More Than The Birds…

 

Screen_Shot_2020-02-07_at_12.10.15_PM.png

Each month Tracy Aviary sets out with community scientists and the public to the Legacy Nature Preserve. On a particular visit, they found something a little different from their usual feathered friends...

Peeking at the earth

On a foggy, winter morning, Tracy Aviary's community scientists and curious Salt Lake residents set out for the Legacy Nature Preserve, a beautiful ephemeral wetland in West Bountiful, Utah with a specific task in mind: find the birds. Instead, they found their eyes cast to the earth; visibility was too low for spotting anything in the sky and many birds were hunkered down through the weather. In the midst of joking about the weather thwarting their birding efforts, the group quickly realized that this challenge presented a special invitation...take a closer look at the ground. 

It wasn't long before a fascinating and unfamiliar scene unfurled.  What looked like  Blue Oat Mites were clustered on an exposed patch of earth. If the identification is correct, these are a vegetable pest originally from Europe and introduced to various parts of the world, including the Americas and Australia. These insects suck sap from crops like peas, canola and wheat. Here in Utah, they are of most concern for wheat production. 

 

Screen_Shot_2020-02-07_at_12.10.46_PM.png

Blue Oat Mites are a European insect that suck the sap of agricultural crops. These were spotted in a wetland that connects the Wasatch Front and the Great Salt Lake.

Now that we found it, we gotta post it!

Being the community science team, we posted this photograph onto iNaturalist, a web site and cell phone app that invites users to post photographs of anything alive. Think insects, plants, birds, mammals and reptiles, and the list goes on! This web site serves kind of like an Instagram account that uses machine learning to suggest identifications of what is posted. It works in some simple, direct steps: 

a) a person posts a photo, 

b) an ID is suggested, 

c) the user says "yay" or "nay" and 

d) two other users login and are--at random--asked to confirm the suggested ID. 

Through this process, iNaturalist learns how to make more accurate  suggestions. The photos and the IDs are used by researchers, like us at Tracy Aviary, to get a detailed picture of where certain species are found and what might be happening with them over time.

 

Screen_Shot_2020-02-07_at_12.11.01_PM.png

American Avocet are one of many unique shorebirds, waterfowl, songbirds and raptors that can be spotted at the Legacy Nature Preserve. Tracy Aviary researchers and community scientists snap photos of what they see on bird walks and report to web sites like eBird and iNaturalist.

This community science data, along with information collected by members of the public from all walks of life, allow us to delineate both short-term and long-term trends and suggest actions for the protection of a plant or animal. A great example of how powerful this crowd-sourced information can be is a recent report from Cornell and the National Audubon Society demonstrating that North American bird populations have decreased by 3 billion birds. This report was based on community science data from the Christmas Bird Count and iNaturalist, among other data collection pools, to definitively show that birds of all kinds are in decline. This data allowed them to issue specific calls to action that can slow or reverse this trend.

 

See Legacy Nature Preserve for yourself

Every month, Tracy Aviary bird experts are granted special permission by The Nature Conservancy to invite members of the public and our community scientists to visit this special place to take a bird walk. These walks are a way for us to get a close-up view of how this wetland is doing and how birds are faring in this unique ecosystem. 

The Nature Conservancy manages Legacy Nature Preserve and relies on the observations we make iduring these outings to make decisions on the property's management, such as when to let cattle roam the grassland to chew up phragmites, an Eurasian grass that is too successful in Utah’s wetlands, or when to bring cows off the property to let shorebirds nest safely. 

 

Screen_Shot_2020-02-07_at_12.11.14_PM.png

 

If not on a walk with Tracy Aviary, Legacy Nature Preserve is closed off to the public with the exception of an access road that is open to recreation. We encourage you to peek into the wetlands from this access road. From there, you will be able to spot beautiful sunsets, American Avocet, American Kestrel, Killdeer and White-faced Ibis! Check out the Facebook page for Legacy Nature Preserve to see visitor tips and photos. 

 

Learn More

Tracy Aviary Bird Walks – Eager to get a full wetland experience? Take a walk with us!

Legacy Nature Preserve Bird Sightings – Check out Tracy Aviary’s eBird list from the visit described in this post.

The Nature Conservancy in Utah – Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s work in Northern Utah and the TNC Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve.

Try your hand out at Community Science – Sip on hot chocolate and learn how to spot and count birds with Tracy Aviary for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

 

Subscribe

Tracy Aviary hosts events, programs and volunteer projects throughout the year that have a direct, positive impact on local Utah birds and the habitats they live in. Join this newsletter to receive updates on these events and projects.

 

 

- Lucila Fernandez, Conservation Outreach Biologist