Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A.I. Field Journal Entry #2

Second Journal posting
Our First shoot went swimmingly and we collected samples from 124 ducks total! Of those birds sampled we counted 78 Mallards and 46 Northern pintails. We had a moment or two of hesitation when an intruder passed through our site and I am convinced that slowed my team down. A fat little skunk waddled his way right by our set up. It wasn’t at all interested in being anywhere near us but had been frightened in that direction by a farmer driving a combine through his field. Wildlife and humans often have to find ways to coexist when habitat meets human development whether the development comes in the form of agriculture, a new home or a sprawling city. This farmer shares his land as habitat with skunks, deer, coyotes, Northern leopard frogs, toads, garter snakes of various colors, voles, musk rats, dragon flies of many species, song birds and birds of prey (raptors)… the list goes on and on. Each organism shares the land and shares a part in the ecology on and near this refuge. I like to think of each organism as a stick in that game “JENGA”. With many sticks or organisms the structural support is obviously quite strong and solid; but as you take away sticks or organisms you begin to compromise the structural integrity of your JENGA tower. A weak tower is not likely to last in this game and will eventually topple just as an ecosystem can weaken and topple if too many pieces are taken away. Granted, ecology is a bit more complex than the fun table top game but I think you get the picture.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Harley's Start of Fall

Harley has moved his base of operations back to NW Wisconsin in the Douglas County area. He used this area in April and May of this year and it was near here where he was found injured last year. We are seeing some repetition and reuse of areas in the short time we have been tracking him.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A.I. Field Journal Entry #1

First journal posting
Ah. The familiar scent of waterfowl and wetlands is present on the early morning breeze here at Sand Lake Wildlife Refuge near Columbia,
South Dakota. Dragon flies of various species are patrolling the air space like tiny winged guards. Western grebe young are calling out to their parents who are busy diving for fish to fill their chicks' seemingly bottomless pit of a ventriculus (stomach).

My team and I are anxiously awaiting the cannon-like explosion that
results when 4 rockets, loaded with military grade explosives, are
deployed. These rockets are attached to a large net which, when the
rockets are set off, will blanket a large (hopefully) group of ducks
who were attempting to enjoy yet another free buffet of barley on the
beach compliments of the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The target species
we hope to catch and obtain samples from are Mallards, Northern
pintails, Blue-winged and Green-winged teals Wood ducks and other
dabbling species. These are species that previous years of sampling
have shown are considerably more likely to be carrying either influenza
or paramyxoviruses, especially the juveniles. Did I mention we cannot
even see the ducks or the beach loaded with the barley bait?

My team, a few US Fish & Wildlife staff and I are waiting for the
a big bang approximately a quarter of a mile from where the ducks
are feeding. We set up the rockets and net the previous day with an
additional load from the barley buffet and ran charge wire along the
ground back to a viewing tower in a group of trees nearly 150 meters
away. One staff member will climb a tower and monitor the baited beach
with binoculars. When he feels that the ducks are positioned close
enough and the number of ducks is high enough to justify firing the
rockets he will give the word to deploy. Another staff member remotely
triggers the rockets.

POW! We are all wide-eyed with surprise for a split second before
dashing to our vehicles and racing down the path to the beach where
several hundred ducks are attempting to rush back to the water. The net
is quite large and has a pocket feature on the end nearest the water
which acts as a catch for ducks as they try to rush back to the safety
of the lake or lift the net. We carefully extract the ducks from under
the net and separate them into different crates depending on species.
The ducks will quickly be banded before we collect epithelial cell
samples from the cloaca of the birdb; the swab is placed in special
transport media to taken to the laboratory for virus isolation work .
We record each bird's band number along with the species, age, sex,
weight of the bird as well as a few other measurements. Each of these
bits of data, when pieced together, will provide us with a good
understanding of what condition this particular duck was in and what,
biologically, was going on with it at the time the sample was taken.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Raptor Center fieldwork in Avian Influenza

Waterfowl (ducks) are the natural reservoir for avian influenza viruses. While only the highly pathogenic, or disease-causing, forms of the virus are of public concern, there are many different low pathogenic strains of avian influenza. Many of these strains circulate normally in waterfowl populations and cause no apparent disease. However, certain strains can be problematic for domestic poultry where they can cause disease, as well as undergo mutation that makes them more pathogenic for other birds and possibly humans.

As part of the Minnesota Center for Excellence in Influenza Research (MCEIRS), a project funded by the National Institutes of Health, The Raptor Center is leading efforts to test wild ducks in the upper Central Flyway (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota) for the presence of avian influenza viruses and to identify what strains are found in these populations.

Katie Burns, lead field technician for the efforts this fall, will send some journal entries and photos we will post to let you know how the efforts are going!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Harley's End of Summer

Harley has spent most of his time since Aug 16 on the west end of Lake Vermillion, particularly Taylors Island. On Aug 25 he took a 40 mile trip south to the St. Louis River on the west end of the Sax-Zim Bog Important Bird Area. He had spent some time here in June as well. On the 29th of August he returned to his summer home on Lake Vermillion.