Shoalwater DNR Locates Vulture-Shed Transmitter!

April 30, 2023. Ocean Shores Muncipal Airport.

Coastal Raptors trapped a Turkey Vulture for a research project on the movement ecology of this very important scavenger species (for an overview of the study, go to Turkey Vulture Tracking). Trouble began one week afterward.

Remote-controlled bow net encircles the vulture. Still image from Carissa Gaffney video.
L to R: David Landis, David Barber and Jake Burroughs remove our catch from the net while Caeden Gaffney stands ready with a burlap bag for vulture transport. Dan Varland photo.
Retreating to the airport Pilots Lounge, we fitted him/her with a transmitter and a wing-tag. The yellow arrow points to teflon ribbon that secures the back-pack style transmitter to the vulture’s back. Carissa Gaffney photo.
David Barber, Senior Research Biologist with the Pensylvannia-based Hawk Mountain Sancutary Association, checks the transmitter fit. David has lots of experience attaching transmitters, having fitted more than 20 vultures with the harness-mount type. Carissa Gaffney photo.
Transmitter, shown by the yellow arrow, fitted to the back of our droopy-headed vulture. Carissa Gaffney photo.
Glenn Marquardt and I just pose for a photo before release. We named the vulture Glenn after the Glenn pictured above in honor of his many contributions to the Turkey Vulture Tracking research effort over the years. Carissa Gaffney photo.
The orange arrow shows the location of Glenn’s relase. Red dots represent Glenn’s locations based on hourly transmitter signals between April 30 and May 7. On May 7 we recieved a signal indicating that the transmitter had stopped moving (i.e., had become stationary).
The yellow pin shows a single location on May 20 where Glenn was re-sighted by Shoalwater Indian Tribe wildlife biologist Cyndie Sundstrom.
We received three more location signals from the transmitter after May 7, all from the same location on separate days, May 21, 23 and June 9. The red pin on the map above denotes the spot, which is three miles north of where she was observed by Cyndie Sundstrom (yellow pin).

At the time of her May 20 observation, Cyndie was conducting a Snowy Plover survey at a location known locally as Empire Spit. She spotted Glenn with 19 other Turkey Vultures feeding on a beach-cast sturgeon carcass.

Having seen the red wing-tag with letters “HJ”, she understood that I was the person to contact about her observation. (Glenn is the 4th Turkey Vulture wing-tagged by Coastal Raptors that Cyndie has seen and reported to me, the first of these dates back to 2013!). At this point we strongly suspected that the transmitter and the bird were not traveling together anymore!

I shared the latitude-longitude with Cyndie who, as Shoalwater Tribe staff, is based in Tokeland, Washington (two miles south of the last signal location). I asked Cyndie if she’d be willing to try to locate the transmitter. She was more than happy to help out!

On June 26 Cyndie and five co-workers from the Shoalwater Tribe’s Department of Natural Resouces converged on the signal location, which they found was coming from the top the stump in the foreground of the photo above! Larissa Pfleeger-Ritzman photo.
Rich Ashley points to the transmitter location. Larissa Pfleeger-Ritzman photo.
The yellow arrow points to the transmitter shed by vulture Glenn. (Note the Shoalwater pickup trucks visible in the background; Larissa Pfleeger-Ritzman photo).
The transmitter was intact. Larissa Pfleeger-Ritzman photo.
While intact, the neoprene that serves to protect the back of the bird from rubbing against the transmitter’s hard surface had been bitten . Dan Varland photo.
A section of the teflon harness was also recovered. 44 inches long when fitted to the vulture, it had been bitten through and discarded. The piece remaining was 28 inches long. Dan Varland photo.

Thanks a million to Cyndie and the rest of the Shoalwater DNR staff (below) who, working together, located the Coastal Raptors transmitter – mystery solved!

L to R: Larissa Pfleeger-Ritzman (Director of Natural Resource and Enviromental Programs), Rich Ashley (transmitter in right hand, teflon harness in left), Donovan Wargo, Austin McCloskey and Mark Obermire. The dog’s name is Rip. Photo by Cyndie Sundstrom.

Note: If you would like to see more of my Blog posts on Turkey Vultures, click on Tracking Turkey Vultures below.

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