For the Birds

As mentioned in previous blogs, we had a great time last week working on our Western Grebe study.  Today I thought I’d blog a bit about the people that we got to work with and share some pictures of what we did.

Joe Gaydos showing off the catch of the day.

First up is Joe Gaydos, with the Sea Doc Society, a program of the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center.  Joe is definitely a Jack-of-all-trades; taking on various roles at different times, including boat captain, surgeon, and teacher.  I think we all appreciated the time he took to teach us new skills.

Susan getting ready to head out for the day.

Susan de la Cruz joined us from U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and was kind enough to bring their boats along too.  Susan spent her time as captain of the Flat Cat (also know as Fat Cat, Black Cat, and Black Cat – Rowwwr), impressing us with some great boat skills.

Susan brought a few others from USGS with her, as well. Heather Robinson and Seth Dallmann each drove a Boston Whaler (Eagle 4 and Merc Dog, respectively), and played the part of scouts for finding groups of grebes.

Seth with Kyra and a stowaway in our net.

Heather Robinson on Eagle 4 - ready to go!

On our third day out, Laird Henkel, from the Office of Spill Prevention and Response, joined us, for what was to be our best capture day.  Five birds in one net!

So how exactly did we do all of this?  First, the boats would go out and scout for birds.  Once we found a large group, the boats would gather up and we’d form a plan for what direction we would come in at, and how exactly the net was to be laid out.

Next, the crew aboard the Flat Cat would actually deploy the net, while the crews on Eagle 4 and Merc Dog would start slowly herding the birds toward the net. Flat Cat would join the herding process and we would drive the birds forward.  Once the birds were close enough to the net, Eagle 4 and Merc Dog would “rush” the net to force them into the net, and once in would pick up the birds and remove them onto the boat.  Oh, and don’t forget to release all the random critters that also like to get into the nets!

Working to remove a bird from the net.

Once the birds were captured, they headed to shore where OWCN’s Chris Fiorello and Emily Whitmer made sure they were hydrated and healthy, while Susan from USGS took measurements to collect data on the birds, before they were transported to OWCN to get their transmitters.

Western and Clark's Grebes

A couple of grebes enjoying the water at OWCN

This really was a great experience and we all learned so much from it.  We were also left with an unexpected surprise by the end of it all – a working hypothesis that the number of birds captured is directly linked to the amount of hot chocolate consumed by the crew.  We’ll keep you posted on future tests of our hypothesis.

– Becky

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