Jay Wright recently completed a successful pilot season for his Master’s work, researching Rusty Blackbird migratory stopover ecology on western Lake Erie (see Current Projects). With assistance from his graduate advisor Dr. Chris Tonra and collaborator Dr. Luke L. Powell, Jay deployed 5 nanotag radio transmitters on migrating Rusties in mid-October and tracked the birds over the course of the following month. In addition to these 5 tagged birds, Jay captured, color-banded, and obtained feather and fecal samples from over 50 individuals; Black Swamp Bird Observatory assisted in this effort, contributing over a dozen additional feather samples, which will all be later analyzed for stable hydrogen isotope ratios to determine breeding origin.
The field site in northern Ohio – Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge – was identified by the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz as a major stopover site for Rusties, making it an excellent location to study the species during migration. An additional asset of this site is the existence of an automated telemetry tower array, which supplemented Jay’s hand-tracking to produce better estimates of movement and landscape use. All 5 of the tagged birds remained on site for approximately 4 weeks, and preliminary data analyses suggest that individuals used over 25 square kilometers during their lengthy stay. This provides some evidence that the October/November migratory period may in fact be a stationary stage for many Rusties, an idea first suggested by a geolocator study in Alaska (Johnson et al. 2012).
Jay will undertake his first full field season this coming Spring, in which he plans to deploy 40 transmitters on Rusties both at the Ohio site and at Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge in Michigan. He hopes to be able to track some individuals as they cross Lake Erie, and compare habitat use at the two stopover sites.
Check back in the spring for more updates on this exciting project!