Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wolf takes sheep

Here's an interesting video of a single wolf nabbing a bighorn sheep in Canada. 

Wood thrushes at White Haven

My summer crew found a wood thrush nest on a forested property between Mountain Top and White Haven, PA.  We used a GoPro to capture an image of the three eggs then deployed a camera. 

The camera burned through over 5000 images. Most of them are the female just looking the nestlings. There's a heavy gypsy moth outbreak and it looks like they're bring them to the nestlings. Worms are another favorite (note that all worms in the area are invasive). Happen to capture a very image of both parents are the nest. 

About 4000 images into our monitoring the camera is bumped and two nestlings disappear. Unfortunately our camera doesn't catch it. So it goes. We did, however, happen to catch an image of a mouse (I think!) at the nest. White-footed mice are common nest predators on eggs - not so sure on nestlings. Whatever it was it bumped the camera so I suspect it was one of the classic mesopredators - a raccoon, possum, or skunk. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Phenology of a disaster

A few weeks ago I reported on the gypsy moth outbreak in the Lehigh Valley. I thought the Wyoming Valley may have escaped but today I was able to see the damage that the caterpillars of the moths have wrought. The south side of the valley has large brown bands where acres have been defoliated. 

I visited a cemetery, looking for wood thrush (not one found) but the entire place was fluttering with moths. So many they were landing on vehicles and myself. Disturbing. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Deer don't know it's hunting season

NC State has a fabulous wildlife biology program with very talented faculty. A recent study out of NCSU shows that hiking and hunting to not affect many mammals species - game and nongame. 

Many times I have heard from locals that there are lots of deer that move to protected areas during hunting season. Just not true. 

Successes of the Endangered Species Act

The Center for Biological Diversity examined population trends of 120 birds protected under the ESA and they have been increasing since being listed - some dramatically so. 

Short video: cancer stem cells are different

Huh! Did not know this. There are stem cancer cells and they divide more slowly and evade some of the traditional treatments. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

State Game Lands 206

Today I visited SLG 206 just south of Rickett's Glen State Park. Beautiful site but heavily over-browsed by deer (ironic for a game land). 

Picked up two wood thrush (no nests - grrrrrr) along with the goodies: worm-eating warbler and black-throated green warbler. I suspect there are many other birds at this site but I was stomping around looking for nests. There was also a nice stream (with trout) running through the site. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Campus next box update


The campus tree swallow family successfully raised four young. Yesterday, we watched them leave the nest and fly around the green space outside the building. Adults were excitedly flying around them as they made a circle or two then flew up into a large oak. 

I wonder that the tree swallows were "feeling" at the time. 

At least in northeast Pennsylvania, tree swallows have a single brood. They fledge (leave the box) and are not seen again until next year. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

How to check wood thrush nests

This shows my technician, Sebastian, checking a wood thrush nest. We use a GoPro Silver and put it on video (until I can get my phone to talk with the camera). It's been indispensable. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The week ahead (6/20/2016)

My main Wood Thrush (WOTH) person is going on vacation so I'm going with him to locate all the WOTH nests. Fun project but the distances between nests make this a pain. So it goes. The field crew is going to state game land 205 warm season. The bug crew is sorting insects and coming up with a plan for organization. 

Then a meeting with the provost, dentist, meeting about getting students to and from Panama. 

Field crew: Beltzville State Park for canopy measurements (look for bobolinks and meadowlarks), Kittatinny Ridge for canopy  
Wood Thrush Go with field crew and look for nests (BSP has WOTH in the parking lot!) 
Buggers some barcoding? if not sorting. create strategy for storage and retrieval (database should have location)

Field crew: Newport (canopy, ants, plants, birds)
Wood Thrush nest search and camera set up (supposed to get cameras at 1 PM)
Buggers Barcoding?

Labpalooza (except for checking WOTH nests and deploying cameras, sorry Seabass). Get samples out for isotopes 

Field crew: Jacobs property (all) 
Wood Thrush nest search with field crew 
Buggers send out samples??? more barcoding 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

State game land blues... and opportunities

Begin rant:

I have been doing research on state game lands for the past three years. I've run into land managers and biologists - they know why there I'm there. To study how management, particularly fire, and plants, particularly warm versus cool season grasses. 

The goal of our study is to inform land managers to best practices - how to maximize biodiversity. You would think there would be some communication between us and them and they would tell us their burning schedule and planting strategy so we could take advantage of these opportunities to do some really good science. Going from cool season grasses to warm season grasses from one year to the next is an excellent "natural" experiment. To be uninformed is to miss a great opportunity.

Case in point: SGL205 had a cool season grassland - ironically few grasses. This field was mostly dogbane (Apocynum sp.) and a few other wildflowers. Diversity of birds was really low with red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows being the only birds to use the fields exclusively. Indigo buntings and a few other species used the periphery. This year we returned and the entire field had been converted to warm season grasses. No blame here. Warm season grasslands are much more diverse than... well, here's the kicker - cool season grasslands that are dominated by switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). That is the standard pastureland grass. The warm season grassland on another site at SGL 205 was an avian wasteland late in the season. And that is because they use only big bluestem and it grew so thick that I don't think birds could use it. 

This is the site as of last week. Should I have known about this, I would have set up surveys but it's already late. Bummer.

End rant. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The moth that makes June into April

There's a joke that you go back 20 years when you pass through the tunnel on the northbound extension on the Pennsylvania turnpike - passing from the more progressive Lehigh Valley to the "what's this recycling about?" Wyoming Valley. 

Today, however, going southbound was going back a few months. Large swaths of forests were leafless and only a few shrubs with leaves. So odd. So bright in the forest. The culprit: gypsy moths. Last year was the Wyoming Valley - this year Lehigh Valley.

Parked at the gamelands and couple parked and they said this wasn't gypsy moths because there were no tents. They were confusing tent caterpillars, which mostly eat cherry trees with gypsy moths, which eat everything. I think I used to think that and it's probably a very common mistake. 

Here are a mating pair of gypsy moths and a female laying eggs. Instead of tents they have fuzzy (and apparently irritating) egg masses. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Predator swamping?

I have not seen this since I have been at Wilkes but I have heard rumors of mayfly hatches so large that they shut down the Market Street bridge with their dying bodies.

This year the river-facing side of Cohen Science Center is covered in mayflies and there are a few birds eating them. I've only seen starlings out but I bet the tree swallows are having a feast.

The idea behind such massive numbers is that predators can't possibly eat all of them so at least some survive. I also think such massive emergences are also based on maximizing reproductive events or maybe development is so constrained that optimal conditions are the same for all.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Campus Tree Swallows: update

Mom was on the nest today and wouldn't get off the young so I let her be. The chicks are growing and feathers are coming in. Beautiful stuff. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016


Took the crew out to an undisclosed location to work with Peregrine Falcons, a top predator that declined as a result of DDT exposure. Populations have been increasing since the ban on DDT use in North America (Virginia population and obs from Hawk Mtn, PA). 

There were 4 chicks - all healthy and the crew had a great time helping to process them before they were returned to the nest. The adults were upset and kept an eye on the whole thing. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Campus tree swallows

The tree swallows that set up a nest in the box behind the Cohen Science Center now have week old nestlings. I didn't spend a lot of time checking the box but I think there are four. I'll be sure next week when I band the babies.

Darwin's finches

Most people are familiar with Darwin's finches as an example of divergent evolution and how this influenced Darwin. The story behind the finches is this: Darwin went to the Galapagos and he collected some birds. The finches were so different he thought they were from different families (e.g., wrens, finches, and orioles). Back in England, Darwin runs into ornithologist and illustrator extraordinaire (and creationist) John Gould. Gould tells Darwin that the finches are actually all related. Darwin is like "wth Gould."  Some of the details are left off the labels so he can't tie specific location (island) to a specimen. Mind you, Darwin is a novice and recent graduate and in his early 20's so he should get some slack. It's actually the mockingbirds and tortoises that get Darwin thinking. Why should each island have its own species of mockingbird and tortoise?  The rest is evolution and natural selection. The finches come later when thinking about why there is divergence and the different beaks allow different species to exploit different resources. 

On Galapagos our local guides didn't know the different species of finches. I don't blame them - they all look very very similar and they're not trained to ID them. Our guides were very good organizers and knew tons, just not the finches.

Here are some of my best pictures of these little buggers. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Moon Lake Forest: zombies and redstarts

Moon Lake Forest was once Moon Lake Park and this time of the year there would be campers in the lots. The smell of grilling hot dogs and the overuse of lighter fluid. Cheers from enthusiastic parents might be heard from the youth soccer fields and children playing in the pool.

Now it looks like the set of Walking Dead (years ago I would have said Stephen King's The Stand). Grass is waist high and buildings are falling in on themselves. The lake is open and there were a few fishermen about. Otherwise the place was empty. 

I went there with a tech to look for Wood Thrush nests and we turned up one or two (hard to tell if it was one flighty male or two) and we never found the nest. Saw a thrush carrying food but that was it. 

Did happen to find an American Redstart nest. She flew off and scolded us from a few feet away. Cool stuff.  The GoPro is superhandy for nest pictures. Took this from 5 feet away. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Monday's 6/6/2016 research: tick-a-rama and wood thrush

Went out to Nescopeck State Park today for some bird catching. That part went really slow with only three birds captured. That's really lame for the effort (crew of 6). Need better speakers because there were yellow warblers and field sparrows all over the place.

We're also collecting ticks systematically (using a tick drag) and haphazardly (on us). On the tick drag (about 75 meters) we had 2 ticks. However, on the crew we found some THIRTY TICKS. We were there from 8 to noon. Crazy. 

After Nescopeck, we had a lead on a Wood Thrush territory just a few miles away. We searched the woods for the nest for an hour and we were waiting for two of the crew to walk back when one of the volunteers found it.... next to the cars. Go figure. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday Research:Wood Thrush tales

Went out to Francis Slocum State Park to check on a Wood Thrush nest a local bird watcher found last week. Unfortunately, that was empty and, from the description, the nest probably had eggs. 

I was telling him that early in the season birds will often restart a nest nearby. A few minutes later, a male was heard and I found the nest with three eggs (below) in a few minutes. I've been using a GoPro on the end of a selfie stick and this seems to work really well for nest checking. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Research day 3: The week of Wood Thrush in a nutshell

For Friday mornings I took the truck out and headed north along the Susquehanna to the more picturesque town of Harding along 92. I stopped when I could where there was forest and did playback for Wood Thrush. I did this for two hours and that totals about 10 hours of Wood Thrush searching for the week. I totally struck out yesterday. Stopped to pee (as I do more often then days) and found the graffiti below. It says "BIROS SUCK" and I read it as "BIRDS SUCK". 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Research day 2: Nescopeck State Park

Today, the crew and I went off to Nescopeck State Park to listen for Wood Thrush and to work on the grassland food web project. 

It was a complete bust for Wood Thrush but it was a nice afternoon and great for collecting ticks. I also found a Cerulean Warbler, which is a very uncommon bird for the area. Veery were everywhere along with Least Flycatchers and there was an Alder Flycatcher in our "field B". The Tree Swallows were on eggs so we'll be back in two weeks.

In the meantime, this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher wonders what you're up to! 

Ticked off and it's awesome

A few months ago we had a speaker from Yale give a talk on disease vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks. Great talk. After some discussion, we agreed to bring some ticks up to Yale so they can see what diseases they carry. 

Yesterday we had two ticks in a few hours. Today, however, we hit the jackpot at Nescopeck State Park. With 6 people, we collected 13 ticks (2 were dropped and lost and one that was found later went down the toilet). So we have 15 ticks in the -80 and we'll see if they have Lyme, Heartland disease, and BMD

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

2016 Research Day 1

Kicked off a fantastic research season today. Just to remind myself and anyone reading this blog the priorities are 

1. Wood Thrush (state funded - gotta do it) 
2. DNA barcoding (funded by Wilkes)
3. Grassland diversity and food webs (was funded by the state)

Ideally, I can work on two projects on once. For example, I'd like to get blood samples from thrushes and see, using DNA barcodes, if they are infected with blood parasites. We're also barcoding insects for the grassland sites. The main part of the Wood Thrush project is finding nests and monitoring them in an attempt to estimate reproductive success in different habitats. 

Today, we went to a farm that was converted from corn to a wildlife grassland (mostly warm season grasses) but he also mixed in some spruce trees (to sell as Christmas trees?) - anyways, wanted to get some birds for the food web study. The nine boxes had eggs or had a clutch that fledged so we searched the fields for nests. We found two active nests - one, a yellow warbler and the other a Black-billed Cuckoo. I was super-stoked because they're notoriously difficult to find.

Then we went to a wooded area with a boat launch near Shickshinny. There we heard a Wood Thrush and one of the crew found the nest within 10 minutes of me describing it. Crazy. Crazy good.