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.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Night at the Museum – It’s Transforming

by Lou Lunte, deputy state director

Have you ever spent a night at a museum?  Tyrannosaurus roam the halls, mummies, ancient Romans, monkeys, and Neanderthals all wander in and out of exhibits. Well, not exactly, but a night at the Idaho State Museum of Natural History can be transforming in another way.  For the last five years my wife and I have volunteered to help chaperone 120+ 8-12 year-olds for a parent-less, adventure filled night at the Museum of Natural History in Pocatello.  Amazingly, this was the Museum’s 25th year of hosting this event for children, mostly from east Idaho, but also from Wyoming, Utah and even California.

Waiting at the front door of the Museum to greet families as parents dropped off their children for the night, I remembered back several years when my own daughters were able to be “pod” members, hanging out with other boys and girls amongst the dinosaurs and fossils.  My daughters had so much fun learning what happens when you drop gummy bears in dry ice, or mix Alka-Seltzer with soda or feel a snake crawl up your arm.  The museum is on the Idaho State University campus so the night starts with groups of the children going off with professors and graduate students to explore a suite of sciences, from nursing, to botany, to chemistry, to engineering and many more; all through hands-on and fun activities.

Photo Credit Lou Lunte

Coming towards me was a somewhat harried looking but smiling mom escorting her bright eyed daughter, sleeping bag and knapsack in hand.  “Are you ready for a fun night,” I asked the girl.  “Yes!” came the enthusiastic reply.  “Have you been to the museum before?” I asked.  “No, will I see dinosaurs?” she replied.  “Yes, and much more,” I responded, as the girl cheerfully headed through the door to start her night at the museum.

From a chaperone’s point of view, the night went amazingly well – only one sick child, one missing professor and a few moments in the wee hours to nap.  As we awoke the children from their slumber under the various museum exhibits and got them ready to return to their parents, I wondered what they thought about their night in the museum.  The little girl I greeted the day before was now leaving, pulling her mom by the hand and talking non-stop about what she’d done.  “Did you have fun?” I asked. “Yes, that was so cool!”  Turning to her mom she asked “Can I come back, please?  Look mom, there’s the goo I made!”  The mom was smiling and the two headed out, to show the “goo” to dad.

Photo Credit Lou Lunte

All the boys and girls leaving that day were sharing stories with families of their amazing night at the museum.  Reflecting on why I so enjoy volunteering for this event, it’s what I see and hear from the children as they leave in the morning.  Sure, it’s exciting to hang out in the museum with a bunch of other children and stay up past midnight eating pizza, but what I hear the children talking about as they leave, more than anything else, is the fun they had with science.  Yes, science!  They cheered on the physics graduate student as he shot smoke rings out of a 30 gallon barrel over their heads in the large auditorium.  They then frantically raised their hands to answer his questions about – why, and how.  This took place in every laboratory that night – the boys and girls had fun and shared their curiosity about how things work.

Photo credit Lou Lunte

As the last of the children and parents left the museum that morning, I had to smile as I wondered if all those parents knew what they were in for next.  For I knew from experience that beyond all the fun the children had that night, a transformation had also taken place for many of the children present – as the parents might soon find out!

Had I only known - my daughters went to the reptile session during their night at the museum!