Conferencing in England, and Meeting a Ton of People!

After a long summer of fieldwork, I traveled across the pond to present my research at the International Society for Behavioral Ecology (ISBE) biannual meeting. The meeting was held in Exeter, England, and then I traveled to a post-conference symposium on anti-predator coloration in Penryn, England. Both of these events were held on University of Exeter campuses, which were quite pretty campuses. This post will be part travel-blog but also a shout out to the many people I met at the conference with links to their personal websites (or twitters if they do not have their own website), because they were all awesome and you should check them out!

IMG_1173

A view from one of the high points on the University of Exeter campus, overlooking the university and town.

This ISBE conference, plus the symposium, was the most productive conference I have been to in my grad career. I teamed up with my former lab mate, Brett Seymoure, to do some major networking, which was super helpful for our academic careers, but also a ton of fun! Brett and I are both very interested in animal communication and sensory ecology, specifically visual ecology. Europe and especially England has a very rich community of visual ecologists that work on a variety of systems and questions. Because of the post-conference symposium, most of those people were at the meeting, and we were able to meet many of them. One of the key labs we interacted with, and the lab which put on the symposium, was Martin Steven’s lab. Martin is a well known visual ecologist who has developed, with his current post doc Jolyon Troscianko, several useful techniques for measuring coloration and pattern using photographs. I am using one of their recommended setups for my dissertation, and while I was at the conference, I was able to sit down with Jolyon and get some great feedback and ask many questions, which was super helpful! Martin has also created a great network of students either currently in his lab, or that did a masters in his lab and are now elsewhere, and Brett and I were able to meet many of them. His group studies a large variety of animals from color changing crabs (Sara Mynott), to very colorful moths (Emmanuelle Briolat) and ladybirds (Sarah Paul), to incredibly cryptic nightjars. Martin has also had many people visit his lab, including my former lab mate Russell Ligon, who sadly was not at the conference, and Elisa Badas , who studies bird and egg coloration.

IMG_1155

Brett and I out in the town of Exeter.

During the conference, I was also able to reconnect with several people I had either worked with or previously met. My undergrad advisor, Troy Murphy, who was a major influence on where I am today, was at the meeting, and it was great to catch up with him. I worked with Troy both on his goldfinch bill coloration research and my undergrad thesis on wood warbler coloration, and he introduced me to my first bout of fieldwork on animal coloration in Canada (and he also introduced me to my current Ph.D. advisor). I was able to meet up with a friend I made at a different conference in Japan, Jared Wilson-Aggarwal, who I toured Tokyo with for a few days. He previously worked with Martin on the nightjar project, but now studies dog social behavior and how that relates to disease transmission in Africa. I also reconnected with Trevor Price , from the University of Chicago, who recently gave a talk at ASU and also gave a plenary lecture at ISBE. Trevor has done some very interesting work on birds in the Himalayas, and has now developed a keen interest in color vision and has many cool ideas. Trevor also helped me meet Gavan Thomas and his post-doc Chris Cooney, who are undertaking an awesome project to photograph every bird species via museum skins and study avian color evolution across all birds with great detail.

IMG_1151

Brett and I with Trevor Price. ISBE created a bingo card with different things to do while at the conference, and one was take a selfie with a plenty speaker – check!

Speaking of plenary lectures, there were many great ones at ISBE, given by huge names in our field. We had speakers such as Tim Clutton-Brock and Malte Andersson (who wrote the famous book Sexual Selection), but my favorite talk came from Rosemary Grant. Rosemary and her husband Peter, famously followed up on Darwin’s work in the Galapagos on Darwin’s finches, and published much groundbreaking and influential work. It was a real treat to see her present, especially since I have received a grant with her namesake from the Society of the Study of Evolution.

While at ISBE, we went on a mid-conference tour, which took us to the beautiful Dartmoor National Park, where we was able to see the amazing Wistman’s Wood, which is a stunted oak forest covered in moss and lichen. Also in the park were many tors (hills topped with outcrops of bedrock), which dotted the landscape. While  on the tour, we met two students from Emily DuVal’s lab, Jess and Karla, who study brown-headed nuthatches and lance-tailed manakins respectively. Me and all my lab mates (Pierce, Melinda, and Brett) also had lunch with Jenny Ouyang, who studies the effect of light pollution on bird physiology and hormones.

IMG_0898

Dartmoor National Park, with Wistman’s Wood in the distance.

IMG_0917

Under the canopy of Wistman’s Wood.

IMG_0936

A view of the diversity of mosses and lichen found in Wistman’s Wood.

IMG_0952

Another view from inside Wistman’s Wood.

IMG_0956

Our tour guide showing us an inscription where a previous king had cut down a tree here.

IMG_0963

A wider view of the forest.

IMG_0983

A close up of the mosses, lichens, and ferns growing all over the branches and trunks.

IMG_0995

One of the many tors in the area.

IMG_1025

Another tor, with the grassland/peatbog landscape all around.

IMG_1039

A jackjaw we found at the pub in the national park.

My poster presentation went very well, and despite being placed in the back corner of the room, I had continuous traffic and nearly lost my voice by the end from talking so much. I presented some preliminary results from my first chapter, which was great to finally get out. This poster allowed me to establish my name in the field and get on many people’s radars, which is great for future post-doc positions! At the anti-predator coloration symposium, I presented a project that I am helping Brett with on Gila monster coloration. Gila monster coloration seems to change with age, and so we explored if this was true, and found evidence that young Gila monsters might be more conspicuous than adults, which leads to some very interesting ideas about a potential switch in anti-predator strategies from aposematism to crypsis. The talk went over very well, mostly because people really loved the fact that monsters are real!

IMG_1163

Me and my poster!

While at the anti-predator coloration symposium, I was able to continue to hang out with many of the visual ecology students I met at ISBE, including Sara, Sarah, and Emmanuelle (from above) plus Sam Smithers (studies polarized vision), Jenny Easley (studies avian taste perception), and Diana Umeton (studies flicker fusion vision). I also met many more visual ecologists at the symposium, where everyone present gave a 5 minute talk with built in time in-between talks for plenty of discussion. The symposium, while exhausting, was incredible, because we were all unified with an interest in coloration and visual ecology, and I was able to meet big names in the field such as Tom Cronin (studies many aspects of vision) and Innes Cuthill (studies many aspects of anti-predator coloration). I also reconnected with Hannah Rowland, who I met in Japan as well, and heard more about her interesting work on avian taste perception & learning and anti-predator defense. I learned a great deal more about mammalian anti-predator defense from Ted Stankowich, which was very fascinating and has been under studied. And finally, I met and hung out with several other graduate students/post-docs, including Amanda Franklin (studies mantis shrimp communication), Emily Burdfield-Steel (studies variation in tiger moth chemical defense), Sandra Winters (studies primate coloration and diversity), and Jenna Proctor and Alice Rosen who both just started in Martin Steven’s lab to study crab and amphibian coloration, respectively.

IMG_1180

The main restaurant/bar street in Falmouth, which is the town next to Penryn and where all of the social activities occurred during the post-conference symposium.

After meeting so many great people and hearing about so much interesting work, I returned to the states exhausted, but also inspired to get back to work and try to live up to the high caliber of research already existing in the fields of animal coloration and visual ecology. I want to thank everyone I met for taking time to share their research with me and provide feedback on my own work.

For those who study any aspect of behavior or color that have never been to ISBE, I HIGHLY recommend going to the next meeting in 2018! Also when it comes to meetings, networking is so important. It helps you get your research out there, both to get feedback and also to get people interested in you or form new collaborations. For me it is definitely easier to network and meet new people if I’m with someone, like I was with Brett this conference. But I’ve also gotten a lot of help from my Ph.D. advisor, Kevin McGraw, who has introduced me to many important people and instrumental collaborators. So my advice is to both find a networking buddy and talk to your advisor about meeting specific people (i.e. do some homework before the meeting), and that will hopefully help open you up to new research opportunities or future job possibilities!

Alpine Lakes and the Sierra Nevada High Country

On my way back from Sagehen Creek Field Station to Tempe, AZ, I took two side trips for fun. The first was the afternoon before I left, where I hiked up to the local high point, named Carpenter Ridge. Then on the drive home, I went to Yosemite National Park for several hours and explored the eastern side of the park. Both experiences were excellent, and Yosemite was definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

IMG_0811

The high country of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Yosemite National Park.

Starting with my trip to Carpenter Ridge, I had to drive along several forest roads, during which I happened upon a mother black bear with two cubs. Unfortunately they were way to fast, and I did not get any pictures. I decided that chasing a mother bear and her cubs to get a photo was probably way to dangerous. Eventually I had to stop driving – because of a huge pile of snow in the middle of the road (in July!) – and walk to the base of Carpenter Ridge. From there, I hiked up a steep slope, rising bout 800 feet in elevation over a short distance, to get to the peak (just under 9,000 ft.). Once I summited the peak, I was met with wonderful views of the surrounding landscape, including Independence Lake, and distant views of many mountain peaks around Lake Tahoe. The plant life was also very interesting, because many of the bushes and small trees were stunted due to the winds. There were many colorful flowers blooming as well. I even saw hummingbirds near the peak! Below are some of the pictures I took during this trek.

IMG_0590

The road leading to the base of Carpenter Ridge (the peak in the background).

IMG_0594

A view of Independence Lake from Carpenter Ridge.

IMG_0597

Looking towards Lake Tahoe (not seen) from the peak.

IMG_0609

Some of the interesting and stunted plant life on top of the peak.

IMG_0610

A view of several high peaks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near lake Tahoe.

IMG_0628

Some of the flowers and shorter plants growing at the peak.

IMG_0632

These pretty purple/blue flowers were often visited by hummingbirds.

IMG_0636

The trees around the ridge were covered in moss and lichen, which made the forest look very green and alive.

IMG_0640

These pink flowers had the most interesting leaves.

Then on my drive home, I decided to stop by Yosemite National Park, because I had never been there before. I entered through the eastern entrance, which is around a 2.5 hour drive from the famous Yosemite Valley. Because of that long drive and the fact that the valley would be packed with people, I decided to save that place for another trip. Instead I explored three other famous locations in the high country of Yosemite National Park. I say high country, because for the most part, I was hiking between 8,000 and 11,000 feet. The first place I visited was Olmsted Point, which provides great views of the eastern part of Yosemite Valley and both the Cloud’s Rest and Half Dome peaks.

IMG_0666

A view down Yosemite Valley from Olmsted Point, with Cloud’s Rest and Half Dome peaks in the background.

IMG_0680

Another view from Olmsted point, in the opposite direction from Yosemite Valley.

IMG_0682

Looking towards Tenaya Lake from Olmsted Point.

IMG_0724

Another great view from Olmsted Point – there were many great views!

There is also a short (1.5 mile) trail that goes between Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake, a beautiful high elevation lake at around 8,200 ft. I was able to get some great photos of the lake with the mountains being reflected on its surface. The hike between the two points also took me through several meadows, where I was able to see some pretty flowers and wildlife.

IMG_0708

Tenaya Lake beautifully reflecting the nearby scenery.

IMG_0719

One of the many meadows on the trail between Tenaya Lake and Olmsted Point.

IMG_0695

A very wet and marshy meadow along the trail.

IMG_0687

A male deer with his antlers covered in velvet.

IMG_0699

A wash near the lake.

IMG_0702

Another view of Tenaya Lake with the mountains being reflected by the water.

IMG_0716

A zoomed in view of the mountains behind Tenaya Lake.

From there, I drove through the Tuolumne Meadows and did a hike up to the Gaylor Lakes. This trail not only provided me excellent views of the meadows, but once I crossed over the ridge towards the Gaylor Lakes, I was able to see many of the higher elevation peaks in Yosemite. There were two main lakes along this trail, a lower and upper lake. They both seem to be fed mostly by snow melt, and there was actually a huge snowbank by the upper lake continuously feeding it while I was there. I also saw several bird species, such as the Clark’s nutcracker, and several high elevation mammals, like the California ground squirrel and yellow-bellied marmot. I heard many of the ground squirrel alarm calls, which was a fun reminder of what I learned in my animal behavior classes – these squirrels tend to live in colonies and always have a few individuals on the lookout for predators, who then give alarm calls when they see a predator to alert everyone else in the colony. Here are my photos of my hike up to the Gaylor Lakes (I took a lot).

IMG_0729

The mountains near Tuolumne Meadows.

IMG_0733

A part of Tuolumne Meadows and the surrounding peaks.

IMG_0730

A pair of Clark’s Nutcrackers

IMG_0757

A view of the lower Gaylor Lake from a ridge nearby.

IMG_0771

A view of the lower Gaylor Lake from its shoreline.

IMG_0815

Part of the Gaylor Lakes Trail.

IMG_0817

Part of the upper Gaylor Lake.

IMG_0821

Another view of the rocky area around the lake.

IMG_0779

A yellow-bellied marmot.

IMG_0789

The same marmot but on alert.

IMG_0800

A California ground squirrel.

IMG_0828

A snowbank melting straight into the Gaylor Lakes!

IMG_0831

A view of the Sierra Nevada/Yosemite high country from the Gaylor Lakes.

IMG_0835

The wind creating ripples and waves across the upper Gaylor Lake.

IMG_0841

A view of the trail passing by the upper Gaylor Lake.

IMG_0847

Two smaller lakes in the area around the Gaylor Lakes.

IMG_0849

Another view of the high country.

IMG_0851

The trail and stream going from the upper lake to the lower lake.

Yosemite was an incredible place to visit. Almost everywhere I looked there were breath-taking views. And while I was only able to explore a small portion of the park, I was completely captivated by its beauty, and cannot wait to go back and visit. I did not realize just how large Yosemite National Park was, and would definitely love to backpack all throughout the park, especially along the legendary John Muir trail!

The Beautiful Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay

While I was doing fieldwork near Lake Tahoe I took a couple days off to explore the surrounding areas. Of course the first trip I took was to visit Lake Tahoe itself, and it was an amazing trip!

IMG_0506

The beautiful blue water of Lake Tahoe

My adventure occurred at D.L. Bliss State Park near Emerald Bay in southern Lake Tahoe. This park has a trail that essentially goes around the entire perimeter of Emerald Bay, which is one of the most famous and pretty areas along Lake Tahoe. The trail was called the Rubicon trail and I hike it for around 13 miles total (to the end and back). Along the trail I was able to do some great birding and see some spectacular views of the lake. This is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Below are several pictures of Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay from a variety of viewpoints.

IMG_0476IMG_0466IMG_0358IMG_0331IMG_0307IMG_0314IMG_0320

IMG_0481

Where Emerald Bay gets its name.

One of the most striking elements of this hike (aside from the lake) was the trees. There were many massive trees, and the forest community kept changing as I moved along the bay. Some areas were dominated by Jeffery pines, while others were very mixed and full of giant cedar trees.

IMG_0441

A stream that flowed through a forest from the mountains into the lake, full of pretty waterfalls.

IMG_0490

One of the giant cedar trees.

IMG_0395

More of the very tall trees found at various points along the lake.

IMG_0325

A view of the forest along Emerald Bay.

IMG_0344

A view of the forest along the lake.

IMG_0387

A very pretty orchid I found near the shore.

IMG_0496

A funny surprise I found along the trail.

I was also able to do some great birding here and picked up a few lifers, including a Townsend’s solitaire and white-headed woodpecker. Many of the birds were high up in the tall trees, so I did not get too many good pictures, but here are a few.

IMG_0471

There were many osprey nesting around the lake.

IMG_0427

A female common merganser cleaning herself in the sun.

IMG_0409

Two Canada geese hanging out near the shore.

IMG_0421

A great close-up of a Stellar’s jay.

If you ever visit Lake Tahoe, I highly recommend this hike. While there were some places along the trail where there were a larger number of people (near campsites), I mostly had the trail to myself. This was a great trail to get some amazing views of the Lake and see the diversity of forests around it.