I have never really grown up somewhere with four seasons. In Houston and San Antonio, there were really only two seasons: hot + humid and less hot + humid. Now in Phoenix, we have seasons, but it is more of a wet/dry seasonality, with two monsoon seasons a year (summer, winter). And it does actually get consistently cold in Phoenix, unlike what I remember about growing up in Texas, where one week would be in the 40s and the next in the 90s.
This is not to say I have never experienced seasons though. Summer I have nailed down quite well at this point…. Spring I have seen too, as every place I have lived does have a spring-like season, in that flowers bloom, animals start becoming active and breeding, and it starts to “warm up” (aka. go from warm to hot). Winter is tricky. Like I said, it does get cold and stay cold in Phoenix (cold for us at least!), but I’ve never had a true snowy winter. There were the occasional bouts of snow in Houston or San Antonio (see picture above), but it would only snow 1/4 inch and be gone the next day. Whenever I went skiing, I saw snow of course, and I have been to Flagstaff, AZ in the winter where I saw plenty of snow, but I have never lived in it. So I have some experiences but much.
However, Fall is the season I probably have the least amount of experience with. I’ve lived in places with the occasional tree that would change color, but mostly leaves went brown and did not look pretty. Here in Phoenix, there are not many deciduous trees, so nothing really changes color, but luckily there are plenty of places in Arizona where you can go to see fall colors! It may not be as colorful as New England, but it is still pretty amazing.
When Fall approaches, the first places to visit are the high elevation mountains of Arizona. Either Flagstaff or the White Mountains (especially around Greer) are particularly beautiful! You will only see one tree change color, the aspen tree, but it can range from a orangish-yellow to a neon yellow. Aspens are my favorite tree, because regardless of the color of their leaves, their leaves contrast so strikingly against their white bark, which I think is very beautiful. They also grow in strands, so you will get huge bursts of color dotting the landscape. Sometimes when you are hiking in the pine forests, you will find singular trees, which seem like torches lighting up the place. All if it is beautiful, but my favorite is when aspen strands take over large swaths of land and the bright yellow is everywhere.
Another excellent place to visit is the riparian areas of the sky islands in Southeast Arizona. I visited Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains one Fall, and there I saw a great diversity of trees change color. My favorite was the Arizona sycamore, which would turn a bright orange that also contrasts beautifully against its white bark.
Later into Fall, the lower elevation riparian areas start changing as well. One of my favorite places to go is Oak Creek Canyon, however it is a lot of people’s favorite place, so it will be crowded. Sometimes it is enough to just drive through that canyon during fall, because you really get to see such a diversity of colors as you go from roughly 4000 ft to 7000 ft. You get the Arizona sycamores again, but also many other trees and many other colors. This might be the most color-diverse place I’ve been into Arizona so far.
I have heard of other places to visit to see fall colors, but I have yet to go there. Prescott is supposed to be a great place to see colors, and I still need to visit the Chiricahua Mountains and Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains. The North Rim of the Grant Canyon is supposed to have some beautiful strands of aspen trees as well. If you know of any other good places to visit in Arizona to see Fall colors, please let me know!
It is amazing how time can fly in grad school. It did not seem that long since I last blogged, but here we are a month later. I mostly blame writing an NSF DDIG (a really big graduate student grant), but I also do not always have the best memory….. Anyways, I actually have not gone on many adventures in the past few weeks, but through writing my NSF DDIG, I have reflected a lot on my path from starting graduate school to where I am now, and so this post is going to be on how I initially became interested in hummingbirds (a weird accident) and how I ended up with my current dissertation work.
For starters, when I arrived at ASU, hummingbirds and iridescent coloration were no where on my radar for potential dissertation topics. I have always been interested in the diversity in animal coloration and questions about why animals use multiple traits to communicate (e.g. song and colorful plumage are both used for communication in many bird species), so my project now definitely still falls in that broad interest. But, I was going to Dr. Kevin McGraw’s lab, a world expert on bird pigment coloration, specifically carotenoid coloration (responsible for many of the reds, yellows, and oranges, such as in house finches or yellow warblers), so I was looking into species that either hard multiple different carotenoid colors, such as the western tanager:
Or species like the northern cardinal, which use different types of pigments to color themselves (the red is carotenoids while the black face mask is due to melanins).
I had originally given thought to non-pigmented colors to some degree, such as the blue coloration in the painted bunting or varied bunting, which is due to specific arrangements of the nanostructure of their feathers. Overall, it seemed that I was focused on why certain birds/animals have multiple colors. But then everything changed when ASU teamed up with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and offered semester-long fellowships to potentially start up dissertations in the tropics. This was an amazing opportunity, which I immediately jumped on.
At first, I wanted to keep the multiple color patches idea and study some of the extremely colorful tropical birds, but I was told that many of the birds I was thinking of studying, such as the golden-hooded tanager (below), were not very common and/or lived in the canopy, which would make things very difficult. So I ended up shifting my question from multiple color patches to multiple signals and studied song and color in an understory bird – the red-throated ant-tanager.
My work in Panama went fairly well for a first field season, but difficulties during that fieldwork were not why I switched to hummingbirds. My switch to hummingbirds came from a combination of watching the many species of hummingbirds feeding and fighting at our hummingbird feeders in Panama and reading a specific paper – Iridescence: a functional perspective – which has come to be one of the most influential papers I have read to date.
And so, I began many thought experiments and discussions with fellow researches to come up with a project involving iridescent coloration using hummingbirds as my model. For a while I was thinking about looking at how hummingbirds might use their coloration to communicate with other species as they fought at feeders, but my idea switched to wanting to study the use of coloration within species and how that might have evolved. And so I returned to the United States with this idea in mind and began working it into a dissertation project with Kevin. Like a good advisor, he challenged me to continue to craft my idea and find gaps in the field to make a novel and exciting dissertation. And around the same time, he introduced me to Dr. Christopher Clark, a new professor at UC Riverside, who studies hummingbird courtship and acoustics. Eventually we visited him at one of his field sites and saw the hummingbirds in action.
It was then, when I learned what I could and could not do with these birds and was able to finally craft my dissertation project. I was going to (and am now) studying how hummingbird plumage coloration and courtship displays co-evolved and interact to produce the colors females see as males display!
Another huge influence on my idea developments came from my interactions and amazing discussions with my two former lab mates Dr. Russell (Rusty) Ligon and Dr. Brett Seymoure, who were both studying color communication and sensory ecology. It was a great time for developing my ideas as Rusty was in his 4th year when I started and Brett in his 3rd, so I had a good deal of overlap with them.
Now, both Rusty and Brett have graduated, and the lab has changed quite a bit. Most of Kevin’s students are very mechanistically focused (meaning they are interested in studying the physiological or biochemical underpinnings behind behavior and coloration), such as my lab mate Pierce Hutton, who is studying anthropogenic effects on house finch coloration and behavior. This has been great, because it is forcing me to think more like that (I typically think about the functions and evolutionary history of behavior and coloration). I am currently working to integrate mechanistic studies into my current hummingbird work, and this is something I am building with my DDIG proposal (more on that if I get it!).
So that is now I transitioned from starting grad school to studying the evolution of hummingbird coloration and courtship displays. I hope you enjoyed my story!
Well, it is still hot in Tempe…. surprise surprise. So to cool off, I fled the mountains of Arizona and California over the past two weekends. First I went car camping in the White Mountains in Eastern Arizona, and got hailed on again. BUT, I was in my car the whole time so it was fine! The second trip was cabining near Big Bear Lake, CA with my long time friend Steve and his girlfriend Stacey. Both were great trips, where I was able to get nice and cool (especially while camping!) and enjoy some beautiful hikes and breath-taking views!
For those who are new to this blog, I adore the White Mountains in Arizona. The White Mountains are a large range along in central-eastern Arizona, full of high-elevation mixed coniferous forests and aspen trees. They also seem to get quite a bit more water than other high-elevation places in the state, like Flagstaff, because there is a lot of moss and lichen all around. The forests here have actually be called similar to those found in Washington and Oregon. And of course, since it was monsoon season, it was still raining quite a bit in the mountains, and I actually lost half a day of hiking because of a storm (so I napped in my car). Another thing I like about the White Mountains is that they are so remote – a 4 to 5 hour drive from Phoenix – so that there are few people in the area. Yes, I am a slightly anti-social camper, mostly because whenever I seem to camp around other people they are loud or blaring music. #getoffmylawn
I spent my first day near the town of Greer in the northern part of the mountains. I hiked a local trail called Squirrel Spring Trail, which was nice forest hike. Then I camped at an established campground called Winn Campground, which is where I had stayed before. It is a fairly large campground on top of a forested hill that I have never seen close to full. Unfortunately I did not get to spend much time there the next day, because it started raining at 7:00 AM. I had luckily just finished packing up, so I left and headed south on Highway 191, which is just a gorgeous drive through the mountains. I ended up picking a random side road at some point in a gap of rain to cook breakfast, since I did not have time to eat before the rain. After a nice breakfast I then drove to a trailhead near the Blue Range Primitive area, where I napped until the rain and hail stopped. Then I started along the trail, but was immediately disappointed. This trail had been completely burned from the 2011 fire that ravaged this area, and the nice forested hike I read about was no longer there:
After 45 minutes of hiking along this trail, I turned around and decided to find another trail. Luckily, just down the road was another trial that had been mostly spared, so I got another lovely forested hike, but with a different tree make-up from the Squirrel Spring Trail. Then after hiking along that trail for a while – not as long as I wanted as my phone kept changing time zones because I was close to the New Mexico border – I found a random forest road and camped alongside of it. Here are my photos from the hike:
Before I made the sad, long drive back to Phoenix, I explored the lower(ish) elevation part of the Blue Range Primitive Area, and was totally taken aback by what I found. As I was driving, I realized that I was actually descending the Mogollon Rim (very prominent geological feature that cuts across Arizona), and the area reminded me a lot of the Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon area, which was awesome. At the bottom of the road, I was met by Blue River and a lush mid-elevation riparian area with giant cotton woods. I always love going through the transition from this habitat to the high-elevation coniferous forests, and this forest road was a great example of that.
This past weekend – Labor Day weekend – I again escaped the heat and joined my friends in the San Bernardino Mountains near Los Angels. We went to this area/town called Big Bear Lake, which was around 6,500-7,000 ft. Instead of camping, we got a place in town for the weekend and explored the area by car and by hiking. The town was very nice, full of interesting shops and restaurants, and the surrounding area was very beautiful. There are so many activities in the area, much like Lake Tahoe, but smaller, and it seems like a four-season place. While we were visiting, we hiked several trails in the surrounding area, namely Castle Rock and Cougar Crest Trails, giving us great views of the lake. We also explored the many small shops, where we saw some pretty awesome looking woodcrafts. We also explored several of the local restaurants and breweries, so we ate very well!
Overall, both of these trips were excellent escapes from the heat and very fun times. I cannot wait to continue escaping the heat when I can and also visiting these two places again in the future to further explore them!
It is monsoon season in Arizona right now, which means frequent afternoon storms across a large portion of the state. Many parts of AZ get most of their annual rainfall from the annual summer monsoon season. However, sometimes this rain comes in the form of crazy and powerful storms. Some of you might remember what happened to me last year during monsoon, when a giant tree fell over just missing our house!
While Phoenix and the surrounding valley may get the occasionally intense storm, monsoon for us is mostly sandstorms, also called haboobs, followed by a thunderstorm. If you are in the many mountainous places across Arizona, you might have a very different monsoon experience. High elevation places, such as Flagstaff, seem to get afternoon storms pretty much every day, which I have experienced. These storms sometimes involve a lot of lightning and/or hail. The temperature can also drop 20+ degrees very quickly, which is a nice way to avoid the summer heat…. sometimes. These rainstorms definitely shift people’s activity though. When I was doing fieldwork in Flagstaff this summer before my trip to England, I would have to make sure to finish everything by the afternoon or I would risk getting rained on – with near certainty.
You might be asking why I am randomly talking about monsoon storms. Well, being a mountain-lover and trying to avoid the heat of the desert, I typically try to hike in the mountains whenever I can, but monsoon adds certain complications to this. Last week, I went hiking in the Mazatzal Mountains, north-east of Phoenix, on a trail called Barnhardt trail. This is a very popular trail that climbs along a beautiful valley before getting into the heart of the Mazatzals. My problem was that I started my hike late – sometime after 12 PM. I knew that a storm was inevitable, so I figured I would only get to hike a short while before I had to turn around to avoid the storm. Well, I might have miscalculated my timing. When I started, storms were starting to close in all around me:
But the specific area I was in still have sunny clear skies overhead, so I started hiking. I eventually lost myself to the beauty of the hike, as you can hopefully see form these pictures:
However, one I stopped to take a rest, I realized that the clouds had closed in much faster than I predicted:
I immediately turned around and started hiking back at a fast past. It got dark very fast, but I was still hopeful that I could escape the storms. I looked out past the valley, across to the mountains on the other side of Highway 87, and saw this:
With these fear-inspiring images, I managed to keep a good pace, and as the trail leveled out, I knew I was within half a mile or so to my car. Unfortunately, that is when the first few raindrops started to fall. At first I thought, well I have rain gear, so I can probably avoid getting too wet and will just have a less fun trek in the rain. That was true for a while, but things got worse. The sound of falling rain gradually got much louder, and I started seeing things bouncing on the ground. It was starting to hail!
I knew I was very close to my car at this point, but once it started hailing hard, I could not have been close enough. The hail was not too big – around dime size – but it definitely still hurt has it fell on my head.
I finally found my car and quickly got in, started it, and tried to get the hell out of there. It was hailing and raining very hard at this point, and with a slight feeling of panic, I quickly drove a way – probably faster than I should have. I was afraid of the road flooding before I could get out, which would leave me stranded for a while, so I pushed my driving skills to the limit, hoping that the pounding hail would not break my windshield and that I would not fishtail off the road.
After what seemed like an eternity driving through hail and rain, I dropped quite a bit in elevation as I reached highway 87, and eventually the hail/rain turned into just rain, and then nothing. Along the highway, there was no rain at all. I looked back and could not even see the mountains I had just been hiking in.
Thankfully I had escaped the storm with no issues, but I think I got lucky. I knew monsoon storms were typically intense at high elevations, but this was the first time I had gotten caught in a hail storm. My advice to those who wish to hike in the mountains in the near future – keep a close eye on the clouds and play it ultra-safe!
I hope you enjoyed this post – it was a bit different than my typical travelogs, but this is also my 50th post, so I wanted to make it special! Thank you to everyone who has kept up with and supported this blog, and I hope you continue to follow me as I pave my way to the next milestone – 100 posts!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
As the ASU tropical biology field course continues, we have explored several different parts of Panama and been able to see many more awesome things. Our adventures include an older tropical rainforest, a mangrove forest/coastal area, and a zoo (where we saw captive and many wild animals!).
First, the older tropical rainforest, which is on an island named Barrow Colorado Island (BCI) in Lake Gatun. Both BCI and Lake Gatun were created when the canal was flooded by damming the Chagres River. BCI contains the one of the oldest tropical field stations in the world, which was home to the original Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute headquarters. While the headquarters have since moved to Panama City, BCI continues to be a very important field station for tropical biology. BCI is also a heavily protected preserve, where humans have little impact on the forest, which allows scientists to observe some very interesting animals and phenomena. Because of all of this, we took our field biology course to BCI to stay overnight. We did several hikes, including an overnight hike. On BCI, we were able to see three species of monkey: mantled howler monkey, Geoffroy’s spider monkey, and white-faced capuchin monkeys. We also saw a coati, and many different birds, spiders, ants, and other animals. Here are some of the things we saw:
Our next adventure after BCI was at the Summit Zoo, which is a beautiful park containing many of the tropical birds and mammals found in the rainforests of Panama that can be very difficult to observe. For example, we saw a very pregnant jaguar, several other cat species, a tapir, and a harpy eagle – all rarely seen in the wild. We also saw several wild animals including a Geoffroy’s tamarin hanging out by the Geoffroy’s tamarin exhibit, tent-making bats, and several cool birds.
Finally, our most recent adventure took us to the Caribbean coastline and a well preserved mangrove forest there, managed and studied by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. At this site, we saw many different species of crab, and got to swim with several different fish and marine invertebrates. Here are some of the things we saw there:
At this point, we only have two adventures left in the course, because our students are busy working on their independent research projects on various plants and animals, which all are progressing well! The other instructors and I are definitely being kept busy helping everyone with their experimental design, working out methods, and finding supplies, but all of the projects are interesting, and we are excited to see how they turn out!
I still have a week left in Panama and plenty of animals (especially birds) to see, so I better get back to it!