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Field Work, Recognition, Outreach: A Sampling

PRBO Highlights


Marine insights surface
Click here to see a larger map of biodiversity hot spots (red)--and a conservation gap--in the California Current. ©PRBO. .

PRBO has analyzed ocean-going research results to identify and predict marine wildlife "hot spots" in the California Current System. Some of the most important hot spots along the West Coast of the U.S. are currently within protected areas, but there is a "conservation gap" off northern California and southern Oregon, where additional protection may benefit marine wildlife. Read more, and see the large color version of the hot spot map, at www.prbo.org/cms/560.

ACCESS is the name of a new collaboration between PRBO, the National Marine Sanctuaries Program, and several universities. The acronym stands for Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies, and the aim is to support marine wildlife conservation and healthy marine ecosystems in northern and central California. Integrated ocean research that we conduct will inform resource managers, policy-makers, and conservation partners. ACCESS will offer a bounty of information online and will reach classrooms through NOAA's Teacher-at-Sea program (see Observer 158, Fall 2009).

Jaime Jahncke, PhD, Director of PRBO's Marine Ecology Division

Birds over the Rift Valley Flyway
Nat Seavy, representing PRBO in a Middle East workshop, offers an activity from the PRBO educator's toolkit. PRBO photo.

As part of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) International Program, PRBO provided an education and outreach component in a Middle Eastern bird monitoring workshop. Held at the Azraq Wetland Reserve in Jordan, the workshop brought together participants from Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, and Ethiopia to discuss coordinated bird monitoring and conservation education for the Rift Valley Flyway. This important migration corridor links parts of Europe, Asia and Africa.

Participants at the mid-April workshop are developing a network for greater conservation capacity, regional bird monitoring, and information exchange. They reported on the monitoring and education activities in their home countries. Nat Seavy (at right in photo above) offered training materials developed by PRBO Education and Outreach Director Melissa Pitkin. Group discussions explored the role of standardized monitoring and education in conservation programs.

Nat Seavy, PhD, Research Director in PRBO's Terrestrial Ecology Division

Migration mysteries revealed

For most migratory birds, we know surprisingly little about the movements of individuals and populations between breeding and wintering sites—their "migratory connectivity." Now, using new technologies finally small enough for songbirds, we can learn where local birds go when they migrate, in order to better identify causes of population change.
A migrating Golden-crowned Sparrow will carry a miniscule data recorder. PRBO photo.

This year we began a study at Palomarin Field Station that involves attaching minute data-loggers to birds. The tiny devices continuously record light intensity. After the bird's round-trip migration, we recapture it, remove the tag, and download data to a computer. The log of sunrise and sunset times provides us with a record of approximately where the bird has been.

This winter we deployed 34 "geolocator" tags on wintering Golden-crowned Sparrows (pictured above) that leave in late spring to breed on the tundra. This summer we will deploy tags on breeding Swainson's Thrushes that will return to wintering grounds in Latin America. From these birds we can gain novel and exciting insights into migratory connectivity, migratory routes, stopover durations, and even flight speeds.

Diana Humple, PRBO Biologist

We thank the March Foundation and the British Antarctic Survey for making this study possible.

Highlights in Brief

Diana Stralberg attended a mid-March workshop on the impacts of climate change on San Francisco Bay, held by the EPA and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. She reported, "There was strong consensus that a ‘landscape mosaic'—non-tidal habitats for foraging and roosting—will be critical for maintaining shorebirds in the bay, especially in light of sea level rise."

Nat Seavy, PhD, was invited to speak about riparian restoration and climate change at the Department of the Interior's annual Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Conference in Phoenix this April.

Chrissy Howell, PhD, became a member of the Independent Science Advisory Panel for the California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. In planning under way for solar energy installations, PRBO is providing expertise on sensitive desert wildlife habitats.
National attention now is focused on the future of birds and the impacts of climate change.

PRBO contributed to The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change, released in March by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. It shows that climate change compounds the perils faced by many species of migratory birds, with coastal and ocean species at greatest risk.

We were honored early this year with a 2009 Partnership Award from the President's Coastal America Program. PRBO research helps guide the Least Tern management team at Vandenberg Air Force Base (ecosystem-based management of an endangered species).
The White-faced Ibis is one of many shorebird and waterbird species that benefit from private lands programs in California's Central Valley.Photo by Tom Grey.

PRBO wetlands ecologists and outreach specialists are providing new access to information about the benefits to migratory birds of private lands programs, which encourage and support habitat enhancement. Drawing upon six years of bird monitoring in multiple private lands programs in California, we have upcoming articles in the Ducks Unlimited and California Waterfowl magazines, and another submitted to California Agriculture, to reach the agricultural community.

PRBO biologists on Southeast Farallon Island report that breeding seabirds, especially the plankton-eating Cassin's Auklets, are off to a strong start this year. Most auklets in our study plots laid eggs in the first two weeks of April—an early strong showing that may portend a successful year. Cassin's Auklets have been in the spotlight since their unprecedented breeding failure in 2005 and 2006.

Some 200 fourth- and fifth-graders from San Francisco are studying seabird colonies at Alcatraz Island this spring, in our Seabird Education Awareness program. First- and second-grade students from San Rafael's Canal Community are helping the birds and habitats of their local park, Pickleweed Park. In programs given in schools throughout the Bay Area, PRBO educators emphasize birds as indicators, ornithology as a career path, and environmental stewardship.

In California's Central Valley, PRBO biologists have started work along the Mokelumne River and Clear Creek to evaluate riparian restoration efforts. Additional field surveys are planned on private lands throughout the region. Along the Sacramento River, PRBO will also conduct surveys for the elusive Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a state-listed endangered species.

In the Monterey Bay area, our Snowy Plover field season is under way. Ravens, which can prey on plover nests, appeared on beaches early this year. A decade ago they did not occur on beaches south of Santa Cruz during the breeding season, but their range has expanded dramatically, even into areas of San Luis Obispo County, where plover and Least Tern nests are now subject to raven predation. Population increases and range expansions of ravens and crows are among the human-driven impacts on the coast that have made the Snowy Plover an imperiled species, reliant upon conservation.

Dr. John Wiens, PRBO's Chief Science Officer, chaired a science advisory team that evaluated the overall structure and approach of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. The BDCP is charged with balancing the conservation needs of the Bay-Delta ecosystem and its aquatic wildlife with the multiple demands on water, all in the context of a changing environment.