Friday, July 29, 2016

Bog to Ridge BioBlitz In Review

Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve BioBlitz compilation at the Outdoor Classroom. (photo by Karen Stubenvoll)

A BioBlitz is really an incredible thing. It provides a unique opportunity to go out in the field with a professional or enthusiast to learn from them and witness their passion for a particular group of flora or fauna or the natural world. Birders know the feeling all too well, but what of the folks who enjoy lichens, moths, sedges, or dragonflies? Generally, those folks don’t get the same level of community and instead venture into the field solo, learning what they can and perhaps finding a person or two with whom they can share experiences. A BioBlitz offers a bit of community for those folks who themselves are enthusiasts or just hoping to learn something about a group of species that they hold dear. 

July 16th and 17th held host to the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz. This was the 4th year for the Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz, which partnered this year with Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory to conduct BioBlitzes at two locations: Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve and the Sax-Zim Bog. Though both locations are in the northwoods, the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz offered great chances for field trip participants to get a feel for the entire area; from the bogs and conifers of the Sax-Zim Bog to the upland forests and rock outcroppings of the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve.

Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz folks prepare to go out in the field. (photo by Rubin Stenseng)

Each year, the BioBlitz turns out more and more participants, of all ages and abilities, to explore and document as many species as possible with 5 or 6 hours. On the first Sax-Zim BioBlitz, there were four participants, which is a stark contrast to the over 50 participants at this year’s two day event. Field trips this year were also a bit different from the standard expert lead explorations afield. The Sax-Zim BioBlitz format involved an expert/enthusiast/professional lead trip to find and learn about a particular group of species, ie birds. However, the Hawk Ridge BioBlitz had a generalist focus, look for anything and everything, giving trip leaders the opportunity to share information and excitement about more than just one collection of species. 
BioBlitz participants Ben Yokel and Karen Stubenvoll look on as a species is being discussed. (photo by Janelle Long)

Overall, the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz had two focuses. First, the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz hoped to show the public a particular location through the lens of a particular species, so that they may begin to understand and care for their local ecosystems. Second, the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz had a goal of data collection. By connecting the public with the task of data collection, it gives greater stakeholder value to the true diversity of a place. Last, by educating the public about a under observed species, it is hopeful that they will, in turn, educate someone they may know and build greater appreciation for a given species or area. 

Trip leader Bill Tefft photographing a butterfly at the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve BioBlitz. (photo by Janelle Long)
This year, the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz was lucky enough to have a team of 9 experts lead field trips during the course of the two day event. At the Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz Jim Lind and Dave Grosseuch lead a trip looking for dragonflies and damselflies; Sparky Stensaas and Ben Yokel lead a trip focused on birds; Clinton Nienhaus lead a field trip documenting fish species; Chad Heins lead a group looking for spiders; Jerry McCormick lead a trip looking for Butterflies; and Kelly O’Brien lead a trip documenting plants. Clinton and Sparky also lead trips at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, along with Bill Tefft. Each trip leader went out in the field to document species and to educate one of the over 50 field trip participants.
Numbers of species can often be telling of the diversity of an area, however, we cannot always give each species the credit (observation or documentation wise) that it is due. For example, this year during the Sax-Zim BioBlitz 90 new species were added to the already towering species list. In the 90 new species, 20 were moths, 17 were spiders, and 14 were grasses or sedges. Good numbers of new species are great, but there were some astounding records made by Spider Field Trip Leader, Chad Heins. Of the 17 species of new spider added to the Sax-Zim Bog species list, 10 had never been recorded in St. Louis county and 2 species had never been recorded in the state!! As equally exciting as the new records are, all of the spiders found by Chad’s field trip were found within close proximity to the Friend’s of Sax-Zim Bog’s Welcome Center!

The Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve BioBlitz proved equally fruitful, locating 75 new species to the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve species list including a whopping 26 new species of lichens and plants, and 17 new species of insect. The most impressive point to this list is the amount of new plant species observed. Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve had previously undergone a fairly intensive plant survey, yielding thorough documentation of the area. However, species like Ragged-fringed Orchid, Narrow-leaved Cowwheat, and Wild Geranium had slipped past surveys and avoided previous documentation. All in all, Sax-Zim Bog field trips found 374 species and Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve field trips found 159 species, for a grand total of 424 different species over the two locations!

 Pictured above are a selection of species seen during the BioBlitzes (from top to bottom: Tile Lichen (photo by Clinton Nienhaus), Williamson's Emerald (photo by Clinton Nienhaus), White Eulithis (photo by Clinton Nienhaus), Indian Pipe (photo by Rubin Stenseng), Baltimore Checkerspot (photo by Jerry McCormick), and Rock Polypody (photo by Clinton Nienhaus))

Each BioBlitz that is done sheds new light to each location, no matter how well we may know its secrets. Case in point, the Sax-Zim Bog master species list was nearly 800 species and field trips were still able to add 90 new species!! What an amazing show of diversity in a location that has had strong documentation. Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve had an impressive list of over 450 species and added 75 new species under the premise of a general species hike. At each of these locations there are certainly more species to be found. Documentation of those lesser known or hard to observe critters like insects, salamanders, moths, and aquatic invertebrates may add much to our already deep understanding of the northwoods. Who knows how fast the species lists can grow if more experts and more field trips are out exploring our local wild spaces?!

FOSZB Board Member Gene Oillia looks on as trip leader Clinton Nienhaus talks about a longnose dace captured in the Sax-Zim Bog. (photo by Kristina Dexter)

Thank you to all that participated, field trip leaders (Jim Lind, Dave Grosshuesch, Sparky Stensaas, Ben Yokel, Clinton Nienhaus, Chad Heins, Jerry McCormick, Kelly O’Brien, & Bill Tefft), Larry Weber for his wonderful evening program, and to the species that let us enjoy and appreciate them. We hope you can join us for another BioBlitz in the future! 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Peregrine Watch 2016 Review

The Ups and Downs of a Nest Watch

Peregrine Watch has been a seasonal stop for tourists and locals alike along Duluth's Lake Walk. Each season is different, but in most years peregrine falcons nest in the nest box on the Greysolon Plaza Building in downtown Duluth. Every season is different and this summer was a stark contrast to drama of last summer's observation season!

A view down the scope from Lake Park Place toward the Greysolon Plaza Building
and the peregrine falcon nest box on the near left corner of the building.
(Photo by Scott Palacheck)
The history of last year's drama begins in 2003, the first year the "Pale Male" (a non-banded bird, who was quite a bit paler than most of our "Eastern" peregrine falcons) nested in the Greysolon Plaza Building's nest box. He was the dominant male bird who used the box consistently, albeit with different females, up until last summer. His mate, "Canada," was paired with him the previous few years, but last year she decided to leave the "Pale Male" and nest on the Torrey Building with "Cloquet," a male who is far younger than she and the "Pale Male." Through Peregrine Watch last summer, folks got to hear and see the story of this drama unfold. The "Pale Male" was seen at the nest box on the Greysolon Plaza Building daily, bringing food to an empty box and to no female. Occasionally, "Canada" who mind you, was nesting on the Torrey Building with "Cloquet", would come and receive food from the lonely "Pale Male." It perhaps was discouraging to listen to the "Pale Male" call for the female on a regular basis, all the while a nest with chicks was out of the question for the Greysolon Plaza Building. But that is nature at it's finest; ups and downs are all a part of the story.

"Cloquet" is the new male in town! Here he is keeping watch
over the city from one of his many perches.
(Photo by Clinton Nienhaus)
Move the story forward to this summer. During the month of May, "Canada" and "Cloquet" were seen at the Torrey Building, though the nest box was taken down. Perhaps they would attempt to nest atop the building itself? The Greysolon Plaza Building nest box was mostly unattended, sans a non-banded bird (not the "Pale Male") and another banded female. Moving closer to the start of Peregrine Watch, it seemed there would be no birds nesting in the Greysolon Plaza Building box. There was a scramble to watch the box for any sign of action, whether it would be to simply find one bird on/in the box, or see two birds on the Greysolon Plaza Building. Before June hit, it was learned that "Canada" and "Cloquet" had been using the box the entire time we were checking on the box! Moreover, they had laid a total of four eggs!! What news!

Traditionally, Peregrine Watch begins close to hatch day for the peregrine falcon's eggs, that is, the beginning of June or last week of May. This season, Peregrine Watch began on the 2nd of June and the chicks were banded on June 8th. If you look at this timeline and consider that peregrine falcons are generally banded when they are around 20-24 days of age, you can extrapolate that sometime in mid-May the eggs hatched! What a sneaky pair of birds! They had nested right under our watchful eyes, and we missed the whole process of courtship and nesting. The unexpected is why you do a nest watch and educate the public on these wonderful avian predators.

"Canada" patrolling the skies, keeping the nest safe from passing "threats".
This season we watched the pair chase other Peregrine Falcons, Bald Eagles,
Broad-winged and Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Herring Gulls that
happened to get too close to the nest!
(photo by Clinton Nienhaus)
Each season is different on the Greysolon Plaza Building. I mentioned that the Greysolon Plaza pair of falcons laid four eggs, however, only three of the eggs hatched. Peregrine falcons don't start incubating until the third egg of a clutch has been laid, so loosing one egg usually means harsh conditions at the outset of nesting. Near the start of egg laying by "Canada," Duluth experienced cold and bleak weather, perhaps the driving factor behind the egg loss. With that loss, three healthy male Peregrine Falcon chicks were banded by Amy Ries of the Raptor Resource Project. The Raptor Resource Project manages Peregrine Falcon nest boxes along the Mississippi River and are based in Decorah, Iowa. Raptor Resource Project is also responsible for putting the nest box up on the Greysolon Building in 1992.

Miranda (left) and Amy (right) banding
one of the male chicks from the Greysolon
Plaza Building nest box.
(Photo by Clinton Nienhaus)
The chicks were banded with standard grey federal bird bands and blue and black project bands with letters over numbers, for easy identification in the field by biologists or Peregrine Watchers. These chicks were also given names, just a nice way to honor important folks or to keep birds straight when interacting with visitors. The Greysolon Plaza Building chicks were banded with black over blue bands in the sequence of B/51, 52, and 53. B/51 is better known as Bob after Bob Anderson who was instrumental in peregrine falcon recovery in the Midwest and further afield; B/52 was given the name Dudley, after Dudley Edmondson, who, not only is a Duluthian and nature photographer/videographer, but first suggested there be a box placed on the Greysolon Plaza Building; and finally, B/53 was given the name Tristin, after a young man present at the banding.

Peregrine Watch ended on June 30, but not before the chicks had their first flights. By June 23 it was apparent that the chicks were a little older than we had estimated. They had grown in leaps and bounds through the observation in June and were very actively testing their wings, perhaps for a first flight by Saturday, June 25. During the hourly practicing, we noticed that not all of the chicks were seen. "Cloquet" caught a pigeon, and promptly handed it off to "Canada" who went off to feed the chicks. This feeding activity only produced two loud and flapping chicks, not the expected three. By the end of the day on June 30, B/52 and B/53 were both seen actively flying, with no sign of B/51. Perhaps he fledged successfully and was perched atop a different building that could not be seen from Lake Park Place. Perhaps he didn't make it, as the smallest chick in the nest.

Portrait of one of the chicks from the Greysolon Plaza Building. These birds
are beautiful at every stage of life, whether they are white and puffy
or soaring and stooping with grace and power.
(Photo by Clinton Nienhaus)
  Success still came from this short season, even with a potential chick lost. Two strong flying, young male peregrine falcons fledged and are a wonderful addition to the skies above Duluth. Even better, we at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory got the chance to introduce those birds to the diverse audiences that visit Peregrine Watch this and every season. Considering the pinch for time at the beginning of the season, Peregrine Watch was able to be staffed by myself, Eliza Grames, and Miranda Durbin, with volunteer help from Scott Palacheck. We staffed Lake Park Place 12 days, with three cancellations due to rain. We interacted with a total of 885 visitors, averaging about 74 visitors in our 10:00 am- 2:00 pm viewing hours.

Sometimes birds behave as you hope, sometimes they nest in secret, and sometimes they leave to the other side of town for a new male! Every year of a nest watch has new and exciting opportunities for learning, seeing a familiar avian face, or for the unaware, gaining a deeper appreciation for what is directly above us if only we take a chance to look up.

A quick pass made over Lake Park Place by "Cloquet" who is looking
a bit ragged during his post-breeding molt. Or perhaps he was worn
out by his chicks!
(Photo by Clinton Nienhaus)
Thanks to everyone who stopped out to Peregrine Watch this summer and we hope to see you next summer!

Clinton Nienhaus
Education Director and Peregrine Watch Coordinator