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Mexican spotted owl population holds steady on LANL property

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By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos National Laboratory released it’s annual survey earlier this month of three endangered species that live within the 38-square-mile boundaries of its property.

The species surveyed included the Mexican spotted owl, the Jemez Mountains salamander and the southwestern willow flycatcher.

The 2017 survey found that a pair of Mexican spotted owls is living and breeding in Threemile Canyon and there is at least one Mexican spotted owl in Mortandad Canyon. There may also be siblings living in Acid Canyon, according to the survey.

The 2016 survey showed just the opposite situation, with breeding owls in Mortandad Canyon and non-breeding owls living in Threemile Canyon.

Surveyors located the owls by playing a recording of the owl’s four-note location call and listening for a response. Surveyors spent at least 20 minutes at each station listening for a call.

In the last three years, lab employees planted around 150 native plants in four areas in Mortandad Canyon to further protect the owl.

The last time a Jemez Mountains salamander was spotted on LANL property was 2015, in Los Alamos Canyon, according to the survey. There has not been any sightings of the salamander for two years.

However, a boundary fence was also put on on the east and west sides of the Los Alamos County Ice Rink to prevent further human encroachment into the habitat of the Jemez Mountains salamander.

The survey results were the same for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.  None were found to be within the boundaries of LANL in 2017. 

An unknown subspecies of the bird was captured and released during a banding operation in 2017. The last positive sighting of a flycatcher was in Pajarito Canyon in 2011.

Survey techniques to find the bird were similar to the ones to locate the Mexican spotted owl. To find a flycatcher, LANL biologists played a territorial call designed to get a response from a flycatcher that had already marked its territory as its own.

The surveys took place as part of LANL’s compliance with its Threatened and Endangered Species Habitat Management Plan. The plan is part of an agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service