UCLA Campus in 1929, shortly after its inception
I’ve been birding on the UCLA campus – often with friends, often by myself – since I arrived here to start my PhD in 2012. Quality bird habitat on campus is fairly patchily distributed these days. There’s the Mildred E. Mathias botanical garden, which hosts the highest diversity of birds; there’s Sage hill, which is the most natural chunk of chaparral remaining on campus; and there are bits and pieces of shrubbery and trees scattered elsewhere.
But of course, it wasn’t always this way. The campus, at its inception in 1926, was mostly a patchwork of fields, oaks, chaparral and arroyos. The bird community it hosted included about a dozen species that are currently absent from campus: species like the Greater Roadrunner, California Quail, California Thrasher, and Burrowing Owls. How do I know this? Because an early professor at the campus, Dr. Loye Miller, wrote a book about the birds of campus, a book that now serves as an invaluable record of the early campus avifauna.
My friends and I have now updated Dr. Miller’s observations, by surveying the birds of campus over the past year and a half. The results of our surveys, which documented numerous conspicuous changes to the campus avifauna, have now been published in the Western Tanager, the publication of the Los Angeles Audubon Society. You can find the article here. Continue reading
On Wednesday evening, I had the opportunity to give a talk about my research to a meeting of ornithologists from across Southern California.
The Taylor lab has a new paper out in the journal Bioacoustics, called “Sensitivity of California Thrashers (Toxostoma redivivum) to song syntax”. The paper summarizes playback experiments aimed at examining the responses of California Thrashers to normal song sequences and sequences whose order had been randomly permuted. My role as third author was primarily in the design of experiments, the construction of playback sequences, and helping write and edit the manuscript. Click here for a brief summary, and read on for a brief summary of the findings. Continue reading
I just received word that a paper, on which I am the third author, has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Robotics and Mechatronics [edit: the paper has now been published and can be found here]. The paper is entitled “HARKBird: Exploring acoustic interactions in bird communities using a microphone array”, and presents a new software/hardware system to extract information regarding the direction-of-arrival of sounds into a set of microphones (see picture on right, which is a Microcone containing seven microphones). Continue reading
Last Monday, I had the pleasure of helping out with another BioBlitz at Stunt Ranch – this time with a twist! Students from the AP Environmental Studies class at Reseda Senior High School came out, and trekked around the field station identifying any and all plants and animals they came across. To introduce them to another approach to biological sampling, we had them collect soil samples which will later be scanned for Environmental DNA (eDNA). Continue reading
I had the pleasure of visiting St. John’s Newfoundland for three days this past week. The primary reason for my trip was to accompany my fiancee as she went for a job interview at the university. I was lucky enough to be invited by Dave Wilson to give a talk at their weekly Friday afternoon Biology seminar series. My talk was entitled “The unwritten rules of bird song: understanding syntax and its role in vocal interactions in Cassin’s Vireo (Vireo cassinii). Continue reading
On Friday, I got my first official confirmation that my PhD has been awarded! My dissertation is called “Song syntax and singing behavior of Cassin’s Vireo (Vireo cassinii)”, and outlined my four years of intense study of the singing of this species.
The dissertation is currently embargoed for six months, and will then be freely disseminated on the internet through the online dissertation database called ProQuest.
I spent last week in Washington DC, where I attended and gave a talk at the North American Ornithological Conference. This conference was the largest ornithological conference ever, and was full of fascinating science and interesting people. Continue reading
Cassin’s Vireo wearing a geolocator “backpack” to track its migration.
This year, thanks to generous funding from the George A. Bartholomew Fellowship, the UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science, and the Sea and Sage Audubon Society, I have been able to start a research project to study the migratory behavior of Cassin’s Vireo. Continue reading
On April 11, I finally started my 2016 field season. It seems, however, that the Cassin’s Vireos didn’t get the memo. Where in previous years, my field season had about a dozen birds (13 in 2014 and 11 in 2015), this year the population has plummeted to just five males. [Update: as of early May, more birds have arrived – approximately 11 males, in line with previous years]
This has allowed me to switch gears a bit, focusing my efforts instead on Black-headed Grosbeaks. Continue reading