Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Birds (and other wildlife) in Strawberry Creek after the Fire

I went to Strawberry Creek very early a couple mornings to do some bird surveys. We have data from several years before the 2016 fire, so I wanted to see how the birds were recovering post-fire. (The fire burned over 4,000 acres). Two transects had been set up, one along the riparian area, from the trailhead downstream, and one in the montane shrub, starting across the stream from the trailhead and heading up into Windy Canyon. This post is a combo of them both. The photo above is from up by Windy Canyon looking down canyon, and the trailhead is by the road's end in the middle-lower left of the photo.

So after a fire, what birds do you expect would do well? If you say cavity nesters like woodpeckers, you are right! We heard and saw so many hairy woodpeckers (and also a few other species).

 This juvenile surprised us with a peep as we walked by and stuck his head out of the hole.

American robins were common, and this one had what looked like nesting material.

This MacGillivray's warbler was singing for a mate.

This Western Tanager was very bright (and also far away!).

We heard a couple of mountain chickadees, with their easy-to-remember cheeseburger song.

Some friends from Audubon came to help do the survey, which made it much easier.

We also saw quite a few butterflies, as the wildflowers are coming back well. This butterfly is a common buckeye.

And here's a Great Basin fritillary. I can never identify them right off, so it's nice to have a photo so I can compare to the guidebook.

One morning I saw a herd of about 25 elk crossing in the burned area outside the park.

There are elk droppings all over the watershed.

By the number of fawns, I think they are doing well.

And how are the birds doing? You've seen some of the more common ones in the photos above. Spotted towhees, which like shrubs, are not as common as before. Brewer's sparrows, which like sagebrush, are nearly absent from the big meadow area, as the sage burned completely there and it will take a few years for it to return. Overall bird numbers were good, but species composition has shifted a bit. We'll keep studying what's going on. Fire can do a lot of good for the landscape, it would just be better to have smaller fires burning in a more mosaic pattern to help stabilize the watershed and provide more recovery areas. With over 100 years of fire suppression, the forests are so dense that they burn fast and hot when they do catch on fire, and that can make recovery more difficult. Be safe out there!

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