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The parrots are moving again in its non-breeding patterns

Project update: Tuesday, 17 March 2009

We all knew that the juveniles would move out of range at some point in time (the poachers and farmers told us that after February, the birds would disappear!), but we were at least waiting for a clue in terms of movement, displacements, and in-creccendo spatial pattern. We experienced a similar situation when tagging the adult birds near Puyehue. However, this does not mean that we can not proceed and continue searching, using other ingenious ways to track them. It is not a valid argument to use satellite telemetry. It is a technology that is out of question for this size birds.

Slender-billed Conure flying © Photo N Lemieux

Slender-billed Conure flying © Photo N Lemieux

No doubt that the parrots are moving again in its non-breeding patterns. A few farmers (away from Chahuilco, more N close to INIA and San Pablo) have already told me that flocks of parrots are building up again in their farms and are moving in the landscape. I can see this at home and from the window of my office! (right now there is a flock going W) I suspect that they are roosting E of the highway.

The fact is that “our” birds have to be somewhere in the landscape and they are carrying at least 12 transmitters (one found dead, two not found yet, but just wait) that can be tracked. We still have a glass that is already half full!!

Yesterday, I contacted by phone (through the generous help of another friend) a past member of the local airplane club. He was supportive that there is no problem in flying (he was laughing when I told him it was only several km from Osorno). By contacting a current member, he was going to ask him about this. This, however, would cost (at a member rate) between 100 and 200 US dollar/hr, which I do not have. I suspect that, if tracking from the air is possible, we can find were the birds are (at least a few of them) and then we can go by ground. A real complication may arise to actually do the telemetry from a plane (I have never done it!). I told the person that we would have to use a 1 m large antenna, and asked whether we could affix this to the trust of the wing, to which he said no because any change to the structure is not legal. Having the antenna within the cabin, will provide no signal, as he told me, he gets no GPS readings from inside the plane’s cabin. Tom, please feed back in this as you may have experience doing it!!!
I will try contacting the airport officials through another way.

Could PI support an hour of flight every two months for the next couple of months? This would help immensely in our efforts to track the birds from the ground. If so, we can go ahead immediately.

I discussed with Ana, and I believe with Tom, that we should monitor, throughout the day, the flocks moving through the landscape, recording the time and direction (also tracking with the antennas from 2 points, while birds pass over). If we can place ourselves in 2 or more points (separated by 5 or more km) in an East-West direction, we should be able to track the movement patterns. Doing this on a daily basis, and moving each time towards the source, would lead us to where they feed and were they roost. The rest is story! Any thoughts?

As I already commented we already run out of money to continue our monitoring, and we have been already spending from our pockets, which I cannot continue. We are making more efforts to obtain funding from other sources, which is very hard. Ana already wrote a proposal for the Scott Neotropic Fund and will also use a similar for a GEF that supports thesis research. However, we would have to count with small amounts, but in a steadier basis. Any thoughts?

Tom White’s e-mail response to above message:

Wow….!!! Sounds like things are happening fast, as they often do!

OK….first, aircraft telemetry. I have done this many times from several types of fixed-wing planes and also helicopters. The primary issue is that with a fixed-wing aircraft, the antennas have to be externally attached, usually to wing struts or as single omnidirectional antennae attached to the lower wing surface. This presents a serious issue in that ANYTHING affixed to the outside of an aircraft can affect the aerodynamics, thus, ALL such attachments and configurations must be approved by the regulatory body with jurisdiction in the area (in the USA, the FAA). No serious - and safe - pilot is going to fly with an unapproved (and potentially dangerous) attachment. I am attaching here some photos of aerial systems that I have used in the past, to give you an idea. They are not complicated, but require careful installation. If you are using a helicopter, it is theoretically easier because you can simply (on some helicopters!) remove the side doors and use hand-held yagi antennas at the door openings (making sure you’re strapped in tight!).

Assuming these problems can be overcome in Osorno, once you are airborne, it then becomes a matter of scanning the missing frequencies and trying to “catch” a signal in order to determine the general area in which to do a prompt ground search. Having the pilot slowly circle the target zone is often helpful in this regard. In a fixed-wing craft, I would try this at an altitude of about 1,500 - 2,000 feet (500-700 meters) AGL (above ground level). The signal will become progressivley stronger (louder) as you approach it’s origin, and then will quickly weaken as you pass over and beyond the location. The higher you are flying, the further you can receive signals, but also it is harder to pinpoint the specific source area of the signal if you are very high. This type of telemetry is very tedious and takes lots of patience and practice. Unfortunately, patience and practice equals TIME which in aerial telemetry equals MONEY! One word of advice from experience….I recommend taking a diphenhydramine tablet (e.g.
Dramamine) within an hour before doing aerial telemetry!

Ok…the dead parrot. I agree, it does look like the work of an avian predator. The open harness could easily have resulted from the hawk tearing and pulling at the flesh. If the hawk happened to have pulled strongly on the harness, it could have easily done this. Not unheard of, for sure. It will be interesting to find out what happened to the others, and if they are found in similar conditions.

Now…if the option of aerial searches does not work out, then it becomes a game of “cat and mouse” all over the landscape! I would definitely try to use as many high points (hills, cliffs, tops of buildings, etc.) as possible in order to maximize reception distances. Like Jaime says, there are at least 12 radios out there sending signals into the air….it’s just a matter now of getting in the general area to catch a few of them.
Difficult, I know, but that’s telemetry!

Jaime and Ana…I will look at the grant proposal ASAP and provide my feedback. I am just about to head to the field right now, and will also be in the field most of tomorrow.

Never a dull moment!!!

blogs from the field - parrot conservation in real time