Landing in Lander again: 2015 Field Season

Red Canyon, near Lander Wyoming

We are at it again folks. We’ve left California’s balmy winter weather and are once again freezing our tail feathers off in Wyoming. For Gail this is now year 10 for sage-grouse work in the area. For Ryane, Gail’s Ph.D student, it is her first time at Chicken Camp.

So what brings us out this year? The answer is some of the same questions that brought us out last year. I’ll have more details on our research questions as the field season progresses, but the short of it is we want to study the links between what a male sage-grouse eats and how he forages off the lek, and how that relates to the kind of show he can put on and the decisions he makes on the lek. This will involve putting Fitbit like devices on the birds to figure out where they go and when they are actually eating, then going out and collecting some of the plants they were eating to figure out how their diet compares to other males. We can then measure their courtship chops on the lek by watching them interact with real females or with one of our “fembot” robotic females.

If you want a refresher about sage-grouse and their fascinating breeding system, check out a previous post describing what a lek is all about.

On with the adventure…

Right now we are still in the set-up stage.  With the help of several other Patricelli lab members (thank you Dustin, Mary, and Alli), we packed our vehicles with research gear and drove out from Davis. As trips go it was pretty uneventful– blue skies and clear roads for the whole trip. As we pulled into Lander, we came across a large herd of elk near the top of Red Canyon.

Chaining up.

Getting four trailers (two travel trailers, an equipment trailer, and a leased office trailer) out to our field site always seems simple in principle. Yet somehow it is always a much longer process than one would think. Our first full day in Lander ended with just the main travel trailer up the hill to Chicken Camp- between unloading some gear from the trailer, hitching up, driving it to an RV park to flush out the antifreeze, unhitching, hitching up again, chaining up for the somewhat snowy road, and then finally getting it in place and leveling, it is quite a process! This is one of the dirty little secrets that nature programs don’t tell you– the logistics of doing field work are a story to themselves.

Gail's new digs...

Gail’s new trailer joined the Trailbag yesterday, and today we got the office trailer delivered from Casper on the first try. Often there are high winds that prevent delivery, sometimes for several days. It seems like when we give ourselves a few extra days in case there is a delay we don’t end up needing the buffer, but when we cut it too close then we get the stretch of bad weather as we did last year.



The main thing we have been battling this time around is the bitter cold. Temperatures have been in the teens so far so it’s made all the loading and unloading pretty unpleasant.  On day 2 I was smart enough to put on rain pants after having my soaked jeans freeze solid on day 1. The cold has affected our trailer too. The water pump isn’t working right now. I guess of the amenities we have, losing water faucets is not a big deal as long as we have heat and electricity. We have two or three days to get that sorted out, and also to unpack, before our crew arrives.

For the next update, hopefully we will have some news from the leks!

New Section: Popular Science

I’ve added a new section under the Resources tab: Popular Science. I get questions about the kinds of things I look at, or just generally where to turn for popular science information. I’ll start to collect links on this page. Right now the breakdown will be:

  • Magazines
  • Blogs and Websites
  • Video
  • Radio/Podcast
  • Humor and Other

This is still a work in progress, so I will periodically add more content. Check back from time to time, and if there’s something missing or you want to provide an endorsement let me know!

2015 Field Positions: Filled

A quick announcement that as of this morning we have filled all of our available technician spots for the 2015 sage-grouse season. Thank you to all the applicants (approximately 60 in all, and one of the most competitive fields we have had), and to all the references who provided valuable input during the hiring process.

If all goes well, we will be doing it again next year, so look for our ad again in November for the 2016 season.

“Swish” Paper out!

The paper on the sage-grouse mechanical sounds led by Rebecca Koch is now out in the journal The Auk: Ornithological Advances. Becca was one of our star undergrads, and the manuscript stemmed from her honors thesis in the lab. She is now a graduate student with Goeff Hill at Auburn University. The paper was published open access, meaning anyone can download the paper without needing a personal or institutional subscription to the journal. There’s also a nice editorial write-up by the journal.

Now on Twitter!

I’ve finally joined Twitter! I’m looking forward to seeing what I’ve been missing in the twitter world, and hopefully taking advantage of some of the benefits of twitter membership. I was considering joining for a long time. What finally tipped me over the edge was a Condé Nast Traveler article someone sent me describing how someone was able to recover their lost luggage just by tweeting the airlines.

At this time, I see this as being a hybrid account where I can share professional updates and other scientific happenings, as well as items of personal interest. We’ll see how that goes, as up to this point I have not been a particularly high-volume producer of content either professionally here on my blog or personally on private my private social media accounts.

Boringly enough, my twitter handle is @alan_krakauer

Feel free to share any advice for twitter novices, either academic or otherwise. Or I guess just tweet ‘em to me!