Max Denning

From early June to the beginning of August, once every 10 days Laura Mahrt, an Eastern Oregon University associate professor of biology, woke up at 3:15 a.m. and made the trek out to Ladd Marsh off Hot Lake Road.

There, she and six other citizen scientists set up mist nets to catch songbirds, weigh them, take note of their age, wings and sex, and place a small aluminium band around one leg that will help other citizen scientists track the birds’ migration patterns.

This summer, Mahrt utilized an Eastern Oregon University Faculty Scholar award to help establish a Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship station.

MAPS stations are overseen by the Institute for Bird Populations, which has operated more than 1,200 such stations s ince 1989. According to the IBP website, MAPS data provides insights into questions such as “What factors drive avian population declines? Where are problems most acute, on the breeding or non-breeding grounds? What drives differences in trends between particular regions or habitats? What is the relationship between population change and weather, climate or habitat loss? What can we do to reverse declines?”

This summer EOU awarded eight Faculty Scholar awards, four full awards and four partial awards. Mahrt was a recipient of a full award for the second time. In 2015, she used a full award to continue her study of the Ashy drongo and its behavior in mixed flocks at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore that she began during her sabbatical in the 2012–2013 school year. This year Mahrt utilized the award to help pay for materials for the MAPS station, including the mist nets, which are typically made of nylon or polyester and are specifically designed to catch wild birds.

While Mahrt is a herpetologist, a biologist concerned with the study of amphibians and reptiles, she said she has a passion for birds.

“I really enjoy bird watching and understanding birds,” Mahrt said. “Birds are one of those great ecological indicators of how well the environment is.”

The Ladd Marsh MAPS station ran from June 11 to Aug. 2 this summer. Ten nets were set up every 10 days, and the volunteers worked for either six hours or until it got too hot each day.

In total, the station banded 180 birds. The MAPS station is the only one east of Bend. There were a number of MAPS stations that operated from 1992 to 2008 near Elgin.

The Ladd Marsh MAPS station now has the necessary materials, and the plan is for the station to be operated for at least the next 10 years.

“We want to keep going,” Mahrt said. “It’s fun because there’s so much stuff that goes on at the same time, (and) it’s so much fun to hold the bird in your hand and look at it real close.”

In addition to support from the EOU Faculty Scholars program, the station received a Badgley Endowment grant from EOU. The Badgley Endowment fund was created by a donation from Esther Badgley, wife of former physics professor Ralph Badgley, in 1994. The fund supports faculty in the areas of biology, chemistry, geology, general science, physics and mathematics. The project also received support from the Friends of Ladd Marsh, a nonprofit that supports the conservation of the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.

The six other participants in running the station were Cathy Nowak, Scott Findholt, Nancy Findholt, Arlene Blumton, Nolan Clements and Mike Mahoney.

There are hundreds of peer-reviewed articles that use data from MAPS stations.

“We’re just one little piece of the picture,” Mahrt said.

Contact Max Denning at 541-963-3161 or mdenning@lagrandeobserver.com .

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