Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Some Pictures

Box construction phase of 2011.  
Typical box. About 1/4 of the boxes have thick "plastic" tops that I hope will make the boxes last much longer.  

What we hope to get: babies! In this case Eastern Bluebird chicks! Cute, eh? 

Last year's crew.  With Amanda, Nipa (still with us!), Kelly (still with  us!), Chris (still with us!), Nate (still with us!) and Becky (graduated)

The Project Status

The good news 
The project is currently running on all cylinders and much improved from last year. I have a full time field crew that is mostly Chris (college senior), Kelly (junior), and Anthony (senior). When I go out I get lots of help from my volunteers Matt (senior) and Colleen (junior). Instead of waiting until the end of the season, we've been getting the blood analyzed as it comes in with my lab crew Nipa (junior), Nate (senior), and Kevin (sophomore) with some help from Katie (junior), Tim (sophomore), and Adam (sophomore). I'll post a picture of everyone as soon as I can get them all together! 

We have ninety-one nest boxes currently up and at various sites across eight counties in the northern tier (northeast quadrant) of Pennsylvania. At least twenty-seven are occupied and I suspect more will be as the season goes. Most of these boxes are occupied by tree swallows but we have one chickadee nest (successfully fledged) and one tufted titmouse nest at Lands at Hillside. We didn't take blood from this species since a they essentially represent a single sample and we would have no others for comparison. There are also a number of bluebird nests, which I am very happy about. I'm entering the tree swallow banding data and we probably have at least 50-60 babies banded!

We've also had zero predation! This was also true of my post doc bluebird project in Georgia. Could it be the poles the nest boxes are mounted on?  

Because we may not have enough samples from the tree swallows, we're supplementing the data from nest boxes with mist net captures. Our target species are common yellowthroat, song sparrow, and Carolina wren. Song sparrows are our most commonly captured species. They are super-abundant and easy to catch. Common yellowthroats are much harder to catch and we have one or two captures of Carolina wrens. We will add red-eyed vireo and gray catbird because we catch so many of them. I'm just not sure how well they will represent surface water quality (more on this soon). We also captured (without trying) a number of other species including scarlet tanager, veery, and a number of warbler species.  Very exciting!  

Now the bad news

Our project was largely funded by a grant from Pennsylvania's DCNR Wild Resource Conservation Program and is now in the second year of its two-year funding.  I recently was told that contamination issues associated with Marcellus Shale gas drilling are not part of this year's priorities. To see what they're funding, read this. This would be jaw dropping but - I better not say anymore! 

The other large source of funding was through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to Wilkes University. This is also puzzling since we did create a culture of undergraduate research at Wilkes University.  

I also tried Crowdsourcing through RocketHub but this did not generate too much - makes me appreciate those that gave all that much more! These funding will largely go to camping fees when traveling to the sites that are more than 2 hours away.  

Where to go from here

We will finish this season, which is turning out fantastic.  I'm already scheduled to present our results in Vancouver at the North American Ornithological Conference. We will try to publish what we find and will, at least, turn in a report to DCNR, which will be publicly available. We can always apply for a mentoring grant but that may not cover all the expenses. So we'll see. I am pursuing other sources of funding. 

United States' smallest park also has the highest biodiversity!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Concrete Ornithologist 

My career in ornithology started in the Amazon but funding availability led me to look at avian communities along an urban-rural gradient through the Auburn's Center of Forest Sustainability

For the last couple of years I've been looking at a number phenomena along urban gradients including avian diseases, insectivory, and frugivory.

Most recently, my research team and I are examining if there is evidence of surface water contaminants from gas drilling making their way to terrestrial birds.  

Gas well outside Dimock, PA 
This is where I'll post my activities and other (random) thoughts. Enjoy the ride.