I have had the opportunity to work on a multitude of different projects over the past month and gain many new experiences. We continued to monitor Greater Sage-grouse leks into mid-may and I enjoyed getting to observe these birds unique behaviors. The week after leks we started on night call surveys for the Great Basin Spadefoot (Spea intermontanus) and the Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons). It was a bit of a challenge switching from waking up at 3:30 in the morning to monitor leks to staying up until 3:30 in the morning monitoring for toads but I am definitely glad for the experience.
Spadefoot toads prefer friable soils where they can easily burrow down using their cutting metatarsals or tubercles on their hind feet. They breed quickly after heavy rains and prefer ephemeral streams which can make them difficult to locate.The procedure for night call surveys starts just after dark. You begin on a predetermined route and stop every half mile to listen for calling amphibians. After three minutes of listening you record everything that you heard and take a bearing on the direction you heard the call. Later if you want to search for the source of the call you can follow the bearing and set out a recorder or do dip-net surveys. The first two nights that we went out we heard nothing calling at all. I believe this is because it was to cold outside for the amphibians to be breeding. The third time that we went out we heard a ton of Boreal Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris maculata) but unfortunately no spadefoots. It’s interesting being out in the field so late into the night as you notice things you would normally miss like the international space station, distant thunderstorms, or packs of calling coyotes.
I have also had the opportunity to assist with monitoring Mountain Bluebirds (Sialia currucoides). The BLM maintains and monitors nest boxes for the bluebirds mostly around the Sinclair area. Most of the boxes were originally placed by a worker at the Sinclair oil refinery but when he could no longer take care of them he asked the BLM to step in and we did. Since then we have added more boxes throughout the field office and there are plans for additional ones to be added. Mountain bluebirds naturally nest in tree cavities created by woodpeckers so in areas such as the RFO where trees are scarce the nest boxes help to maintain their populations. When we go out to check the boxes we look for male and female birds hanging around the nest, check to see if the nest inside is actually bluebird or a different species, and count the number of eggs or hatchlings inside. Bluebird eggs are usually a light blue but we have one nest where the bluebirds eggs were white which is a relatively rare phenomenon and fun to see.
I have spent a few days out in the field helping survey raptor nests. When you find the raptor nest the goal is to determine first if it is still active and the species that is using it, then to monitor for chicks. We have some artificial structure that we have placed to keep raptors from nesting on power lines or on the tanks at well sites, but we monitor natural nests sites as well. One thing that we are hoping to learn more about is if the placement of artificial structures is deterring raptors from building natural nests and how big of an impact these have on their behavior.
I also had the opportunity to go on an onsite a couple weeks ago for some proposed gas wells down in the chain lakes region of our field office. It was definitely an informative experience and I am glad I got to learn more about how the BLM works with oil and gas companies to maintain both their and our goals. While there are definitely difference on both side of the issues everyone was willing to work towards a satisfying compromise. I also caught my first herp of the season, a Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi), while walking one of the proposed roads. The only other herp we’ve caught so far was a bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) that was sunning himself on the road. These are interesting snakes that will mimic rattlesnakes in an attempt to frighten off predators. One way they do this is by vibrating their tail back and forth and making a hissing noise meant to sound like that of a rattle. Hopefully we will start hearing and catching more amphibians and reptiles in the coming weeks as it starts to get warmer. We placed some cover board up near Ferris Mountain and I am looking forward to see if we will find anything there. Until nest time.
-Keri – BLM – RFO