As the people of Louisiana continue with their flood recovery efforts, we thought we might give your minds a break to think about promises of cooler weather and the fruitful rewards of hard work.
As fall migration approaches, biologists with BTNEP are getting ready. It’s that time of year when professionals and enthusiasts alike take to the outdoors in hopes of recording a wide range of bird species undergoing the second leg of their biannual pilgrimage. As birds return to their wintering grounds after what we hope was a successful breeding season, binoculars and scopes are at the ready as researchers make an effort to spot banded individuals. Re-sighting these particular individuals gives the scientific community an indication of how distinct members of a species move throughout the year and also aides in identifying crucial sanctuaries and habitat characteristics relative to a species.
Although re-sighting banded individuals has been and continues to be vital to our collective knowledge of avian ecology, there are still many questions to be answered as observations tend to be random and are largely dependent upon intensive survey effort and ultimately, a bit of luck. “What path did this bird take to get here”? “What does this bird do when people aren’t around”? “If I don’t see any banded birds, does that mean they’re not here”? Through a partnership with BTNEP and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, a project is underway in Louisiana that will offer greater insight into these and many other questions.
In 2015 a plan was proposed to establish a network of automated VHF (Very high frequency) radio-telemetry towers along the Louisiana coastline. Consisting of transmitters, antennas, and a receiver, radio-telemetry systems operate similarly to that of an ordinary radio system. The deployed transmitters emit a radio signal which is collected by the antennas and converted to an electrical signal which is logged by the receiver. Antenna direction and signal strength are then interpreted by the receiver to track and determine transmitter location. Fortunately for us, tiny transmitters in the form of “nanotags” can be attached to all manner of avian species!
The beauty of the automated radio-telemetry system, once in place, is that it operates continuously and autonomously with little human involvement allowing for constant and simultaneous tracking of all transmitters and transmittered birds within range. As networks like the one being established here are expanding across the country, the possibility of comprehensive research and monitoring relating to the movements of resident and migratory wildlife species continues to grow and become a reality.
In July of 2016, BTNEP succeeded in constructing the first remotely (solar powered) automated radio-telemetry tower in the state of Louisiana. In collaboration with LDWF, 4 towers are currently operating in the state. Early analysis of data collected from a tower on Grand Isle, LA has revealed multiple detections of red knot and sanderling along with both grey-cheeked and Swainson’s thrush. As migration begins we await a large influx of migrants and winter residents along our coastline, a portion of which will have been fitted with nanotags during the breeding season and will be detected by any operating radio-telemetry tower within 14 kilometers of their location. The coming season will be the first big test for the network established in Louisiana. An exciting time indeed!