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A new, old project for IBO

If you’ve spent much time at our research stations, you probably know IBO’s research director, Jay Carlisle. And if you’re a long-time IBO friend, you might even remember when Jay was working on his PhD research project in the early 2000s. His research focused on songbird migration at Lucky Peak, and his work there was what created the long-term songbird migration project as we know it today.

two smiling biologists stand outdoors with a group of college age students
Carlos Valeris (left) and Jay Carlisle (second from left) show visitors around the banding station in 2007

But did you know that right after his PhD he also conducted research at another location: Camas National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Idaho? From fall of 2005 through spring of 2007 (2 seasons each of spring and fall), IBO scientists studied migrating songbirds at this site, which was known to birders as one of the best migration birding hotspots in the state.

a biologists hands gently hold a wood thrush, showing its rusty brown body and white speckled chest
The first Wood Thrush banded at Camas National Wildlife Refuge, and first Idaho record. May 19, 2007. Photo credit: Carlos Valeris

In fact, during their time at Camas, the banding crew encountered some stunning rare bird records including the state’s first Wood Thrush and first 2 Connecticut Warblers (2 weeks apart!) along with numerous other noteworthy vagrants. More importantly, the project documented HUGE numbers of Wilson’s Warblers – especially in the fall migration – and impressive numbers of thrushes and many other Neotropical and shorter distance migrants.

a small connecticut warbler with white eye ring, gray chest, and yellow belly
One of two Connecticut Warblers banded at Camas. September 14th 2005. Photo Credit: Jay Carlisle

During autumn 2006, the Camas crew captured an immature female Wilson’s Warbler that was already banded – in Alaska! Wilson’s Warbler band # 2480-40861 was first captured and banded on Aug. 6, 2006 in Denali National Park and we recovered the bird at Camas NWR on Aug. 27 … three weeks and over 2,000 miles later!! This bird then stayed at Camas for two days and gained 0.5 grams – a gain of over 7% of body mass. Her story inspired IBO’s first children’s book, Wilma on the Wing, written and illustrated by Anna Connington.

a square book cover shows an illustration with a wilson's warbler perched on a red flowering plant. The text reads "Wilma on the Wing. Written and Illustrated by Anna Connington"
IBO’s first children’s book

When the initial 2-year project wrapped up in 2007, the ideal plan was to return to Camas within 5 years to follow up but budget cuts for US Fish and Wildlife Service and other factors have meant that 16 years have passed! Continued monitoring at key habitats like the refuge can help us understand the bigger picture of conservation in the region. As the years have passed, long-term drought (& resulting lower water availability) has altered the wooded habitats around the refuge headquarters – many of the large cottonwood trees have died and portions of the riparian vegetation also dried out.

a view of Camas National Wildlife Refuge showing expansive blue sky, brown grassy fields and leafless cottonwood snags in the background
Many of the oldest trees at the refuge are dying. Photo credit: Victoria Henrye

Now, we finally have the chance to follow up on the project! Thanks to the Friends of Camas NWR, IBO has received funding to begin songbird banding at the refuge again. The project is coming together thanks to a partnership with an Idaho State University graduate student (and friend of IBO since he was a high school student!), Austin Young, and his advisor Dave Delehanty (Jay is serving on Austin’s thesis committee). Austin will use data from IBO’s original effort in 2005-2007, and conduct analyses comparing historic patterns of abundance, diversity, and body condition of migrants with what we see at the refuge during 2023 and 2024.

austin smiles at the camera, holding a small songbird, a dark eyed junco, in his hand
ISU graduate student, Austin Young

This spring marks the first season of our return to Camas. Beginning April 16th our hardy crew of banding technicians began work. And if you spent this spring in Idaho, you know it was no easy task! Despite snowstorms, high winds, and late leaf-out the crew persisted.

a snowy view of camas shows frosty ground and two canada geese walking together
A snowy morning on the refuge. Photo Credit: Victoria Henrye
two smiling biologists look at the camera. One is holding a bird in her hand. The other is sitting at the table recording data
Victoria and Chan at the banding station with a Townsend’s Solitaire

So far they’ve been rewarded with many captures of early season migrants including a nice push of Ruby-crowned Kinglets on day 2 along with a much earlier than expected Dusky Flycatcher on April 17.

a biologist's hands hold a tiny olive-gray kinglet with a small red crown
A tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet at the Camas banding station. Photo Credit: Austin Young

Some other notable species include a Sharp-shinned Hawk, Townsend’s Solitaire, Vesper Sparrow, and Marsh Wren!

a biologists hand with bright red nail polish holds a small, brown, streaky Marsh Wren
a Marsh Wren banded at the station in April. Photo Credit: Austin Young

And as spring continues we expect numbers and diversity to increase when the Neotropical migratory species like warblers and tanagers begin to arrive. We’ll continue monitoring spring migration through June 15, then return again in the fall (~July 21 to October 15) to study birds as they head south for the non-breeding season.

a smiling biologist holds a small hawk in their hand
Chan Mendiola Orizaba holds the first Sharp-shinned Hawk of 2023

We’re excited about the opportunity to revisit this important migratory stopover location, and look forward to comparing the results of Austin’s analysis with the data Jay & team collected more than 16 years ago.

a view of a shaded outdoor pavilion structure
The banding station at Camas NWR headquarters. Photo Credit Victoria Henrye