Summer Birding

Hello all! I’m a rising junior, and I’m going to be spending the summer studying variations in bird diversity along an urbanization gradient. I’ve spent the past few weeks taking early-season point counts, which requires waking up at sunrise and bushwhacking through the woods to a randomly-selected point, then recording all the species seen or heard in three ten minute sessions. The past few days have been pretty overwhelming. Just differentiating calls from the chorus of chips and whistles and trills is hard enough, but then having to recognize the calls and estimate distances to them gets pretty confusing. As soon as I think I’ve got one species’ call down, I hear a new variation of it, or another species comes along that sounds nearly identical. It’s definitely been a long learning process, but each day I recognize more species, and the point counts get a little bit easier. I look forward to the day that it all fits together, and I no longer confuse the ovenbird for a Carolina wren or label any high-pitched squeak as a goldfinch.

As for what exactly I hope to accomplish with these point counts, it’s already been well established that urbanization decreases biodiversity. However, I’m looking to study this variation across a large-scale gradient, in order to better understand the mechanisms by which habitat loss and fragmentation threaten bird populations. With the help of my research advisor, Matthias Leu, I’m going to model changes in bird diversity across an urbanization gradient, with particular emphasis on the spatial effects of land-use along riparian corridors and upland forests. I’ll use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to model data from my point counts with respect to forest fragmentation and land-use. I can then relate variation in bird density to other variables, including land cover, edge proximity, and the spread of invasive species, in order to determine more specific mechanisms behind the effects of development on habitat change.

As hard as it’s been, I absolutely love the work I’ve done so far. What better way to spend my mornings than with the sunrise, listening to a gorgeous chorus of birds? I’ve learned to listen and observe those things that I previously passed by without notice. I’ve also learned the beauty of a cup of coffee, and falling asleep at nine o’clock on a Friday night. Tomorrow, the onslaught starts again. Maybe this time I’ll recognize the elusive ovenbird!