Bird Monitoring at Camas Part 2

tanager in hand

Victoria Reid, a licensed bird bander and handler, holds a male Western tanager while she checks its condition.

We were at Camas National Wildlife Refuge last Tuesday, participating in a Bird-A-Thon held by the Snake River and Portneuf Audubon societies and Friends of Camas NWR. As we wandered around, young people on bicycles would pass by, often carrying tiny cloth sacks by their drawstrings in their mouths. At one point, a cyclist stopped right in front of us, dismounted and strode into the bushes. Curious, we followed and quickly caught up as he was working a songbird from a wispy net strung through the trees.

We had seen these nets and realized that they were part of the bird monitoring program re-initiated after a 17-year hiatus. As we visited with the young man whom we learned is a professional bird bander named Lucian Davis, he suggested that we stop by the shelter near headquarters and watch them process the birds. After another stop to watch him untangle a pair of Wilson’s warblers from another net and place them in the cloth sacks, we headed over to the shelter.

Inside, we found Victoria Reid from Texas, another professional bander, Holly Trombetto, a volunteer from Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge and Tyler Jensen, a citizen volunteer from Idaho Falls.

Victoria was currently working with a bird she thought was a dusky flycatcher. She had already weighed it in the sack and now she held it gently in a very specific grip that contained the bird but did not apply pressure to it. Five film cannisters (remember those?) were lined up on the table. Each cannister contained a number of a different sizes of bird leg bands on a wire poking out of holes in the tops. There was also a set of pliers for applying the tiny bands. Victoria asked for a specific-sized band and Holly quickly obliged and wrote down the identifying number as Victoria read it to her.

Once the bird was banded, Victoria began analysis of the bird. She softly blew on the back of the bird’s head to lift the feathers and expose the cranium. She explained that with training and practice, she could see that the cranium was fully developed, making this an adult bird. Next, she blew gently on the feathers on the back, looking carefully at the condition of the skin beneath. She declared the bird healthy and began to examine the wings. Since she wasn’t sure if this was indeed a dusky and not a willow or other similar flycatcher, she looked carefully at the wing feathers, comparing lengths of several of them. She finally pronounced it a dusky. Whew! No wonder I have a tough time recognizing them in the field!

Once all the measurements were taken and recorded and the band was in place, Victoria walked outside and, opening her grip, righted the tiny bird which, after a moment, took flight. In the meantime, another bird was ready for processing, this one a Western tanager male, a beautiful red and yellow bird. Seeing the bird there in her hand, I was struck by just how small and fragile-looking this bird is, and it is far larger than the flycatcher. She went through a similar process although she didn’t have to concern herself with identifying the bird to species.

While we were there, a gray catbird and an Eastern kingbird were also processed, along with the Wilson’s warblers we had seen entangled in the net. With ten nets, and checking each net at least every half hour, these were busy times for these young professionals who are doing a very important work.

If you are in the Camas NWR area between now and June 15 and want to see the process, the public is welcome to observe. Victoria will explain everything that she is doing and you can even take a few photos. Just don’t get in the way.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho