Author: Jeff Stratford

A picnic on the beach. But..

This is the time of the year of that I would call the sweet spot. Research is winding down: Wood Thrush are wrapped up or are finishing up clutches, the clay caterpillar project is nearly finished, and there’s nothing left but to write. Like a picnic on a beach.

But soon – very soon I’ll be in a mire but I see this one coming. It’s like a huge tidal wave that happens every semester. I’m teaching two courses, one for the first time solo and both very time consuming, I’ll be working on editing a book as well as working on several papers.

A picnic on a beach in the shadow of a large wave. I’d still say life is good.

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Dear Editor, I need more time. Thanks, Editor (that’s me)

I’m producing an edited volume that’s a review of Neotropical birds and their biology – everything thing from historical biogeography to climate change.  I lined up authors months ago and then the spring semester happened, then the bird surveys happened. I was out of touch with my authors (my fault).

The deadline was May for rough drafts and I still only have two (yikes). So I sent an email out to my authors and most responded positively but all needed more time (that’s probably my fault for not sending out reminders). I only had one drop out but I lined up another just a few hours later – a key chapter too. I have yet to hear from my the author of my lead off chapter so that makes me nervous.

The structure of the book looks like this: historical biogeography (sets the stage), some evolutionary relationships, life history traits, diseases, ecosystem services, insectivory, frugivory, North American migrants in the tropics, South American migrants in the tropics (yes, that’s a thing), climate change, conservation, human dimensions. In total there’s twenty chapters – for now.

If I can get an extension, I’m going to recruit a few more authors – there’s a number of long-term projects that could be covered, there’s only a few groups covered in the evolutionary relationships chapter, etc.

So today is about trying to get an extension for the book: moving my deadline from December to February.

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Brown Jay in Belize

Done with the bird surveys (kinda sorta but most definitely)

Yesterday I wrapped up the prescribed fire bird surveys. I’m not sure of the totals yet but combined with the previous years’ grassland survey, I should have a nice story about ecological succession and birds. I was asked to do the survey but I assume I’ll need to write up a report.

Not one Golden-winged Warbler.

In the report I’ll recommend more heterogeneity in the forests. The forest tracts are large and tree ages within tracts all tend to be the same. Its my understanding that birds, including the Golden-winged Warbler,  use different types of habitat for different parts of their life history and just prefer heterogeneity per se. Would also be nice to build wetlands in the mix as well. Every feature, though, is money.

I think the best bird of the survey was the Red-headed Woodpecker at SGL91. Another goodie was a Blue Grosbeak at the Bethlehem Water Authority Property. That place is huge and will definitely get more scrub specialists (e.g., Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeaks, Golden-winged Warbler) as time goes by.

So done with the prescribed fire bird surveys and now I’m going to do some urban-periurban surveys but these are all very close and I can get to several sites in a day so that should wrap up quickly

Timberdoodles

Timberdoodles are a local name for the American Woodcock – the only shorebird to invade forests for breeding and *foraging.

I was driving home from a SGL 55 when a woodcock was walking across the road and I happened to get a picture or two. They’re incredibly camouflaged when still in the forest but along a country road they’re easy to spot. They remind me very much of South American antpittas (but that long sandpiper bill).

*Spotted Sandpipers nest in the forest but forage along river edges.

State Game Land 40 – Bear Creek, PA and a son of a beech

A perfect morning for counting birds. Cool enough for a sweatshirt and warm enough to get the birds singing. I sampled burned and unburned areas and one of the unburned areas reminded me of some of the azalea-spruce swamps I’ve been in up in Maine.

One cool thing I noticed is the geometry of the young beeches. Seen head-on they form a nice plane and seen from above they are spaced to intercept tons of light.

Last week in the field

Had a great two days in the field. Weather was cooperative and so were the birds. I was able to finish off two sites: State Game Land (SGL) 91 off Suscon Road near Pittston and SGL 135 .

SGL 91 looks like they did a timber harvest and then a burn. One section was burned in April of this year but the ground cover has already covered.

These scorched areas had a number of dead trees that are scattered throughout. The best bird on the site was a Red-headed Woodpecker – my first north of Alabama! This plot was not on my target site list but I added it just in cases I’m hired to go back and I’ll have a nice time sequence of how birds use sites as they age. The sites I was assigned to on SGL 91 were logistically horrendous. Incredibly thick regrowth of oaks (red, bear, white) and  sassafras with some thick patches of raspberry to navigate.

SGL 135 on the other hand was a dream. These tracts still had intact canopies but the understory was burnt off. A breeze to walk through. This, of course, led to drastic differences in birds. SGL 91 was thick with Prairie Warblers and other early successional birds and SGL 135 had many forest birds. You would think that SGL 135 would be totally inappropriate for Golden-winged Warblers, which like disturbance. All it would take for SGL 135 to open up is a big gypsy moth year. I do wonder why they don’t girdle a few trees to jump start things.

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Off the tracts but within the boundaries were some goodies including a Canada Warbler and a porcupine. The warbler is cool because this is a boreal specialist. They’re common in New England but only occur in a few isolated swamps in Pennsylvania.

 

Round 1 of bird surveys done!

The state is managing many many acres of game land for Golden-winged Warblers but my bird surveys are for all birds and I added reference sites – unburned areas that are nearby. Can’t really call them control sites since there are probably differences among sites besides the burning, such as aspect, soils etc.

I was tasked with seven state game lands and I sampled from four to twenty at each game land. Sadly, I did not confirm any golden-wing warblers – though I did have a very suspicious bird at the first site on the first day.

These sites are filled with Prairie Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers,  Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Chestnut-sided Warblers. I ran into four bears, a timber rattle snake, rat snake, and two garter snakes. In total, I would guess at least two dozen ticks as well. One mystery is the near lack of Indigo Buntings. I thought I would be overrun but there are hardly any. Interesting!

I suspect that there just isn’t a local source population for Golden-winged Warblers. A source population produces more individuals from one generation to the next. Compare this to a sink that has fewer individuals either because survivorship is lower or, more likely, reproduction fails too often.  If I’m right then it will just take time. This may seem like a waste but these burned habitats are also likely to be welcoming to southern species that are making their way up north, like Blue Grosbeaks, Yellow-breasted Chats, etc. I also think that Northern Bobwhite could come back too if we would try (and I really wish we would!).

Some pics from the season so far: