Monday, February 29, 2016

Connecting Two Worlds: BSBO in Costa Rica

Male Wilson's Warbler
For five weeks during January and February, 2016, BSBO's Julie Shieldcastle worked with Costa Rica Bird Observatories banding neotropical migrants at two banding sites. Here is Julie's summary of the experience.

We have a tendency to think of the birds that pass through NW Ohio in the spring and fall as "our birds." Of course, some of them will stay in Ohio to breed, but the majority spend most of their time elsewhere, either breeding, during migration, or wintering in some habitat south of the U.S. border.

While in Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to observe and/or capture with mist nets some of “our birds.”  My goal was to observe some of the molt strategies of these neotropical migrants during the alternate molt period we only get a small glimpse of. Just as not all of our birds breed in the same habitats up north, birds utilize a variety of wintering habitats down south. In five weeks of field work, I couldn't even consider relating to you where all species reside in winter. It was a small window of time and limited captures of migrants to make much sense of these intricate processes, but a valuable experience just the same. And it was educational to visit two distinctive habitats: the warm and humid Caribbean, and the cooler, damper cloud forest in the mountains of Cerra de Muerte.
Chestnut-sided Warbler still in basic plumage

Chestnut-sided Warblers (CSWA), from my brief experience, hang out along the Caribbean Coast in mid-January. There were quite a few of them observed foraging in the trees in the fragmented forest areas of Tortuguero. (It was interesting to find no evidence that the winter molt had even begun - which fits with this species' strategy of molting while in migration.) 

Summer Tanager male molting into Alternate Plumage
Summer Tanagers were found in both sites I visited. From the literature, males and females of migrant species often winter in different locations, and different habitats, just as they do on the breeding grounds. Their behavior is just as complex here on the wintering grounds as it is on the breeding grounds and possibly their migratory stopover locations, making it difficult to develop sound conservation strategies.

One discovery that still stands out for me was when we weighed Chestnut-sided Warbler at the Tortuguero site. It had no fat and weighed 6.8 grams. This was a bit of a shock to me, since when we capture them here in Ohio during migration, they do have some amount of fat reserves and usually weigh around 8-9 grams. I was concerned the scale to weigh the birds was not working correctly, but it was checked and was calibrated properly. So, was the CSWA at a normal weight for the wintering area? What happens when it is time to migrate? Is the habitat good enough to build fat reserves for migration? Is there a critical level of volume or quality of habitats to provide enough food resources for them to make a long distance migration? 

Tennessee Warbler in the cloud forest mountains of CR

The map of the Tennessee Warbler in the Costa Rica bird field guide shows them found throughout all of the country. Of the two places I was stationed, I only observed them in the mountains. Could this represent a habitat shift, or are different habitats needed at different times during the winter and staging periods? Also found in the cloud forest and associated cow pastures were Black-and-white Warblers (alternate molt completed already), Golden-winged Warblers (GWWA), Wilson's Warblers, and a Louisiana Waterthrush.

Black-and-white Warbler Male

Louisiana Waterthrush captured in the fragmented areas of the cloud forest 
We captured a female Golden-winged which surprised the GWWA project leader. They thought only males wintered in the mountainous area we were in. Another reminder of the fact that new information is gathered all the time, and that as habitats and bird populations change, more research is required to keep us informed on the needs of birds.

Female Golden-winged Warbler

I had many adventures and some very eye-opening experiences, but one overlying theme throughout my travels was that we all live on this planet togetherWhile we do have a long way to go in protecting habitat right here in our own country, our birds are spending a large part of their lives in other countries. We should never lose sight of the fact that if we are going to protect birds, we've got to protect and conserve habitat for birds throughout their life-cycle. 

In our promotion of birds at BSBO, we are fond of declaring that "BIRDS RULE." This thought took on a new meaning during my trip. Maybe, just maybe, if birds really did rule, this planet would be a little bit better for it.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Connecting Two Worlds: Julie of the Jungle

In cooperation with Costa Rica Bird Observatories, BSBO’s Julie Shieldcastle is currently undertaking an exciting opportunity, banding birds at multiple research stations in Costa Rica. She’s not only learning about tropical birds and their molt strategies, but also learning more about the wintering habits of neotropical migrants which we extensively band in Ohio during spring and fall migration.

During her time in Tortuguero, Julie not only experienced the heat of coastal rainforests, but had the opportunity to work with Bright-rumped Attila, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Red-capped Manakin, White-collared Manakin, White-flanked Antwren, and the American Pygmy Kingfisher –which in her words, “…may now be the coolest bird ever.” Neotropical migrants she encountered included Chestnut-sided Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Wood Thrush.

It’s interesting to note that the habitat these neotropical migrants were caught in resembles that of their breeding habitat in the deciduous forests of the United States and Canada: denser secondary and successional forest for the warblers, and mature forest for the Wood Thrush. Traveling thousands of miles between two different ecozones, these birds are not arbitrarily picking breeding habitats in the Nearctic or wintering habitats in the Neotropic, but are selecting similarly aged and vegetated habitats.   

American Pygmy Kingfisher
Having departed Tortuguero last week, Julie is currently in Madre Selva in the Talamanca Mountain Range near the southern end of Costa Rica, and will be residing there for three weeks. The Madre Selva area is predominately cloud forest –tropical forest with low-level cloud cover– and is known for its rich biodiversity, as well as being the center for birds endemic to Costa Rica.

At an elevation over 8,000 feet, the field station Julie will be at is described as having an “alpine” feel, and is broken up by many pastures among the surrounding cloud forest. With the opportunity to see birds such as the Resplendent Quetzel, Collared Trogon, and even the Green-fronted Lancebill, Julie has already worked with solitaires, brush-finches, tropical vireos and warblers, woodcreepers, elaenias, and the Fiery-throated Hummingbird.

Madre Selva

Fiery-throated Hummingbird
As we observe her journey from afar, it’s interesting to see the boost in species Julie has already encountered since transitioning from Tortuguero; and, conversely, the absence of neotropical migrants. When thinking in terms of similar habitat usage between breeding and wintering grounds, it may make sense that our neotropical migrants would not inhabit these high elevation regions, as they don’t typically inhabit them up north when breeding, but that remains to be seen. We’re still expecting Julie to at least encounter Tennessee Warblers, which are known to inhabit the area, and interested to learn what state of molt they're in as spring draws nearer. 

Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch

Black-faced Solitaire

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Connecting Two Worlds: BSBO Partners with Costa Rica Bird Observatories

We are all familiar with the bright and vivid warblers of spring migration, their calls on the breeding grounds in summer, and their often confusing fall plumages; but what about winter? Where do these birds go once they pass through Ohio in the fall, and what are they doing before they return in May?

As part of BSBO’s goal to connect our migration research on neotropical migrants (e.g. warblers, vireos, tanagers) to a larger monitoring network and promote conservation on breeding grounds, stopover habitat, and wintering grounds, a member of BSBO's research team is currently undertaking an exciting opportunity in the rainforests of Costa Rica. With years of experience and as one of BSBO’s premier bird banders, Julie Shieldcastle, in cooperation with Costa Rica Bird Observatories, will be spending a month between two monitoring stations as part of an ongoing study of land bird populations in Costa Rica.

Julie Shieldcastle

This is an amazing opportunity for BSBO's research team not only to work with residential tropical birds, but also to share our own experience and knowledge of operating a large-scale banding station (such as BSBO’s Navarre Marsh Banding Station) and work with the neotropical migrants our team is all too familiar with from our banding work during spring and fall migration in Ohio.

As much as we know about the needs of these birds during migration and the breeding season in North America, there still remains a gap of knowledge and communication concerning neo-tropical migrants on their wintering grounds in Central and South America. As exciting and educational as this experience will be for Julie and BSBO, it is also a step in bridging the two (very) different worlds of these long-distance migrants.

Julie is currently at her first monitoring station in Tortuguero. Considered one of the best stopover locations for neo-tropical migrants, Tortuguero is located on the northeast coast of Costa Rica overlooking the Caribbean Sea and surrounded by lowland rainforest, Julie will have the opportunity to work with tropical birds such as manakins, seedeaters, hermits and other various hummingbirds. So far she has handled Variable Seedeaters, White-collard Manakins, Long-billed Hermits, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. But it seems only fitting that the very first bird Julie caught while in Tortuguero was a species she handles multiple times during migration and the breeding season in Ohio… the Prothonotary Warbler. In her first few days she has already banded multiple Porthonotarys as well as a Chestnut-sided Warbler and Summer Tanager.

Prothonotary Warbler
Internet connection is sporadic, but we will continue to post updates about Julie’s experience and share the birds that she is working with. She will remain in Tortuguero through this week, and then will head off to the cloud forests of Madre Selva in the area of Cerro de la Muerte of the Talamanca Mountain Range. 

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Female White-collared Manakin