For the Birds
By Rita-Lyn Sanders, Director of Marketing and Communications
GRAND JUNCTION, COLO. - (July 26, 2023)
It is most appropriate to say that a big chunk of my life has been “for the birds.” Not in the trivial sense of the phrase, but rather, literally. I have been married to a migratory bird researcher for three decades. We met when I was a senior in high school. On cold winter mornings Todd would launch his scull boat on one of the many lakes where he could bag a limit of ducks before class. Afternoons would find him studying textbooks at the local community college.
When he realized, after a frank talk about life aspirations with one of his college instructors, that he could make a living studying, well, birds, he plunged his nose deeper into the “ology” texts. Since then I have counted our time together not necessarily in years, but by research projects.
Early in our marriage, while we were both in college, he spent summers volunteering for raptor projects with the U.S. Forest Service. This led to seasonal employment surveying fish in mountain streams cascading down Mount Shasta and counting spotted owls on Mount Hood. His first university project landed us in eastern Oregon to study how different riparian grazing strategies impact passerine (songbird) populations. We slept in a breezy log cabin on cots underneath the rafter’s resident bats on a ranch for two summers (his kind of research almost always happens in summer). The following summers, Todd capped his college days with band-tailed pigeon research on why these native birds frequent mineral sites during their breeding season in the Pacific Northwest.
After graduation, as a researcher at the then Colorado Division of Wildlife, Todd banded thousands of geese in western Colorado to get a pulse on where the populations that breed here migrate. It also became increasingly clear that our family life would be nested with his work. We cling to a sweet photograph of our preschool-aged son hugging a goose nearly equal to his size. And in 2007 after joining the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Todd spent several weeks at the tip of the Aleutian Islands surveying Aleutian geese. On this trip I relayed to him during a scheduled satellite phone call that our second child would be a girl.
At the Fish & Wildlife Service, Todd has conducted additional studies on band-tailed pigeons to learn how often they visit mineral sites, but spends most of his days in an office working with state biologists in the Pacific Flyway on migratory bird issues. Still, he assists with field projects when he can, like the occasional survey or banding effort on any number of migratory bird species.
You can imagine, then, his interest when I told him I wanted to photograph a nest platform and hopefully the ospreys that have been frequenting it. Ospreys are unique raptors that patrol waterways to satisfy their taste for live fish. They collect sticks to build their untidy nests near the tops of trees or on tall structures. Grand Valley Power built this platform in 2019 to provide an alternative nesting site for a pair of ospreys that seemed determined to build their nest on top of a nearby power pole in DeBeque. The pair must approve, as it appears they keep returning to the platform.
Grand Valley Power is conscientious about protecting migratory birds and reducing risks that can result in electrocutions and collisions with distribution lines. GVP has an Avian Protection Plan that guides work to protect avian species and maintain system reliability. The guidelines, which were developed collaboratively with the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee, EDM International, Inc., and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, employ proactive approaches, such as avian-aware engineering and construction practices to reduce bird deaths and injuries.
You can learn more about ospreys at one of my favorite comprehensive websites, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. While you’re there, stop by the band-tailed pigeon page and take a listen to one of the bird recordings that Todd made while he was a student at Oregon State University.