08 August 2022

New Season, New Species, Same stage

Written by: Daniel Asyn

With the start of summer heralded in by the chorus of frogs and the arrival of neotropical songbirds like the Painted Buntings or Purple Martins, the summer field work here in Santee NWR is in full swing.

The summer rains make it so that wetlands fill up, which is great as a habitat for the wading and shore birds that frequent the impoundments but makes it difficult for maintenance efforts to improve the quality of the habitats. It doesn’t just stop at battling weather conditions to work on wetland habitats, but lawns still need to be mowed, trails maintained, and biological programs to follow up on like the bird banding and turtle conservancy work on the coast. While all that is going on, I still have a focus on the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments (CCVA) and how I’m suppose to capture the climate change drivers and biological impacts for Santee National Wildlife Refuge to make recommendations for management practices and opportunities in the future.

So while there is still a plethora of literature review to do, and conversations with experts to be had, you may also find me in the field banding Wood Ducks in the early morning and mourning doves mid-morning. Wood Duck banding takes place early in the morning as we use a rocket net program which include pre-baiting of the site, net and charge setting, firing, extraction, and processing.  Aspects like pre-baiting and setting of the net and charges typically occur the day before or a few days before the actual firing of the net. Usually, the firing is timed so that as many individuals are captured as possible, which is right around daybreak, but as soon as the net is launched, and you can hear it, everyone involved springs into action. Refuge staff hurry over in their vehicles and start removing the ducks one by one from the net to be placed in a holding crate for processing. Once all ducks have been collected, they can be processed, which we do right on site, and includes attaching identification bands on the leg, aging, and sex determination of the individual. After the data has been logged on, a field datasheet the individual can be released, unless a photo is needed or wanted.

The Mourning Dove banding is a little less intensive overall compared to the Wood Duck rocket net program. For the Mourning Doves, we set out multiple ground wire traps in a disked field, and just like for the Wood Ducks we pre-bait the areas where the traps will be ahead of time. The Mourning Doves tend to come a little later in the morning, so by mid-morning traps are checked and if there are any Mourning Doves they are processed on the spot. The processing for them is relatively similar to that of the Wood Duck where age, sex, and molt are determined, and an identification tag is banded around the leg. The most difficult part of the Mourning Dove banding process is maintaining a disked field for the traps. If the fields where the traps are become grown in with vegetation, it lowers the chances of the Doves seeing the bait and ultimately reduces our counts.

While field work is great, there’s always more to do and that includes desk work, like assessing the impacts of climate change. The CCVA I am working on looks to incorporate climate change effects on the required conditions needed to perform prescribed burns, known as a burn window, and implications of climate change effects on the establishment and dispersal of aquatic invasive species of wetlands. Using tools like those I shared in my previous post to elicit information, it’ll be possible to determine some adaptive management techniques to reduce the severity of impacts climate change could have.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: Civilian Climate Corps Program (CCC)

Location: Santee NWR

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