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New waterfowl scientist will get feet wet this spring

January 02, 2014 at 04:48 PM

The State Journal-Register

Josh Osborn arrived in Illinois just in time to see the end of waterfowl migration before getting to work on next spring’s research projects.

Osborn is the new assistant waterfowl ecologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Forbes Biological Station near Havana.

His predecessor, Randy Smith, is now the state waterfowl biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Osborn will help expand efforts during the third year of an ongoing diving duck study.

This year, scientists hope to band 4,000 lesser scaup and 1,000 canvasbacks.

“I’m fresh off the boat, so to speak,” Osborn said. “On top of trying to move things along with the diving duck project this spring I’m finishing up my master’s (degree) at the University of Tennessee.

“Things have been pretty hectic.”

Osborn is studying the ecology of the black duck, and said some aspects of his thesis work are similar to methods used on the diving duck study.
He expects to finish up in late spring, once the diving duck work tapers off.

In addition to banding, scientists will assess the overall health of the birds captured and conduct blood tests that will provide additional insights.
“We’re ramping up the study we’ve done for the past two years,” said Heath Hagy, director of the Forbes Biological Station.

In addition to the diving duck study, scientists are hoping to spend some time studying birds that nest at The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve just across the river.

In limited efforts last summer, scientists estimated there were 1,000 water bird nests at Emiquon.

Those birds include sora rails, American coots, American and least bitterns and common gallinules.

Hagy said the sample size was small and they hope to learn more this year.

“Still, the preliminary estimate is pretty staggering,” he said.

Aaron Yetter, who conducts the weekly aerial surveys on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, will continue surveys of bald eagle nests and heron rookeries.

Scientists also are looking for ways to update the traditional waterfowl survey methodology while keeping the information comparable to previous years.

Studies of invasive plants in Illinois waterways, especially near Chicago, also are ongoing.

For Osborn, fall migration gave him a glimpse of things to come in his new job.

“It froze up early, but I still got to see some pretty neat stuff before things locked up.”

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