Monday, 5 September 2016

Update

It's been a long time since I posted. This is mainly because I enjoy adding pictures to my posts, but due to lack of access to laptops, lack of editing software and lack of time, I haven't had a chance to prepare any. I've finally come to the realisation that I'm just not going to get round to it or updating this blog properly, so I thought I'd just go for a text based update instead.

Since my last blog (November 2015) I completed my contract studying cuckoos in Brisbane (January 2016) and then spent 2 weeks travelling with 5 colleagues in Tasmania. This was incredible and I'd highly recommend the island to anyone who enjoys wild spaces. The wildlife and lack of human habitation was awe inspiring. It was also brilliant travelling with such a nature orientated group of friends because between the 6 of us we spotted some pretty amazing species.

After this I spent a week in Melbourne, followed by a week birding around Perth with my ringing trainer Steve Dodd. The two of us then flew up to Broome to join 28 others on the 3 week long NW Australia Wader and Tern expedition. Excellent blog posts about this expedition can be found on Josie Hewitt's blog, with far better pictures than I managed to get:
 After the expedition I returned home, making the most of the leap year by having a 29th February that lasted 32 hours, due to the time difference. March was spent visiting friends and family and readjusting to life in the UK. The contrast between Aus and the UK extends much further than just the climate. It's quite stark to see how densely crowded and man-made the landscape is compared to most of Australia.

On the 9th April I returned to Skomer for another season as a seabird fieldworker for the JNCC/Gloucestershire University. This being my 3rd season, I felt very much at home and it was good to see lots of the study birds back and breeding well. Look out for the Skomer Seabird Report in the new year to see how the season went. I was joined for most of the season by my boyfriend Alastair Wilson, now back from working for the British Antarctic Survey on Bird Island, South Georgia. Overall I had a very enjoyable season and will sincerely miss the island and all the other wonderful staff that work there.

During the season I received my A permit (ringing) specific to Seabirds and Waders, and am now a cannon net trainee.

Straight after Skomer (15th August) I headed to The Wash for a week cannon netting waders on the Lincolnshire coast, working in conjunction with another team on the Norfolk coast, as part of the ongoing data collection and research done by the Wash Wader Ringing Group.

The next few weeks will be split between Ireland for the International Wader Study Group conference, another week at The Wash and visiting friends and family, before flying to New Zealand on 11th October.

Alastair and I have been lucky enough to be offered a job together monitoring Black-fronted Terns on South Island, and then helping with a relocation project of Chatham Island Albatrosses. We should get a month or so to do some travelling too. All being well we will return to the UK in late March 2017.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Australia - 50 days in

50 days in and the fieldwork for the cuckoo research project I'm currently working on is going well, the summer is getting hot, and my birding list is ever growing.

I arrived on the 23rd September and was introduced to the team I would be working with. There are 13 of us living in a shared house currently. We all work on the same field site on the shore of Lake Samsonvale (just north of Brisbane), but are working on 3 separate projects. The Fairy-wren project is run by Derrick Thrasher from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and has a crew of 6, the Ecoimmunology crew has 2 members  - PhD student Diana Carneiro and her assistant - and our project on Cuckoos has 5. Our supervisor is William Feeney and there are 4 of us that are field technicians. The field site is split into 4 sections, so we each monitor 1 section for Will. 


Project Background


This is the first year that Will has worked/researched at this field site. He intends to make it a long term study site for researching cuckoos and their hosts, so a lot of our work this season is a bit exploratory and focussed on setting up for future seasons. Little research has been done on any of the cuckoo species in Queensland, so there is some degree of uncertainty about what species they parasitise and what their phenology is. Unlike Europe, where there is just one species of cuckoo (Common cuckoo - Cuculus canorus), we currently have 7 on the site. Eastern Koel (Eudynamys orientalis) and Channel-billed Cuckoos (Scythrops novaehollandiae) parasitise large passerine species such as Currawongs, butcherbirds and large honeyeaters. Unfortunately these host species nest too high for us to study. However, Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis), Brush Cuckoo (Cacomantis variolosus), and Shining (Chalcites lucidus), Little (Chalcites minutillus) and Horsfield's (Chalcites basalis) Bronze-Cuckoo all parasitise species with nests that we can study. There is also the potential to get Pallid Cuckoo (Cacomantis pallidus) on site, but these have not been heard yet. Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus opatus) may turn up in the winter, but would not breed at this site. 

Will's research focusses on the coevolutionary 'arms race' between cuckoo and their hosts, and the Australian cuckoos present a very different study system than their European counterpart. Each cuckoo species seems to have a primary host species, however if this is not available they may parasitise other hosts as well. Therefore one host species may be at risk of being parasitised by several different cuckoo species. This produces some very interesting evolutionary pressures for both the cuckoo and host species, and Will is studying the behavioural mechanisms that both species use to 'out wit' the other.

Daily Routine


04:00 - Wake up
04:30 - Leave for the field site
05:00 to 11:00 - Monitor the site. This mostly involves trying to find as many nests as possible of multiple species. Our target species are White-browed Scrubwren and Superb Fairy-wren, but any species with the potential to be parasitised by cuckoos will do. Nests previously found must also be monitored for lay dates, hatch dates and fledging success. Several experiments / data collection projects are being run also.  

Male Superb Fairy-wren
White-browed Scrubwren - Juvenile, 
though females have very similar plumage
Scrubwren nestling - just a few days old
Brown Honeyeater nest and eggs

11:30 to 12:00ish - Return home and have lunch
12:00 to 14:30ish - Free time. This is normally filled with napping or data entry
14:30 - Sometimes we head back out to the field site at this point. Afternoons are dedicated to mist-netting and trying to get all of our Scrubwrens and Superbs colour banded/ringed. This can be great fun or very tedious as we've seen many target birds bounce out of nets!


Male Superb Fairy-wren 
with new colour bands
Female / juvenile Superb Fairy-wren 
with colour bands
Sometimes we get some nice bycatch. 
This is a Lewin's Honeyeater

18:30 - Dinner time. We cook in pairs on a rota. I've learnt some great new recipes and had some delicious food in the last month and a half.
20:30 - Bedtime! It's a raving existence this house full of 20-something year olds lead.


It's not all birds...


Although the majority of my days are filled with nest searching and birding, there's a lot of other amazing wildlife around here that I encounter daily.


This Eastern Brown Snake was behind 
glass at Australia Zoo, but I come 
across them on site fairly regularly

Reptiles and amphibians are everywhere!...
...even in our living room. 
Goliath Stick Insects hide 
in the canopy above...
...with their amazingly colourful wings
Friendly butterflies keep me 
company on site
There are lovely little beetles wherever I look...
...the site would be an entomologists dream.

The flora is beautiful too with amazing 
wild flowers, incredible tree/shrub 
diversity and endless grass species

And of course there are the Australian classics of koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wild dogs, possums, goannas (Lace Monitors), snakes, spiders, cane toads (not so classic) and all of the incredible flora!

Overall I'm having a pretty good time out here. It's very different from British fieldwork, and I miss seabirds, but it's an incredible experience and I live and work with wonderful people. I'm looking forward to the next 2 months here. 

If you want more up-to-date information and photos of what we get up to just follow me on Twitter ( @r_green24 ) or the project ( @Aus_Cuckoos ), or follow us on Instagram ( samsonvalebirdproject ).

Finally, just because I can, here's a video of a chilled out Fan-tailed Cuckoo chick perching on Will's hand. Tom Ryan - Will's second in command - took the video.


video


Sunday, 6 September 2015

September Update - Australia to Skomer and back again

It's been a long while since I last updated my blog. This is entirely due to lack of time, rather than a lack of things to write about.

I forgot to blog about the BTO conference last year, I never got round to finishing off the blog post about the end of my January-February Australia trip, I didn't write about my second season on Skomer, Birdfair, my sisters wedding, or the week long Wash Wader RG  trip I've just finished. 

All of these were brilliant and I'm glad that they kept me away from computer screens. However, I'll give a brief summary of all the aforementioned adventures now.

By the end of my Australia trip (28th February) I had driven 2700 miles up the Queensland coast, seen 195 different bird species, met lots of lovely people and had the best break from work and home life that I could have dreamed of!

Typical Aussie picture
Mercury hits internal body temp (37C)
Rainbow Bee-eater
Rainbow Lorikeet
View from the top of Pioneer Valley nr Mackay
Sunset whilst sailing around the Whitsundays
Jacana on a lily pond
Cabin in a tropical fruit orchard - pure paradise!
About half of the coast that I drove up
Platypus!!
Southern Cassowary and his chick -
both strolled by right outside my tent door at sunrise
Mistletoe Bird in her nest
Bar-tailed Godwit in Cairns


I returned on 1st March to a lovely family reunion:

My lovely family (minus Bob) at Exeter Quay

and then on the 15th April (after a busy month doing things I now can't remember) I was back on Skomer monitoring 6 seabird species for the season (Manx Shearwater, Puffin, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull...plus Storm Petrel as extra at the end of the season). The data I collected will be published in the Skomer Seabird Report 2015 at some point in the near future. It was another busy season with apparently good productivity compared to last years' poor season. I look forward to returning to Skomer again next year.

Beautiful evening after a rainy day
Very wet Manx Shearwater researchers
who were my absolute rock this season
Island entertainment. Every
Bananagrams tile was used.
White Ermine and Angle Shades
on our bathroom door
Newly colour-ringed adult Lesser Black-backed gull
Manx Shearwater chick in my study plot

Since I finished on Skomer I have volunteered at Birdfair with the African Bird Club, been to my sister and (now) brother-in-law's wonderful wedding, and joined the annual main week of Wash Wader cannon-netting.

My next exciting adventure sees me heading back out to Australia. I have a position as a field worker / research assistant for a Post Graduate (Will Feeney) studying Cuckoos and their host species, near Brisbane. Will works for the Evolutionary Ecology Group at Cambridge University, and is also an affiliate of The University of Queensland, and his primary research investigates the communication between various hosts of different cuckoo species. We'll also be working alongside researchers from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology who are interested in the social behaviour and interactions of Fairy-wren species. I'll try and keep my blog updated once I'm out there so you can see what all this research involves.

Once I've finished there, I'll be spending 3 weeks of February on the other side of Australia. I'm going to join the North-West Australia Wader and Tern Expedition, in Broome & 80 mile beach. This should be fantastic, with flocks of (literally) millions of waders, pristine beaches and international companions. It will also be another good step towards gaining my A permit, and offer invaluable experience that may eventually help me train to become a cannon-net licensee. All-in-all, it should be a good 6 months!

I'll return in mid-March, have a brief break, and then head back to Skomer for a third season in early April.

So that's a brief(ish) update of my last 8 months, and a sneak preview of what's next.

Many thanks for reading.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

African Bird Club - 2015 Annual Meeting & AGM

Before this weekend, the African Bird Club (ABC) was a completely unknown charity to me. I am becoming increasingly keen to expand my ornithological knowledge beyond the British shores, and heard about the meeting through Next Generation Birders (NGB), so decided it was well worth the journey to the Natural History Museum in London...and I wasn't disappointed.

Morning session
Unfortunately, due to transport problems, I arrived 10 minutes late, and missed the introduction by Keith Betton - the departing Chairman and now Vice-President of the Club. Thankfully I missed little of the first talk, given by Sam Kanyamibwa - Executive Director of the ARCOS (Albertine Rift Conservation Society) Network. The Albertine Rift is a region along the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and the DRC that is incredibly bio-diverse, and in desperate need of active conservation. Sam introduced the aims of the ARCOS Network and outlined much of the conservation work it does within the region. Many of the projects involve discussions and collaboration across international borders, and can therefore be swamped with political issues.

Albertine Rift map (Source: http://www.albertinerift.org/)

Sam Kanyamibwa giving his presentation

This was followed by Matthew Boyer's talk, also focussing on the Albertine Rift, but this time based on personal bird watching locations, rather than professional conservation efforts. The two talks educated me greatly on an area I had never heard of before, and it seems that the professional and amateur birders in the area can help each other enormously. Matthew encouraged birders to travel to the lesser-visited sites, which receive less tourist income, but could probably benefit far more from targeted conservation efforts. Visiting 'amateurs' can now easily contribute their sightings to global databases (i.e. BirdTrack's global data entry tool), and the ABC are encouraging them to help transport spare binoculars and reference guides with them, to give to local organisations, and aid education within the area. Local professional groups can gain skills from these knowledgeable 'amateurs', and this sharing of expertise stands to advance the conservation efforts and nature awareness within the region. It is only through greater exposure and conservation education that organisations like the ARCOS Network can achieve their excellent goals.

Matthew Boyer

Active conservation research
Next came talks by Dr Jim Groombridge and Helena Batalha on the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher and Cape Verde Warbler, respectively. Both of these researchers are working on species restricted to very small island ranges/populations, and are consequently Endangered or Critically-Endangered. Jim's research group (and collaborators) have recently undertaken a complicated translocation of Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher from the sole population on La Digue, to form a new population on Denis Island. His research focusses on conservation genetics, and so the talk covered the uses of genetic information in aiding successful translocations like this. Through these methods, they can ascertain the minimum probable number of individuals needed to guarantee a good genetic diversity within the source population on the new island. This diversity will help the new population overcome challenges presented by their new surroundings, establish a stable population, and then hopefully begin to increase in population size. Jim outlined some of the many problems the team had to overcome to make this project successful, and it was great to hear how genetic research can be used to help achieve these real conservation successes.

Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher - Male and Female
(Source: http://birdsofeden.co.za/index.php?comp=article&category=18&limit=5&limitstart=55)

Helena's PhD research on Cape Verde Warblers is mainly about collecting systematic, scientific data on the species. Little is known about their population size and distribution, and Helena aims to change this and gain a true understanding of the species in its current situation. Her passion for the species was apparent throughout the talk, and it was plain to see how this had translated into two very successful field seasons. She is currently analysing the habitat and genetic data collected, and so had few conclusive results, but feels hopeful they will be positive and show a greater population size and genetic diversity than previously thought.

Helena Batalha with a Cape Verde Warbler  
(Source: http://www.africanbirdclub.org/club/events)

Landscape scale conservation
The penultimate talk was by Dr. Samuel Temidayo Osinubi on his involvement with the African-Eurasian Migratory Landbirds Action Plan (AEMLAP) - PDF of presentation here. Personally, I found this talk the most interesting. I am becoming aware that species or site specific conservation efforts have a limited capacity, in the long term, to make large-scale differences. In order to make the largest difference, landscape scale conservation needs to move towards the forefront of organisation objectives, across the globe. AEMLAP aims to help facilitate this in one of the toughest areas of avian conservation. Unlike shore and seabirds, land-based migrants don't travel down one specific route, with major stop-over points that can be protected. The Afro-European migrants move in a wave, from North to South and back again each year, crossing innumerable international borders and through endless habitat types (inc. gardens, agricultural land and pristine habitats). To protect these species in the long term, a huge, multifaceted conservation approach is required. The AEMLAP has recently been accepted as a new resolution at CMS COP11. Although no countries have signed on to meet the goals of the AEMLAP yet, this is an excellent step in the right direction. CMS (Conservation on Migratory Species) is an arm of the UN Environment Programme and so has the ability to ensure countries meet any promises they make. Hopefully this action plan will see a push by many countries, in collaboration, towards large-scale conservation efforts - we can hope that that will be the consequence anyway.

Dr. Osinubi outlining the 'official' definition of a migrant

Tracking Africa's birds
The final talk was by Andy Clements - Director of the BTO. He summed up the amazing technological developments of the past two decades, and how these have allowed for some incredible advancements of knowledge recently. His major example was with the current Cuckoo tracking project. Before live tracking technologies were developed, it was not really known where cuckoos went when they weren't in Britain. There was one sub-Saharan ringing recovery of a British ringed Cuckoo, but nothing else was known about their migration route or wintering grounds. This tracking project has been running since 2011, and has revealed that there are two distinct migration routes through Europe and across the Sahara, with markedly different mortality rates between them. Also the main wintering grounds are in the Congo, but with stop-over sites just south of the Sahara in ~October, and in West Africa in March and April, before the Northerly migration. Its simply incredible that 100 years of ringing data showed little-to-nothing of these migration details, but just 4 years of tracking data have revealed so much! Andy went on to discuss some of the future potential of tracking devices as they get smaller and lighter. Who knows what these technologies will reveal over the next decade!

Andy Clements presenting

The speakers (minus Dayo) - Left to right: Sam
Kanyamibwa, Jim Groombridge, Matthew Boyer,
Andy Clements and Helena Batalha.

Networking
As with most conferences, some of the most interesting conversation and information sharing was had during the breaks. I met a fellow NGB member, Sorrel Lyall, during lunch which was great! I haven't met many other female members, so it was good to make the connection and discuss the ABC meeting with another young birder. Some of my post-presentation questions also made the rest of the audience aware that we were NGB members. Keith Betton has been talking with us (NGB) recently, and a good chat about NGB and the ABCs future aims means that we are both now keen to form an association. It is hoped that by encouraging young birders to join the ABC, and gain special access to their publications, we can encourage more conservationists / interest into the continent.
I also managed to talk to Helena, Dayo and Andy personally (3 speakers), and ask a bit more about their research / backgrounds. It's so great to come to these meetings and meet the people who are actually 'doing science', and making a real difference within the avian conservation world.

Tea-break chatting / networking

Post-meeting drinks in the pub afterwards also allowed for long chats with Chris Magin - the RSPBs International Officer for Africa -, Keith Betton, and Debbie Pain - Director of Conservation at WWT. I learnt so much from talking to Keith and Debbie, and can't recommend post-meeting pub conversation enough. These people are all leaders in their field and incredibly knowledgeable. I am only just entering the professional birding world, and so am incredibly naive in many areas. Talking to learned people such as these has opened my eyes to many conservation issues I wasn't previously aware of.

Conclusions
One month ago, I didn't even know the ABC existed. I had never really thought about birding or working in Africa, and I didn't know anyone who had. The informative research and policy presentations in this meeting have shown me that there's a whole continent with very difficult conservation issues, that I had never really appreciated before. There are plainly some very excellent organisations already working to conserve the African avifauna, many of which migrate to Britain annually. I met some great people who are very passionate about African birds and actively conserving them, and where extremely informative and articulate when answering my questions. I am now very keen to join the club and look for opportunities to engage with this conservation effort, ideally in a professional capacity.


*Unless stated otherwise, photographs are taken by Nigel Birch.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Queensland, Australia

The last month in Australia has been phenomenal! The ecology, flora and fauna are all entirely new to me, and I'm endlessly learning new things on my travels.

I arrived on 7th Jan with my Mum, met an  old friend of hers, and the 3 of us headed from Brisbane to Gympie to camp for 4 days. Jet lag had me up at dawn the first day and the chorus was mind blowing...apart from laughing Kookaburra, I didn't recognise a single call, song or bird flying by. Quite overwhelming. 

Since then I've been to Fraser Island, Kingaroy and the Bunya mountains with Mum and Wayne (her friend). The Bunya's were my first taste of a rainforest and quite incredible.

After 2 weeks based around Kingaroy, Mum and I headed back to Bribane for a few days. Then Mum headed to the red centre and I was on my own. I've hired a car for a month and am now heading up the East Coast with the eventual aim of reaching The Daintree Rainforest. 

Travelling alone, with a car, has given me a kind of freedom I've never experienced before, and has helped me see some incredible places, and meet some brilliant people. I stopped off in Bundaberg to go birding with a local NGB member - Brandon Hewitt. He showed me some pretty cool birds, and we had a good morning. It's great to be able to meet up with locals and see the area with their knowledge. 

Since then I've been working my way north, travelling to places recommended by locals and fellow travellers. Between this kind of advice, and randomly following tourist road signs, I've come across flying fox roosts, secluded waterholes to swim in, incredible botanic gardens, zoos, beautiful limestone caves, stunning national parks and phenomenal reefs. 

I try and stop in backpackers every night to meet new people, and in tourist information centres to get local maps and advice. This has led to me meeting some lovely people, from all over the globe, and 1 even travelled with me for a few days. These were the best days so far, as it's amazing to be able to share experiences with someone else. Our 2 days spent in the Eungella National Park were magical, with rainforest walks, waterhole swims, waterfall climbing, strangler fig climbing, platypus watching, moth trapping, dragonfly holding and bird watching, all capped off with a surprise, discounted, stay in a cabin overlooking the entirety of the Pioneer Valley. This was courtesy of a 10 minute chat with the local restauranteur & accommodation owner, who refused to let us sleep in the car. 

The last few days have been spent on a yacht, sailing the Whitsundays with a lovely group of girls, and diving the Yongala wreck off Alva Beach. 

I've now made it as far as Townsville, and will be in Cairns by Sunday, with plans for more National parks, wetlands and white water rafting between the 2 cities. 

Overall I'm having a brilliant time and every day is good because there is sun and endless species I have no names for. Queensland is like nowhere I've been before, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is ecologically minded!

Brush Turkey - Bunya Mountains

Kingaroy Sunset

Absurdly Colourful Rainbow Lorikeets

South Bank Public Pool - Brisbane

Friendly Ibis at lunch - Brisbane

Brisbane

Cool beetle - insect life is
astonishingly diverse here

Climbing Waterfalls - Eungella NP

Huge moth - Eungella NP - the public toilets
were acting as a giant, walk-in, moth trap

Sky Window Lookout + Steve,
my Canadian travel partner for a few days
- Eungella NP

Whitehaven Beach - Whitsundays

Sailing the Whitsundays with new friends