New tech­nol­ogy aids tag­ging, track­ing wild birds

The Boyertown Area Times - - SPORTS - By Tom Ta­tum For Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

Tag, you’re it! And if you hap­pen to be one of seven species of mi­gra­tory birds and one species of bat, wildlife pop­u­la­tions that have been in se­ri­ous de­cline for years in our state, tag is not just a kids’ game these days. That’s be­cause the Penn­syl­va­nia Game Com­mis­sion (PGC) is set to lead a “tag team” that in­cludes the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, the North­east Mo­tus Col­lab­o­ra­tion, and other part­ner­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions in their ef­forts to col­lect life-cy­cle in­for­ma­tion on the tar­geted species.

These species in­clude Swain­son’s thrush, wood thrush, black­poll war­blers, Canada war­blers, rusty black­birds, Amer­i­can wood­cock and north­ern long-eared bats. Other pri­or­ity species, such as New Eng­land’s Bick­nell’s thrush, also are tar­geted by this re­search.

This cut­ting edge re­search is made pos­si­ble by nan­o­tags, de­vices that weigh as lit­tle as oneeighth that of a penny and can ac­com­plish what much heav­ier teleme­try gear couldn’t do as re­cently as ten years ago. Al­most overnight they have helped strengthen the sci­ence used in wildlife con­ser­va­tion.

Ra­dio trans­mit­ters so small they can be fit­ted to monarch but­ter­flies, nan­o­tags trans­mit a sig­nal that can reach out about 10 miles. This project aims to pro­vide more re­ceiver sta­tions to col­lect those nan­o­tag trans­mis­sions. Cur­rently, there are more than 40 in Penn­syl­va­nia. The ex­pec­ta­tion is that about 12 more re­ceiv­ing sta­tions would be added un­der this proposal.

“Penn­syl­va­nia al­ready is well equipped with re­ceiv­ing sta­tions in western and south­ern coun­ties,” ex­plained Dan Braun­ing, who su­per­vises the Game Com­mis­sion’s Wildlife Di­ver­sity Di­vi­sion. “Clus­ters of new re­ceiver sta­tions will be es­tab­lished on the Po­cono Plateau, as well as across the north­ern tier, and along the Kit­tatinny Ridge/South Moun­tain sys­tem.”

“This project em­bod­ies con­tem­po­rary wildlife con­ser­va­tion: state and fed­eral gov­ern­ment agen­cies work­ing with pri­vate con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions and uni­ver­si­ties to help species that de­mand more at­ten­tion than tra­di­tional wildlife man­age­ment can pro­vide,” ex­plained Game Com­mis­sion Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Bryan Burhans. “The agency is in­debted to part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Wil­lis­town Con­ser­va­tion Trust and the Ned Smith Cen­ter for Na­ture and Art for their com­mit­ment to wildlife. To­day, con­ser­va­tion counts on part­ners more than ever be­fore.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice (USFWS) has agreed to sup­port a proposal for fur­ther ex­pan­sion of the Mo­tus Wildlife Track­ing Sys­tem in Penn­syl­va­nia and four other neigh­bor­ing states (New York, Mary­land, New Jer­sey and Delaware) to mon­i­tor eight mi­gra­tory species and other wildlife.

The North­east Mo­tus Col­lab­o­ra­tion is a part­ner­ship of the Wil­lis­town Con­ser­va­tion Trust, Ned Smith Cen­ter for Na­ture and Art, Project Owl­net and the Carnegie Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory’s Pow­der­mill Na­ture Re­serve. The col­lab­o­ra­tion is housed un­der the Mo­tus Wildlife Track­ing Sys­tem es­tab­lished in 2013 by Bird Stud­ies Canada. The net­work cur­rently tracks wildlife from more than 500 sta­tions around the world.

The USFWS is pro­vid­ing $497,929 to help un­der­write this wildlife sur­veil­lance which tracks mi­grat­ing an­i­mals with nan­o­tags. Col­lab­o­ra­tion mem­ber or­ga­ni­za­tions and oth­ers are pro­vid­ing more than $225,000 to meet fed­eral match­ing fund­ing re­quire­ments.

Re­ceiver sta­tions al­ready are col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion that has been pon­dered by or­nithol­o­gists and bat bi­ol­o­gists since the dawn of Amer­i­can wildlife con­ser­va­tion. Soon, they will know more about the specifics of mi­gra­tion than ever be­fore.

“Rid­ing on the back of a mi­grat­ing bird is the best way to col­lect mi­gra­tion in­for­ma­tion,” Braun­ing noted. “And now nan­o­tag trans­mit­ters can do that. It’s like a new chap­ter in mi­gra­tory bird be­hav­ior open­ing be­fore us, and we all are ea­ger to see what those trans­mit­ters con­tinue to detect.”

Other ob­jec­tives of the teleme­try sur­veil­lance project in­clude the tag­ging of North­ern long-eared bats at a Cen­tre County ma­ter­nity colony and tracked to es­tab­lish their mi­gra­tory routes and use of hi­ber­nac­ula dur­ing the sum­mer and winter of 2019. Amer­i­can wood­cock and wood thrushes, cap­tured at band­ing sta­tions and res­cued from win­dow col­li­sions will be tagged and their move­ments and sur­vival will be tracked. Swain­son’s thrushes will be tagged to mea­sure their mi­gra­tory move­ments and use of hem­lock habi­tat in For­est and War­ren coun­ties with an aim to pro­tect crit­i­cal thrush habi­tat.

Over­all, the project in­tends to shed more de­tails on bird mi­gra­tion routes, tim­ing, even post-breed­ing dis­per­sal move­ments. It also has the po­ten­tial to pro­vide life-cy­cle data that would help pro­tect cur­rently un­rec­og­nized im­por­tant habi­tat, such as high-use mi­gra­tory stopovers.

“This work has the po­ten­tial to in­crease our knowl­edge of one of North Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant in­land mi­gra­tory cor­ri­dors,” Braun­ing ex­plained. “Lit­tle is re­ally known about mi­gra­tory stopover and stag­ing of birds. Mi­gra­tion also is be­lieved to cause an es­ti­mated 85 per­cent of an­nual adult bird mor­tal­ity.”

For these rea­sons, and many more, the folks at the PGC look for­ward to the ex­pan­sion of the Mo­tus Wildlife Track­ing Sys­tem and the emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy that of­fers fresh new in­sights at a time when mi­gra­tory birds, par­tic­u­larly neotrop­i­cal birds, need all the help they can get.

**** SHARK TRACK­ING. At the same time sci­en­tists are track­ing air­borne crit­ters like bats and birds, seago­ing crea­tures are also sub­ject to ra­dio trans­mit­ting tech­nol­ogy. My friend out­door writer and char­ter cap­tain Mark Samp­son, him­self an ex­pert on sharks, has been help­ing out with this re­search and has tagged a num­ber of ham­mer­head sharks in the process. You can check out the fas­ci­nat­ing off­shore me­an­der­ings of tagged sharks by go­ing to the Guy Har­vey Re­search In­sti­tute at GHRITrack­ing.org.

**** ELK CAM UP AND RUN­NING. Penn­syl­va­nia’s elk herd is more ac­tive than ever, bugling and spar­ring in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the rut­ting sea­son. If you can’t make it up to Penn­syl­va­nia’s elk coun­try around Benezette, PA, to view these big guys in ac­tion, no prob­lem. You’ll get a ring­side seat via the Penn­syl­va­nia Game Com­mis­sion’s elk cam on­line. Just visit https://www. pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/WildlifeSpecies/Elk/Pages/de­fault.aspx. The best time to view elk here is at dusk and dawn. You may also see white-tailed deer, tur­keys, ground hogs, and any other crit­ters that stray within cam­era range.

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