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!
For the past several days I have been exploring the tropical rainforests of Panama as part of an Arizona State University study abroad course. My summer teaching position this year is to help out with a tropical biology field course, which involves a small number of students traveling to Panama, exploring the tropics, and conducting their own research project. For this post, I will provide a quick overview of what we have done and seen so far, and in the next few weeks I will dive more into some of the special aspects of the tropics.
Currently, we are here during the rainy or wet season in Panama, which means there is a heavy downpour once a day – typically in the afternoon. Despite the rain (which is great to see coming from my arid fieldwork), we have been having a great time and have seen so much!
We have mostly been hiking in tropical rainforests along the Panama Canal. Specifically, we have been hiking down a famous road called Pipeline road. Here are a few things we have seen so far:
We also hiked a cloud forest, which is a high elevation rainforest, and saw several different plants and animals from what we found along Pipeline road. Cloud forests are some of my favorite places, so I will definitely have a blog post specifically on them later! Here are some pictures of what we saw there.
So far, I have already seen a ton of amazing things, and I have only been here a week. I still have a little more than two left to go, and I am every excited to continue to explore this amazing place. It feels great to be back!
One of the best ways to see hummingbirds is by putting up a hummingbird feeder. Feeders come in all shapes and sizes and can go from very cheap to un-necessarily expensive. Regardless of the feeder, so long as it attracts hummingbirds you can enjoy these amazing birds. I’ve been fortunate enough to set up feeders in a variety of locations, which has enabled me to see many different species of hummingbirds. Here are a few pictures of different species I’ve seen at feeders in Panama, California, and Arizona:
While you might think hummingbird feeders only attract hummingbirds (hence the name), you will find out otherwise. Some of the common alternative attractants to hummingbird feeders are bees, wasps, and ants. My experience with wasps is mainly from Panama, where there would be one or two hanging around the feeder, but not enough to prevent hummingbirds from also drinking. I have also not had too much trouble with bees, however when they find your feeder they can cover it. I have come up to my feeders before to find 30-50 bees on it. In my experience, the best way to avoid bees is to make sure your feeder does not leak or drip sugar water. If bees do find your feeder, take it down for a few days and then move it to a different location and hopefully the bees will not find it again. Ants are a bit harder to avoid. They tend to be experts at finding feeders. Many end up dead inside the feeder, which can lead to some lovely mold growths if not cleaned quickly. But many ants will just hang out in a feeder and you will not necessarily notice them until you move the feeder and they come swarming out. The best way to avoid ants, is to use ant guards. The feeders I use for fieldwork (below) have built in ant guards, which kind of work. To better ensure the success of the ant guard, fill the top part with some water (which unfortunately will not last long in Arizona).
In addition to ants/bees/wasps, you can attract several other bird species to hummingbird feeders. I’ve seen woodpeckers, orioles, house finches, and tanagers all try to partake in the delicious sugar water from a feeder. While these birds can scare off hummingbirds, they will not stay at the feeder all day, so hummingbirds will still visit the feeders. The main issue with these birds, is that they tend to spill a lot of the nectar from feeders because they tip it over. Sometimes woodpeckers will also break feeders, trying to drill into them! I’ve been lucky in that most of these other bird visitors were just fun birds to watch and did not have any major negative effects on the feeders. Here are a few pictures I have of non-hummingbirds at my feeders:
Now you might ask what this post has to do with my fieldwork. Well I deal with hummingbird feeders at lot in my work, as that is the best way to catch wild hummingbirds. Here are two of my setups to trap hummingbirds using feeders:
The past several days, I have been working to capture the three males I filmed last week with Jess and Aly. This week, I finally managed to capture them all! It took longer than normal to capture these three males, partly due to some crazy winds, but in the end I succeeded. While I was using the mist-net method of trapping these hummingbirds (see picture above), I ran into other species going in my traps – mainly Scott’s orioles. Here is one in my trap:
Also, I often had to deal with hummingbirds that were not the target male I was trying to capture not being able to get out of my trap, like this female broad-billed hummingbird who just clung to the side of the nets.
Anyways, now that I’ve caught all of my male hummingbirds, its time to finish analyzing all of the display videos and start taking pictures of each male’s feathers. I’ll provide the details and a better explanation in my next post. In the mean time, I would highly encourage all of you to put up hummingbird feeders in your yards so that you can also enjoy these wonderful birds! Just remember to clean your feeder to avoid mold and do not use red dye in the sugar water! It is bad for the hummingbirds. All you need is sugar (raw sugar is best) and water (I typically use 1 part sugar to 4 parts water) and you are good to go. Happy hummingbird (and non-hummingbird) watching!
What a first week of field work! I am currently at the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch in Southeast Arizona (near Elgin, AZ) studying black-chinned hummingbirds. While things definitely did not start off well, we’ve bounced back and things have been going really well since then, plus we’ve been having some fun while we are out here.
First, when I say we, I am talking about myself and my two undergraduate assistants: Jess and Aly. This is the first year I’ve had field assistants, and they have been just wonderful! They have been great help in the field, and I will definitely miss their help once this leg of fieldwork is over.
Second, the reason things did not start out well was entirely behind our control. For first several days, we were plagued by crazy winds; 20-35 mph winds from dawn to dusk. I was able to find a few black-chinned hummingbird territories before the winds got bad, but after that, it became very hard to find territories. However, once the winds died down, things really got rolling. We caught two females for captivity in the same day, which was nice. For those unfamiliar with my work, I present females in cages to males on their territories in order to film male courtship displays. Often, when male hummingbirds see a female, they will display to it (see my youtube channel for example shuttle displays). Thanks to Jess and Aly, these females also have names: Ginny and Lavender. Yes, they are named after Harry Potter characters, and the names were specifically chosen for a reason. Ginny has been a great female in captivity, while Lavender…. well she stressed me out quite a bit the first day we had her.
Anyways, after capturing the two females, we spent the next three days filming males. We managed to successfully film three males shuttling as of today, which combined with the two male shuttle displays I filmed last year, brings me up to my sample size of five, which I am happy with. A sample size of five might not seem that impressive, but black-chinned hummingbirds, in my experience, have been very difficult to work with. Before I left, I had been telling people that this was a tough field site because there just are not many black-chinned hummingbirds here. After thinking about it more, it is not that there are not many hummingbirds here; it is that they tend to be very spread out and are not very dense. This means we have to drive or hike fair distances between male territories. The other reason black-chinned hummingbirds are difficult to work with is that it is hard to film their shuttle displays. First, a good portion of the males I found will not even display to a female in a cage – they just ignore her. Second, black-chinned hummingbird displays are very wide and are often not captured entirely within the view of my camera. So even if I get a male that displays, I have to make sure he displays directly over the camera for me to be able to use that display. But I now have displays filmed from 5 males that I can use!
That is the update on fieldwork, but we have been doing more than just working on black-chinned hummingbirds this week. The past two afternoons, we have gone out with the two people who run this research ranch – Dr. Linda Kennedy and Roger Cogan. They are both very knowledgeable about the natural history of this place, and specifically they know a ton about the grasses (Linda) and reptiles/amphibians (Roger).
Yesterday we went out with Linda to learn more about the grasses on the property and grasslands in general. Amazingly, there are around 100 species of grass found on this ranch. Another interesting thing is that these grasses are very susceptible to overgrazing from cattle, which can greatly hurt these grasslands, because these grasses did not evolve with large grazing animals, unlike the grasses in the great plains, which co-evovled with bison. We also learned several unique properties about some of the different grass species on the ranch, and I have to say, grasses are actually very interesting! For example, the tangle-head grass has a self planting seed, because the seed coils and then when it gets wet it elongates and drills into the soil. Here are a few of the other species we learned about:
Then today, we went out with Roger to go herping, meaning we were going out to find reptiles and amphibians. This involved checking out many of the rocky outcrops found along the canyons and washes on the ranch. We also walked along riparian areas to look for different species of snakes and turtles. We managed to find several black-tailed rattlesnakes, which were grouped in twos as they were most likely breeding. We also found two mountain kingsnakes, a few Clark’s spiny lizards, an ornate tree lizard, a lesser earless lizard, and four mud turtles. Here are a few pictures from this afternoon:
I would really like to thank Linda and Roger for taking time out of their busy days to share their knowledge of grasses and herps and take us out into the field. For all those who do research at field stations, I would highly encourage you to go out into the field with the managers/naturalists of those stations, because if they are anything like Roger and Linda, they are founts of knowledge and you can learn many interesting things.
All-in-all things have been going really well here. We only have five more days, and still a lot to do, but hopefully everything goes well!
Today is officially my first day of field work this summer! It is going to be a crazy summer, where I will travel to 5-6 different locations for hummingbird research, teaching, and presenting my work. My goal is to consistently post once a week with updates on what I am doing or random posts about places I am visiting.
Today and for the next two weeks I am back in Southeast Arizona, near a town called Elgin. I am staying at the Audubon Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch (picture above), where I stayed last year, working on black-chinned hummingbirds. It feels great to be back out in the field, and I am very excited for many new adventures and productive research this summer! Below is my travel schedule for a preview of some of the places I will be visiting this summer and posting about:
May 3-15 = Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch; black-chinned hummingbirds
May 17-31 = ???? (due to a snafu with permits, I am still not sure where I will be during this time….I’ll have a post about permit troubles later, I am guessing.)
June 3-24 = Panama; I am a teaching-assistant for an ASU study abroad field biology course
June 27-July 17 = Sagehen Creek Field Station (near Lake Tahoe in California); Calliope hummingbirds
July 20-25 = Flagstaff, AZ; broad-tailed hummingbirds
July 27-August 7 = Exeter/Penryn, United Kingdom; International Society for Behavioral Ecology Conference and Anti-predator Coloration Symposium (post-conference)
Boyce Thompson Arboretum is a definite must see near Phoenix. For those who have yet to make the trip, I would recommend going now-ish. The arboretum is great to visit in the spring and summer (though it might be a bit warm!). Not only does the arboretum contain a great diversity of plant life, but it also attracts a large number of animals, especially birds, especially during spring migration.
I recently went to Boyd Thompson with my mom when she visited. We had some weird weather (cold and rainy) but still saw a lot of cool animals and enjoyed many spring flowers.
The cool thing about Boyce Thompson, is that it has more than just a Sonoran desert environment, which is still awesome by the way! There is a Chihuahuan desert area, an Australian area – complete with a eucalyptus forest! – a Sonoran desert riparian area, and a South American area. Here are a few images of some of the environments you can visit:
The hummingbird garden was also fun to visit, especially now, as you can see several species of hummingbird there. Here is a picture of a broad-billed hummingbird, which is typically only found in Arizona and Mexico.
There is also the demonstration garden, which has many different plants arranged to fit different garden plans/types. There were lots of things flowering while we was there, and I was able to get some pretty awesome bird photos.
The best moment was when a northern cardinal got within a few feet of me and let me take some really up close photos. Here is the best one!
Again, I would highly recommend visiting this place; you will see amazing things and learn a great deal about plant diversity and natural history!
Many of you have probably been to or at least heard of Oak Creek Canyon, which extends from Sedona into and up the Mogollon Rim. It is definitely one of the most beautiful places in Arizona, and it is also incredibly varied in habitat type. You start along Oak Creek in a mid elevation desert riparian area and then slowly transition into a high elevation mixed forest/riparian area. I’ve mentioned this place in previous blogs, and I highly recommend visiting it.
However, I’ve always had one issue with this place, and that is it is full of people! Well I believe I’ve found a way to remedy that problem. To the west is another canyon that follows a similar trajectory, called Sycamore Canyon. This canyon also happens to be a wilderness area, which means much fewer people and no man-made structures (roads, buildings etc.). I’ve been very interested in visiting this large wilderness area, and finally did recently.
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness area is beautiful and quite large and has a good network of trails running through it (check it out here). Because it was still quite cold and wintery in the upper portions of the canyon, I decided to stick to the lower portions of the wilderness area for this trip. Plus, I want to save the upper portion for when all the deciduous trees have regained their leaves. The trail I decided to do was the Dogie Trail. This trail and others in the lower portions of the canyon can be accessed through Sedona or Cottonwood, while the upper portion are accessed through Flagstaff.
This trail starts in the wilderness area, but not in the main part of the canyon. It winds through the lovely red-rock country as it makes it way towards Sycamore Canyon.
Along the way, I was treated to the spectacular contrast between the green vegetation and orange-red rocks.
I was also given some great views of the Sycamore Canyon/Mogollon Rim walls.
This trail stuck to the arid mid-elevation deserts and pinyon-juniper forests found throughout much of central Arizona.
I was not able to make it to the lush desert riparian areas (deep in the main canyon), though I was also able to find several side canyons that at the right times of year would be flowing with water.
This was definitely a very beautiful and wonderful wilderness area. Now that I’ve seen the lower portion of Sycamore Canyon, which does look very similar to the dryer, lower portions of Oak Creek Canyon, I am very excited to check out the upper portions and riparian areas of this canyon. More to come in the future from this very special place!
To continue escaping from the desert heat, I took another journey to the Arizona Central Highlands, but this time to a wilderness area in the western half of the state. I went hiking in the Woodchute Wilderness area, which is just north-east of Prescott. This wilderness area is within the Black Hills, which is a mountain range that stretches across I-17 in-between Phoenix and Flagstaff.
The trail I hiked, the Woodchute trail, started off in a fairly dense pine forest.
The trail then followed along a fairly open ridgeline for quite some ways, which offered great views of the Mogollon Rim, the red-rock country around Sedona, and the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.
There were also some great views of western Arizona as well.
Eventually the trail lead into a forested valley, which still had some snow!
Then I climbed back out of the valley through a mixed coniferous forest, filled with pinyon pines and junipers, before rounding out in a flat, high elevation area dense with pine trees, which blocked out much of the sun.
At this point it started to get dark, so I decided to head back and got a great view of the sunset along the way.
This was a great hike, where I was able to not only escape the heat, but also escape the crowds and noise of the city. I highly recommend this wilderness area since it was not hard to get to and was very beautiful. This was also my 12th wilderness area in the state – one closer to hitting all 90!