Saturday, June 25, 2011

Montana Update

I’ve become really terrible at keeping my blog updated the past 6 months. To be honest, I don’t even have an excuse. However, starting today, I’m going to make an endeavor to blog as regularly as I can – hopefully once a week…at least.
My home on wheels for the summer
For those of you who actually read my blog, you probably know by now that I’ve been in Montana this summer conducing point counts throughout Montana. Although I’m employed with the University of Montana, this project is through the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and is conducted in several other states including Colorado, Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming. The main objective (in a nutshell) is to create population estimates using detections and distance protocols. Each 1km² transect has 16 points which we conduct 6-minute point counts recording every bird seen and heard as well as distance. After a week of training at the Condon Field Station in the Swan Valley, we were assigned our transects and sent off to our respected regions of the state.

Condon Work Station - Swan Valley
The beginng of the field season was battle against the weather. Montana received record rains and mountain snowpack resulting in serious flooding throughout much of the eastern half of the state. The first few days on the job, three of us were at the Busy Bee Café in Roundup having coffee and planning out our first hitch of the season. A few days and several river crossings later, I was in Malta watching the news and was stunned to see that the Busy Bee Café was now flooded to the roof.

Busy Bee Cafe (not my photo)
As you can imagine, the next couple weeks were chaotic as we squeezed in counts here in there between heavy rains, floods and muddy roads. For those who are not familiar with Montana, when it has rained, you’ll want to avoid dirt roads as much as possible. The dirt here is unique and once it gets wet it turns into what the locals call gumbo; as you drive the mud cakes to your wheels to the point where they stop spinning. Nonetheless, this didn’t stall us and we’ve ended up having a productive field season.

Drive between Roundup and Malta
Considering the vast region I was assigned, I decided it would be a challenge to see how large of a Montana state list I can accumulate. My goal from the beginning was 250 and as of today I’m at 208. With only a couple weeks left in the treasure state, it’s going to be difficult to reach. Tomorrow I’m off to a new area of Montana along the border of Wyoming south and east of Billings. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick up difficulties including Cassin’s Kingbird, Dickcissel, Plumbeous Vireo and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher among some easier birds still missing on my list including Pinyon Jay, Prairie Falcon and Mountain Plover.
Western Tanager

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