Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Song birds migrate at night

On a whim a few weeks ago, I applied for a couple of summer field work positions. I like being outside (clearly), am interested and curious about Earth's creatures and their interaction with their environment (wildlife biology and ecology), and I wouldn't mind delving deeply into a particular piece of the larger puzzle. 

I heard back from two postions the same day I sent in my applications. The first was working as a field tech aid on a pilot project in Alberta surveying and monitoring Grizzly Bears. The key qualifications were walking for long-distances in rugged and backcountry terrain with no supervision, having navigation skills, and an interest in learning about wildlife biology. I heard back from the head researcher of the project, immediately connected with her, and was seriously considering it aside from the downfall that I would have to be away from Jacob for 3 months, and probably we wouldn't see each other. 

I also was waiting to hear back from a field assistant position studying the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher population at the South Fork Kern River Valley, and last week was offered a spot on the small team for this summer. I'm eager for the chance to gain practical field work skills and experience, to learn more about migratory bird ecology, work on basic and applied research, and gain more insight into if, in fact, I would like to go back to grad school. Admittedly, I'm a bit apprehensive seeing as I have no experience in avian biology, have not been trained in monitoring nests, nor do I have any additional specialized experience. I was reassured that these weren't prerequisites, and upon talking with the head researcher of this program, was told that she actually likes to give people who may not have direct experience a chance. And finds many times, that the lack of experience can be a useful asset. 
So... on to a new adventure! 

Project Summary:

The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) is a migratory passerine (perching bird) and is an endangered subspecies of the Willow Flycatcher. They breed in riparian areas of the Southwestern United States (thus the name), and winter in neotropical areas in Central America and Mexico. This subspecies is part of the larger general trend in declining migratory bird populations worldwide. Habitat destruction from anthropomorphic activities (read: Human Impact), and brood parasitism from Brown-Headed Cowbirds are thought to be the primary reasons for this subspecies endangered status. The native willow/cottonwood habitat in the South Fork Kern River Valley harbors a population of Southwestern Willow Flycatchers. Since 1989, the team at the Southern Sierra Research Station have surveyed protected areas in the valley for flycatchers, have monitored the reproductive rates and survival successes of this population, and continue to try to understand the factors that control the size of the breeding population.  

More info about Southwestern Willow Flycatcher here.

More info about where I'll be, here

This means I'll be spending a very large chunk of my day going through dense riparian forests, sampling vegetation, and assisting with the management of the Cowbird population, and other various tasks which keep the project moving. 

I was asked if I like to be alone outside in variable terrain and inclement weather. 

Yes, and yes. 

As for the part about learning more about a migratory songbird, of course I'm interested. 

Song Birds Migrate At Night

They travel up to thousands of miles twice each year, 

Alone or together, 





Through storms and under the blanket of night, 

They follow the stars, 

Up and down, 

not round and round.

How do they know when and where and why to go? 

They perceive magnetic fields, 

and they once walked the earth as Dinosaurs.

Fossilized is a dino-bird, 

Shouting at us a simple, ancient something, 

About what it means to be one thing,

becoming another.

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