water levels are being checked and adjustments made. The L-line construction project will start up again. And at the Wildlife Education Center we are the getting back to business as usual. 

 It was an interesting 16 days during the Government Shutdown.  Everyone but our Project Leader Bob and LEO Greg were sent home.  Lucky for us Zone Officer Lisa was able to stay on the job as well.  Together they spent countless hours at the Refuge gates upholding the shutdown status. 

During the closure the waterfowl migrated into the Refuge in large numbers.  It was a ‘duck-nado’ said one officer.  The arrival of waterfowl signaled the departure of other birds.  Shorebirds, egrets, and pelicans are all moving to warmer climates.  The swallows are gone, but the American pipits are arriving and whether we are open or closed, the seasons march on.

In the past week since we re-opened, visitor's are reporting Rough-legged hawks, Tundra Swans by the hundreds, and the diving ducks are starting to arrive as well.  Plus, double-crested cormorants and great blue herons are gathering in flocks. Its a good time of year to see the Mule deer that frequent the Refuge as well. Come on out and see the Refuge for yourself.





Birds know a very different budget

Thursday, February 28, 2013

On this very final day of February - hours before possible government sequestration and large amounts of government funding cutbacks and personnel furloughs . . . I turn my thoughts to a very different "budget" . . . a bird's activity budget.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - especially the Refuges across the nation - are here to protect and serve the natural resource. That is BIRDS, specifically , here at the Bear River Migratory BIRD Refuge.  What's that, you say?  Basically, an activity budget shows how much time an animal spends in various activities such as eating, resting, sleeping, and moving.   So - while we're all worried about the economy, gas prices and sequestrations . . . the birds are worried about where the next meal is coming from and if the water is open or frozen, etc.

It just makes you think. When trying to decide whether or not to move from one spot to another for food or warmth - are the main concerns on your budget - how nice it might be to be a bird.  But then, if you've ever watched one closely and tried to record their activity budget, you will immediately realize it IS NOT.  To change a bird's activity budget, even by only a small amount (especially during tough years or during mating season), can make a HUGE difference  . . . possibly even between life and death. For example - as fun as it may be for your dog to run on the beach and chase sandipers and plover...this is deadly dangerous for those birds, many of which are terribly threatened and endagered species. That bird is working very had to try and feed and gain enough weight to make it through migration.  Chased and harried by people or dogs . . . it has just wasted time, energy and fat mass doing something it shouldn't need to. The difference between life and death.

So while we are all watching and wondering what will happen with our won budgets . . . let's not forget how much more dire it can be for our feathered friends and their activity budgets. 

Happy Birding

 - Jason