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El Salvador; Western Grebe circuit; Great Salt Lake; Portland, Oregon

Highlights from PRBO

Over the past several months, PRBO's work has resulted in numerous milestones, findings, and achievements--a few of which are sampled here.

Biologists Across Borders
Roselvy Juárez in 2007, bird-banding at PRBO's Palomarin field station. PRBO photo.

One morning in early September 2008, biologists monitoring birds in Montecristo National Park, in northwestern El Salvador, found a rare and elusive songbird in their mist nets. The four-year old research station had banded, for the first time in their country and likely in Latin America, a Golden-cheeked Warbler--an endanged species that breeds in Texas and migrates south for the winter. Reporting this news, Bird Conservation Alliance quoted the station's lead biologist, Roselvy Juarez.

The year before, Roselvy had completed an internship at PRBO's Palomarin Field Station under the National Park Service's "Park Flight" exchange program. She became one of the first Latin American biologists to earn certification from the North American Banding Council.

About the Golden-cheeked Warbler, Roselvy commented, "We had observed the species in trees near the nets each winter and hoped to capture one. But it took us 47 visits to the station (more than 18,000 net hours)--and capturing more than 1,700 birds of other species--before this one flew into a net."

More insights about birds across borders will likely be heard from Roselvy Juarez: she was recently appointed chair of El Salvador's Partners In Flight program.

Grebes in the Night
Diana Humple with a juvenile Western Grebe. PRBO photo.

In pursuit of new knowledge about Western Grebes, PRBO biologist and Sonoma State University graduate student Diana Humple led a small team this past summer to interior California sites where these birds breed. At the colonies they visited, the "grebers" would net some birds (from a boat after dark, using a spotlight) and obtain a few drops of blood from each for DNA analysis. This study will determine how genetically distinct the breeding populations are from one another. Results could be particularly valuable in the case of future oil spills in coastal waters, where grebes winter and are highly vulnerable to oiling. The DNA fingerprints could pinpoint the nesting population(s) involved and help target some mitigation efforts accordingly.

Plover Journey
Color-banding individual Snowy Plovers helps monitor and protect their population. Photo courtesy Tom Grey,

In July 2008, a Snowy Plover with a known life history showed up at Great Salt Lake, Utah. Tracing the survival and dispersal patterns of Snowy Plovers is a focus of ongoing efforts, co-led by PRBO, to help protect this species' threatened population in the West. The male plover sighted near Salt Lake City wore color bands that identified him as a year-old bird originally from Monterey Bay, California. He had hatched at Salinas State Beach, where he was banded as a chick on August 13, 2007. After several months, he moved to nearby Scott Creek, where he was last seen in April 2008. Three months later, he was sighted nearly 600 miles inland. While western Snowy Plovers are known to disperse such distances, the story of this known individual bird drew attention to the species' conservation saga.

Marine Life Protection
PRBO brings a seabird/ecosystem perspective to marine life protection in California. PRBO photo by Ben Saenz.

To California's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) initiative, a program for protecting fisheries and ocean habitats, PRBO Conservation Science brings a seabird-and-ecosystem perspective. In September 2008, PRBO biologist Dan Robinette was appointed to the MLPA Science Advisory Team. Along with Julie Howar, also of PRBO's Marine Ecology Division, Dan monitors seabird breeding in the productive marine ecosystem near Point Conception.

Major Conferences

In summer 2008, PRBO's cutting-edge research was featured at a number of national and international conferences. At meetings of the Society for Conservation Biology, Diana Stralberg gave a presentation on San Francisco Bay restoration efforts, and Dennis Jongsomjit gave one on modeling the effects of climate change on landbirds. Diana also gave a talk on modeling at the Ecological Society of America conference.
While attending the ornithological conference held in Portland, Oregon, this summer, a dozen PRBO staff scientists encountered many past PRBO interns and colleagues--calling for photo documentation. PRBO photo by Scott Jennings. .

At the joint meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union, Cooper Ornithological Society, and Canadian Society of Ornithologists, held in Portland, Oregon, PRBO scientists gave nine presentations. Topics included: the overall importance of birds as a study model (John Wiens); new advances in statistical habitat modeling (Nat Seavy, Nadav Nur, Mark Herzog); effects on avian demography of natural-gas development (Aaron Holmes); and new analyses of reproductive success or survival using PRBO's long-term datasets (Kristy Dybala, Scott Jennings, Parvaneh Abbaspour). PRBO's Informatics program was featured in numerous presentations by other conference participants. Nat Seavy and Tom Gardali organized a symposium on "Avian habitat restoration: What is success and how do we measure it?" Participants included Chrissy Howell, on songbird breeding success resulting from riparian restoration in the Central Valley, and Steve Latta (of the National Aviary, formerly of PRBO), on how wintering birds have been used to measure the effects of restoration efforts in California and Mexico.