Hawks Aloft Inc.
PO Box 10028
Albuquerque, NM 87184
Phone: 505 828-9455
Fax: 505 828-9769
E-Mail: gail@hawksaloft.org

Logo: Hawks Aloft Inc.

Hawks Aloft Blog

Blog Topic: Collaboration

All About the Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count (also abbreviated as CBC) is the longest running citizen science project in the United States. Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the count is performed annually near the end of December. Many bird experts and aficionados, as well as those of us who simply find ourselves dumbfounded and staring upwards quite regularly, commit to the count each year—but who started it? And why?

The first Christmas Bird Count took place in 1900. It was born in response to a burgeoning environmental movement, but also as a reaction to a noticeably dwindling number of birds. This population decline may have been related to a strong tradition of bird hunting for both sport and sustenance. In fact, prior to 1900, there had been a long-running tradition of going on a bird hunt every Christmas day. (This was known as a “Side Hunt” for some obscure reason.) Frank Chapman, an official at the American Museum of Natural History and an early member of the Audubon Society dreamed that instead of using all that man power for something destructive, like hunting, why not arm people with binoculars and do something productive, like a bird count?

A portrait of ornithologist Frank Chapman, taken for the American Museum Journal

A portrait of ornithologist Frank Chapman, taken for the American Museum Journal

Chapman worked hard to advocate for the Christmas Bird Count and, that year, 27 birders headed out into the field on Christmas morning. From that first bird count, the tradition has held strong, and today, a huge database of information exists from the annual Christmas Bird Counts. Participants from all over the world have joined in, and now these population gauges guide important conservation decisions and research, contributing to the protection of both birds and their habitat in a huge array of regions.

In Albuquerque, there are many established ways to get involved with the bird count.  For example, Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge will be holding one on December 17 from 7am-4pm. More information on that here.  The Albuquerque Count will take place on December 18.  You can also find details on how to participate independently, or look for more groups in your area on the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count webpage.

Photograph by Frank Chapman, from his book "Camps and Cruises of an American Ornithologist," published in 1908

Photograph by Frank Chapman, from his book “Camps and Cruises of an American Ornithologist,” published in 1908


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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft.

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Flammulated Owl Revelations

flam-2

Photograph by Larry Rimer

“After hearing a female Flammulated Owl on Oso Ridge in 1996 while conducting a Spotted Owl survey, I returned to look for nest sites and found three Flammulated Owl nests in the first three cavities I checked!” David Arsenault explained of one of his first encounters with the small raptor. After that, he was hooked. For eleven years in a row he banded hundreds of Flammulated Owls each season on Oso Ridge, learning about their movements and territoriality. David has transferred his interest in the petite owl to his work for the Plumas Audubon Society in Northern California, where he employs a variety of strategies to learn about the secret life of the species.

The Flammulated Owl is the second smallest owl in North America, after the Elf Owl. These dark-eyed raptors breed in montane forests in western North America before traveling to Mexico to winter. Secretive and quiet, especially when a human is detected in the area, Flammulated Owls were once thought to be rare. Improved research strategies, however, have indicated they are common, though populations are declining overall.

 

David Arsenault in the stud area, photograph by Larry Rimer

David Arsenault in the study area, photograph by Larry Rimer

Since that fateful encounter 20 years ago, David has sought to study the migration patterns of these neotropical migrants with geolocators, genetics, and mark-recapture, as well as resolve questions around mate fidelity, nest site selection and distribution, the impact and use of nest boxes, and the varied effects of forest thinning on Flammulated Owl populations.

David spent a considerable amount of time in New Mexico, studying Flammulated Owls and other bird species for Hawks Aloft. Despite the fact that most of his work is in California these days, it recently took him to the Zuni Mountains in northwestern New Mexico, and he invited Hawks Aloft volunteer and photographer-extraordinaire, Larry Rimer to tag along and encounter this rarely photographed bird. “Other than the almost impassable dirt roads (even [when] dry) and the countless bug bites, it was fantastic,” Larry said about his experience, expounding on the mixed forests and the solitude of these rarely visited mountains.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, the research group—which included university students, as well—checked known cavities and nest boxes, while searching for other possible nesting sites. The group averaged about ten miles on foot daily. Just before nightfall, the group would head out again, setting up mist nets to capture the owls and gather data—their weight, wing size, sex, etc.—before banding and re-releasing them.

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Photograph by Larry Rimer

 

The trip was a success. “Usually in California, they manage to capture three birds in three weeks,” Larry said. “Here we managed to capture 15 owls in 4 days.” This bodes well for David’s research. “I was concerned that more cavities were being lost to fallen trees and branches each year than were being created by Woodpeckers, so I put up … nest boxes,” David explained. Noting the success of the nest boxes he put up in New Mexico, he continued the project in California, where many were taken over by flying squirrels, but are utilized by Flammulated Owls as well.

In addition to the measureable success of the nest boxes, David’s research has also illuminated the migratory habits of these secretive birds—one of the geolocators fixed to an owl in northern California tracked the bird as far south as Jalisco, Mexico. The research that David is spearheading on the Flammulated Owl isn’t just providing new insights into how they live, but providing rewarding experiences for those who work with the birds, as Larry said, “This was a once in a lifetime learning experience. [I] feel so very lucky to have been allowed to be a part of it.”

Photograph by Larry Rimer

Photograph by Larry Rimer


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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft 

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Adventures on the Armendaris

This summer the Hawks Aloft team was granted nearly unlimited access to the expansive Armendaris Ranch owned by Ted Turner. The ranch itself stretches from Truth or Consequences in the south all the way to Bosque del Apache, encompassing a whole mountain range and thousands of acres of habitat for all kinds of wildlife.

 

But we came for the bats. The Armendaris Ranch plays host to many lava tubes, and those lava tubes are the home of a massive maternity colony of Mexican free tail bats. When these bats make their nightly departure from the tubes, they put on quite a show—namely, the second largest bat flight in North America.

Image by Greg Basco

Image by Greg Basco

Braving a long, bumpy ride down many unmarked dirt roads, the staff and volunteers of Hawks Aloft finally made it to our home for the night, a patch of land near the opening of the tubes where we would be camping. As dusk settled over the landscape, the bats began their exit, and all throughout the night they continued. The impressive bat population in this area also means that there are a large number of raptors that feed on the bats, like Swainson’s Hawks.

image by Doug Brown

Image by Doug Brown

There was plenty of life on the ground, as well, including other birds like roadrunners and quail.

Image by Keith Bauer

Image by Keith Bauer

Image by Larry Rimer

Image by Larry Rimer

Unique mammals abound throughout the vast property. We were lucky enough to see oryx, bison, fox, and bobcats.

Image by Arash Hazeghi

Image by Arash Hazeghi

Image by Doug Brown

Image by Doug Brown

Image by Emmitt Booher

Image by Emmitt Booher

In addition to the abundance of fauna on the Armendaris, there is a wealth of native plants including cottonwood, willow, and native grasses.  The untouched landscape provides a great habitat for threatened and endangered species, such as the bolson tortoise.

Image by Emmitt Booher

Image by Emmitt Booher

The Armendaris Ranch is a fantastic example of what it means to be effective stewards of the land, and provided us with a great example of well managed New Mexican habitat.


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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft

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Rescuing A Golden Eagle – It Took a Village

Often, folks who call about injured raptors over estimate the size of the injured bird, but not always.  Such was the case when, on December 9, 2014, we received a call from David Berryman and Craig Sizemore from the Central New Mexico Electric Cooperative.  He said, “we rescued a hawk in  Estancia, NM.”  We dispatched Julia Davis, our Education Coordinator, to go pick up the hawk.  When she arrived back at our office, the hawk was wrapped in a warm, insulated canvas, winter-weight jacket and stuffed into a long but very narrow box.  We took a peek at the tail feathers and new immediately that THIS WAS NO HAWK!

Examining the injured wing of the Golden Eagle

Examining the injured wing of the Golden Eagle

We wondered just how they had managed to stuff the eagle into the small box.  Our patient, a hatch year Golden Eagle,  seemed nonplussed by the whole affair, and nonchalantly withstood poking and prodding.   The eagle had damage to the hand area of the left wing, with severe abrasions and blot clots.  We cleaned and wrapped the wing, and examined rest of the bird for further injuries.

Extending the let to look for injuries

Extending the let to look for injuries

We marveled at the size of the eagle’s feet as well as the weight of the bird.

Golden Eagle feet

Golden Eagle feet

Gail and the Golden EagleWe sent the eagle to one of our veterinarians in Albuquerque for assessment, but got a return call that they could not take care of the bird.  It soon became apparent that this fellow was beyond our capabilities here as we do not have sufficient facilities to care for a bird of this size.  We called in The Wildlife Center in Espanola, NM.  Katherine Eagleson, Executive Director, graciously agreed to take the bird and even drive to Santa Fe to meet us. Before we sent him off, we took some images to illustrate the size of a Golden Eagle relative to other hawks.  This time, the eagle traveled in style in an eagle-sized crate with Julia again as his driver.

The Wildlife Center has communicated regularly regarding the progress of this patient, one of the most gorgeous birds we’ve ever had the privilege of rescuing.  According to Kerrin Grant, Wildlife Care Director at the Wildlife Center, the injury appears to be entanglement with a barbed wire fence. The wingtip of the eagle eventually died and had to be removed so this handsome fella will not be releasable.

Golden Eagle rescued in Estancia by Central New Mexico Electric Cooperative.  Image by Kerrin Grant.

Golden Eagle rescued in Estancia by Central New Mexico Electric Cooperative. Image by Kerrin Grant.

Although the eagle remains in recovery, The Wildlife Center will be seeking permanent accommodations for this young bird, perhaps at one of the eagle aviaries owned by a Native American Tribal Government.  We wish this beautiful bird well in his future.  We thank everyone who had a hand in saving him:  Central New Mexico Electric Coop, The Wildlife Center, and Hawks Aloft — all working together to find the best solution for an extraordinary bird.

Rescued Golden Eagle. Image by Kerrin Grant, The Wildlife Center

Rescued Golden Eagle. Image by Kerrin Grant, The Wildlife Center

 

 

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