Island Restoration - Giving Birds a Boost
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge’s translocation of Evermann’s rock ptarmigan – undertaken for the first time ever in 2003 – has been tremendously successful and establishes the groundwork for broader restoration of other rare Aleutian ptarmigan subspecies.
In summary, we captured alive and transported 75 Evermann’s rock ptarmigan between 2003 and 2006 from Attu Island, where that established population flucutates normally, to Agattu Island, to improve the survival of this rare subspecies.
Extirpated By Foxes
Evermann’s rock ptarmigan once occupied Agattu in the Near Islands of the Aleutians. The Near Islands are part of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, which has a mission to restore natural biodiversity. However, the birds disappeared from Agattu after fur merchants stocked arctic foxes on the island in the 1800s. Foxes did not occur naturally in the central and western Aleutian Islands. These non-native foxes were eradicated from Agattu, Alaid and Nizki Island islands by the late 1970s. Introduced foxes on Attu were eradicated in 1999. By 2003, the rare Evermann's rock ptarmigan had never crossed the 30-mile ocean stretch between Attu and Agattu islands during the 30 years since Agattu Island was fox free. Although many species of native birds recovered following fox removal, ptarmigan have not reoccupied any of the Near Islands on their own.
New Population Established - Island Restored
A graduate student and an assistant from Kansas State University spent the summers of 2005 and 2006 on the 55,000-acre Agattu Island, tracking recently released Evermann’s rock ptarmigan. Those transported by the Fish and Wildlife Service that spring had been equipped with transmitters and were instantly recognizable. By the end of the 2005 summer, we knew the work had been successful. The Agattu researchers found that translocated birds had made nests and raised chicks. We know that some newly released birds have mated with those from earlier releases on the island, meaning the process of capturing and moving the birds did not upset their nesting effort that season. The ptarmigan translocation team considers this hugely successful.
The team tried a variety of interesting capture techniques including noose poles, carpet snares, decoys, calls, and most recently, by driving them into short nets. They consider themselves very effective at locating, carefully stalking, safely and gently capturing wild ptarmigan on Attu. These same techniques will be useful in other refuge projects involving ptarmigan.
Restored by Team
This successful project is an important part of the Alaska Maritime refuge’s island restoration program. Funding for this project was provided by the US Missile Defense Agency. Personnel of the U.S. Coast Guard Attu LORAN Station provided housing and meals and other support during the capture effort and logistics support on Shemya by the U.S. Air Force, coordinated by Gene Augustine. Dr. Clait Braun, Grouse Inc. and Dr. Bill Taylor provided essential technical assistance throughout the project in addition to capturing birds on Attu each season. Other members of capture teams in various years were: Gerald Masolini (2003), Peter Masolini (2003), Robert Masolini (2003), Ned Rozell and Pat Pourchot (2004), Brad Benter (2005), and Michael Schroeder (2006). All these volunteers proved extremely valuable team-members. Transportation was provided by the USFWS vessel, M/V Tiglax. Robb Kaler, Kansas State University, devoted two summers on Agattu tracking ptarmigan and searching for members of the new population. Providing valuable assistance for Robb Kaler all summer on Agattu were Greg Wann (2005) and Leah Kenney (2006). Jackie Nooker coordinated transmitter attachment and telemetry during the first season, 2005. Dr. Brett Sandercock, Kansas State University, served as Robb ’s academic advisor and was essential in planning the Agattu study, but also brought the drive net, captured birds on Attu, and tracked them after release on Agattu at the start of the 2006 field season. Several other Fish and Wildlife Service personnel assisted with the careful release of ptarmigan on Agattu including Joel and Tyra, and Verena Gill.
-- Steve Ebbert, Wildlife Biologist, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge