March 1, 2012 | Vol. 42 No. 8

Watershed council will research birds

A benefit dinner set for March 10 will help launch the Ts’ats’ee Bird Observatory, an effort of the Takshanuk Watershed Council aimed at tracking trends in local bird populations.

The Mexican dinner, including videos produced by students, a live auction and art unveiling, will be held 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10 in the Haines School cafeteria. Proceeds will offset the $7,000 cost of training residents to band birds.

Pam Randles, education director for the council, said the new venture is aimed at boosting bird science in the valley, now mostly limited to the annual Audubon Christmas bird count. The work will be separate from efforts by the American Bald Eagle Foundation, and won’t duplicate foundation research.

The Audubon count, held in December, doesn’t include migratory species, a large and dynamic element of the Haines bird population, Randles said.

“We know we have new birds showing up here already. We’ll be banding song birds and small land birds like doves in the spring and fall to look for population changes and breeding changes.

“For example, with Eurasian collared doves we know they’re here. We don’t know they’re nesting. The only way is to capture a juvenile and look at the feathers,” Randles said.

The work also may help identify and quantify numbers of recent arrivals, she said, and provide information about diseases such as avian pox.

“Anecdotally, we know we’re regularly getting mountain bluebirds, which used to be rare. Their numbers have leaped up, but we don’t know how many we’re getting.”

Other birds aren’t always easy to identify without close inspection. “It’s hard to tell because they’re a little, brown job.”

The Chilkat Valley lies on the migration route known as the Pacific Flyway, and information from Haines would also help databanks tracking larger changes in bird behavior and habitat, Randles said.

Randles is working to develop a team of seven, long-term volunteers to affix bands to birds, which would be captured in nets along local waterways. A hitch is that volunteer training is expensive, at nearly $1,000 per person, with some of the cost defrayed by events like the March 10 dinner.

Serving as a bander will require a serious, years-long commitment, she said. For six weeks each spring and fall, banders will work for six hours starting at sunrise, capturing, inspecting and banding birds. “I want people who are going to be here for years to come. It’s a big undertaking but it’s such a fun thing to do. You’re up in the morning when the wildlife’s out.”

Fund-raising will enable the council to offer scholarships to banders and also help pay for equipment, including poles, nets, specialized pliers, and kits for responding to birds that experience stress.

Randles said she’s still in the process of setting up the observatory, which may eventually expand to ground surveys of breeding birds, eagle studies or other efforts. “We hope to expand and become a research center for people.” The council will get a “station permit” required for such efforts.

The fund-raising dinner will include the premier showing of “Chilkat Calendar,” a Tim Shields artwork depicting wildlife seasons, and videos produced by local students that will be aired on Alaska public television.

For information or to donate auction items, contact Randles at 766-3542.