this week had a few uneventful days due to poor weather unsuitable for fieldwork.
monday: emma and i went to two rhode island beaches: second beach and napatree point, to look for piping plover nests.
the piping plover is listed as threatened in rhode island, apparently partly due to its popularity in the 19th century as a source of decorative feathers for women’s hats, which i find odd, since it’s not a particularly colorful bird.
compared to saltmarsh sparrow males, piping plover males are much more active fathers. they make depressions in beaches called scrapes, often following the contours of natural objects like branches or seaweed, and the females pick one for their nest.
both males and females actively defend their nests to the extent of their little fluffy abilities, which consists of whistling shrilly and faking a broken wing as a distraction. we used the defensive behavior of the birds to tell when we were near a nest; they’re virtually impossible to find otherwise. even when i was six feet away from one, it was still hard to pick the eggs out from the smooth pebbles scattered across the shoreline.
wednesday: we assisted adam and megan, two phd students at the university of rhode island, with mist netting birds near trustom pond.
i was unqualified to take birds out of nets or band them, so i just carried birds around and helped record data. i was amused to find out that netted birds are stored in drawstring bags and carried around clothes-pinned to one’s body.
we saw mostly redwing blackbirds, song sparrows, common yellowthroats, and catbirds, but found a couple of birds uncommon to mist nets as well.
the information adam measured included some data i expected, like age and weight, but also some that i had no idea were important, like skull development, fat, the presence/size of a brood patch (for females), and the extent of cloacal protuberance (for males). these latter features can only be determined through blowing on the bird to see under their feathers, which i imagine must feel strange and uncomfortable for them.
bird extracting from nets/banding/recording is an extensive process, but thanks to adam’s expertise it all went along smoothly, with minimal disturbance to the specimens. after most of them had been released, adam showed me how to hold birds in the photographer’s grip, as shown with the bobolink and kingbird, and the bander’s grip, as shown below:
i hope i get to tag along with adam and megan in the future. not only did i learn a lot about bird id through visual appearance and calls, holding them is fun.