Monday, June 30, 2014

Curlew Tracking Update from the Flat Ranch Preserve

by Jordan Reeves, East Idaho conservation manager
As you may recall from earlier blog posts, we’ve been anxiously awaiting the annual late spring arrival of long-billed curlew to our Flat Ranch Preserve. While we are always excited to witness the birds return to nest at the ranch, this year was particularly exciting because we have been planning for months to place a satellite transmitter on a curlew in order to track its annual migration.  
Curlew at the Ranch ©Megan Grover-Cereda/TNC

On May 28 we successfully fitted “AH,” a beautiful female curlew with a tracking device that will provide us with hourly GPS coordinates of her whereabouts throughout the year.  AH is the curlew’s temporary name while we await the results of a voting contest to choose her name. You can cast your vote here until July 11.

Fitting a curlew with a satellite transmitter is no small feat.  To capture AH, fit her with the transmitter and release her, we needed a team of scientists and volunteers. Skilled scientists from the Intermountain Bird Observatory and Idaho Department of Fish and Game used a mist net to very carefully capture AH while she was sitting on her nest. While they took her measurements and fitted her with her a solar-powered micro-transmitter, we watched over AH’s vacant nest to ensure no predators took advantage of her momentary absence to snatch her eggs.  After a transmitter was placed on AH and scientists were confident the lightweight device would not hinder her mobility, we released her and wished her the best for the long journey ahead. 

 Volunteers keeping watch ©Shyne Brothers

As AH flew away she left behind one of her feathers for Ellie, the youngest (and cutest!) volunteer. “This is the best day ever!” Ellie exclaimed. It was a poignant end to an exciting day. Ellie is the granddaughter of Debbie Empey, a local rancher who partnered with the Conservancy to ensure curlew and other species have the lands and waters they need to thrive.

Ellie with her feather ©Shyne Brothers

Now we sit back, cross our fingers for AH’s safety, and follow her movements over the next year as she travels to wintering grounds further south and (hopefully) returns to Idaho next summer for another nesting season.  We don’t know where East Idaho’s curlew travel during their annual migration so AH has many things to teach us!
To read more about our curlew project read an earlier blog we posted on this charismatic bird.  We also hope that AH is a pioneer in our Henry’s Fork curlew monitoring efforts.  To support us in tracking the migrations of more long-billed curlews, please donate here.

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