Fieldwork in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Turns out it is a bit hard to run a blog with little to no internet – who would have thought! Well I’m back to good internet (for now), so I’m going to write about the next chapter of this summer (after the Panama trip), which was field work in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe.


A view of the surrounding area from a high point near the field station.

The reason I was up near Lake Tahoe was to study Calliope hummingbirds, which occur throughout the Sierra Nevada and upper Rocky Mountains. Near Lake Tahoe there is a University of California – Berkeley Field Station, where a collaborator of mine – Dr. Christopher Clark – had previously studied Calliope hummingbirds. In addition to being excited to working on a new species that has some very interesting throat plumage morphology (see picture below), I was super excited to be in this beautiful place. And wow was it beautiful! Throughout this post, I will have many many pictures which hopefully capture the beauty of the land surrounding this field station.


A Calliope hummingbird male with his interestingly shaped throat feathers (google “male Calliope hummingbird display” to see their feathers erected)


Another view of the surrounding area around the field station.


A narrow but long valley I found while exploring the lands around the field station.



A classic view of the surrounding forest and meadows.

The station was called Sagehen Creek Field Station (link). It is situated along Sagehen creek, which is a year-round stream that flows through many alpine meadows and mixed coniferous forests. One of the first things I learned while exploring this place, is that meadows are not like the grasslands of Arizona I am used to. They are wet, very wet, and full of hidden streams or pools just waiting to be stepped in, which I did a lot. Once I learned to keep an eye out on the ground, I explored several miles along the main stream looking for hummingbird territories. While doing that I was able to witness some beautiful environments and see some incredible wildlife. Here are a some pictures of the stream and surrounding habitats.


One of the many meadows that I explored.


Some of the flowers that my hummingbirds liked to feed on.


One of the surrounding forests, which could either be fairly open like this or pretty dense.


The trees were a very vibrant green and also full of pretty lichen.


This was a particularly wet meadow, full of snow-melt water.


A view of one of the larger meadows I found.


Even the rocky areas were full of vibrant green plants.


A really neat flower I found in one of the meadows.


A meadow surrounding the Sagehen Creek.


A view of Sagehen Creek.


Another landscape view of the area around Sagehen.


Some of the grass and plant varieties that grow within the denser parts of the forests.

As previously mentioned, I saw some really interesting wildlife. I saw several mammals that I had never seen before, such as a long-tailed weasel and a bobcat. I also saw a female black bear with two cubs, many deer with fawn, and an uncountable number of squirrels and chipmunks.


The bobcat I found and totally followed for a while!


The long-tailed weasel I found up in a tree.


While I never saw one, there were many beaver dams along Sagehen Creek – further contributing to the wetness in the meadows.

In terms of birds, I saw around 50 different species, including several lifers. Some of the highlights included six different species of woodpeckers, many Sooty grouse and chicks, several warbler species, and many more. Here are some pictures of the birds I saw.


A common merganser female with her many chicks.


A western tanager showing off his striking yellow and red plumage.


A Wilson’s warbler I found moving around a strand of willows.


One of the many mountain bluebirds I found in the meadows.


A song sparrow, which was a common bird along the creek.


The most common bird at the station – a dark-eyed junco. And it is a different color morph than the one we get in Arizona.


A female sooty grouse trying to distract me from her chicks that were fleeing. It worked and I got a great picture!


A mountain chickadee with its mouth full of yummy grubs for its chicks.


While I was staying at Sagehen, there was an entomology course going on at the same time, so I was able to interact with some awesome University of California – Davis entomology students and see some of the diversity of insects at Sagehen. I learned quite a bit about insets and their diversity – there are a ton of different flies! – and was even able to collect a few insects myself. I do not have too many insect photos unfortunately, because my camera struggles with macro photos. Here are a couple though:


A yellow long-horned beetled which loved to hang out on flowers and eat their pollen.


A really neat and interestingly shaped moth that came to the many blacklight set-ups from the entomology class.

One insect I did get to interact with a lot was mosquitoes…. There were more mosquitoes here than when I was in Panama. Luckily they did not seem to like the “heat” (it only got up to the high 80s) of the day and they seemed to avoid open areas, which is where my hummingbirds were. However, I still got plenty of bites while I was scouting for my birds, as you can see from this picture of my hand – one of the few areas of skin not covered.


I had up to 12 bites just on this one hand!

Sagehen Creek and the surrounding area was a great place to visit and work at. Unfortunately it seems like there were several factors that made my research difficult while I was staying there, such as a forest management project that involved many chainsaws – scaring away my birds – and it seems that I came a bit late and was at the end of the Calliope breeding season. I was still able to get some good data, and I believe that this would be a great field site to go back to with better circumstances. I also had a great field assistant, Ushrayinee Sarker, who really helped me out a lot. Overall, this field work was an amazing experience!


Another obstacle I faced at the field station – I walked a lot while I was there.


Another view of the Sagehen Creek winding along its path – with a deer off to the side.

While I was at Sagehen and on my drive back to Tempe, I managed to go on a few adventures, which will be the topics of my next two posts, so look forward to them!

So long [Panama], and thanks for all the fish!

If you ever visit Panama, you should definitely have their seafood! It is quite good. And try ceviche as well. It is various marine animals (e.g. shrimp, squid, fish) cured in acidic fruit juices. I was able to enjoy both ceviche and fresh fish multiple times in the last week I was in Panama.

Random food tangent aside, I am no longer in Panama, and I am sad to be gone. The tropical rainforest is such an incredible place and there are just so many things to see. Luckily, I was able to see quite a bit in the last week I was in Panama through three events. The first event was a trip to the Panama Canal locks and Panama City, where fellow TA Eric Moody and I were actually able to get some good random birding in (of course we birded some in the city!). We also were able to get some great food, good drinks, and pick up a few souvenirs, including Panamanian coffee. The locks were also fun to see, even though it was my third time to visit them. Seeing the massive ships pass through the locks is definitely cool to see.


The course instructors at the canal locks: Meghan Duell, Jon Harrison, and Eric Moody


A fairly large crate ship going through the locks near Panama City.


A great egret just chilling on the locks.


Some really awesome Star Wars graffiti we found in Panama City.


A yellow-crowned night-heron we saw in the city – there were actually tons of these guys along the beach.


The Panama City skyline.

Our next adventure took us to Chagres National Park, where we were boated up the Chagres River to visit an Embera village. The Embera people are Panamanian Native Americans, though I believe their culture originally stems from Columbia. Much of the Embera live in the Darien, in eastern Panama, however there are a few villages in the Chagres National Park, who where there before the land became a park. While the villages used to hunt and harvest the land widely, they are restricted now because of the park. However, they are able to host tourists, enabling them to continue to live within the park. While we were there, we were given a small dose of the Embera culture. We learned about the medicinal plants they use, which was very interesting. We also learned about their various crafts – woven baskets and animal masks (I bought a hummingbird one!). We were also treated to their traditional dance and music. All together it was an incredible experience, and I really enjoyed learning more about these people.


Us being boated up the Chagres River by the Embera people (guy in front).


The Chagres River and the beautiful forest alongside it.


Another view of the forest and river.


The second boat arriving to the Embera village.


Our students being taught the various medicinal plants by the village medicine man.


The central area of the village.


They had a pet baby armadillo!


The Embera men playing their traditional music for us.


Our students dancing with the villagers!

The final major event before the course ended (aside from the student independent project presentations) was an early morning birding trip that Eric and I did. We were also joined for part of the trip by one of the instructors, Jon Harrison, and a student – shout out to Ashley! None of the students had joined our previous birding trips (we woke up too early for them), so that was exciting for us. Overall it was a great birding trip. We saw a bunch of species, including some lifers for me, and Eric and I finally got to see a rosy thrush-tanager, which is this beautiful bird that we had both been looking for ever since we arrived. Here are some of the species we saw on the trip.


Two whooping motmots hiding in the shade. The one on the left was missing its long tail feathers, but still did its tail wag display to us. It was a little pathetic looking; poor bird.

a flame-rumped tanager male

A male flame-rumped tanager showing off his namesake.


A crimson-crested woodpecker, one of the larger woodpecker species.

A common pauraque

A common pauraque blending into the forest floor.


A great close up of a violaceous trogon male.

A Rosey thrush-tanager

The hard to find rosy thrush-tanager, who really made us work to find him, but it was totally worth it! He was so beautiful and so was his song.

All in all, Panama and this course were great! I was very happy to visit Panama again, and the students all did amazing jobs with their independent projects. I am excited to see their final papers, and I greatly look forward to my next time in Panama. My next adventure this summer takes me to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where I am studying Calliope Hummingbirds. More on that later!