On the Search for Little Brown Birds

April 17, 2024 | Posted in Conservation Programs

The west Texas winter grassland bird monitoring technicians Emily Blumentritt (left) and David Tonnessen (right) with Science Coordinator Rebekah Rylander (middle) at the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society Meeting in Houston, Texas, February 2024.

BRI field crew beginning a survey. Photo by David Tonnessen

In December 2023 and January & February 2024, the Rio Grande Joint Venture kicked off its first ever winter grassland bird monitoring season in west Texas. Two of Sul Ross State University’s Borderlands Research Institute graduate students, Emily Blumentritt and David Tonnessen, were hired and managed by RGJV Science Coordinator Rebekah Rylander and trained by staff from Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. Training took place at the Mimm’s Ranch outside of Marfa, Texas, a private property owned and operated by the Dixon Water Foundation, further demonstrating how RGJV and partners collaborate for consistent and efficient monitoring efforts.

Field technician Emily Blumentritt in west Texas grassland habitat. Photo by Dr. Maureen Frank

Because funding has been spent by the RGJV staff and partners to prevent shrub encroachment within historical grasslands of west Texas, monitoring and collecting data on both vegetation and bird response is an important step to understand if these treatments are improving habitat. Thus, Emily and David fought some bitter cold mornings and high winds to sample the abundance and diversity of avian species encountered during their transect surveys. They covered almost 1000 points, spanning 9 treatment sites across 4 counties, and this data will eventually mesh with BCR’s bird monitoring data for a larger, landscape scale analysis on winter grassland bird population dynamics in west Texas.

All in all, though difficult to detect, little brown birds in the Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands are getting some much-needed attention, and the RGJV is thrilled to collaborate with so many knowledgeable partners and prepare for many years of winter grassland bird monitoring efforts to come.



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