Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mystery Solved

A few days ago, I got an email from the American Birding Association.  I get 'em now and then. This particular one really caught my eye.

The Black Swift , as it turns out, is a pretty mysterious bird. For those of you familiar with Chimney Swifts here in the eastern United States, the Black is a larger cousin that lives out West.  (Roger Tory Peterson originally described the Chimney Swift as looking like a "cigar with wings".  I might describe the Black as a kielbasa with wings.  In other words, a few inches bigger...)

In any case, the nest of the Black Swift is often found behind mountain waterfalls of the American West.  Zipping around the open space of mountain canyons, they scarf up insects on the wing. In fact, their legs are itty-bitty things so they don't spend much time standing around.  

While their biology is fascinating and they certainly have an appeal to people birding North America, their location during the winter season was a big mystery. The extent of such knowledge was basically limited to the declaration "They go that way...." while one points a finger south...

Until now. 

In short, little gizmos called geolocaters were attached to the backs of four birds (captured on the breeding grounds).  Capable of detecting the amount of daylight the bird is exposed to each day, these locators, when recovered, can tell researchers where the bird has been.  Amazingly enough, three of the four birds fitted with locators were recovered!

Be sure to read more about it here

Reading about the excitement of the find brought me back to my one and only Black Swift experience.

In June of '07, I was in Colorado. Birds and beers were a major part of that trip.   Anyone heading to Colorado for birding will likely head to Rocky Mountain National Park. Purchasing Roderer's book is a must, if you ask me.  A solid effort full of tremendous birding information, I followed it to the letter.  

After a quick dinner in camp, I shot down to Wild Basin, a secondary entrance to the park in the southeast corner.  Roderer suggests Wild Basin as the most reliable place in Rocky for Black Swift.  Getting the bird here was key, simply because it saved me the trip to Ouray (a more reliable location according to some, but hours away).  He suggests waiting them out, especially at sunrise and/or sunset and adopts an almost “Field of Dreams” approach – wait, and they will come.  Sunrise was a bust, so I figured sunset.  After about 30 minutes, a single bird sallied past.   It was life bird #595.

Birding can be full of excitement and surprises. I felt a ton of excitement when I saw my one Black Swift.  I can only imagine the excitement the researchers felt when they unlocked a mystery relating to one of North America's least understood birds. 

1 comment:

Julie said...

The Rouge River Bird Observatory is eagerly awaiting the return of catbirds to the UM-Dearborn campus -- we put geolocators on a bunch last year!