Fall Migration 2016 Acoustic Monitoring Update

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Fall Migration 2016 Acoustic Monitoring Update

November 28, 2016

Debbie Leick, Kate Stone, and Carrie Voss show results from nocturnal acoustic monitoring efforts at the MPG Ranch, high elevation fire lookouts, and sites in the Bitterroot Valley.

Acoustic Monitoring Update Nocturnal Flight Calls: Fall Migration 2016 11/21/16 Debbie Leick, Kate Stone, and Carrie Voss

This year, we installed seven acoustic recorders across the Bitterroot Valley to monitor nocturnal flight calls of migrant songbirds (Figure 1). Monitoring sites ranged from low to high elevation, and from isolated to developed areas. We are currently analyzing data from all of our stations. In this update, we share a few preliminary results from the fire lookouts and MPG sites.

MPG Ranch Monitoring Sites: Floodplain, Sheep Camp, and Ridge Sites Located on a bench above the Bitterroot River, the Floodplain was our lowest elevation site. One mile east of here, Sheep Camp was placed in a mid-elevation upland area. Further east and 1.5 miles away, our highest elevation monitoring site, Ridge, was installed below a prominent ridge.

“Tseeps” are high-frequency, short duration calls emitted by sparrows and warblers as they migrate at night. We compared the number of “tseep” calls recorded at the Floodplain, Sheep Camp, and Ridge sites (Figure 2). To produce a conservative estimate of the number of migrants, we removed any calls that occurred within 60 seconds of an identical call. This prevented us from counting the same bird twice. The data suggest that as elevation increased, the number of nocturnal flight calls, and presumably the number of migrants, decreased. Across all three monitoring sites, we recorded over 10,700 nocturnal flight calls. To put this number in perspective, songbird banding efforts at the same sites captured 2,948 birds during the 2015 fall migration season (August 17 - October 9). Though each method gives us different types of data, acoustic monitoring detects a greater number of migrants.

We compared species composition between the three MPG sites. For Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Wilson’s Warbler, our most common species, we found differences in the number of calls by site and between species (Figure 3). As elevation increased, the number of Wilson’s Warbler and Savannah Sparrow calls decreased. In contrast, the number of Chipping Sparrow calls was similar across all elevations.

By expanding our study to St. Mary Peak (9350 feet) and Willow Mountain (8200 feet) Lookouts, we collected nocturnal flight call data at higher elevations than any previously known study.

Recording at the lookout sites overlapped with the MPG sites from August 18 to September 13. During this time, we recorded more than 5500 calls. We recorded fewer calls at the high- elevation lookout sites than at any site at MPG Ranch (Figure 4). Compared to the Floodplain site, we detected over seven times fewer calls at St. Mary Lookout

Although we do not know the migratory pathways songbirds use as they fly over the Bitterroot Valley, we expected to see variation in migration activity at different elevations. Our data support this expectation. We found that as elevation increased, the number of nocturnal flight calls from sparrows and warblers decreased. In 2015, UMBEL saw a similar pattern in the number of birds they captured from their stations at the Floodplain (1224), Sheep Camp (913) and the Ridge (811). The following hypotheses may explain why we detected fewer calls at higher elevations: •  Higher-elevation sites have less human-caused noise and light pollution, which are known to increase the rate at which nocturnal migrants emit calls •  With potentially fewer migrants at higher altitudes, vocalizations may become less important for echolocation and/or maintaining contact between individuals •  Migrants may avoid higher elevations to minimize exposure to inclement weather •  Fewer food and shelter resources at higher elevations may deter migrants •  Topography and atmospheric conditions may funnel birds down the valley rather than over the mountains In 2017, we plan to continue monitoring at the three MPG sites and at St. Mary and Willow Mountain Lookouts to see if the patterns persist. For the rest of this year and into 2017, we plan to complete the following: •  Analyze the 2016 “thrush” data for all sites. We expect that larger, thrush-like species may show different patterns than smaller sparrows and warblers. •  Finish processing and analyzing the data from Florence-Carlton and Darby High Schools •  Analyze the data from Angela, Montana •  Compare the 2016 nocturnal flight call data with the data from 2013-2015 •  Compare the sensitivity of the new 21c microphone to the old “plate” microphone •  Investigate the timing of migration for different species

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