Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Automatic Data Collection of Bluebird Activity in Nest Boxes

Caitlin Stern, a graduate student featured in a video in the introduction to the Hastings website, is well into her fourth year of research on the social behavior of the elegant western bluebird. Working with electronic wizards at Cornell, Caitlin and her field assistants Tali Hammond, Rose Swift, and David Moldoff, and REU student Amy Lin have been building and installing tracking devices around the entrance hole of the nest boxes used by the bluebirds. This includes a loop antenna, a datalogger and a battery. Each bird has a small RFID tag attached to the leg band. Every time the bird enters or leaves the nest box, the loop detects the bird and the identifying code for the bird is recorded on a digital datalogger in a box below the nest. A small battery powers the datalogger and detector circuit. Each set up last for about 2 weeks. Dataloggers can be downloaded either in the field with a cable to a laptop, or in the lab.

This setup allows an unprecedented look into which birds are spending time at the nest boxes, revealing which birds are present during the early breeding, nest construction, egg-laying and brooding, and the critical, busy time of feeding hatchlings in the nest. Using her advisor Janis Dickinson's long-term database developed over years of bird banding here, Caitlin often has information on the age and relationships of the birds at each nest. With over 20 installed, the data are flowing in, and over the next winter Caitlin will be extracting the secrets revealed and writing up the data into her Ph.D. dissertation.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Butterfly Count 2011
Our 14th count, Jerry Powell, UC Berkeley Emeritus Professor, organized us once again. This year we had several new faces, including Ryan Hill (faculty, U. of Pacific, Stockton) and Nick Benson (Carmel Middle School, 8th grade). We split up into a group on Hastings (Arnold Road, Robertson Creek, Headquarters, ridge above Robertson House), Arroy Seco (Carmel Valley Road to Arroyo Seco campground, Indians Road) and Chew's Ridge (Tassajara Road to fire lookout). We saw 47 species (48 is all-time high) but very few (like 1-2) of many species. Very low numbers of butterflies were reported at Big Creek Reserve in the Big Sur area last week. For a pretty long-winded description of the highlights, click here (1.2Mb Word file). Nick Benson's knowledge of the insects was very impressive and he was a great help to the Hastings crew; Nick saw or collected 25% of the species observations. We saw 24 species on Hastings (about average) but like elsewhere, we saw very few individuals of many species that are usually very abundant. This may be related to the long, cold, wet spring. Some were very abundant (Lorquin's Admiral) and the highlight on Hastings was the emerald Coastal Green Hairstreak on the ridge above the Robertson House.

Lorquin's Admiral
View down the Arnold Road
Nick Benson, Jerry Powell, Walter Benson.
2011 Butterfly Counters....

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Culvert on Robertson Road
Our Ford tractor was at the shop in Salinas for over two weeks as they struggled to find a way to fix the power take off which powers our backhoe and mower. Eventually the tech there figured it out and with a much lighter wallet, it returned. Jame del Valle grabbed it and with help from Eric Walters, they replaced a failed culvert on the historic original dirt section of the Carmel Valley Road between the School House and Robertson House. We put in a 20' plastic culvert and trust it holds out for many more years.

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Cement Springs Camera Update
Images from April to June are now in and we have a pair of lions up there. Probably a female and cub. And we have chipmunks, skunks, band-tailed pigeons, deer, bats (white ghost-like images), wood rat, cedar wax wings, and much more. You can see the animals by moving through a movie,one frame at a time. We recorded 570 new images, and the movie includes 109 images. For a Quicktime movie (60Mb), click here, or for a .m4v movie (40Mb) click here. The camera does not move. Well, it moved once, but after that, the scene is fixed and only the lighting changes.