On November 10 and 11, 2019, a small but dedicated group of birders and friends visited Delamar Ghost Town and vicinity for the purpose of knocking down abandoned, hollow pipe, PVC mine markers. These mining claim markers were added to the landscape in the 1970s and 1980s when PVC became the material of choice for staking mining claims. Other materials used for mining claim markers include wood stakes, rock cairns, and metal pipes. The problem with PVC (and metal pipe) markers is that they are hollow and entice cavity nesting birds into them. Unfortunately, once a bird is inside, it can’t get out. The pipes are only three or four inches wide and the sides are slippery so birds can neither spread their wings nor climb out.
The purpose of this field trip was to assist Jim Boone with his project to clear the Nevada desert of these deadly markers. Doing so takes one to interesting and beautiful countryside, off-trail, and into areas that many others won’t see or at least won’t see close up. This field trip specifically helps with RRAS conservation mission to protect birds and their habitats.
On day one, there were seven of us and our starting point was near Delamar Ghost Town -- interesting in its own right but we didn’t linger too long. Instead we parked and began our hike towards our first mine marker. How did we know where to go? Well, Jim, who has been scouting Nevada for mine markers for years, has done a lot of reconnaissance to strategize how best to tackle the widely distributed markers. Some of his trips are for the purpose of locating and mapping mine markers rather than removing them, so a future trip can be created to knock them down. So with map in hand, Jim guided us to the first mine marker for the trip.
In this first pipe, we found four bird skulls. While it isn’t normally necessary to detail the remains found in a given marker, several of us were new enough to the project and so couldn’t help but be curious about any remains found (What type of birds? How long ago did they get stuck?). Since we had a few expert birders with us, we spent some time determining these four were three Ash-Throated Flycatchers and one bluebird (exact species uncertain) due to their size and beak shape.
This trip served another purpose as well: A local documentarian, Fred, was with us to work on a project about Jim and the mine markers -- so stay tuned -- it’s likely RRAS members will be the first to know when the film is completed.
After the first pipe, we broke into smaller groups to tackle two different sets of markers. Knocking down eleven markers took up an entire afternoon given the landscape we were walking though. This area has an abundance of cactus and loose rock, so the going was slow in spots. In addition to Sagebrush Sparrows and other live birds, some of us saw a healthy looking Mule Deer, and another saw a wild horse.
At the end of the day, we said goodbye to Ben and Kirsten, who were headed home, but not without getting an almost complete group shot. For the five of us staying to the next day, we had plenty of time to set up camp, eat, and most importantly sit around a warm campfire. It was cold! While the day was T-shirt weather, darkness quickly brought the cold with the low eventually dipping below 40F.
The next day took us to another set of mine markers, some of which were on flatter land so easier walking, but quite far apart. Dave found a marker with seven birds, but few other birds were found inside the pipes that day -- a relief to us. Some of the pipes without birds can still contain other critters, and on this trip, it was mostly darkling beetles, but lizards, snakes, and bats are not uncommon. On the other hand, some ingenious critters make their homes successfully in or around mine markers, which creates a dilemma - what to do about the marker if a packrat has set up shop? Well the marker still comes down but as carefully as possible in order to not disturb the structure of the rat’s nest.
After working for a half day, we debriefed about our findings. Overall, we knocked down 27 abandoned, hollow pipe mining claim markers and found 30 dead birds (including 8 Ashthroated Flycatchers, 7 Rock Wrens, 2 Western Bluebirds, 1 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, 1 bluebird, 3 wrens, 3 sparrows, and 5 unidentified birds). It is nice to know that our efforts ensured that these markers no longer threaten birds and other wildlife.
Three of us headed home, while Jim and Fred continued for another day to continue documenting the mine marker effort.
If you would like to learn more about mine markers and their effects on birds, you can read more on Jim’s website, Bird and Hike.com.
Written by Andrea Wirth, RRAS Field trip Chair
Photos by Andrea Wirth and Fred Bell