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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on place-based stewardship education. Since 2001, a partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department (KNRD) has supported this newsletter and allowed us to expand class offerings through EPA funding. Further staff support comes through Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA). Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture of this part of the world.

Singers in the Hayfield


by Meg Decker

This summer bobolinks got quite a bit of attention here in the Pend Oreille Valley. Due to dwindling populations of these migratory birds in the Pacific Northwest, Audubon Washington, the Yakima Nation and Kalispel Tribe of Indians conducted a study of local breeding populations and grassland management practices as they relate to possible bird mortality.

The bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorusis), a member of the blackbird family, is a distinctive little bird with the male having a "tuxedo in reverse". His underside is all black. The back and rump have patchy white markings, and the back of his head looks like a yellowish cap. The maleÕs courtship song is what you might call a very distinct long, bubbly series of warbles. The female's need for camouflage, as she is a grassland ground nester, provides her with a nondescript plumage which is the color of dried hay and patterned with streaks. (LBB Š little brown bird). After mating, the male also takes on this drab plumage.

Bobolinks' migratory behavior is incredible. These birds winter in South America as far down as Argentina Š 6,000 miles from here. It has been documented that a banded 9 year old female, in combined mileage of her annual trips, had accumulated a distance equal to 4 1/2 trips around the world.

The summer breeding grounds include areas in the upper Great Plains, as well as key sites in Washington State. Due to a drastic reduction in returning bobolinks to historic breeding sites in the Yakima Valley over the past few years, this study (funded in part by Toyota) came into being. According to Don McIvor, an Audubon birding expert: "Historical approaches to managing Washington's grasslands have included grazing at unsustainable levels, draining wetlands, and conversion to cropland. As a result, an estimated 70 percent of WashingtonÕs grasslands have been lost, and remaining grasslands are often compromised by invasive weeds and habitat fragmentation". Here in the Cusick flats, the group of birders monitored 8 sites over the course of 6 weeks. In mid-July surveys ended as all sites had been hayed. With information from this study, the Yakima and Kalispel Tribes will be able to determine what mitigation practices they may consider (i.e, delaying mowing of hayfields until after the bobolink young have fledged, or avoiding known nesting areas) to protect and enhance breeding sites on these important lands.

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