Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Submission for Publication!

After nearly a year, my research manuscript has been submitted for publication! What a journey it has been. Today I submitted the manuscript to The Auk, a journal of ornithology published by the American Ornithologists' Union. I hope to hear back within a couple of months as to whether they are interested in the manuscript. From there it can take up to a year or more before it actually hits the press. This seems like a very long time, but it helps ensure that only quality science becomes part of that permanent record of published work.

I have faced a few challenges on this journey. The first has been the statistical work. I originally performed an analysis which has been used by other published works. The advantage here is that I was able to compare my results directly with theirs. The issue is that the works were published more than 15 years ago and new statistical methods are now favored. Additionally, I found a source of computational bias in the methods used by these studies. Shifting to more modern techniques, required a great deal of additional work and learning to understand the processes and to be sure the analysis is correct. My first undergraduate degree in mathematics helped a great deal in this process and I have learned a ton.

The next challenge comes in the authoring portion of the work. It has been some time since I have focused on proper English documentation. Twenty one years in a technical field of email and powerpoint can make one very lazy with the structure of the English language. Active voice versus passive voice - If you had asked me at the beginning of this project if I would be spending time understanding these subtleties, I would have said no way. I have a new and strong respect for clear concise written documentation.

Revision, revision, revision. How many revisions should a person make before submitting for publication? With 13 years of migratory bird data consisting of over 160,000 birds, analysis could go on forever. Revision of the manuscript can also go on for ever. When to publish? From an analysis perspective, there are no clean answers. More analysis provides more clarity, but also introduces more questions. With each new question addressed, the complexity of the project seemed to grow tenfold. We had to shift from a perspective of whether it was useful analysis to whether it was likely to change our core premise. If not, delay that question for the next publication. Will I have time to get to that publication? From a document revision perspective, I finally decided we had revised enough when suggested changes from my coauthors started reversing previous changes they themselves had suggested. Clearly a sign that this could go on forever!

Of course, I have learned much more than this during this project. I have learned a great deal about specific bird species, bird migration, evolution, ecology, data collection methods, statistical methods, the scientific method, etc.

I've had the honor to present my work in three separate forums so far. In January I present it at the joint conference of the American Ornithologists' Union, the Cooper Ornithological Society, and the Society of Canadian Ornithologists (summary). In March I had the honor of presenting a more extended version to the Idaho Chapter of the Wildlife Society (summary). Just last week I presented it again at Boise State University's undergraduate research conference. In all, over 400 people have listened to my presentation. I have received unique feedback from each of these presentations.

In the fall I begin my master thesis. I expect this to drive to at least a couple of separate papers for possible publication. Between now and then I may try one more publication related to this current work on the weather effects of migration. I think of it as a bridging piece of research between my completed project and one of my likely thesis projects. We will see how it goes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Birds of Prey

Our recent visit to the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area netted us 10 raptor species in the few hours we spent there. Wow, it was a great day. It was a beautiful morning under the great blue dome!
One my favorites of the area has to be the Burrowing Owl. This pair was just off the road and provided some great photo opportunities.
Burrowing Owl. Snake River NCA.
Further down the road we were able to spot a number of Swainson's Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks both perched and flying. One of the reasons this is such a great area for raptors is an overabundance of ground squirrels. They were everywhere. If my mammalogy studies are correct, this is likely a Richardson's Ground Squirrel (Speromopholis richardsoni) Paiute Ground Squirrel (Speromopholis mollis). I dare any of my classmates to prove me wrong! (my professor did!)
Paiute Ground Squirrel. Snake River NCA.
While on the mammal thread, other predators have also taken note of the ground squirrels. This area apparently has the highest density of American Badgers (Taxidea taxus), although none revealed themselves to us. We did see another ground squirrel predator the coyote (Canis latrans)
Coyote. Snake River NCA.
Upon arriving at dedication point, a Peregrine Falcon graced our presence. This was followed by no fewer than 6 Prairie Falcons! Add the American Kestrels and we hit 3 of the 4 possible falcons in the area, only the Merlin remained elusive. Back to the Buteos (soaring hawks such as Red-tailed and Swainsons), we watched three Ferruginous Hawks! These are our largest hawk. This is the most I have ever seen in one day and quite honestly, this total matches the total number I have actually seen prior to today. There were many Northern Harriers hunting in the area as Turkey Vultures soared overhead. Polish off the day with a view of a female Golden Eagle incubating eggs making it a very raptorious day!
This shouldn't indicate that only raptors occupy the area, there were many dinky birds as well. Some of the highlights included Say's Phoebes, White-throated Swifts, Violet-green Swallows, Canyon Wrens, and many Rock Wrens.
Rock Wren. Dedication Point. Snake River NCA.
And don't forget about the White-crowned Sparrows.
White-crowned Sparrow. Dedication Point. Snake River NCA.
After leaving the NCA, we stopped by Marsing Island Park to look for the Green Heron with no luck. Karyn did get this great Cinnamon Teal photo.
Cinnamon Teal. Marsing Island Park. Photo by Karyn.
Closer to our own neighborhood, the Great Horned Owls in Hull's Gulch are now showing off their young. This groups has successfully fledged either 3 or 4 chicks every year for the last 6 years, maybe longer. This year they have 4.
Adult + 4 Great Horned Owl Chicks.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Desert Not So Solitaire

Our spring break destination this year was Moab Utah with a few days in Fruita Colorado. Just days before our departure for Moab we learned that this week was also the jeep festival week which is the busiest time if year for Moab. While there were many more people there than we had even seen, it didn't bother us too much. The jeepers generally use different trails than we were on.

It Blows and it Snows

The first few days were dominated by nice weather, but then the wind took over. We had multiple days of high winds with weather service warnings. The winds were generally 30-40mph with gusts up to 60. This put a damper our many of our ride plans, so we spend a great deal more time hiking. Late in the week came the rains and then the snow. I guess that is what you get during spring break, a little bit of everything. We moved from Moab to Fruita hoping to get in two days of riding there. The weather cooperated and dried out just in time.

The Rides

Our first day in Moab, we headed out to the Gemini Bridges trail. This trail is not especially challenging, basically a dirt, rock, and sand road. It does have a pretty good elevation gain and provided a good first day experience in the desert. We passed a number of people participating in an adventure race - kayaking, running, biking, rapelling, etc. We were glad that we were on the bike.
The highlight ride of the week in Moab was the Porcupine Rim trail. Many ride this with a shuttle, but we chose to ride the loop. It took just under 5 hours. This was a big ride for us this early in the season. Fourteen miles of the loop includes a fairly technical and jarring descent. We had ridden the trail many years ago on our older tandem. We were looking forward to the ride on our newer full suspension tandem. We asked before leaving town if the trail was free of snow and ok to ride. The BLM guy said yes. As it ended up, many of the middle portions of the trail were still covered in snow, making it even more difficult. In hindsight, we shouldn't have been on the trail. The tandem handled great, but there is no getting over the fact that this trail is rough and takes a great deal out of you. It is technical from start to finish. Near the finish, as we were both highly fatigued, I tried to ride a technical ledge and we lost it. The drop was about six feet, but could quickly turn into 30+ if a clean landing wasn't made. Surprisingly we both made it off, landed on our feet, and didn't go down the hill. Close call. Earlier in the day we seen a guy walking out with a broken wrist. This trail rarely gives a break, but we were lucky. When we made it off the trail and back to camp, we were exhausted. It was time to eat everything in the van.
For the final two days of spring break we moved from Moab Utah to Fruita Colorado, just up river about 60 miles. Here we spent two days on some of the best tandem capable trails around. My second and third favorite trails of all time are located here. Number 1 is Fisher Creek in central Idaho where we were married! Our favorite Fruita trails are Joe's Ridge and Kessel Run. Each consist of a 5-6 mile loop, so you can ride each a couple of times in a day which is what we did on each of our last two days. The trails are 100% single track with lots of dips and turns. No time to relax! Here are a couple of videos of our descent. If you only watch one, watch the second half of Joe's Ridge video.
Joe's Ridge
Kessel Run

The Hikes

One of the fun parts about Moab is that there are many great hikes available. Our first hike was the morning that we rode Porcupine Rim. Knowing that we had a big ride, we chose a short hike, about 4 miles. This hike took us to Bow tie and Corona arch. These aren't actually inside Arches National Park, just nearby. The trail climbs up through desert cactus and finishes crossing slick rock. The two arches are near the end. Its a great short hike.
Corona Arch. Near Moab.
One of our favorite hikes is Klondike Bluffs. This hike is at the far end of Arches National Park down an 8 mile gravel road so it receives little traffic. The trail climbs up a series of rocky ledges, crosses a sandy shrub plateau, then ends at Tower Arch. From there you can explore a number of slot canyons and rock fins, before returning via the same route in. Today we would see a Golden Eagle perched on one of the bluffs, then flying over being harassed by ravens. A group of Pinyon Jays flew close by. A lone Loggerhead Shrike was looking for a lizard meal, a pair of Says Phoebe flycatched for us, then my first ever Juniper Titmouse proclaimed his territory by singing from tree to tree. We had hoped for a Collared Lizard but there were none to be seen. Many other lizards though.
Tower Arch. Arches National Park.

Juniper Titmouse. Klondike Bluffs. Arches National Park.
Another favorite hike of ours, and apparently many other people, is Negro Bill Canyon. This trail is close to town and gets a lot of traffic. The trail ends at Morning Glory arch. We once repelled off of this arch many years ago. It was fun to return to and partially relive this experience.
Negro Bill Canyon. Near Moab.
How many great recommendations can I make? The most fun we had on a hike this time was the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park. To enter this area you must stop and pay extra for a special permit. They do everything they can to discourage you. This is a jumbled maze with no trails, do you still want to go? Yes. Navigation is difficult, GPSs do not work, and a rescue can take more than 4 hours. Do you still want to go? Yes. You must now watch a video... Anyway, it is a fantastic maze of slot canyons. We had been in it before with a guide, but it was much better exploring on our own. We only saw one other group near the entrance. The rest of the time, we were all alone. The maze seemed endless. We spent nearly 3 hours in there exploring, and yes I was able to navigate back out again. It was a blast.
Fiery Furnace. Arches National Park.

Karyn in slot canyon. Fiery Furnace. Arches National Park.
I performed a web search for birding hotspots near Moab before leaving on the trip. One of the places they recommended was a wetland on the outskirts of town called Matheson Wetland. We ended up going there 3 times. It was a great short trail system where we saw lots of interesting things - birds, deer, snakes, mice, etc. The first night was spotted a Cooper's Hawk hunting low through the trees. During the short loop we saw him/her three times. Clearly hunting for a meal. We wished him well.
Mule Deer. Matheson Wetlands. Moab.
Up river from Moab are the Fisher Towers. This short hike provides great views of the towers and of the surrounding landscape. On our hike we would see a male and female Peregrine Falcon circling the towers then landing on the ridge above. Very Cool! Hopefully in a matter of months there will be a new generation circling the towers as well.

The Drunks

In Moab we found ourselves nested between two groups of Idahoans in the campground. One couple was extremely nice. I spent an evening playing guitar around their campfire. It ends up that his brother is an ex-captain at the Boise fire department who we used to rent a McCall condo from. The other camp would represent a much more questionable side of Idaho. One night this group of drunks threw quite a party. They sat around, music cranked, and partied late into the night. Getting louder and louder, drink by drink. The evening started with stories of spotlighting rabbits in the desert, killing as many as they could in a single night. This moved on to comparing stories of visiting prostitutes. It got even more classier when all the men started to tell the only women in the group that they all wanted to have sex with her. Of course, their language wasn't quite as clean as that. Her husband wasn't even phased. Very classy. It only got better as one of them was throwing up outside their tent at 4am. We hoped they would be too hung over to party the next night. Apparently they were, it was quiet all night.
In between all of this we spent a number of hours birding other areas. Fruita offered much more varied terrain and many more birds. I was able to add a Western Scrub-jay in addition to the Juniper Titmouse mentioned earlier to my life list. Not bad. In all we had a great time. We weren't able to ride as much as planned, but we made up for it for more hikes. In the end, we made it home very tired. It was a successful spring break. Tomorrow I return to school for the last 5 week push to graduation.