Friday, September 25, 2009

Hyperactive squeeky toys

As you might have noticed, I've been bad about blogging lately (lately = this whole year?). I've got gobs and gobs of material to post from New York, Florida, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico... all in due time. In order to not fall even farther behind, I'm going to get right into writing about current sightings. It is another field season and another field job. I spent January through July of this year working at Archbold Biological Station as a scrub-jay intern. I've grown quite fond of Aphelocoma and some posts need to be written about them.

Aphelocoma coerulescens, the Florida Scrub-Jay

My days as an intern are in the past. I spent August in NY, "vacationing" in Ithaca finishing my phylogeography work, presenting a talk at the AOU meeting in Philadelphia, and even managing to fit in a bit of shorebirding on Long Island. Just two weeks ago, I flew back down to south-central Florida to start working again for Archbold, this time as a winter field tech at a different location: Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR).

Archbold Biological Station is a nice big private reserve mostly composed of endemic scrub habitats found on the Lake Wales Ridge. APAFR is a MASSIVE tract of land encompassing a range of habitats including wet prairie, sand scrub ridge, and large tracts of longleaf and slash pine flatwoods. I'm still working on jays in the scrub habitats, but guess what new species I get to work with in this position?

Mysterious pinewoods...

... contain Red-cockaded Woodpeckers! (source: Wikipedia)

One of the two focal species I am employed to monitor are the local population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (Picoides borealis), another endangered cooperatively breeding species of the Southeast. I'm still learning the ropes around here, but I'll be doing population monitoring and cavity maintenance. Most of my actual time spent observing the RCWs is at the crack of dawn, when they wake up from their roost trees, say hello to us researchers, we read their band combinations, and they fly away to forage and we don't see them again.

Because I mostly see them in the early dawn hours with terrible lighting, I don't have lots of pretty pictures to grace this blog yet, hence my reliance on wikipedia for the bird photos here. I did get one good mid-morning observation the other day, when we followed two clusters as they came together and squabbled. There was much wing-lifting and red-cockade-flashing displays, and lots of squeeky noises. Red-cockadeds are hilarious to listen to vocalizing, they sound like hyperactive squeeky toys. So does another pine flatwoods species, the Brown-headed Nuthatch.

Samples of both vocalizations from xeno-canto:

Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Brown-headed Nuthatch

Just imagine a flatwoods patch with both species yammering away constantly, and you'll understand why sometimes I just want to giggle while working.

Sitta pusilla, the Brown-headed Nuthatch (source: Wikipedia)

Well, that's all, but now you know where I am and what I'm up to. Hopefully I'll start getting back into the swing of things with more blogging. Stay tuned. Here's a little Osborne Brothers while you wait.


  1. Aha! So that's what you're up to. Can't wait to hear about your exploits abroad and nearer to home (that'd be Ithaca in this usage), and this was a great update.

    Looking forward to your next posts, and hopefully some RCW shots "in the field."

  2. Certainly a nice place for an internship. I cannot wait for your updates regarding the journies to the far flung places of the world.