While high-profile birds like eagles, herons and hawks steal most of the attention from visitors to Jackson Hole, one valley researcher has targeted a different species for his work: the songbird.
Dr. Doug Wachob, a resident researcher at the Teton Science School, is a contributor to a nationwide bird project called Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship.Wachob's involvement with MAPS goes beyond merely contributing data. Hosting a series of bird banding breakfasts at the Teton Science School, Wachob brings a handful of interested citizens into the field several times a summer.
"Songbird populations are declining," Wachob said. "And for the most part, it's not known why."
Wachob said that the drop-off could stem from challenges on the birds' wintering ground. Since some of the birds migrate to South America for the winter, there is no shortage of possible maladies that could strike along the way in addition to the habitat loss.
Another theory for the decline are problems on the breeding ground in places like Jackson Hole.
Because the songbirds are so difficult to track, an effort like MAPS is essential.
"For the most part, we just don't know (the reason for the population decline)," Wachob said. "What they're really looking for is trends. It's not as important to know there's `x-million birds' as it is to know that the population is changing and how."
June saw the first Bird Banding Breakfast of the summer; other events are scheduled for Wednesday and July 15.
"This is a unique thing. It's pretty rare to involve the public in this project," said Wachob, who added that most of the stations are run by pure researchers or interested citizens.
The bird banding breakfasts are not merely a way to get bird enthusiasts to carry some of the workload, they are also an opportunity for Wachob to discuss bird behavior, bird ecology and bird conservation. Only offered a handful of times during the summer, the bird-banding breakfasts are frequently sold out in advance.
In between the sessions, Wachob continues his work at the school, banding seven out of 10 days based on the periods of time specified by the MAPS headquarters.
The American robin, yellow warblers and McGilvrays are some of the frequently seen birds at the event, although the school's banding sessions have documented between 35 and 40 different species.
To catch the birds, a net is hung in a bird thoroughfare, the Ditch Creek riparian area. The net, according to Wachob, is a "standard mist net."
Comprised of a dark, very fine thread, the mesh nest is 40 feet long and 7 feet tall.
The net is stretched out between gaps in the local vegetation but remains loose.
"It's not like a gill net. They're designed to be somewhat baggy," Wachob said. "So the bird gets tangled but supported, like hanging in a hammock."
At last Thursday's session, 14 birds were netted, examined and banded.
"That's a good morning," he said. "Typically, we get only seven or eight this time of year."
Last year, 209 birds were caught by Wachob's group. The year before, they caught 280.
Teton Science School, located northeast of Kelly, has been involved with MAPS since former Research Director Eric Stone began their work 1991.
MAPS is run by a private nonprofit group based in California, the Institute for Bird Populations. Teton Science School is one of 426 different bird-banding stations across the country.