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Checking in from Monterey County

Posted by Brian on March 29, 2017 at 1:10 AM

Three weeks down! Everything’s gone as planned thus far (that often doesn’t happen working with nature), and I’m currently in Monterey. The ticks out here are ridiculous. I pulled five of them off of me this morning. There are usually at least one of three nuisances present when working outdoors in coastal California: poison oak, mosquitoes, and ticks. Poison oak will ruin your life for weeks, mosquitoes are some of the most annoying organisms on the planet (and can spread disease), and ticks, to me, are the worst of the worst. There’s nothing quite like an animal that tries to burrow inside your body without your knowledge, drink your blood, and have the courtesy to leave you with an infection or disease before departure. Out of frustration, sometimes when one runs into any of the above in the outdoors, it’s reasonable to wonder what good any of these nuisance organisms are, their roles biologically, and whether the environment is better off without them. Many animals, the California Towhee (Melozone crissalis) for example, form a symbiotic relationship with poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), building its nests among the plants and feeding on the white berries, then spreading the seeds through excrement. Ticks are hated by many, including myself, but they (and mosquitoes) serve as an important food source in most ecosystems. However, one biologist says the extinction of mosquitoes might have no effect at all on the environment. Anyways, back to birds.

Monterey is my fourth stop on the trip thus far-I left San Diego, then sampled in Malibu, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and now Monterey. If I study hybridization in a contact zone between Allen’s (Selasphorus sasin) and Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), what am I doing sampling far away from the hybrid zone? Well, I’m also doing a phylogeographic study on Allen’s Hummingbird. Some organizations such as Partners in Flight claim this species is declining rapidly. Others are skeptical, especially given the fact that the non-migratory subspecies of Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin sedentarius) is currently expanding its range. By sampling Allen’s Hummingbird throughout its range, I’ll be able to quantify whether the species is really in decline or not. With limited conservation dollars available, knowing which species are threatened and which are not is extremely important to prioritization and management decisions. Second, in order to accurately describe behavioral differences between Allen’s and Rufous Hummingbird, and to use these differences to classify and sort out hybrid characteristics, I have to actually know how pure Allen’s Hummingbird behaves across its range to provide a meaningful comparison. This is important for all aspects of my dissertation.

You don’t spend most of your time working and living outdoors during the field season without running into some weird experiences. In Santa Barbara, for example, a full campground woke up in the middle of the night to a homeless couple screaming, shouting, and fighting at the top of their lungs, followed immediately by a drunk driver crashing his car into a tree. In San Luis Obispo, somebody seriously asked me to catch a hummingbird for her as a pet, and assumed that’s what I was doing there in the first place. I face-palmed pretty big on that one. Hummingbirds need more than sugar water/nectar to survive…they need protein! Insects make up a huge portion of their diet-hummingbirds are predators too! Finally, some advice: don’t book several nights in a campground built next to a railroad tracks with trains that run all night.

I’ve also added some pictures to the photo gallery. Thanks to Megan and Chris for letting me stay at their place in San Luis Obispo last week, and thanks for checking in!

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1 Comment

Reply Eileen
8:30 PM on April 1, 2017 
Lmao!! I want a hummingbird too!! Sounds pretty interesting and crazy. Make sure to buy insect repellent and stay safe. Can't wait for more updates.