Dispatch from India: Watching for the greenish warbler

Every winter, waves of migrating birds flock to India. Millions are drawn to the Western Ghats, one of the world’s premier biodiversity hot spots. Some birds, like Siberian cranes and bar-headed geese, actually fly over the Himalayas on their epic journey. Black redstarts and blue rock thrushes leave for warmer climes. Wagtails, godwits and sandpipers follow water. Pied cuckoos, ospreys, bee eaters and drongos head south.

Photo courtesy Migrant Watch

Photo courtesy Migrant Watch

And then there’s the greenish warbler.

They flit among tree canopies on their southward migration, heard rather than seen. The tiny leaf-warbler’s incessant chiswee chirp has the repetitive lulling of a generic meditation soundtrack.

Getting a photograph of them is out of the question, and even in a picture, the paradise flycatcher would steal the show anyway. Most birders would just pass by the warblers’ tree, searching for more aesthetically interesting species.

But warbler counts are an essential part of tracking long-term trends. The commonness of greenish warblers makes them a great candidate for bird counts. With larger numbers, statistical anomalies can be minimized and it’s easier to tease apart different factors affecting the population. Common birds can be illuminating indicator species that reflect the health of other species and ecosystems. Yet barely a handful of short-term studies have been done on the greenish warbler and its leaf-loving kin. Continue reading

CSKT works to restore Has Sandhill Cranes wetland

This story was published in the Missoulian and Char-Koosta News.

There’s a place between Hot Springs and the Upper Little Bitterroot River, on the Flathead Indian Reservation, called “Has Sandhill Cranes.”

Ten years ago, it had no sandhill cranes.

Water from the river, which had once fed a wetland of native birds and amphibians, was channeled into deep, straight irrigation ditches. Cattle trampled native grasses and shrubs, and birds flew elsewhere.  Some, like the trumpeter swan, were long gone anyway, due to over-hunting.

The northern leopard frog, which the state of Montana has designated a species of concern, is making a comeback on the Flathead Reservation. Photo by Kindra McQuillan

And the frog with the intricate, haloed spots and grinding croak—the northern leopard frog—had disappeared from the reservation altogether, designated as “extirpated” since about 1980.

Today, a wide wetland of native rushes and sedges again spreads across Has Sandhill Cranes.  Trumpeter swans fly overhead, as do ducks, marsh wrens, red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, soras, bitterns, virginia rails, coots, curlews, pied billed grieves, and of course, sandhill cranes. There’s a racket of warbles and screeches—and croaks. Continue reading