On the Hunt for Heron Foraging Locations

ArrayJune 5, 2015 at 6:25 am

[caption id="attachment_1277" align="aligncenter" width="879"]Photo series by Doug Albert. Photo series by Doug Albert.[/caption] We are looking for volunteers willing to scope out areas habitually used by foraging great blue herons in anticipation of a potential research project aimed at tracking adults with satellite transmitters.  By partnering with Dr. John Brzorad of Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina and the non-profit organization 1000 Herons, we hope to learn more about the birds’ daily movements, energy budgets, colony fidelity, migration routes, and wintering locations. Knowledge of foraging locations is needed because that is where the herons are targeted for capture.  Dr. Brzorad has captured great egrets and great blue herons by setting out a bin stocked with live fish in amongst a bird’s usual foraging area along with modified foot hold traps set in an array near the bin.  When traps are set, they are never left unattended; once a bird steps in a trap researchers must get to it within a few minutes so as not to stress the bird.  Therefore, an ideal location would be one that is: regularly used by foraging herons, easily accessed on foot, easily visible from a nearby location, and within a few miles of a bait shop. The solar-powered GPS/GSM transmitters are attached backpack style with Teflon ribbon, and transmit GPS locations throughout the day that can then be downloaded for analysis and viewed in Google Earth. These units also house an xyz accelerometer that records acceleration along 3 axes every 4 minutes for 4 second pulses, providing information about behavior at regular intervals.  These transmitters are expected to last the life of the birds, which is believed to average 15 years. Another important component of this potential research is the involvement of local schools and civic groups.  A main goal of 1000 Herons and Dr. Brzorad’s work thus far has been to join students, teachers, and citizens across the country and engage national and international communication about wading birds and the habitats they require.  Thus, we are also interested in identifying local schools, organizations, individuals, etc. who are willing to “adopt” the herons that are trapped and tagged with this cutting edge technology.  Participants can then follow the bird’s daily movements online and use the data in classrooms, afterschool programs, or other studies. Volunteers interested in participating, should contact me (danielle.dauria@maine.gov; (207) 941-4478) for detailed instructions.  All volunteers involved will be asked to track their volunteer time and mileage, and submit the following types of data: detailed maps showing where foraging birds are seen; description of foraging location habitat; dates and times herons are seen foraging; times of arrival and departure of herons to foraging area; directions of travel for those birds arriving or departing from the location; and if possible, identify prey successfully taken.