Daphne Swope and Adam Beeler get up with the sun to catch songbirds at Odessa Campground near Rocky Point.
At 5 a.m., they begin checking 10 to 13 nets every 30 to 40 minutes for birds that have been ensnared by thin mesh stretched in the same spots year after year.
They record details about the captured birds, including their species and measurements, before placing a thin metal band around a spindly leg.
Swope and Beeler are interns with the Klamath Bird Observatory, a nonprofit group based in Ashland that has monitored bird populations from the Klamath Basin to the Oregon Coast since 2000. The Klamath Bird Observatory emerged from a network of monitoring dating back to 1992.
Songbird declines were well documented in the 1990s, and the listing of the spotted owl as an endangered species in 1990 inspired a proactive approach to bird conservation, said John Alexander, executive director of the Klamath Bird Observatory.
The Odessa monitoring station was set up in 1997, and during breeding season, trained interns set up nets once every 10 days, Alexander said. The bird observatory has a Rocky Point residence where its interns live.
Alexander said Odessa Campground is a hotspot for rare bird species, making it a popular stop along the Klamath Birding Trail. The birds like Odessa, he said, mainly because of the abundance of insects.
From May to August, the typical breeding season for both resident and migratory birds, Klamath Bird Observatory has eight monitoring stations in Klamath County.
Banding serves several purposes, Alexander said.
It helps track the ratio of young to old birds, and counting returning birds gives a measure of survival and newly caught birds indicate if a species is recruiting, or bringing new members into an area.
“Birds are excellent indicators of habitat conditions,” Alexander said. “Each bird is like its own measuring stick.”
The Klamath Bird Observatory has thousands of areas where land management-related surveys are conducted. Alexander said the current focus is on fuels management and the effects controlled burns and fuels reductions have on bird populations.
“We can’t really tell why bird populations are declining without this kind of hands-on monitoring technique,” Alexander said.
All birds caught in the mist nets are documented, even those not normally found this side of the Rocky Mountains. Although the birds often get tangled in the nets, none are harmed in the process. Each season of monitoring catches between 50 and 60 bird species, and about 40 percent have already been banded, indicating the site is a good breeding ground, Alexander said.
“If a bird breeds successfully, they are going to come back to the same location,” he said.
One bird species of particular interest is the yellow warbler because it makes its home in riparian, or stream and river, habitats.
“The yellow warbler is in decline because 95 percent of riparian habitat has been altered,” Alexander said.
Some birds show tremendous resilience, such as a MacGillivray’s warbler caught 10 to 15 times over the course of eight years, Alexander said. The MacGillivray’s warbler migrates to Central America during winter and has breeding grounds from Alaska to New Mexico.
“The bird is about the size of my thumb,” Alexander said. “That bird represents 30,000 miles of migration.”
Once banded, one in 10,000 birds located in different location
Roughly one in 10,000 banded songbirds are found in a different location from where they were banded, said Klamath Bird Observatory Executive Director John Alexander.
“Bird recoveries are usually due to mortality,” he said.
Bands are issued by the U.S. Geological Survey and are unique. The North American Bird Banding Program is operated by the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Md. It is run in conjunction with the Canadian Wildlife Service.
In 2002, more than 1 million birds were banded, and the USGS reports fewer than 100,000 were recovered. Most of the birds were game birds, such as ducks, geese and swans.
Anyone finding a bird with a band is encouraged to report it to the USGS using the Web site www.reportband.gov or by calling 1-800-327-BAND.
About the Klamath Bird Observatory
The Klamath Bird Observatory is funded through Klamath County, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, the Joint Fire Sciences Program, the National Parks Service and public support. It employs eight people full time and has between eight and 15 interns from the U.S. and other countries.
Wings and Wine Gala fundraiser
The Wings and Wine Gala, a fundraiser to support ongoing research by the Klamath Bird Observatory, will be from 6 to 10 p.m., Aug. 22, at the RoxyAnn Winery in Medford.
Tickets are $45 in advance and $55 at the door. Live music by One Horse Shy and a not-so-silent auction will accompany the wine and food.
For more information, contact the Klamath Bird Observatory at (541) 201-0866.