Saturday, November 2, 2013

Research in the Sunny Caribe

Each October for the last several years, I have spent 2 – 4 weeks on a small privately owned island in the British Virgin Islands to 1) capture and band neotropical migrant songbirds, such as the Blackpoll Warbler, and 2) conduct focused studies of resident Bridled Quail-Doves and Bananaquits.  I’ll be writing some entries related to these different studies in the coming months. 
An exciting development this year, however, is that it is the first in which we had the resident Bridled Quail-Dove in breeding status. Normally, they have completed their breeding before we arrive, but for some reason many were still engaged in breeding and territorial behavior this October. This was exciting, as it allowed us to observe and document previously unreported behaviors for the species. In particular, Mariel Sorlien, a volunteer with the project, was able to get some great pictures and video of these behaviors.

We are currently compiling the behaviors for a forthcoming manuscript, but for now, I’m attaching a picture taken by Mariel of something that very, very few people have ever seen: a female Bridled Quail-Dove on her nest. Although there are descriptions of quail-dove nests in bird guides, finding the actual data they are based on is challenging; more than likely they are based on anecdotal accounts or presumptions derived from that of other dove species. In fact, to my knowledge, only 3 nests have been quantitatively described for Bridled Quail-Doves prior to the data we collected this year.

Friday, October 18, 2013

More Kudos to the Boal Lab Students

I'm incredibly proud of not only the productivity of students in my lab, but in their success at being recognized for their work ethics, academic aptitude, and quality of research. The most recent awards are:


Becki Perkins,doctoral student, received a 2013-2014 The CH Foundation Graduate Fellowship


Kristen Linner (MS student), received both a 2013-2014 Peggy Gordon Miller Graduate Fellowship, and a 2013-2014 Preston and Ima Smith Graduate Fellowship

I'm very proud of these two young women and am fortunate to have them as part of my research team!



Saturday, September 21, 2013

Giving Conservation a Very Bad Name . . .

. . . and putting a seriously endangered species at even greater risk!

The Dallas Aquarium has found itself in the middle of a mess. Essentially, they tried to take 8 pygmy sloths (estimated 100 left in the wild) from Panama under questionable circumstances. They had permits in place, but appear to not have adhered to their conditions, the whole operation was clouded in secrecy, and the scientific legitimacy is highly questionable (see comment from the IUCN  and Smithsonian below).

“I fail to understand why Dallas World Aquarium did not consult with the experienced researchers prior to exporting these animals. Furthermore, I fail to understand how ANAM approved the export of roughly 10% of the wild population if this species has never been kept in captive conditions,” said Dr Mariella Superina, Chair of the IUCN/SC Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group."

This is what can happen when perhaps well-meaning but seriously untrained and misinformed (and possibly very wealthy) individuals try to short-cut conservation efforts.

"The most suspicious thing about this conservation plan-type document is that it was drafted not by any particular conservation organization (not either by the Dallas Aquarium). Instead, it was put together and emailed around by Jason and Julia Heckathorn – the children’s books authors and amateur naturalists".
The number of things wrong with this situation is a text-book example of what not to do, and the reputation of the Dallas Aquarium has taken a serious hit as a conservation institution.

"There is no way any kind of captive program for the sloths should have been established or even considered without a comprehensive management plan developed in consultation with experts on the species as well as with all relevant stakeholders. A serious conservation organization should never have undertaken this kind of project without further research and consultation with independent experts,” said Dr. George Angehr from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute."

Excerpts from the linked document

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Amber Spyglass . . .

. . . into Evolution of Birds!

A group of paleontologists have discovered a holy grail of sorts: dinosaur feathers!  Although there are ample examples of feather imprints in fossilized material, these lucky scientists have the real thing, preserved for over 60 million years in amber. What an exciting discovery for these scientists!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

No Energy Source Comes Without Costs . . .

. . . and all too frequently, we are not the ones that pay the tab.

Because we don't pay directly, it can easily slip our minds the risks posed by energy exploration and development. In this particular case, approximately 7,500 songbirds were killed in one isolated event at gas plant. We need the energy; yes, we certainly need to learn to be more efficient and conserve energy, but we need it non-the-less. The trick is figuring out how to refine our methods so as not to have situations like this.

Monday, September 16, 2013

If I Didn't Study Predatory Birds . . .

I'd study predatory insects!

I have always been fascinated with dragonflies, and came to love them while doing my post-doc in northern Minnesota. While obtaining radio-transmitter signals on goshawks, I was at the mercy of mosquitoes: bazillions and bazillions of mosquitoes. Even with head netting they would get the sides of my face through the net when I put on the ear phones to listen for the signal. One day, an attack squadron of Blue Darner dragonflies, much like little Apache gunship helicopters, discovered the rich feeding grounds I was providing. At one point, I held my gloved hands palm upward with fingers extended and had 8 dragonflies perched at once on my fingers, munching mosquitoes they had just grabbed off my head net. It was a very cool experience and I have admired dragonflies ever since.

If, like me, you are intrigued by dragonflies, check out the link below to The Nature Conservancy and the article "Dragonfly Migration: A Mystery Citizen Scientists Can Help Solve" and learn about their migratory behavior and, what is more, how you can help to understand it better.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Archives of the Odd

Trevor Gicklhorn is assessing wildlife use of man-made water sources in west Texas. While reviewing photos from one of the motion activated cameras he came across this oddity: a meadowlark with an abnormally long beak. Documentation of such beak abnormalities are rare, most likely because malformations of beaks result in death due to an inability to forage or eat. This little meadowlark, however, appears to be getting by. Trevor will keep an eye out to see if it shows up in any other photos.