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The Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit

The University of Montana

Thomas E. Martin

Montana Aspen Project

SUMMER 2014!


Montana Aspen1 Mt Aspen2

Field assistants are sought for a study of songbird nest success in relation to habitat features of aspen forests in Montana.  The two field sites are located in central Montana in mid-elevation (6000 ft) aspen forests mixed with grasslands and lodgepole pine-douglas fir forests. Field assistants will have the opportunity to gain experience in various bird research techniques, such as nest searching and monitoring, videotaping nests, mist-netting, and egg and nestling measurements.  All field assistants will take part in an assessment of the aspen habitat, which involves extensive vegetation surveys and various nest measurements.  The project will begin mid-May and will run through mid-August.  Prior experience with western birds is desirable, and enthusiasm and a strong work ethic are a must.  Pay is $1200-1400/mo for nest searchers, depending on experience.  Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until positions are filled (no later than March 15, 2014).

TO APPLY:  Please send (email preferred) a letter of interest, stating which position you are applying for and describing your experience at supervising field research and/or nest-finding (including descriptions of the kinds of habitats and bird species) or any relevant research or fieldwork, plus resume and 3 references with email addresses to:

Joseph LaManna

University of Montana

Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit

Natural Sciences Building Room 205

Missoula, MT 59812


Techniques and jobs for nest searchers

The work to be conducted in Montana will have four major components.

1) Nest-finding and monitoring - the main objective of the study focuses on finding and monitoring success of nests of a diversity of species.

2) Videotaping - we will use video cameras to record nesting behaviors of focal species.

3) Vegetation Sampling - extensive surveying and measuring of the habitat will be conducted to look at the effects of habitat structure on nest success.

4) Egg and nestling measurements - a few crew members will be responsible for measuring accessible nests for general life history data.


Nest finding and monitoring (See Nest-monitoring plots, Get a Behavioral Clue, Nest card protocol)

One of the primary goals of the research being conducted in Montana is to determine the nest success of the breeding bird community. One particularly useful way to determine this is to find nests. Once we find a nest we can determine: reproductive success, parental care strategies (e.g. incubation behaviors, nestling feeding rates), clutch size, egg mass, nestling growth rates, and many other traits.

Nest searchers are assigned study plots on which they focus their nest-finding attention for the summer. All study plots are aspen stands. Each nest that is found is checked every 2 to 4 days to determine if it is still active (with eggs or young) or if it failed. As transition periods (i.e. hatching) approach, nests are checked every day to determine exact nesting period lengths. Detailed notes of nest status at each check are vital. Previous studies suggest that humans have little influence on predation probability, but we always want to guard against adding biases, so great care is to be taken near nests.

Video monitoring (See Video Monitoring Protocol)

Parental care is a very important component of the reproductive effort of passerine birds. Parental care behaviors such as mate-feeding (males bring food to incubating females), nest attentiveness (percentage of time the female sits on the nest), and nestling feeding are costly behaviors with important implications to reproductive success. A particularly useful technique we use to determine the importance of these behaviors to different species is to videotape nests.

Vegetation Sampling (see Vegetation Sampling Protocol)

We will conduct detailed measurements of the vegetation at nest sites and at systematic sites to allow documentation of nest habitat selection and to monitor the effects of habitat structure on nest success.

General Information

  • Approximate Work Schedule - The general schedule is 6-8 hour days with 2 day breaks throughout the season.  We use federal and state vehicles to get to field sites from camp. These vehicles are also used for supply trips to town and for getting to town for scheduled breaks. The general schedule of the field camp begins around first light (which may be as early as 4am). From dawn until around noon is spent searching for nests, then time is spent measuring vegetation at nest sites and systematic sites on the study plots. This schedule is often modified over the course of the season as work priority and seasons change. In general, fieldwork ends between 12:00 - 1:00 each day.

    Following fieldwork, everyone is expected to spend about an hour doing paperwork, such as writing up nest records and recording egg and nestling measurements. After lunch there is usually lots of work to be done on side projects such as egg and nestling measurements or using a small camera to look into cavity nests. The remainder of the day is your own to do as you please.

  • Logistics - Because of the size of the field crew, the circumstances we live under, and the location of the field site there are many logistical problems that we have to deal with. While none of these problems are particularly difficult, it is important that everyone adhere to regulations and be aware the potential problem so as to maintain the moral of the camp.

  • Cooking, camp fires, and smoking - Because we work in a National Forest and Wildlife Management Area we must be aware of the potential for forest fires. Although the danger is relatively minor there are a few rules we have to further limit the threat. First all cooking is done in a designated cook tent. Under no circumstances may anyone cook outside of the cook tent. Under some occasions we do have camp fires in camp, but these fires are carefully monitored and may only be lit in the designated fire ring. Finally, smoking is not allowed in any of the camp facilities (including tent and vehicles). If you wish to smoke we ask that you smoke outside of camp or in your personal vehicle. Also, be aware that all of the regulations are ultimately preceded by the regulations of the U.S. Forest Service, which are determined by the relative threat of wild fires. So depending on the year these regulations may become stricter.

  • Camping - The campsite is permanent for the entire field season, so try to make yourself comfortable; this is going to be your home for 3 months. We suggest bringing a large tent if available. Also make sure you bring a warm sleeping bag and some sort of sleeping pad (the thicker the better) because it can get quite cold at night, especially early in the season (5°F).

    In camp we have a generator to supply electricity to camp for charging video camera and computer batteries. The generator is on for only a limited time every day, and its use is meant primarily for project business, so please do not bring electronic equipment to camp.

    In addition to your personal tent there is also a large canvas tent in camp. It is designated for doing paper work, data entry, cooking and entertaining. In this tent we have a number of tables set up for general use. There are also propane stoves for everyone's use, but you will need to supply your own food, cookware and utensils. In addition, ALL FOOD is kept in closed containers in the vehicles (field or personal vehicles, or bear boxes) so as to reduce human/wildlife interactions.

    Be aware there is NO RUNNING WATER in camp. We have many water containers that we use for water obtained from town or the ranger station. This means that getting water is both time consuming and costly, so we try to conserve water as much as possible. This especially pertains to bathing. We bath one of 3 ways: 1) take a "bird bath" in one of the creeks or lakes near camp; 2) use of personal sun showers that are placed in the sun to heat up (please do this minimally because it uses a great deal of water); or 3) drive to the town (45 min away) and use their facilities. Toiletries in camp are limited; we have one or two Porta-Potties set up near camp for general use.

    Food - The nearest location to get food is located in White Sulphur Springs or Anaconda (depending on the field site) approximately 45 minutes away from camp. Because of the distance and because ice in coolers melts quickly once the weather warms up, we typically go to town once a week to get food and ice. Of course anyone can go to town at anytime after work in their personal vehicle.

    There is no refrigeration at camp. This means that perishable food items have a limited shelf life in camp, so be aware of this when buying food for an extended period. In addition, field days can often be quite long and tiring, so it is often nice to purchase foods that are easy and quick to prepare.

  • Trash and Recycling - Trash and recycling can be difficult in bear country, so we only have one container that is kept in one of the field trucks. This container will be emptied at the ranger station once a week or whenever necessary.

  • Alcohol - No alcohol or other drugs are allowed at the campsite.

  • Pets - No pets of any kind are allowed at the field camp.

  • Mail - We have post office box at each field site. Everyone will share the same box so that anyone going to town can pick up all mail. The mailing addresses will be provided before the field season begins.

  • Phone - There is no cellular service near the field site. Most cell phones get service down the road approximately 30 minutes from camp. We have a camp cell phone, but this phone is only for official business, or in the case of emergencies. Messages are checked on the camp cell phone every day. The nearest pay phone is 45 minutes away in the town of White Sulphur Springs. Many assistants bring their own vehicles and drive to the phone to make calls and those without vehicles can catch rides with others most days of the week if needed.

  • Emergencies - In case of a family emergency, your family can call our cell phone and leave a message (we check messages daily). This telephone number is ABSOLUTELY for EMERGENCIES ONLY. The nearest hospital is in White Sulphur Springs (45 minutes away). We have basic first aid kits and experience.

  • Paychecks - All pay checks are sent out bi-weekly to the P.O. Box, but be aware the first paycheck does not arrive until 3 to 4 weeks after you start, so you need to bring enough money for one month to cover food, travel and hotels on days off, etc. You will also have the option of having your checks direct deposited with the first check being mailed out. Hiring paperwork will provide additional information.

  • Things to Remember and Items to Bring - We live and work in a high latitude site - Temperatures will be below freezing at night the first few weeks. In fact, there is often snow on the ground when we first arrive and it may snow during the first few weeks. Our work often requires standing stationary for periods of time and feet can get very cold. So be sure to bring cold weather clothing. Extra blankets and a sleeping pad to put on the ground under your sleeping bag are useful because they provide greater insulation and sleeping on the ground gets quite cold when temps are below freezing. It will rain some and the vegetation is often wet in the mornings from dew. This can cause cold feet - try to bring waterproof boots and/or gaiters if possible, also rain gear. Otherwise, bring extra shoes and/or clothing to wear when everything else is drying. Usually it is great weather, but last year was abnormally wet (in other words, you never know...), and some years are extremely dry. We will see elk and deer almost every day and you may also see black bears. Please bring bear spray to be prepared for the highly likely possibility of seeing bears (although they will usually run away before you even see them).Please bring a cooler or plan on purchasing one when you arrive. Bring a lantern, headlamp, or a flashlight. You should bring your own chairs, silverware, plates, and a pan or two for cooking.

What to Bring to Camp

Below is a list of items we suggest that you bring to field camp; although not all are necessary most are meant to make your stay more enjoyable.

Bird on nest

All of these items can be purchased in one of the nearby cities, and if you are flying this may be the best way to obtain many of these items.

Bird book
Bear spray
Large cooler and/or storage bin (can be purchased in MT if you're traveling by air or bus) 
Water bottles
Alarm Clock (battery powered)
Wrist Watch
Silverware, bowl, plate, pots, pans, drinking mug
Tent with rain-fly (2-4 person tents are better than 1-person tents - we do not move)
Tarps - one for below, and one for above (the UV will eat your tent quickly)
Ropes and extra stakes for rigging up tent and tarps
Warm sleeping bag (temps get down below freezing)
Sleeping pad (extra blankets under the sleeping pad are helpful)Warm gloves and hat
Sweaters and/or fleece
Warm jacket or shell
Rain jacket and pants (this is extremely important)
Field clothes
Day pack (fanny pack, too, if you have one)
Warm boots (multiple pairs of boots are nice when 1 pair gets wet)
Wool socks
Long johns
Sunscreen and a hat to shade face (this is extremely important)
Biodegradable soap and shampoo
Bucket to wash with
Swimming suit
Towels, washcloths
Lantern (with extra mantles)
White gas or propane bottles for lantern
Flashlight (with extra batteries)
Telephone calling card
Movies (DVDs) we have movie night once a week using a camp laptop
Reading material/Frisbee, camera, musical instrument, or other entertainment 

Natural Sciences Room 205

Missoula, MT 59812