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A Decade of IMBCR Point Counts

By: Jeremy Halka and Christian Meny

This year represents a landmark of 10 years of point count surveys conducted by IBO for the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) program! IMBCR is the second largest breeding bird monitoring program in the U.S. next to the Breeding Bird Survey, with thousands of surveys across the western and Great Plains states. IMBCR is based on the North American Bird Conservation Initiative’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs): “ecologically distinct regions in North America with similar bird communities, habitats, and resource management issues” (US NABCI 2007). Surveys are randomly selected and spatially-balanced and within each BCR. This allows inferences about bird species distribution and abundance to be made at various spatial scales. As we collect data over the years, we can also generate reliable trend estimates for many species.

an amazing vista of a mountain lake with sheer rock slopes and old snow fields in the background
IMBCR Survey on the Coeur d’Alene Field Office. Photo Credit: Ryan Healey

IMBCR surveys take place on both public and private lands, which not only helps generate reliable estimates across landscapes, but also provides an opportunity for outreach across the region by contacting landowners for permission to access their land for surveys.

We contacted over 100 landowners to gain access to survey points on private land in 2020!

At IBO, the IMBCR program brings in the largest grants and effort of all the projects we work on. It provides the bulk of funding for 3 full-time staff members (~1/3 of IBO), and we also hire a very large crew of seasonal technicians to conduct surveys each year. In 2020, we employed 19 IMBCR technicians to survey across Idaho, Montana, and Utah. This large-scale effort has challenges that include (but are certainly not limited to) training all of the technicians, renting what feels like a fleet of field vehicles, and above all making sure everyone is safe out in the wilderness.

a beautiful scenic view at dawn shows a wide vista with mesa type mountains in the background and a mix of green meadow and conifer trees in the foreground
IMBCR Survey on the Fishlake National Forest, Utah. Photo Credit: Adam Bradley

This year required additional precautions and adaptations to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic. We created video recordings to allow for virtual training of things like administrative tasks, accessing program databases, and bird identification. But since nothing beats in-the-field training, we still conducted practice surveys in a socially-distanced manner to make sure our technicians were calibrated on various protocols such as collecting vegetation data and distance sampling. In 2020, IBO completed 482 IMBCR surveys throughout Idaho, Montana, and Utah.

We tallied 79,997 individual bird detections representing 234 species on these surveys, including numerous detections of sensitive and priority species for the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Thanks to all the help from numerous departments at Boise State University, we were able to make the 2020 season a huge success!

For more information on the IMBCR program and to view reports from previous years, please visit the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies website (formerly Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory; creator of IMBCR).

a brightly colored songbird with striking red head, yellow body, black wings
Western Tanager. Photo Credit: Heidi Ware Carlisle

This article is part of our 2020 end of the year newsletter! View the full newsletter here, or click “older posts” below to read the next article.

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