Saturday, December 26, 2009

What a year!

It was almost a year ago that I submitted my resignation from Hewlett-Packard after a successful 21 year career. The past year has been spectacular. I can honestly say that it was one of the best moves that I have made.

It was a very stressful and difficult decision to make. Should I leave a good, high paying job and plunge into the unknown. Should I leave the security of pay and benefits for the promise of neither. In the end, I decided it was. At least so far, I was right!

The past year has been dominated by my schooling and my research into avian migration. These activities have kept me busier than when I worked.

Schooling has gone well. I have just completed my third straight semester with a 4.0 GPA. In the most recent semester I received straight A+'s in all of my classes. If it wasn't for a single A- a year ago, I would have a perfect record. The maturity and experience of a career environment has definitely improved my focus and skills for school. It is interesting that I have applied for two scholarships and received both of them. With this track record I probably should have applied for more!

I recently made the decision to pull my graduation up to May of 2010. This makes my spring semester a busy one with 20 credits. I have also applied to graduate school for a Masters degree in Raptor Biology, hopefully starting in August 2010.

My most significant activities for the past year has been my research into the weather impacts on avian migration. The research started as a predator-prey study, but I had to piece out the weather impacts first. After diving into weather impacts, I discovered some new and unexpected results. This shifted my focus onto weather exclusively for the past 6 months. This project has many challenges. Getting the right data, using appropriate statistical measures etc. While there is a great deal of freely available weather data on the web, getting the right data in a consistent format is definitely a challenge. Much has changed over the last 13 years, the time period for the focus of my study. On the statistical side, I originally used methods present in publications dating about 15 years ago. Apparently the statistical expectations have evolved a great deal since then and thus a new approach is required. I have learned a great deal in this area. My manuscript is in its third revision for internal review. We hope to submit for publication early in the new year. I have submitted the abstract to two conferences for presentation and have been accepted by both. I will be in San Diego in February presenting at the joint American Ornithologists' Union/Cooper Ornithological Society conference then presenting in March at the Idaho chapter of the Wildlife Society.

The most interesting aspect of the research was my field work with migrating songbirds and raptors. This was an amazing experience. The remarkable beauty and strength of these seemingly frail creatures continues to fascinate me. Its hard to pick out a favorite bird after inspecting such diversity up close. Is it the striking beauty of a Wilson's Warbler, the tenacity of the Red-breasted Nuthatch, the rarity of the Hermit Warbler, or the simple non-conspicuous nature of the Dusky Flycatcher.

Male Wilson's Warbler.

I've seen birds so fat they can barely fly. I've seen birds so thin that they probably aren't alive today. I've been crapped on by more Dusky Flycatchers than I could count. I've returned a baby bird to its mother to be fed. I've been loved by a kinglet! And I have seen death at the hands of nature and at the hands of humans. The fact that these little creatures, many barely 5 grams, can fly for thousands of miles per year to return to the exact same spot is unbelievable.

The raptor side is equally as fascinating. Watching a group of 23 Broad-winged Hawks (very rare here) fly overhead is impressive. Watching a Prairie Falcon stoop after a Cooper's Hawk was even more impressive. But the most amazing of all was the Peregrine Falcon stooping over my head. This bird, once on the brink of extinction, is the fastest animal on the planet. When it pulls out of a stoop just above your head the roar of the wind turbulence is unbelievable.

Here I am with a Juvenile Peregrine Falcon.

In between all of my bird nerd work, Karyn and I did get out to put quite a few miles on our bike. We explored Fruita Colorado with close friends for spring break, visited Yellowstone to watch wildlife, spent our Anniversary in Stanley, and picked Idaho huckleberries with friends among other activities.

I don't know what all the new year will have in store, but it should start off with a bang as Karyn and I head to Kenya for a few weeks to study East African Raptors and Vultures. Then presenting research at two conferences, finishing my biology degree, starting graduate school, starting new research, and of course playing on the skis and on the bike. It looks to be another great year.


Kevin said...

Congratulations! Nothing wrong with pursuing what you love in life!

April said...

Wow, congrats on all of your hard work paying off. Super impressive! I hope the next year is just as rewarding and adventure-filled. Happy new year!