Friday, June 26, 2009

Sneaky Squirrels

The squirrels of Hodgdon are the epitome of animal adaptation to human presence. If we leave the bear box open for a second they are in there. I actually trapped one in the bear box the other day (I’ll try to post the extraction video later, but it was interesting). I decided to clean out the bear box today and the squirrel got my old peanut butter jar that I am planning to collect insects in. He was really cute, so I jest let him lick out the inside. We left our packed lunches out for one second, and a squirrel tried to get away with an entire pear! We chased it across the campsite and were able to get it back with only a few bites. Victory!!!

To the Valley

I got up this morning and decided to break into my whole grain flour and make pancakes, and yes, I did make bird shapes. Jeff took off to band at Sequoia today, leaving Jessica and I with nothing to do. We decided to go to the Valley to explore and do some shopping. Dan, the other intern who left early, told us that we could get employee IDs (we our treated like employees) and get a discount on food and retail items. We actually get 50% off fast food, which equates to about normal prices. There is so much to do in the Valley; we went to a couple of shops and an Ansel Adams gallery which had some really cool post cards and gifts for Jenevieve’s birthday (I would say what they are, but she reads this blog too). I still found time to process a few birds.

We took the shuttle to the Yosemite Lodge for lunch where I was finally able to get the fish I had been craving. I had a salmon burger on a wheat bun with lots of tomato and a chocolate ice cream cone. When we left from lunch we read the newspaper headlines only to find out that Michael Jackson has died. I feel so unconnected here sometimes. I can’t believe the King of Pop is gone; we were just talking about him yesterday. We decided to walk back to the car, which turned out to be faster than taking the shuttle. So far it’s been a nice day off. Later we may be going to the Evergreen with some of the rangers for some Reggae music.

Cold Nights, Part III

This will hopefully be the last post on how cold it has been at night. It is starting to warm up during the day, but the nights are still cold. My stepfather and Mom sent some great thermals that arrived today. Thank you so much. They are very warm, so I’m sure I will be warm at night. It will be nice not to have to use my camp chair for insulation under my sleeping bag.

Escaped Selasphorous!!!

At Gin Flat Meadow Jessica got either a Rufus Hummingbird or and Allen’s Hummingbird, which both belong to the genus Selasphorous. I got to the net right after she put it in the bag, and right as I got back to the banding station, it escaped from Jessica’s hand. I saw it as a blur as it went by, which was very unsatisfying. I felt sooo disappointed; I still need to see the Rufus, Allen’s, and Calliope Hummingbird before I leave.

Ten Kinglets at Once!!!

Today we got the first of the juvenile Golden-crowned Kinglets have started to fledge. It was great, but we got too many at once. Kinglets are small birds, which means they can lose body heat rapidly; we have to be really careful when we extract and handle them. We got ten on our second net run and ten more on our fourth. There were so many that we couldn’t take our full range of measurements: just a band number, wing cord, and weight. It was really stressful, but Jeff showed me a trick for carrying small birds. Normally when it’s cold I put bird bags clipped to a carabineer inside my flannel shirt, but with small birds, Jeff said we can put the bags right against our skin. It should be just as warm as a hot box and prevent them from getting stressed. We can also double bag them so they can huddle together.

Mama Bear and Cubs

We were banding our busiest site (Crane Flat) today when at the end of our net runs, I saw a sow bear with two cubs. I was maybe 40 meters away from where they were foraging. I went quickly back to the station to get the bear mace, just in case. I tried to haze the bear away (I hadn’t seen the cubs yet), but they didn’t really notice and continued foraging. We closed the nets (bears are known to eat birds out of mist nets) and took some great pictures before heading home. Jeff got some great ones with his telephoto lens that I’ll try to post later.

Hooded Warbler

We may have gotten the bird of the year today, at least for Yosemite. Although common in the East, this second year male was an extreme vagrant here in California. I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I didn’t recognize it when I extracted it from the net. It also lost many of its rectrices in the net (a crime against nature for such a beautiful bird), but was still breathtaking.

I don't have a picture of the Hooded, but this is a nice Yellow Warbler

Scientific Reasoning

I had been planning to take a philosophy of science class online with CNU this summer, but I don’t think it’s going to be possible anymore. I haven’t had the most reliable internet access here in, but it’s been great getting to use it at the Evergreen or Mountain Sage in Groveland. The intern who I had been tagging along to the Evergreen with decided he couldn’t volunteer anymore. I’m not sure I can make the course deadlines (at least twice a week), and this class is starting to looking more like a fool errand than a challenge. I really regret not being able to take it. Science is pretty much the greatest thing ever, and as a scientist I want to learn more about how it works on a philosophical level. I’ve already read a lot of the course work, which is really interesting, so I guess I’ll have to be content with that. I was even brainstorming paper ideas and was stuck between ‘creativity in science’, ‘science and pseudoscience’, and ‘consequences of the scientific worldview’. I am sure this is for the best, and at least I have had a few interesting conversations here with Jeff and Jessica and have some cool books to read.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

New Boots!!!

So I got my new boot in the mail the other day. They are Danner Radical 452 Gore-Tex waterproof hiking boots (shown left) and my old hightech boot (shown right). The new ones are still stiff, but I'll really break them in doing the hike to Toulume Grove again.

Sick bird :(

We were banding Hodgdon Meadow today and we found a sick bird in the net. It had some sort of parasite or tumor, but its eyes were almost completely covered over. I couldn't forage and its fercula hollow was empty which means it was starving. I have pictures that I can send if anyone is interested, but I'm not going to post it here. We had a real dilemma trying to decide what to do with it. Jeff wanted to euthanize it because it was suffering, but I took a while to reach a decision. My first inclination was to let it go because it could provide a meal for some other creature, but I eventually decided that we had handled it enough and that it was better just to put it down. If it had been able to fly away on its own, the ethical choice would have been to let it go. There is a humane way to euthanize a bird, and Jeff was the one who did it. I don't think I could have. The rest of the day has been really hard on us; everyone is here because they love birds, and when one dies it is really difficult to keep going.

Don't worry; this rarely happens, and I know things will get better.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kings Canyon Adventure

Who needs days off? For the last two days I’ve been banding in King’s Canyon National Park just southeast of Yosemite. We are on our four days off right now, but I decided to go with Jeff and Jessica to band some sites down here. The accommodations are really nice; we have beds, shower access, a kitchen and everything. Best of all, its warm at night. During the day it has been hot and dry. The sites are wonderful.

Today we banded Lion’s Meadow which is isolated in a grove of Giant Sequoia. When I was on the net run I scared a female Mallard into the bottom pocket of one of our nets. She was much too big for the 30mm net so she wasn’t tangled very badly. After I extracted her, she sat there in the grass for a moment, and I couldn’t tell if she was okay. Right after I got a picture she flew off. We don’t band ducks, but because I actually extracted her, she got recorded on our unbanded sheet.

Alan got a Rufous Hummingbird from net four, but because I was on the other part of the net run, I missed it. I feel so sad. I’ve always wanted to see one. There was a vagrant in North Carolina at someone’s feeder a few years ago, and people came from several states around to see it. They are more common here, but my window for seeing one is dwindling as their migration to Canada is ending. This one must have been extremely late, or it could have already bred and have been on its way south.

Black-backed Woodpecker

We banded White Wolf a few days ago, which I think might be my favorite site. We had a slow day, but got some great birds, including a female Williamson’s Sapsucker. It’s so different from the male; at one time they thought they were different species. We also got a Black-backed Woodpecker! They are really rare in the park, and we really didn’t expect to get one at White Wolf. Their usual habitat is recently burned forests because they prefer to nest in burned snags. As far as anyone known, this is the first time we’ve banded one in the park.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Me with a female Williamson's Sapsucker

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Photos from facebook

See all my photos from Yosemite.

The Gospel according to Pyle

While banding, the Pyle guide is like my bible (but the information is accurate, so maybe its not like the bible). It has a plethora of information on every species of Passerine and near-Passerine, and its about 500 pages thick for just Part I. It's so awesome; I think I want to get my own copy when I get home.

More info can be found here

No more potatoes...

Today I was running short of food today. I was down to a bag of potatoes, some rice, and oatmeal. Everyone else got to buy food last break, but I stayed in Yosemite. I am soooooo sick of potatoes. I must have eaten them a hundred different ways.

But today...

I got to go to the best salvage grocery ever. I got a ton of really healthy food for a cheep price. I'm so happy I can have some variety in my diet. By the way, produce is so cheap in California. Avocados are actually reasonably priced.

Cold nights, Part II

I posted earlier how cold the nights have been in Yosemite (mig 30s). There have been some improvements on my situation. In Groveland today I was able to get a hat (or toque in Jeffs Canadian diction). and gloves at a thrift store. Take that cold!!!

Address & Emergency Contact

My family has asked for a mailing address, and I now have one.

Attn: Bird Researcher Kenton Buck
6127 Hillside Loop Road
Groveland, CA 95321-9206

The emergency contact is the MAPS Coordinator, Mary Chambers

Mary Chambers
(415) 663 1436

What we do...

I've had some people ask exactly what I am doing with the MAPS Program, so I will take this opportunity to explain it. IBP is studying bird demographics with the MAPS Program to monitor bird survivorship from migration and changes in population size. We use 30mm mist nets to catch birds, which we then extract. We put the birds in cloth bags and clip the bags to a carabiner necklace to keep them safe as we go back to the station.

Micro-aging a Red-breasted Sapsucker

At the station the birds are processed for data collection. They are given an aluminum bad sized for the species of bird. This band can be used to identify individuals over their lifetime, and is some of the most important data we collect. After banding the birds we check the skull by gently parting the head feathers. This helps determine the bird's age. We then check for a cloacal protuberance and brood patch to assess breeding condition. Then come body molt, flight feather molt, and flight feather wear. The bird is then micro-aged using a process of examining the wing for molt limits and replaced feathers. This is different for every species, and is determined using the Pyle guide (more on this later). It's really hard to do, and I'm still getting the hang of it. The final two measurements are wing cord and mass. The bird is then released and we watch its flight to ensure that it is okay after all that handling.

Small Warbler being weighed


I’ve had my Hi Tech boots for about three years now. They’ve been on the Appalachian Trail in Maine for over 130 miles, climbing up Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, camping in the Virginia tidewater, traveling through Costa Rica, birding in the highlands of North Carolina, and just about everywhere else I have been in the last few years. The only time I don’t ware them is when I am wearing my crocs. They’ve gotten a lot of use, but it’s about time for them to retire. These boot have been great, and I am sad to lose them. Its like saying goodbye to an old friend I’ve decided to replace them with some new boots from Danner.

They should arrive sometime next week. More on this later

1st Woodpecker & 1st Hummingbird

Sorry I haven't written in a while; I haven't had internet. On Tuesday we were able to make up White Wolf, which we missed last period because of bad weather. I finally successfully extracted a woodpecker. They are really difficult because their feathers are so stiff and they really get their feet tangled. I was about to develop a complex about it; the last few I attempted, I needed help from either Jeff or Dan. Today was even better; I extracted a Red-breasted Sapsucker.

Not my woodpecker, but a nice Williamson's Sapsucker

Me with my Anna's Hummingbird

We banded at Big Meadow on Wednesday, and I finally got to see some of the western hummingbirds. The East is great for bird life, but the only hummingbird is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I extracted a juvenile female Anna’s Hummingbird. The juvenile plumage is really obvious, and the females have less than five red/purple feathers in their gorget. It was so small in my hand, and very warm. Hummingbirds maintain a body temperature of around 106 degrees Fahrenheit! It was so amazing; one of my favorite birds so far. I also got to extract a first year male later.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Birds first

One of the things I really love about working with MAPS is that the bird health and safety is a top priority. When I was training last week, Jeff said that at any time if I felt a bird was not doing well that I could let it go "no questions asked." We don't open if its cold, hot, windy, or if there is a chance of predation (bears). We also have a hospitle box for stressed birds. IBP chooses bird health over data any day. The data we are collecting is important, but they are never willing to sacrifice the health of the birds. That really works with how I feel; I can't think of anything that would turn me off quicker than a lack of respect for the birds we work with.

More later...

Forest Giants

To celebrate my birthday I decided to go hiking to Tuolumne Grove to see the Giant Sequoias. It was 8 miles round-trip on the back road behind Hodgdon Meadows. On the way up I saw Western Tanagers and heard Brown Creeper and Olive-sided Flycatchers. They are amazing, and the largest living things on Earth by mass. I felt privileged just to walk next to them. Think about it; you are next to something that could be 3000 years old. I ate lunch (a whole avocado) and took a nap under the most massive one I could find. While I was there a cone (which are smaller than I thought they would be) fell from the top. From that height it hit the ground with an astonishing force. As I got up into the tourist part of the grove and they had fences to protect the seedlings from being trampled. One fallen snag dies during an especially heavy snowfall was hollow on the inside and was easily big enough to live inside of. No matter how old you are, everyone still has somewhere in their brain the plans for the perfect tree-house. If you've seen the movie My Neighbor Totoro, I did the tree-thanking ritual from the movie. If you haven't seen the movie, you just bow in front of the tree and thank it for taking care of the forest. I felt so lucky to be there; what a way to spend a birthday!

My first Sequoia

Kenton and his future home!

21st Birthday

So yesterday I officially turned 21. Hooray! I feel the same as when I was 20, but I know I'm much wiser. To answer the million dollar question, I did not buy alcohol on my birthday because I was by myself. Jeff, Alan and I went out to dinner the night before. I bought a local dark beer, and they didn't even card me.

Jeff's Almonds

The other day Jeff left his bear box open while we were out banding. When we came back his 5 pound bag of almost gone. The squirrels and Steller's Jays ate every almond except one, which they probably left to spite him. We decided that squirrels should now be on the menu, especially since they have almond stuffing. Incidentally, I found a new species of squirrel that I believe is the Western Gray Squirrel. It seems much larger than its Eastern cousin.

One spiteful almond

Friday, June 5, 2009

Snow Day

Today we were going to band at our highest elevation site, White Wolf, but we got a lot of rain last night. We were all cold this morning, so we decided to drive up to White Wolf to see if we could open. It started to snow on the way up, so we knew we would not be able to band today (it has to be 40 degrees). Instead we went to see a high altitude lake where we might go swimming when it gets hot. When we got back to camp I just stayed in the car and read because it was still raining. I started one of the books for my online Scientific Reasoning course, Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction by Samir Okasha. Its really good, I'm hoping to post more about the course and philosophy of science later Even the car was cold, so we drove to the Evergreen (the lodge where we pirate internet access). Hopefully the rain will let up.

Snow at Crane Flat

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Great Gray Owl!!!

We saw our first Great Gray Owl today. I was on a net run, and Jeff came running my way saying Jessica had a Great Gray Owl. At first I though it was in one of the nets! It was across the meadow from where we were banding. It was HUGE, and we got to see it hunt. It got some large mammal (for an owl), maybe a rabbit. The Great Gray Owl is the largest in North America; I felt privileged to see it. I got some pictures with my camera through my binoculars, but it looks more like an impressionist painting than the actual owl.

Sierra Flowers

When John Muir first came to the Sierra Nevada Mountains he fell in love with the incredible diversity of flowers here. There are so many different kinds. Here are a few that I’ve seen so far.

Hartweg’s Iris
California Indian Pink
Large-leaf Lupine


Bears and Birds Don’t Mix

At one of our banding stations, Crane Flat, we had some trouble with a bear coming after our nets. Unfortunately, I did not get to see it. We had to close a few of them, and Alan, another intern, had to it away by clapping and shouting curses at it in Spanish. Other than that, we got some great birds. My favorites were the Lazuli Bunting, Western Tanager, and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Cold Nights

Yosemite is cold!!! It gets down to the mid 30s here at night, which shouldn't be a problem, except that the synthetic fill in my sleeping bag doesn't work when compressed against the underside of my hammock. I have devised several solutions to fix the problem:
  1. Use my lounge-lizard chair as a pad
  2. sleep in my rain gear
  3. SPACE BLANKET (Birthday present from my Mom, and worth its weight in gold)
I hope to go to a thrift store in Groveland and get a warm hat and maybe a blanket for insulation.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Holy Pine Cones!!!

I've already mentioned how amazing the trees are in Yosemite. The Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) has the biggest pine cones I've ever seen.

On the East Coast, the Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) has the biggest cones, and these are the biggest I've seen so far in Yosemite. I hope I can bring some home with me.

Extracting the Grosbeak

My extraction, banding and processing skills are really getting better. Today we were at the other part of Hodgdon Meadows.

Hodgdon Meadow Field Site

The first bird I extracted today was a Black-headed Grosbeak. Any birders reading this blog know how large the bill is. Believe me, it hurts just as much as you think it would when it bites you. I couldn't get a picture with the male (we were processing a lot of birds), but here's a picture of me with a female I banded later.

Me with a female Black-headed Grosbeak

We banded about 50 birds today. Other cool species on my list include: Juv. Orange-crowned Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Song Sparrow, and Purple Finch. Jessica, one of the other interns, got a White-headed Woodpecker.