Birders, who normally like to run up their bird-sighting lists, are being schooled by the Klamath Bird Observatory of Ashland to go a big step beyond the hobby level — becoming passionate protectors of the environment, joining a global "ebird" network (using an app in real time) and contributing to the hard science that enables protection of refuges such as the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
That’s at the heart of the Klamath Bird Observatory’s growing mission and will be celebrated at its annual Mountain Bird Conservation fundraiser, along with three field trips, sale of this year’s Bird Conservation Science Stamp, and talks by noted “bird nerd,” scientist and New York Times bestselling author Noah Stryker of Corvallis. He won fame as the first person to see more than half the world’s species in one arduous year.
The popular event is Saturday, Sept. 23, at the Historic Ashland Armory. It’s $75 and includes the KBO stamp and the national “Duck Stamp,” which help fund wildlife refuges for birds.
“Our stamp allows you to say, ‘I support regional, science-based bird conservation,' ” says KBO Executive Director John Alexander.
KBO, now celebrating its 25th year, is boasting the fact that their science-based bird studies have been peer reviewed, published and become part of the knowledge that went into the expansion last January of the monument by President Obama as he left office, he says.
From Redding to Roseburg, and from the east Cascades to the coast, KBO has “written protocols and study designs using specific methods, to count birds and use that data as indicators of specific aspects of our environment’s well-being,” Alexander says. In other words, it’s traditional, observation-based science.
At the conference, attendees do “talks and walks,” learning in the field what to observe and how to record and report it. A new app is linked to ebird Northwest (ebird.org), part of a global network of citizen-scientists in the field.
“We’re trying to link birds and birders,” he notes. “We need to save birds. They are the canaries in the coal mine. It is through rigorous science that the story comes together.”
KBO Science Director Jaime Stephens says, “We study birds to ensure a sustainable, healthy bird population and we achieve it by getting the science with people on the ground. What we know now is that bird populations are in significant decline, at an alarming rate.”
KBO’s studies take all natural and manmade variables into account, including wildfire, fuel reduction and grazing — and their effects on birds. They’ve found that grazing by natural animals in oak woodland and stream areas has little effect but herds bring a big “pressure,” including reduction of plant-based bugs that birds need to eat.
The science done by KBO scientists and birders over the past decade was channeled through Oregon’s two U.S. Senators to the Obama staff, which used it to strengthen the case for expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Mounument, says Alexander.
KBO staff is apprehensive about the Trump administration and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s study of rollbacks on this and other federal preserves, Alexander says.
The Oregon Vesper Sparrow is the “poster child” for this year’s stamp. KBO studies not only its summer range here, but also its winter migratory zone in Mexico, which is also being compromised. KBO says the bird has been helped by expansion of the monument — and they are seeking protected status for it.
Alexander found the bird on the internet and played its song, which, he notes, sounds a lot like a song sparrow, sweet and mellifluous.
The so-called Duck Stamp, an official U.S. stamp, is issued with a new image annually, at $25 and raises huge sums for wildlife sanctuaries, but it’s only for these hunted birds. KBO sells the duck stamp along with the KBO stamp (not a U.S. stamp) and seeks to raise money for conservation of other birds and their habitats.
Hunters of wetland game birds are in decline, as young people are less interested in the sport, so KBO hopes to fill that gap.
KBO is a private nonprofit funded by members, donors and mostly federal grants. It started in 1992 as part of the U.S. Forest Service and Southern Oregon University. Alexander has been its leader the whole time.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.