Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Genetic Testing Reveals Mountain lion Killed in Milford Originated in South Dakota: Traveled to Conn. through Wis. And Minn.
Genetic tests also show that it is likely that the mountain lion killed when it was hit by a car June 11 on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford was the same one that had been seen earlier that month in Greenwich, Conn.
DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty said, “The journey of this mountain lion is a testament to the wonders of nature and the tenacity and adaptability of this species. This mountain lion traveled a distance of more than 1,500 miles from its original home in South Dakota – representing one of the longest movements ever recorded for a land mammal and nearly double the distance ever recorded for a dispersing mountain lion.”
“The confirmation of a wild mountain lion in our state was the first recorded in more than 100 years,” Commissioner Esty said. “This is the first evidence of a mountain lion making its way to Connecticut from western states and there is still no evidence indicating that there is a native population of mountain lions in Connecticut.”
Link to South Dakota Population and Animal Tracked through Wisconsin and Minnesota
The genetic tests reveal information about the mountain lion’s origin and travels were conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Wildlife Genetics Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. DNA tests show that tissue from the Milford mountain lion matches the genetic structure of the mountain lion population in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.
The Forest Service lab also compared the Milford mountain lion’s DNA to DNA samples collected from individual animals occurring outside of the core South Dakota population. This led to a match with DNA collected from an animal whose movements were tracked in Minnesota and Wisconsin from late 2009 through early 2010. DNA from the Connecticut specimen exactly matched DNA collected from an individual mountain lion at one site in Minnesota and three sites in Wisconsin.
The Midwestern DNA samples were obtained by collecting scat (droppings), blood and hair found while snow tracking the mountain lion at locations where sightings of the animal were confirmed. In addition, at least a half dozen confirmed sightings of a mountain lion in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are believed to be of the same animal. The distance between the first documentation in Minnesota and the spot where the animal was killed by a vehicle is nearly 1,000 miles and is nearly double the longest distance previously recorded for a dispersing mountain lion.
Dispersal is a normal behavior of young male mountain lions searching for females but they seldom travel more than 100 miles.
The path of the mountain lion led Wisconsin biologists to dub the male cat the “St. Croix Mountain lion, ” after the first county where a confirmed sighting of it occurred.
Link Between Milford Mountain Lion and Animal Scene in Greenwich, Conn.
There were sightings of an animal that was believed to be a mountain lion in Greenwich, Conn. in early June. The last verified sighting was June 5, at the Brunswick School there. A scat sample at that location was taken by the Greenwich Police Department and sent out for testing.
Genetic tests performed by the U.S. Forest Service Wildlife Genetic lab, Missoula, Montana on this scat determined that it was from a mountain lion and indicate it was from the animal killed in Milford.
DEEP is having additional tests conducted by a second lab to see if a more definitive link can be established.
Results of Genetic Tests Substantiate Necropsy Findings
Results of genetic tests on the Milford mountain lion have substantiated information and observations obtained through a detailed necropsy performed by a veterinary pathologist from a United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) forensics lab.
The necropsy, performed at DEEP’s Sessions Woods Wildlife Center, Burlington, Conn., showed the young, lean, 140-pound male mountain lion was not neutered or declawed – characteristics that seemed to indicate it was not a captive animal that had escaped or been released.
The examination of the animal also showed it had no implanted micro chips, which are commonly used in domestic animals. Porcupine quills were also found in the animal’s subcutaneous tissue indicating it had spent some time in the wild. Examination of the stomach contents, tissues and parasites is continuing. It was estimated to be between two and five years old but a more precise age is being determined by microscopic analysis of an extracted tooth.
Labs Involved in Testing with DEEP
Personnel from several agencies have expended a great deal of time and effort in investigating the mysterious appearance of this mountain lion in Connecticut. These include the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service’s Wildlife Genetics laboratory, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources , and the New York State Museum in Albany.
Additional Comment from Commissioner Esty
“A wild mountain lion traveling through our state is certainly an anomaly,” Commissioner Esty said. “It is, however, a strong symbol of what we all hope for – that wilderness areas and biological diversity can be preserved and protected. Thankfully, through the hard work and dedication of conservations, wildlife experts and everyone who cares about our environment and natural resources our state and nation have made great progress in achieving this goal.”
Background on Mountain Lion Siting in Connecticut
At approximately 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 11, 2011 DEEP was notified by State Police - Troop I, of a collision between a motor vehicle and a mountain lion Northbound on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in the area of Exit 55 in Milford.
The animal was struck and killed by a 2006 Hyundai Tucson SUV. The operator of the vehicle was uninjured.
DEEP had been working with the Town of Greenwich Police Department to investigate prior sightings of a large cat in that town. Based on photographs taken of the animal and other evidence it appeared that the animal was a mountain lion. The last “credible sighting” in Greenwich was June 5.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
The Québec Breeding Bird Atlas, which is in its second year, is managed by the Regroupement QuébecOiseaux (RQO), the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada, and Bird Studies Canada. It is the largest ornithological project ever undertaken in Québec, and aims to map the distribution and relative abundance of all bird species breeding in the province. This year, the project has helped document the first breeding of yet another new species for the province: the Eurasian Collared Dove; the first nest of which was recently found to the south of the province in Sainte-Brigide-d'Iberville. This species was introduced on the Bahamas in the mid 1970s and has since been rapidly spreading across North America. If you are interested in joining the atlas team, the RQO is currently seeking to appoint an assistant coordinator. The successful candidate will help ensure the smooth-running of the atlas by facilitating the coordinator in all aspects of the project. The closing date for applications is the 15th August 2011. Please send a cover letter expressing your interest in the position and your curriculum vitae, or requests for further information, to Jean-Sébastien Guénette (director of the RQO) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, July 22, 2011
For 150 years scientists have been trying to explain convergent evolution. One of the best-known examples of this is how poisonous butterflies from different species evolve to mimic each other’s color patterns – in effect joining forces to warn predators, “Don’t eat us,” while spreading the cost of this lesson.
Now an international team of researchers led by Robert Reed, UC Irvine assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, has solved part of the mystery by identifying a single gene called optix responsible for red wing color patterns in a wide variety of passion vine butterfly species. The result of 10 years of work, the finding is detailed in a paper that appears online today in the journal Science.
“This is our first peek into how mimicry and convergent evolution happen at a genetic level,” Reed said. “We discovered that the same gene controls the evolution of red color patterns across remotely related butterflies.
“This is in line with emerging evidence from various animal species that evolution generally is governed by a relatively small number of genes. Out of the tens of thousands in a typical genome, it seems that only a handful tend to drive major evolutionary change over and over again.”
The scientists spent several years crossbreeding and raising the delicate butterflies in large netted enclosures in the tropics so they could map the genes controlling color pattern. UCI postdoctoral researcher Riccardo Papa (now an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras) then perfected a way to analyze the genome map by looking at gene expression in microdissected butterfly wings.
Finding a strong correlation between red color patterns and gene expression in one small region of the genome was the breakthrough that led to discovery of the gene. Population genetics studies in hybrid zones, where different color types of the same species naturally interbreed, confirmed it.
“Biologists have been asking themselves, ‘Are there really so few genes that govern evolution?’” Reed said. “This is a beautiful example of how a single gene can control the evolution of complex patterns in nature. Now we want to understand why: What is it about this one gene in particular that makes it so good at driving rapid evolution?”
Source: UC Irvine press release
While mildly alarming, this somewhat dubious spectacle had a perfectly logical, reasonable, and in fact professional explanation. My normal June routine involves waking at 4 a.m., rolling out of my tent (ideally after getting dressed), hiking to my first survey station, and hoping that I’m awake enough to distinguish a Swainson’s Thrush from a White-throated Sparrow as I conduct point counts for Mountain Birdwatch. This particular morning, however, I had agreed to help some colleagues net Bicknell’s Thrush on Mt. Mansfield, and we had camped out for the night at a restaurant near the top of the peak.
After a few grumbles of “Just five more minutes!” and “Oh goody, wet socks!” we were efficiently opening nets and listening to the songs and chatter of awakening birds. Since it was so late in the season, we encountered little activity, giving my colleagues time to prepare much-anticipated cups of coffee in a recently acquired and wholly adored JetBoil Stove. Despite the wet clothing from a violent and soaking rain the night before, our net checks turned up a few birds, but the morning started out relaxed.
Following several checks of empty nets, I stole through a thick swath of vegetation directly under the towering cliff of the Mt. Mansfield Nose. Somewhat sleep-deprived, the phrase “I’m doing this RIGHT UNDER YOUR NOSE!” played as a loop in my mind, seemingly hilarious each time. I pushed through a final set of stunted balsam and the first net emerged: empty. Pushing through another thicket towards the next net, I spotted a ripple and bulge in the netting. Finally! The moment of anticipation when you realize there’s a bird in the net is exhilarating- what will it be? How hard will it be to get out? Nearing the net, I trotted over to see piercing black eyes, a long black bill, and the tell-tale splash of red on the head. A woodpecker is an exciting catch at any time, but a potential challenge in the net.
Now let’s talk a little bit about woodpeckers. Your average woodpecker spends a fair bit of time each day drilling holes in trees, using its head and beak as miniature yet powerful jackhammers to create holes, find insects, and communicate with others. Imagine holding an angrily self-righteous woodpecker in your hand. Imagine how this woodpecker might fight to escape from your grasp. As you might guess, as I patiently worked to untangle the feet, tail, wings, and head of this beautiful bird, this feisty fighter freely used his best defense- pecking maniacally at my fingers. I’ve always figured that this evens the score a bit- I had clearly disrupted his day, and a few bloody fingers is a small price to pay.
The woodpecker was tightly wrapped in the net, and I concentrated fiercely as I untangled his trembling body. Extracting birds from a mist-net is a three-dimensional puzzle; if I unwrap that toe will it loosen the wing? Once one wing is free, can I slip the other wing out? Pulling on a single thread can be illuminating or disastrous, and I took great care to act gently and quietly as I manipulated the bird’s body. Sweat dripped down my face as I focused entirely on the woodpecker and the net.
Holding tightly to the untangled feet, at long last I slipped the left wing free of its final constraints. With great relief, I said under my breath, “OK, buddy bird, we’re almost there.” The bird didn’t respond to this casual reassurance, but from directly behind me issued a loud hissing, shaking tumult. This being the in-woods equivalent of having someone grab your shoulder and scream “Boo!”, I turned slowly, my heart pounding. Three feet from my boots stood a giant porcupine, quills fully erect, body trembling and feinting in my direction. I stared at the spiky, shaking animal for a moment as we both assessed the situation. With one hand on the woodpecker and a long net between me and escape, my options were limited. The porcupine, in full defensive display, continued to shake and thrust, a threat that under any other circumstance I would have heeded with great haste. Slowly, slowly, I turned back to the net, and at that moment the porcupine sprinted (OK, toddled) in the opposite direction at top speed.
Freeing the woodpecker, I rushed back to the car to identify and display my catch. The juvenile Hairy Woodpecker was confused yet spirited, pecking everything in sight but disoriented enough to perch briefly on my colleague’s head before flying back into the forest- and happily avoiding our nets for the rest of the morning.
After two months of being "stuck" on a water retention pond at Tafts Corners, the Williston loon is free this morning, now roaming Lake Champlain. The Vermont Center for Ecostudies conservation biologist, Eric Hanson, put together a capture crew last night and successfully netted the loon from a small boat.
For the past two months, the loon appeared healthy, preening, resting, and feeding on 1000s of goldfish, but it was apparent that it would not be easy for the loon to fly off this pond with a fence, powerlines, and buildings surrounding it. It was time to try to catch it.
At first the loon started diving when we approached using a million candlepower spotlight. Spotlighting makes it difficult for the loon to see the boat, allowing the capture boat to get close. However, free swimming loons often sense trouble and just start diving anytime the spotlight hits it. The Williston loon was no different. Hanson, coordinator of the Vermont Loon Recovery Project, then started playing yodels, the male territorial call, from a tape player. The loon likely perceived this as a threat (or "where did this loon come" from after being alone for two months). It worked. The loon stayed on surface longer. We boated within 15 feet of the bird, but it was still just out of reach. After a few more failed approaches, we came slowly up from behind and netted the bird with a 10 foot handled net.
We wanted to put color bands on the legs, but the legs were too small for the bands used on New England loons. Back in May, it was likely this loon was on its way to central or northern Quebec, where loons are smaller. We drove down to the ECHO Center on the Burlington waterfront and set the loon free.
Seven volunteers were there to help, mainly with plan B, which involved using a gill net to pen the bird into a smaller area. We're very glad we did not have to use plan B. Jim Wallace manned the electric trolling motor and Shannon Maes, Sterling College intern, did the spotlighting. Maeve Kim, Carl Runge, Jim Morris, and Bruce MacPherson helped hold the loon, carry equipment, and were ready create the smaller holding pen. Gail Osherenko and her partner Oran filmed the capture. Video footage will be placed on her blog site soon at www.Vermontloonblog.wordpress.com. Two Williston police officers provided security (and we provided entertainment).
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Friday, July 1st
As I’m heading out the door for an all day search and attempted night capture of an injured loon on Harriman Reservoir near Whitingham, I receive a call about another injured adult at Whitecaps Campground on Lake Willoughby. The bird has already been carefully placed in a box, thanks to Barry and Doug’s background in rehab. I head straight over.
A quick check on the loon reveals fishing tackle to be the culprit. Doug and I snip two sets of fishing line and remove a hook from its bill. The bird is thin but alert, so I am hopeful of a full recovery. Just to be sure, I transport the loon back to Craftsbury and release it on Page Pond, a 15-acre pond with plenty of minnows, where I can monitor its recovery.
Sunday, July 3rd
I stop at Page Pond to check on the loon, which I suspect to be a female because of her small size. I observe her swimming and peering in the water, but do not see any attempted dives. She is likely trying to fish because she is hungry, a good sign, but her lack of diving is cause for concern. I debate trying another capture, but decide to continue monitoring her.
Wednesday, July 6th
I quickly stop at Page Pond, but the loon isn’t in sight. Has she flown away, or was her condition more compromised than we thought? I sincerely hope the former.
Thursday, July 7th
I receive a call from a slightly distressed Deborah Baskin. She has found a loon in the road 100 yards from Page Pond. Did the female try to fly? Did she crawl out? How long has she been on solid ground? I hasten there and collect the bird.
A quick call to Kappy Sprenger, an extremely dedicated loon rehabber in Bridgeton, Maine, and I'm on the road with a very weak loon.
Early that evening, I arrive at Kappy’s. The loon perks up when she is released into one of Kappy’s pools. Kappy tries feeding her by hand and by dropping capelin into the water. The loon clearly wants to eat them but has difficulty figuring out how to handle a dead minnow. Finally she eats one, but then stops. Kappy thinks that another hook and/or line may be lodged in the bird’s throat. Usually loons keep on eating once they figure out the process. I head back to Vermont knowing the bird is in excellent hands.
Later that night, Kappy e-mails that close examination revealed a smaller-than-dime-size hole in the skin of the loon’s neck and a cut in the left corner of her mouth, presumably from fishing line. She has inserted a feeding tube and will monitor the loon.
Friday, July 8th
I receive a hopeful e-mail from Kappy. The loon is eating on her own and her energy level is much improved. She is in the pool and content!
Monday, July 11th
Kappy reports that the loon is doing well. She is eating 50 – 60 capelin per day, and her wounds are healing. The greatest concern is some dried blood in her feces. This is a sign of possible internal bleeding, perhaps another hook ingested. An x-ray would confirm that, but there isn’t anything we could do except hope the hook dissolves or the body isolates it.
Thursday, July 14th
Kappy happily reports that the loon’s feces now look normal – the internal issue seems to have resolved itself. She is still eating well, but is now intolerant of her captivity. She is restless, attacking the pool sides, emitting alarm calls and leaping toward the top of the fencing. These are good signs!
We decide it is time to release her back into the wild. Ideally, we would return her to Lake Willoughby, but Kappy thinks the stress of the drive back and the risk of further injury argue for a release in Maine. I agree.
Kappy liberates the loon at a friend’s beach on Long Lake. The release is uneventful and ten minutes later, another loon arrives. Soon the two birds are swimming together and diving for fish in a favored feeding area in the cove.
All signs point to a complete recovery. Thanks, Kappy!
Sunday, July 17, 2011
The decline of large predators and other "apex consumers" at the top of the food chain has disrupted ecosystems all over the planet, according to a review of recent findings conducted by an international team of scientists and published in the July 15 issue of Science. The study looked at research on a wide range of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems and concluded that "the loss of apex consumers is arguably humankind's most pervasive influence on the natural world."
According to first author James Estes, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, large animals were once ubiquitous across the globe, and they shaped the structure and dynamics of ecosystems. Their decline, largely caused by humans through hunting and habitat fragmentation, has had far-reaching and often surprising consequences, including changes in vegetation, wildfire frequency, infectious diseases, invasive species, water quality, and nutrient cycles.
The decline of apex consumers has been most pronounced among the big predators, such as wolves and lions on land, whales and sharks in the oceans, and large fish in freshwater ecosystems. But there have also been dramatic declines in populations of many large herbivores, such as elephants and bison. The loss of apex consumers from an ecosystem triggers an ecological phenomenon known as a "trophic cascade," a chain of effects moving down through lower levels of the food chain.
"The top-down effects of apex consumers in an ecosystem are fundamentally important, but it is a complicated phenomenon," Estes said. "They have diverse and powerful effects on the ways ecosystems work, and the loss of these large animals has widespread implications."
Estes and his coauthors cite a wide range of examples in their review, including the following:
- The extirpation of wolves in Yellowstone National Park led to over-browsing of aspen and willows by elk, and restoration of wolves has allowed the vegetation to recover.
- The reduction of lions and leopards in parts of Africa has led to population outbreaks and changes in behavior of olive baboons, increasing their contact with people and causing higher rates of intestinal parasites in both people and baboons.
- A rinderpest epidemic decimated the populations of wildebeest and other ungulates in the Serengeti, resulting in more woody vegetation and increased extent and frequency of wildfires prior to rinderpest eradication in the 1960s.
- Dramatic changes in coastal ecosystems have followed the collapse and recovery of sea otter populations; sea otters maintain coastal kelp forests by controlling populations of kelp-grazing sea urchins.
- The decimation of sharks in an estuarine ecosystem caused an outbreak of cow-nosed rays and the collapse of shellfish populations.
Despite these and other well-known examples, the extent to which ecosystems are shaped by such interactions has not been widely appreciated. "There's been a tendency to see it as idiosyncratic and specific to particular species and ecosystems," Estes said.
One reason for this is that the top-down effects of apex predators are difficult to observe and study. "These interactions are invisible unless there is some perturbation that reveals them," Estes said. "With these large animals, it's impossible to do the kinds of experiments that would be needed to show their effects, so the evidence has been acquired as a result of natural changes and long-term records."
Estes has been studying coastal ecosystems in the North Pacific for several decades, doing pioneering work on the ecological roles of sea otters and killer whales. In 2008, he and coauthor John Terborgh of Duke University organized a conference on trophic cascades, which brought together scientists studying a wide range of ecosystems. The recognition that similar top-down effects have been observed in many different systems was a catalyst for the new paper.
The study's findings have profound implications for conservation. "To the extent that conservation aims toward restoring functional ecosystems, the reestablishment of large animals and their ecological effects is fundamental," Estes said. "This has huge implications for the scale at which conservation can be done. You can't restore large apex consumers on an acre of land. These animals roam over large areas, so it's going to require large-scale approaches."
The paper's coauthors include 24 scientists from various institutions in six countries. Support for the study was provided by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, Defenders of Wildlife, White Oak Plantation, U.S. National Science Foundation, NSERC Canada, and NordForsk.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
In addition to free-flying juveniles, signs that the avian nesting season is waning included several females of different species with regressing brood/incubation patches, and a number of adult birds in the early stages of flight feather molt. Most migrant songbirds fit their annual molt (an energy-intensive undertaking) between the end of breeding and departure for fall migration, so finding thrushes and warblers with their innermost primaries missing is a sure sign of things to come. By the end of this month, the montane forest will be a quiet place, as vocalizing becomes scarce and adults lay low while in heavy molt.
We'll make a final foray to Mansfield in early to mid-September, when Bicknell's Thrushes typically show a brief resurgence of activity, including calling and singing, before they head south later in the month or during early October.
Chris Rimmer and Kent McFarland
Photo: Kent beaming upon recovering another solar geolocator from a Bicknell's Thrush on Mt. Mansfield; courtesy of Melissa MacKenzie
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Vermont Loon Recovery Project Coordinator, Eric Hanson, was interviewed for 10 minute segment on VPR's Vermont Edition today (wednesday 13 July). The program will be replayed at 7 pm with the interview around 7:40 pm. The program can also be listened to via podcoast soon at the vpr website. In preparation for the upcoming Loonwatch Day survey this coming Saturday, many newspapers and vpr have picked up on this conservation success story and how the public can be an active part of the process. There is also a major story on loons in the current Yankee magazine with a section on Vermont and our great corps of volunteers.
We now have plenty of volunteers for Saturday, but people can still conduct loon surveys as part of a different program called "Loon Casual Surveys". These lakes are mostly non-nesting lakes where we are trying to assess levels of loon activity. Surveys can be done anytime from May to October. If two loons are repeatedly observed, we will want to watch that lake more closely the following year to see if a pair is forming and maybe someday nests. Loon Casual Surveys are a great excuse to pick out 3 or 4 lakes in another part of the state and make a day of it. See the VCE website loon section for more details or contact Eric Hanson at email@example.com.
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
The Vermont Loon Recovery Project (VLRP) annual statewide loon count is fast approaching, and we still have some lakes that need volunteers. This is a great opportunity to check out a lake or pond you normally might not visit. Many of the unassigned lakes are small and will likely not have loons, but it is still important to check them occasionally. However, there are are also some high priority lakes in need of volunteers including: Harveys, Jobs, Marshfield, May, Moore Res. (need a motorboat), Nelson, Newark, Pigeon (4-mile hike/bike), Pensioner, Spring, and Woodward.
Moderate priority lakes that need surveying include Amherst, Echo (Plymouth), Echo and Beebe (Hubbarton), Hortonia, Inman, Knapp Brook 1 and 2, Levi, Little Elmore (hike/bushwhack), Little Salem, Long (Eden), Long (Sheffield -hike), Mollys, South America (backroads/hike), Star, West Hill, and Wrightsville.
All surveys should be done between 8 and 9 a.m. on Saturday 16 July. Please contact the VLRP Coordinator, Eric Hanson, if you are interested in surveying one or several of these lakes so we do not have 3 or 4 people surveying the same lake. If you survey 2 or 3 lakes, it is o.k. to survey outside the survey period, since having a survey conducted is more important than missing the count altogether.
2011 Breeding Loon Update
As of early July, we have so far confirmed 63 nest attempts statewide, 11 failed nests, 4 re-nest attempts, and 31 successful nests which have produced 44 chicks total with 42 chicks still with us. Volunteers are reporting more Bald Eagle sightings and flyovers above loon families. Loon chicks are potentially easy targets for eagles, but mom and dad loons do their best to discourage these predators. We've had a first-time chick on Harvey's Lake. I've recently dealt with 2 adult loons caught up in fishing line, or at least tried, as I and volunteer Henry Dandeneau spent 5 hours searching Harriman Reservoir for one and never found it. The other entangled bird is currently on a small pond, hopefully feeding, but we're not sure if it will survive. We are still watching a loon "stuck" on a fire retention pond at Tafts Corners in Williston. It appears healthy, but we will likely try a capture attempt soon. Vermont won't likely see nesting numbers as high as last year's record 72, but this summer's totals will at least be similar numbers to those of 2008 and 2009. High waters early in the season have likely contributed to widespread delays in nesting, and to some pairs not nesting at all.
VCE Biologist and VLRP Coordinator
Saturday, July 02, 2011
So far this season, we have captured 25 individual Bicknell's Thrushes on the Mansfield ridgeline, a number that is about "normal". However, we have had fewer returning banded birds (i.e. those banded in previous years). Of 25 mist-netted individuals, 18 have been males and 7 females. There is a preponderance of yearling birds (13 males, 3 females), reflecting last summer's solid production in the absence of red squirrels and other predators (I saw the season's first squirrel on Wednesday). We recaptured one 10 year-old male thrush at the far northern edge of our study area, our first encounter with it since 2004.
Many birders, including Mountain Birdwatch field workers who are counting high-elevation birds all over the Northeast, have commented on how quiet the montane forest was in June. We've observed the same on Mansfield and suspect that the frequently inclement weather is in part responsible. Although montane forest birds and other wildlife are adapted to relatively harsh weather conditions, we can't help wondering about the effects of this year's weather on nesting success. In past years (this is our 20th on Mansfield), we have witnessed nestling abandonment and death following prolonged spells of bad weather. We assume that when adults become stressed by the elements, they may be unable balance their own energetic needs with those of their young, causing nestlings to die of exposure. We have several times found Bicknell's Thrush and Blackpoll Warbler nests with dead young, only later to confirm that the females were alive and well. When times are tough, it generally pays a relatively long-lived bird (if you consider several years to constitute a long life...) to ensure its own survival at the expense of current reproduction, so that it can live to breed again.
VCE is working with our long term datasets from Mansfield and other Vermont mountains to understand annual variation in local weather patterns, how they impact avian survivorship and productivity, and how they might relate to potential future climate changes. We'll be back on Mansfield in two weeks, hoping to observe and capture fledglings of different species, but wondering if that will be the case.
Chris Rimmer and Kent McFarland
Photo: Kent, aka Kapt. Krummholz, on a soggy Mt. Mansfield net run