Ornithologi

A studio for bird study

Tag: science

Remembering Tom Cade: 1928-2019

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Showing Tom Cade an occupied Gyrfalcon nest with a nest camera, recording images for The Peregrine Fund’s Gyrfalcon Conservation Program.

Today I’m remembering Tom Cade, ornithologist and conservation giant. Tom passed away yesterday at the age of 91. His legacy is widespread, not only across the earth but through time, for generations into the future. Rather than describe this enduring legacy, I want to here describe one of my most cherished memories of spending time in the field with Tom as I showed him my study area during my Gyrfalcon work.

While I was conducting my field study on nesting Gyrfalcons in western Alaska, Tom came to visit for a few weeks. He stayed with me and Ellen Whittle, my field partner, in a small apartment in Nome. It’s hard to describe the conditions in such an apartment, but the few photos I’ve included here should be telling. I was so impressed with Tom, since he seemed entirely content to be in this run down shack of an apartment, cramped with two young ambitious biologists. In fact, I think he enjoyed it!

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Tom Cade and Travis Booms, walking along a tundra road on the Seward Peninsula.

Of course, we only spent time indoors when the rain wouldn’t allow otherwise. We made many trips out into the tundra to show Tom around, and Tom also spent time with Travis Booms and Joe Eisaguirre as they flew around the peninsula in a helicopter, accessing Gyrfalcon nesting sites. As we drove the roads with Tom, looking for wildlife and checking on raptor nests, we listened intently as Tom told stories of his last visit to the region nearly 60 years prior. He told us stories of a mid-tundra train wreck, seeing his first Gyrfalcon, and how the Nome area truly was different from his last visit, with more vegetation than he had previously recalled.

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Tom Cade, a man with an incredible legacy and an excellent sense of humor.

Apart from his unending wisdom and knowledge, I was impressed with Tom’s sense of humor. He was having fun, and wasn’t afraid to let it show. As is appropriate in western Alaska, July is a time for King Crab. With Tom in town, we had a great excuse to occupy our time during bouts of rainy weather with Crab feasts! I’ll never forget having crab with such excellent people, and I could tell from the photo above that Tom was having a great time as well.

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Crab Feast! Tom Cade, Bryce Robinson, Ellen Whittle, and Joe Eisaguirre. I think Joe was hitting his limit at this point. Photo courtesy of Travis Booms.

After Tom departed Nome and returned to his home in Boise, and I came home following the field season, we saw each other only intermittently. The last time I saw Tom Cade was in a meeting, only a few months ago. He listened, and only spoke when he needed to. But, he was participating. His passion was enduring, so much so that even until the last parts of his extraordinary life, he participated in the work he had set forth.

It is sad to see people go, but it provides us all a perspective on our lives, how we choose to live them, and who we are and want to be. Reflecting on Tom’s life has caused me to reflect on myself, and how I might honor and continue what the man did for multiple species facing extinction, and for the people he inspired, inspires and will inspire. I’ll take that spirit into the future, and do with it what I can.

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Generations of Gyrfalcon researchers: Bryce Robinson, David L. Anderson, Tom Cade, Travis Booms, and Mike Henderson.

If you’re unfamiliar with the legacy of Tom Cade, visit The Peregrine Fund’s website. Everything you see there is a testament to Tom’s legacy, and what he created. Also visit the following link for a great video highlighting Tom’s life: https://www.peregrinefund.org/people/cade-tom

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American Ornithological Society Conference 2019 Logo

by Bryce W. Robinson

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I am privileged to share the logo that I created for the American Ornithological Society’s 2019 conference. The logo features three Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri), a flagship bird for Alaska and a focal species for some of Alaska’s most influential ornithologists.

I worked closely with the conference planning chair, Colleen Handel of the USGS Alaska Science Center. We created a logo that ties in closely with the theme of the meeting – Birds on the Edge: Dynamic Boundaries. Colleen is part of a team of researchers headed by her husband, Robert E. Gill (also of USGS), that are responsible for discovering the incredible, sometimes 9 day non-stop flight of Alaska’s Bar-tailed Godwits as they return to Alaska from their wintering grounds in southeast Australia and New Zealand (see Gill et al. 2008). As such, one can see why the species is a great choice to celebrate the AOS meeting being held in Anchorage.

To register for the meeting or learn more, visit the AOS 2019 Conference website. Also, be sure to check out the merchandise that features this logo.

Differentiating Adult and Juvenile Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Given that much of my career has been focused on the world’s largest falcon, the Gyrfalcon, I often get questions about their life history and Identification. A recurring question is the age of individuals that are observed in winter. Most often, folks ask about juvenile vs. adult, so I decided to make available a simple illustration with annotations as a reference for those with these questions.

What I’ve realized is that fleshy parts confuse a lot of people, since an adult should have yellow legs and cere, whereas a juvenile should have blue. However, it takes female birds much longer to change (well into their second year), and the coloration is also influenced by individual quality and hormones. Some adults, particularly females, tend to be quite dull in the winter (compare this with observations of gull legs in winter, e.g. California Gull). Adults that are likely three years or older (given presence of retained feathers in the upper wing, etc.) can have surprisingly dull legs that may appear blue under certain conditions. The key then is to take a step back and focus on the plumage, since in most cases it is quite straight forward.

The illustration above aims to highlight the key points for aging a Gyrfalcon between adult and juvenile. Eventually I’d like to visually describe more micro-aging factors, but for now I think this will be a helpful resource for those more unfamiliar with this species.

Please, feel free to send me feedback and suggestions. Constructive criticism is always welcome.

High Numbers of Swamp Sparrow documented at Ted Trueblood WMA, Southwest Idaho

by Bryce W. Robinson

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My friends Jay Carlisle, Heidi Ware Carlisle, and I had a Melospiza morning at Ted Trueblood WMA, helping Boise State grad student Kate Owens and her fiance Ben trap Song Sparrows for Kate’s Master’s work. The highlight was catching 27 Melospiza sparrows at once, including 10 Swamp Sparrows (M. georgiana), 5 Lincoln’s Sparrows (M. Lincolnii), and 12 Song Sparrows (M. melodia). The incredible number of Swamp Sparrows left us reeling, since we had visited the area twice already this fall for Southwestern Idaho Birder’s Association and Golden Eagle Audubon Society field trips. Our first visit yielded no Swamp Sparrows, and a week ago we detected only 4 individuals (a high count for the site at the time). While processing our 10 Swamps, two remained in the reeds nearby calling, providing us a total of 12 Swamp Sparrow’s for the site! All Swamp Sparrows were young of the year, likely indicative of a productive breeding season for the species. Also notable, all birds had good fat and muscle scores which is indicative of good health, and upon release flew away with vigor.

Ted Trueblood WMA has been very generous to us in the past, hosting two of the three Idaho state records for Le Conte’s Sparrow. It continues to be a state sparrow mecca with this incredible high number for Swamp Sparrow, and who knows what will turn up in the future.

I’ve included here some photos of our morning, including a photo of four Swamp Sparrows at once, and a photo of all three members of Melospiza aside a painting I illustrated of the genus (by the way these prints are available in the shop). You can also see our numbers for the site and other species we documented, including a conservative estimate of American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea) on our eBird list:

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Photo: Heidi Ware Carlisle

 

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