Friday, May 1, 2015

Spring in Windsor

Nothing makes me want to return to this blog and write like the arrival of spring birds (as regular readers will notice from the multiple spring posts...). Birds have been arriving for several weeks now, but my bike ride to school this morning marked my first colorful warbler sighting (a few Louisiana Waterthrush a few weeks ago). I was biking my normal route when I hear a Black-throated Green's distinct zee-zee-zee zoo-zee call. I slammed on my brakes (luckily while cutting through a park and not on the street), pulled out my binoculars, and began looking for him. After some searching, I found two males in the tree, as well as a male Pine Warbler. What an exciting May 1st!

It has taken me a while to feel comfortable just pulling out my binoculars here in the city. I worried people would consider my motives for having binoculars to be suspicious. But when they see me craning my neck looking into trees, I'm sure the reason is apparent. And city birding, while certainly not as nice as in more remote areas, is surprisingly satisfying. I've seen lots of fun birds, and have been watching two breeding pairs from my office (Nesting blog).

The addition of a good camera to my birding adventures has made and will continue to make this spring birding extra fun.

May 1 - Chipping Sparrow
May 1 - Goldfinch
April - Tree Swallow
April - female Red-winged Blackbird
April - House Wren
April - White-throated Sparrow

Friday, November 21, 2014

An Arctic Adventure

All through high school, I joked with my family that after college I would do Arctic research and live alone in a cabin in the far north studying birds. Well this past summer, I took one huge step towards my old career goals. I did a first field season for my Master’s degree on the beautiful Digges Island in the Canadian low Arctic studying an Arctic seabird. I am now several months into school, but the summer experience is worth sharing.

An unfortunate accident at the end of the season makes up much of what I have told people about the summer, but the group of us up there had an incredible month prior to that (Travis, who was injured at the end of the season, is recovering well now).

The Arctic is a beautiful and harsh place, even in the relatively warm summer months we were there. We flew into the small town of Ivujivk, the northernmost town of Quebec. We were welcomed warmly by all the locals we met, several of whom were a huge help throughout the season – helping move gear, providing boat transportation, providing support during the accident, and being a comforting presence 15 km from our island. The locals that I had the chance to have conversations with were all extremely friendly, and shockingly insightful. The strong connection to the land and animals that they have makes them very aware of environmental changes. The need for and results of our research really interests them. They understand what shifts in ice patterns mean, both for their own hunting and fishing opportunities, but as a global trend. It was truly amazing talking to them.

Living and working on Digges was endlessly exciting. Thick-Billed Murres, my study species, are cliff-nesting birds. This meant everyday working with them was a guaranteed adventure – rappelling down to our three work sites, leaning over the top of 500 foot cliffs to capture birds, handling birds among thousands of murres perched on their cliff ledges, and eating lunch leaning against a rock looking out at the constant stream of birds coming to and fro. Hiking to the work sites was always fun too – regular caribou family sightings, checking out the tiny wildflowers that manage to survive there, watching for the Golden Eagle pair and Peregrine Falcons pairs on the island, and of course, constantly being vigilant for polar bears. We did get to see (a good thing only after he left) one polar bear on the island. Three of us were walking back from a site chatting, looked up when we came to one of the lakes, and an “Oh shit!” came from one of us. There was a large, healthy bear ¼ of the way around the lake. The two of us with shotguns gripped them more tightly, the other guy got out his camera. We slowly kept walking towards camp, and the bear decided he was not interested, and ambled around the lake. On the far side he stopped to look at us, and in profile at 200 meters, he was a very impressive sight.

Words can only do so much to describe Digges, so I will let photos do the rest.

Our first look as a team

A row of murres
My commute to work
Banding and marking murres
Capturing murres
The lakes surrounding our camp (just past middle lake) and a break in the fog 
Luckily I learned to like heights
Another day at work
Gull hoping for some murre egg lunch
My favorite view
Just sitting at his desk
Hatched shell and chick hiding behind it's parents and neighbor

Lake and Ocean
Curious young caribou
The precarious pair (and chick under left bird's wing)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I'm Back, and on an Island!

After a long winter of seeing cool places, fauna, and flora, and not writing about any of it, I'm back to writing. It's spring, and feels like summer, on my new island of residence. Santa Cruz Island, part of California's Channel Islands, is a beautiful place to be watching spring come. The island is huge, and full of places to explore. It is owned by the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy, so there are few other inhabitants.

Rain several weeks ago (a week before I arrived) on the steep, rocky slopes has started the process of greening the island up. Many things are still working on putting out all of their leaves, but the change appears rapid. And it is beautiful! There are lots of flowers appearing, and mostly on island endemic species such as Giant coreopsis, Santa Cruz Island Manzanita, two island ceonothus species, and the island morning glory. It's amazing how many species here are endemic to just the Channel Islands, or even to just this island. One of the cutest examples of this, is the island fox. They are tiny (house cat size) and not shy of people. I learned early to not leave anything outside where they can reach, for they are happy to take it away.

My work here is lots of fun. I'm working with another island endemic, the Island Scrub Jay. There are three sites where we are monitoring their behavior and reproductive success. One of these sites is new this year, so we are also spending time capturing and banding these new study birds. A final part of the project is radio tracking last year's hatch-year birds. This is a time-consuming, but exciting process. I have been doing radio tracking the last two days, and my hikes after these birds have taken me on long hikes into steep and remote valleys. It's really fun, and a cool way to be forced to explore all parts of their territories.

Afternoons are mostly free, so there is lots of time for more exploring. Today we jumped in the ocean (my first Pacific swimming in a while) and then sat on the beach and watched for seabirds. It seems like every bird I see here is a new species for me (I think twenty new birds so far...). There is much more exploring to do in the next few months here, and many more adventures, sightings, and reflections on this unique island to write about.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happenings on an Island

9/9/13    Last night was cold with northwest winds. And it's apparent today - many of our sparrows (Savannah Sparrows are the study species I'm working with) are not around and there is a huge number of migrant song birds on the island. It's amazing to watch how active they are. Not a second is wasted where they are not flitting about looking for insects. They move through the trees in waves. All sticking in their small groups, but all foraging in their own way and part of the tree. 
      It's incredible pulling these little birds out of the mist nets. Feeling how small they are in hand just increases my amazement at their long-distance feats. 

9/16/13    I got to go on a whale watch to help Russell, the island caretaker, with the passengers and whale and bird finding. Several small (tiny really), things made me smile on the trip. While out in the middle of the Bay of Fundy, between Grand Manan and Nova Scotia, I saw a single warbler fly by the boat, look at it as though it might land, and then carry on its journey. I also watched two hummingbirds flying past, zooming around each other. The moment I really enjoyed was when, 6 miles from the nearest land, the boat was stopped and a young humpback whale was showing off beside the boat. As this was happening, I noticed a small, dark moth fluttering by from the open ocean. Here was one of the largest animals on the planet, amazing in its sheer size. And here in the same place, was a tiny insect flying miles above open water.

9/18/13    I just returned from walking to the dock. The sun had long been down, but the light on the west horizon has only just faded. And the light coming up in the east from the full moon is stupendous. Walking outside feels like it's daytime. I stood for a while in the lawn to just wonder at the lighting and the place I'm in. Moon light reflecting across the ocean in a wide swath to the east. The last of the sunlight disappearing making the sky magical colors against the dark ocean to the east. A crisp dark line of sky and water passing behind the moon-lit, open southern tip of the island. A dark tree line to the north. 

This place is magical. And the droves of migrants passing through this time of year make it exciting too. A small list of some recent sightings, and some captures in the mist nets: 10+ warbler species, Chimney Swift, Whimbrel, Northern Harrier, Yellowlegs, many Peregrines and Merlins, Bobolinks, Kinglets, Vireos, Hummingbirds galore, Flycatchers, Baltimore Oriole, Sora, Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, endless Flickers, Plovers and Sandpipers, Black-backed Woodpecker, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak... Every day holds a new bird, watching a new behavior, finding something cool in the nets.

Fall on an island - what an amazing place and time. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

An Important Issue and A Great Movie

Promised Land is a movie worth watching. The issue of fracking is one I have thought about and discussed with people, but after seeing this movie, I feel a strong need to really do my research and understand this issue. I like this movie so much because it really made me think hard about fracking (and because I liked the story line).

Matt Damon's character says that if people are against fracking for natural gas, then they are "for coal and oil". And then he mentions the alternative of "cutting consumption", a "conversation" he says nobody wants to have. The conversation of reducing consumption is exactly the one everyone needs to be having.

Definitely a movie worth watching and a part of larger energy issue worth thinking about. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Warbler Heaven

With spring’s arrival, I have been on the lookout for migrating birds. Yesterday while biking, I heard 10s of Black-Throated Green Warblers on a several mile section of road. Hearing them got me excited about the warblers being here, so today I set out to do some exploring. After walking along the road with little success, I noticed what looked like an opening in the woods behind my apartment. I headed off with my binoculars, bird book, and my boots on. After going through a narrow band of poplar and balsam fir, things opened up into a large alder swamp with patches of spruce, fir, and tamarack all through it. Then I noticed the sounds. Excitedly, I moved a little ways into the swamp. Around me were tons of warblers, all singing, feeding, and exploring. It was like nothing I have ever seen before. Within an hour of just staying in one area, I had seen seven different warbler species, chickadees, sparrows, and heard kinglets. After several more hours of exploring and watching these amazing birds, I came up with a quite impressive list of birds:

Warblers: Tennessee, Northern Parula, Magnolia, Black-Throated Blue, Yellow-Rumped, Black-Throated Green, Blackburnian, Black-and-White, Blackpoll, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat

Other songbirds: Golden Crowned Kinglet, Tree Sparrow, White Throated Sparrow, Black-Capped Chickadee

It was so amazing watching these birds. Despite all being there together, the warblers all seemed to have a certain method and location for finding their food – some climbed around close to the trunk of the larger trees, some stayed at the ends of the
conifer branches, others worked exclusively in the alders. The Northern Parulas really caught my attention as they picked at the flowering and budding ends of the alders, seeming to find many insects there. Two different warblers seemed curious about my presence – a Black-Throated Green and an American Redstart. Both came close enough that I could see all of their beautiful markings clearly without binoculars. I watched this Black-Throated Blue for an hour as he caught insects in the alders along this pond.

This was an afternoon to remember, and a place I know I will continue to explore through the summer in the hopes of seeing these birds more.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

We Walk the Plank with Our Eyes Wide Open, And I Asked When Is a Revolution?

Music is powerful, with the ability to change emotions, popularize ideas and messages, and energize. There are tons of songs that have a strong effect on me and on many different levels - some make me want to run and be active while some make me feel quiet and contemplative. I really appreciate hearing songs that provoke me to really think about the environment and our place in it. Here are a few of my favorites:

Eyes Wide Open - Gotye
Spring Wind - Jack Johnson
Down to Earth - Peter Gabriel

There are also plenty of classic songs with similar messages ("Big Yellow Taxi" - Joni Mitchell, "Where Do the Children Play" - Cat Stevens). These songs are both from the 1970s, and aren't the first environmental songs, yet the message hasn't gotten across to people yet.

Here are several more songs that make me think, be it about the environment, consumerism, social issues, peace and war, or activism:

"Sell It To You" - Bronze Radio Return
"Sound of Silence" - Simon and Garfunkel
"The Poisonjester's Mask" - Solas
"I Asked When" - Brett Dennen