#FieldWorkFail

Wow does time fly! This post is much delayed for two main reasons – lack of internet during fieldwork and a crazy busy travel schedule. In the past two months, I’ve been all over Arizona doing fieldwork and then I traveled to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and South Carolina! Now I am in Peru. But more on all that later!

This post is a follow up on my earlier post on field work fails (Getting stuck in the mud without pants), but instead of a single story, I will present a series of photos documenting failures and mini stories explaining each one. I hope you enjoy!

#FieldWorkFail Number 1: Centipede in the sink
img_0306_2.jpg

Whenever you are doing fieldwork, you should expect to have many different encounters with wildlife, whether you want to or not. However, this was something I was not expecting. After washing my dishes at a field station in the Mohave desert of Southern California, this roughly 8-inch long centipede crawled out of the garbage disposal. It scared the s**t out of me! I did not kill it though; I managed to scoop it up in a dust bin and throw it outside. It was only afterwards that I learned this was a Scolopendra, which can have very painful bites that sometimes result in hospital visits. Luckily I was not bit.

#FieldWorkFail Number 2: Hugging a teddy bear cholla
IMG_0313_2

At the same field station, I had the unfortunate luck of running into a teddy bear cholla. In case you do not know what these are, here is a picture of some:

img_7159.jpg

These cacti have a very misleading name. Even though they do want to give you a hug, do not let them because they will hurt and make you bleed. And typically the only way to get the huge ball of spikes out of you is with pliers.

#FieldWorkFail Number 3: The bird who pooped all over my car
IMG_1988

When I was down in Southeast Arizona, I was fortunate enough to see many cool and rare birds. In this photo, you can see one of the interesting birds I saw – the hooded oriole. When I first saw it, I got very excited and took many pictures. Then I saw it attacking itself in my car’s rearview mirrors, and I thought it was amusing. However, the next day when I went to check on my car, I found poop all down the sides of my car where the bird had been attacking itself, which took forever to clean off. Lesson learned – when birds get mad, they poop everywhere and it is no longer amusing.

#FieldWorkFail Number 4: When I thought I lost a captive bird
IMG_9033

Keeping animals in captivity when in the field can always be a bit nerve racking. What if they get attacked by something? What if they escape? What if they get too hot or too cold? etc. These are some of the many questions that go through my mind when I have hummingbirds in captivity, despite having great success at doing so with many species. But when I saw this roadrunner with something dead in its beak run from the barn I had my captive hummingbirds housed in, I panicked. I raced to the barn only to find all my cages intact and my birds safe. I then zoomed in on the photo and realized it was a dead mouse in the roadrunner’s beak. Heart attack avoided!

Note – when I keep hummingbirds in captivity, they are inside individual cloth mesh cages that are hung inside a large screen tent for double protection. I also check on them regularly and keep them in safe places, such as a barn. And all of my captive work is approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Services, Arizona Game and Fish, Arizona Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, and the field stations at which I work.

#FieldWorkFail Number 5: That time a male acted very odd
IMG_2888

When I first started working with hummingbirds, I tried many different things to get them to do their courtship displays. Some species have been known to court hummingbird mounts, and so I attempted to present a mounted hummingbird to a broad-tailed hummingbird male. I expected the male to either display to the mount or attack it, which are two very normal hummingbird behaviors both of which I have observed. Instead, this male flew up to my mount, and used its bill as a perch. And it just sat there, staring at me. This was entirely unexpected and very strange. After this incident, I decided to scrap that method and have never used it again, but at least I got some interesting photos from the situation.

#FieldWorkFail Number 6: I hate the wind
img_0320_2.jpg

When I am doing fieldwork, my number one mortal enemy is the wind, even above ants! And that is because of moments like the one captured in this photo. Here I was simply trying to trap a male hummingbird using a caged female and feeder as a lure, when it suddenly got really windy, blowing my cage around, and making the nets flap like crazy. All of this movement scared the male away, and I never caught him. I ended up having to stop work early that day too because it was just so windy. So yah, I hate the wind.

And those are some of my #FieldWorkFail captured on camera. I hope you enjoyed it, and I will blog again soon with travel updates and maybe some cool pictures from Peru!

Back to blogging and a brief catch up!

Wow, it is amazing how time flies in grad school. It is hard to believe that is has been over four months since the last time I blogged! The main reason for my lack of blogging these past several months has been my work load. I ended up biting off a little more than I could chew, work-wise, this semester, which kept me from dedicating time to blogging. Luckily, I can say with confidence that I now have much more time to dedicate to this blog and it will not just disappear! Plus, I have a lot of exciting prospects in the future to talk about, so there will be no shortage of material to write about!

While most of the work things that kept me from blogging were not to exciting, I still had some very exciting events occur during that time. Firstly, I was awarded the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant for $20,085!!!!! This was an amazing and huge success that will go a long way towards some exciting new research ventures. I was also awarded a United States Agency for International Research and Innovation Fellowship and an Arizona State University Graduate College Completion Fellowship!! Combined these grants and fellowships are allowing me to expand my research to studying hummingbirds in Peru and conduct electron microscopy on hummingbird feathers (both scanning “SEM” and transmission “TEM” electron microscopy). The electron microscopy work will allow me to quantify the surface and internal structures of hummingbird feathers that are responsible for producing the amazing colors hummingbirds exhibit, while the trip to Peru will allow me to study several new species for my dissertation work, such as the Peruvian sheartail and oasis hummingbird. Below are a few photos of some scanning electron microscopy work I have done so far.

BCHU_whole_feather
A scanning electron microscopy image of a black-chinned hummingbird purple throat feather.
BTHU_13A_barb4_80deg
Another scanning electron microscopy image looking down some barbs of a broad-tailed hummingbird pink throat feather.

In addition to getting these grants and fellowships, I also gave my first set of public seminars on my hummingbird dissertation research. I first gave an hour long seminar to the Maricopa Audubon Society (link) and then gave another hour long seminar through the Audubon’s Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch’s Potluck and Presentations series (link). Both of these talks were great experiences, and they seemed to be met with enthusiasm from the audience, which was very encouraging.

Outside of grants and talks I did some fieldwork in March on Costa’s and Allen’s hummingbirds, visited the Grand Canyon and Sedona, went on some adventures in Michigan, and visited my undergraduate university (Trinity University). I will try to make a post out of each of these, but here are a few photos from each.

IMG_1790
A Costa’s hummingbird perched at Boyd Deep Canyon in California.
0313171031a.jpg
An Allen’s hummingbird I filmed and caught in Riverside, California.
IMG_2046
A view from the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
IMG_2170
The beautiful red rocks near Sedona, AZ.
IMG_2223
A sizable waterfall at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan.
IMG_2389
Looking out at Lake Michigan over the the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes.
0521171201b_HDR
One of the newly remodeled and awesome science buildings at Trinity University.

 

I greatly appreciate everyone’s patients with my lack of posting, but I am very happy to be back and excited to start blogging again! I would also like to give a shout out to my old school friends from Houston – Gabe and Carl. Thank you for keeping up with my blog!!

Until next time!
Rick

Meet the lizard crews!

10612848_10103240522698427_1419271466737460840_n
Pot-luck dinner with the two lizard crews! Photo credit – Matthew Lattanzio

While I was doing my work on black-chinned hummingbirds, I was fortunate to share the field station with two awesome research crews studying lizards. The first crew, consisting of Anthony Gilbert, a graduate student from Ohio University, and his field assistant Cassie Thompson, who recently finished her undergraduate at OU, are studying ornate tree lizard (below) color polymorphism (when individuals in a single species are colored differently) and climate change. The other crew is lead by Matthew Latanzio and Kortney Jaworski from Christopher Newport University who are studying the evolutionary ecology (how the interactions between animals and their environment shaped their evolutionary history) of ornate tree lizards and Yarrow’s spiny lizards (below).

The lizard crews in the field. Photo credit - Kortney Jaworski
The lizard crews in the field. Photo credit – Kortney Jaworski

For more information on either crew, check out Matthew’s website (here) and Anthony’s advisor’s website (here). I had a great time hanging out with them while I was doing my fieldwork and look forward to seeing them again in the future!

Here are some pictures of the lizards they are studying that I managed to take.

A slightly washed out picture of an ornate tree lizard displaying its hidden colors.
A slightly washed out picture of an ornate tree lizard displaying its hidden colors.
An example of how the ornate tree lizard can really blend into its surroundings.
An example of how the ornate tree lizard can really blend into its surroundings.
Another view of a Yarrow's spiny lizard
Another view of a Yarrow’s spiny lizard
A Yarrow's spiny lizard showing off its under-neck color.
A Yarrow’s spiny lizard showing off its under-neck color.

Field Update #5: End of field work, part 1

Yesterday, I finished my field work in southern Arizona on black-chinned hummingbirds. While I may not have filmed/captured as many hummingbirds as I was originally hoping, I was able to get some great data and will hopefully be back next year to finish up my work on the species. Now I am at home, for a few days, before I travel to South Carolina to visit my mom and attend a family reunion! After that I will be doing more fieldwork in Flagstaff, on broad-tailed hummingbirds, which I had great success with last year. So, lots of fun and exciting things to talk about here in the future! For now, here are some interesting things I saw during my time in Southern Arizona.

IMG_8439
Here is a really cool stick insect I saw that blended in perfectly with the grass.
IMG_8458
I always love looking into flowers while I’m hiking, because I’m likely to find a bee, like this one, enjoying herself some pollen and/or nectar.
IMG_8478
This isn’t a hummingbird?? Gila woodpeckers were common visitors to hummingbird feeders, though they often become pests, because they would either tip over the feeder or destroy it by drilling their own holes.
IMG_8632
Here is a family of Coati, which was a really fun find. The baby was quite adorable, but its watchful parents never took their eyes off me.
IMG_8709
Pronghorn are, with help, making a great comeback in southern Arizona, especially in the area I was in.
IMG_9033
Roadrunners are always interesting birds to see, but this was a really cool find. This individual has a mouse it recently caught in its beak, which it stopped to show me before it ran way.
IMG_9100
The summer tanager, another colorful bird you can find in Arizona.
IMG_9133
Here is another flower-bee picture, but I was told this bee is a bumblebee worker (thank you Meghan!)
IMG_9143
When I sat down to rest during a hummingbird scouting trip, I noticed that I was sitting next to this web with two spiders in it. I sat there and watched them for a while, and tried to feed them some juicy flies that kept landing on me.

Field Update #4: Filming and capturing males

IMG_0439This will be a short update today, due to internet limitations, but much more to come once I’m done with my field work.

I’ve been filming and trapping male black-chinned hummingbirds lately with success! I will upload a black-chinned shuttle video to YouTube as soon as I can, similar to this one of a broad-tailed hummingbird shuttle from my work last year. I’ll also upload a video of a Costa’s hummingbird shuttle, and then you can see the evolution of my cage stand equipment from an opaque tripod to this:

Finally, I’ve managed to catch 1/3 of the males I’ve filmed. Here are a few pictures of some black-chinned males in the hand.

IMG_0503

IMG_0504

Field Update #2 – Sonoita-Patagonia Creek Preserve

In addition to searching for black-chinned hummingbirds at the Audubon Research Ranch, I’m also conducting my work at The Nature Conservancy Sonoita-Patagonia Creek Preserve. While this place is less than an hour drive away, it is fairly different from the ranch. The preserve is a rich and lush riparian area, surround by a mesquite filled semi-arid environment.

IMG_8563

IMG_8660

IMG_8692

You can easily find multiple hummingbird species here, which makes things a bit more complicated, but there are plenty of black-chinned hummingbirds going to the feeders they have established here. I’ve only scouted here a few times, but I’m excited to continue to work here, because the overall bird diversity is great! Last time I went, I saw over 50 species, including a varied bunting and thick-billed kingbird.

Summer 2015 Field Season Update #1

The start of this blog also coincides with the start of my current field season. I am studying black-chinned hummingbirds at the Audubon Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch. I first need to say that this ranch is not open to the public, however if you are interested in visiting please contact the ranch staff (link). With that said, this place is amazing! It is a grassland littered with canyons and riparian areas (the land around running or dried up creeks and streams). Here are some pictures of the land and the different habitats I’m exploring.

IMG_8213

IMG_8221

IMG_8223

IMG_8306

I’ve been focusing on the canyons and riparian areas to find my hummingbirds. I usually find males perching on a bare tree top, keeping watch on their territories (left). However, many of the trees these males have been choosing are in some tough to reach spots, like along the ridges of long canyons. IMG_8507I’ve only found a few males so far, but as I learn the lay of the land and speak to bird experts in the area, I expect to have much more success. In addition to finding hummingbirds, I’m finding so many other animals, including several species of birds, a plethora of deer, many lizards and snakes, and some interesting insects. I’m very excited to continue to explore this area and do my work here as it is such a beautiful place and full of interesting creatures!