Bird Monitoring at Camas NWR


Wilson’s warblers are a species of greatest conservation need, something we would not realize without consistent monitoring such as that occurring now at Camas NWR.

Around 2007, my youngest son, Zack, became the fourth of four brothers to receive the rank of Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts of America. To earn his Eagle, he needed to complete a comprehensive service project, one for which he acquired materials and directed to completion. His project was to make dozens of tiny cloth sacks in various sizes that would hold songbirds for an undertaking at Camas National Wildlife Refuge north of Hamer.

The intent of the Refuge project was to set the baseline for songbird migration through the area and initiate monitoring of these populations. Birds were caught in fine-threaded “mist” nets, gently untangled and placed in the appropriately sized bag supplied by Zack and weighed and banded before release.

This effort was wildly successful as it showed just how valuable Camas and the nearby wildlife management areas, Mud and Market lakes, are to migrating songbirds. According to one document, “The study revealed not only a wide variety of song birds (99 species!), but an unexpected abundance of some species (e.g., over 4,200 Wilson’s Warbler, and over 1,000 Hermit Thrush and Ruby-Crowned Kinglet were captured).  Recaptures demonstrated that, more important for the birds and migration success, many individual birds stayed at Camas several days and while there increased their weight by as much as 15%. Camas NWR and the WMAs are critically important refueling stations.  The results of this study prompted habitat improvement projects at Camas NWR designed specifically to benefit neotropical migrant songbirds.”

Monitoring, by definition, must be repeated, preferably on a routine basis. It was the objective of the study to conduct this same monitoring effort every five years to track populations. Funding is ever fickle though, and despite the best efforts of those involved, never came to fruition until now, 18 years later. Through grants from Friends of Camas, Snake River and Portneuf Audubon societies, and a few private donations, enough funding has been cobbled together to finally repeat the study. Efforts began in April and will continue until mid-June and again in autumn for two years. A Masters student from Idaho State University will direct the project.

There are several good reasons for the two-month long capture period. First, migration doesn’t happen all at once. Different species migrate at different times and there is a distinct bell curve for each species, with some coming early, the bulk in the middle and latecomers tailing off to zero at some point. With 99 species, it takes time to capture the peak of multiple species.

The second reason for a long capture period is the banding. Very few songbird bands are ever recovered. The real purpose of banding is to re-capture individuals and see how much weight they gain. This is a direct measure of the adequacy of the habitat for refueling critical reserves to complete their migration. As stated above, birds hanging out at Camas for several days in 2005-2007 gained as much as 15% in body weight. Habitat effectiveness can be evaluated by bird weight gains.

An objective of good monitoring is repeatability so current results can be compared to previous ones. In this case, nets and point counts are happening in the same locations established in the first survey using similar techniques developed by the Intermountain Bird Observatory at Boise State University. Besides abundance, they will, “Compare energetic condition and other indicators of stopover site suitability, including recapture rate, stopover duration, and mass gain, against baseline data collected 2005-2007.”

One thing will be different. Advancements in radio-tagging will allow the placement of MOTUS (Latin for movement) tags on up to 40 birds. These tags will be solar-powered and will last the life of the bird. Through a network of over 1,000 towers already in place (if a marked bird gets within 10 miles of a tower, the location is recorded), the migratory pathways of the marked birds will be determined.

One last thing: There is a public outreach component to this study. The public is encouraged to visit the Refuge and see how the work is done and even participate. The only thing is that you do need to make arrangements in advance by calling the Refuge at: (208) 662-5423. If you are interested, give the Refuge a call and make an appointment. And don’t forget to bring some kids.

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