So, I've already been here in Pipestone National Monument, MN at my first internship for a few weeks now (first day was May 26th) but didn't really think about doing a blog until recently. I'll just give you a short run down of what I'm doing here. I am employed by a girl named Sarah Rehme through the University of Nebraska Lincoln. I am employed as one of two people (Arjun Potter is the name of the guy with me, he is 19) at her Pipestone location for her Masters thesis project. There are three different sites, that started all at different times. There is a site at Tallgrass, KS, and one at Homestead National Monument, NE. We have three target species: Western/Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Dickcissel. These three were chosen because they are species that are starting to decline in grassland habitats, and because these three species are at each of the three locations. Sarah wants to find out, by testing stable isotopes, if the birds are coming back to the same place to breed each year. How this works is, what a bird eats/drinks in certain areas as specific properties, which are incorporated into the body of the bird. Now, the birds molt after breeding, thus growing new feathers in the region that they bred in. The properties of that region are then incorporated into the feathers, which after grown do not change (whereas blood does change). So, by taking blood and feather samples of target species and comparing them, if the blood matches the feather samples, then the bird is returning to the same place to breed. This would show that maintaining wild prairie land is important for the function if not survival of these species.
There, now you know the background. :) I will be here until August 4th, when I then fly back out of Omaha. If anyone is curious, my address is:
202 2nd Ave SW Apt 11H
Pipestone, MN 56164
As far as what we do, the first and last few weeks of our time here we did/will do point count surveys in the mornings between 6:00 and 10:30 where find our respective points around the park and stand at each for 5 minutes taking note of which birds we see/hear, what they are doing (flying/ carrying nest material...), how far away are they (for this we have distance finders), and if it was a group, how many. During these first and last few weeks, in the afternoons we also did/will do vegetation surveys of each point around the park, of which there are 58. We use a Robel pole (a long pole that has 2 decimeter long stripes in white, red, and blue all the way up it to 20.0 dm, and has a rope with stick attached to the top) and a Daubenmire square (a square with electrical tape around it in increments) to measure the height (Robel pole) and density (Daubenmire square) of the vegetation at that point. We have finished both of these for the first part of our internship.
Right now we are mist netting in the mornings and nest searching in the afternoons/evenings. For mist netting we put up nets in one area at a time and sit and wait until a bird flies into them, then we carefully get them out, band them, measure their wing and weight, and if they are a target species, take blood and feather samples. so far we've only caught 2 target species (2 grasshopper sparrows) but the 2nd one didn't bleed well enough to get a large enough sample. Then of course we let the bird go. They are all so cute! I'll put up pictures later. For nest searching we drag an extension cord around the fields to see if we can flush a mom off of her nest, then we look for it. I like this part the least, but now we're starting to do it in the evenings when it's not so hot, so it's not as bad. :) We've only found 1 nest by this method, this past Friday, but it was more the bird flew out right beneath me and low and behold there was a nest with 5 eggs about 2 inches away from my leg. :) We then take note how many eggs there are, then candle the eggs to try and tell the age, and so we can figure the rough hatch date. If they are target species we will band the chicks and take a feather sample when they are large enough to do so. It is actually a myth that a bird won't come back to the nest if you've touched it, it's more that you shouldn't touch the nest much cause then it'll be easier for a predator to find. Because of this, we check the nests every 3-4 days, and always try to come at the nest from a different direction, and handle the eggs as little as possible. So far we've found 5 nests, 2 of which were depredated, and one was abandoned (we think even before we found it). Well, that's about all as far as the general stuff, I'll write more about day to day stuff later.