Nature Sounds Society Workshop (Part 1)

Alan La Pointe recording in Sierra Valley

I’ve spent a decade recording sage-grouse pops and whistles, and yet this weekend I felt like a novice. And that’s a good thing! I had the amazing good fortune to be invited to give a talk at the 2017 Nature Sounds Society Field Recording Workshop. This was one of the first times I’ve gotten to interact with serious nature recordists. I’m talking about people who sweat the details of getting the gear and technique right to capture what it feels like to be somewhere else. I’ll freely admit that I’m much more of a data collector, and it was wonderful to spend time with these folks who seem to bring together the best parts of aesthetics, technology, and love of nature.

The workshop, the 33rd of its kind, was held at the Yuba Pass field campus of San Francisco State University (north of Truckee, California). This is a gorgeous field station nestled among towering pines near a rushing river in the Sierra Nevadas. We slept on surprisingly comfortable cots in large tents on raised platforms. Meals and lectures were held in a 2-story main building where our class would mingle with other station users and staff. We had, in my opinion, a perfect combination of amenities: Hot water– Check. Flush toilets– Check. Cell service– Not Available.

Looking up at the Yuba Pass Field Campus

In the evenings, organizers Dan Dugan and Sharon Perry along with tech consultants Greg Weddig and Steve Sergeant helped us test our recording gear to prepare for the next morning. We were also invited to test out and borrow spare equipment. Mauricio Shrader, a birding-by-ear instructor, provided helpful tutorials, on what to listen for while out in the field.

For me, it was really valuable to hear so many perspectives on nature sound recording. Steve Seargent led a roundtable discussion about how best to set up a relationship with a state or national park and provide valuable services in documenting their soundscapes. Jim Metzner, host of Pulse of the Planet, shared several enchanting clips from his decades of travel and interviews, and gave his perspective on what it meant to capture an audience’s attention and imagination with sound. I spoke about the role of sound in sage-grouse biology and conservation.

As someone who last shopped for audio gear more than a decade ago, the hands on demonstrations were particularly interesting for me. Dan, Greg, and Steve set up a selection of more than a dozen different kinds of microphones, from omni to shotgun to parabolas, along with several stereo rigs. It was so cool to be able to put on headphones and test them all out. Sharon led the apparently famous “Build your own windscreen” workshop too. I’ve now got a shaggy shotgun windscreen that looks like a cross between an opossum and a giant hotdog!

Lupines dot the ground around the field campus buildings

Of course most of the best parts were getting out to some beautiful spots to record. I’ll talk about that in Part 2.

Photo Credits

Photo: Gail Patricelli

I’ll use this page to attempt to maintain this as a list of photos that have been picked up by various media outlets and non-profits. Most of these appear on my Flickr account. Most are available for non-commercial use (check the license), so if you see something you’d like to use, please let me know!

Sage-grouse Photos

Center for Biological Diversity

Boise State Public Radio [here, here, here]

Yale Environment 360.

Nature Conservancy Blog [here , here]

National Audubon Society Action alert [here]

Other Photos

Golden Gate Audubon 2015-2016 Annual Report

Berkeleyside [here, here]

KQED Quest

Super-moon photo sent to BLM-Wyoming, National BLM, and Department of Interior. instagram accounts.

East Richmond Heights Art and Music Festival 2017, 2018.

California Raptor Center

Summer 2016 Undergraduate Research Opportunities

I spend most of my time on this blog talking about the ups and downs of the field research we conduct in Wyoming. None of it would be worth the time and effort if it weren’t for the dedication of many great UC Davis undergraduates who have help advance the projects over the years. As in most years, we have new opportunities starting this summer to help collect behavioral data from the videos of lekking sage-grouse that we recorded in March and April. Note that we hope people will continue with us into the fall and beyond! Keep reading for more information.

If interested, please email me at ahkrakauer [at] ucdavis [dot] edu   and I can let you know when the next information sessions will be.

Our lab is conducting field studies near Lander, Wyoming, focused on the behavior of a threatened bird called the greater sage-grouse.  Our work investigates how females choose their mates, the importance skills and responsiveness during courtship interactions, and what factors (social, foraging) go into the decisions males make when courting females. These studies provide general insights into evolutionary biology, animal behavior, and ecology, and also inform conservation efforts. Specific questions may include determining male mating success, characterizing male and female behaviors and responsiveness during courtship, identifying and analyizing courtship sounds, and measuring how males court a robotic female during experimental trials. Most opportunities we are advertising involve collecting data from video.  Most students begin by collecting data to support one of these larger questions, and may move into more independent projects in the future.

see our websites for more information:
http://patricellilab.faculty.ucdavis.edu/gail-patricelli/
http://www.alankrakauer.org/

Answers to a few common questions I’ve received:

“I don’t have any experience- is that OK?”
**That’s fine. Everyone begins with a training set before collecting data, so no experience necessary. All we require is basic computer literacy (e.g. some familiarity with MS Excel), focus, and attention to detail.

“Can I get paid for this?”
**Unfortunately this is a volunteer opportunity, and not paid.  Course credit is available, however, and we can be flexible as to how it is assigned (for example, if you do not want to pay for research units over the summer, we can keep track of the hours and you can apply them to your research hours during the fall).  One (1) research credit is about equal to 5hr/week during a summer session or 3hr/week during a regular quarter. Transcript Notation requires 40 hours.

“How many hours per week do you need?”
**We ask for a commitment of between ~6 and 15 hours per week.  You will need to dedicate between 2 and 3 hours per session. These hours can be any time Storer Hall is open, which is about 7:30AM until 6PM M-F. Please ask if you anticiapte needing to come in outside of these times.

“What if I’m only here for the summer?”
**While we would prefer students who could join the lab for more than one quarter, you are welcome to contact us if you can only dedicate a single quarter (or summer) to research. Our ability to support this type of contribution will depend on project availability and the number of other students interested in joining the lab. Note that if you are interested in developing more independent projects with us, we do ask for more than one quarter of commitment.

“How do you choose among the applicants”
**So far we usually have been fortunate to accept everyone who was interested in working here; hopefully that will be true this year as well. Most of the positions we offer do not require previous experience. Interest in the subject matter, scheduling, and willingness to work for more than one quarter are all plusses.

“I would like to do a practicum/thesis/honors challenge. Can I do this here?”
**Possibly. We have had a number of fantastic students conduct capstone experiences here in the lab, some of which have led to scientific presentations and journal articles. Often students start on the more general projects and get their feet wet in the lab for one or more quarters before starting a more independent project. If we don’t already know you, then you’ll need to talk to Dr. Patricelli about a more advanced project first. We can not always guarantee that we have an appropriate project available.

We’d like to meet with interested students.  At this time we will give you more details about our overall research projects and where you might fit into this.   In the mean time, can you tell us more about yourself (you may have already told me in your initial email but this will help me organize everything).  Thanks!

Name
Phone Number
Email

Year in School
Major
Relevant Courses

Briefly describe any previous research experience

Briefly describe how this would fit into your long-term goals (grad school, etc)

Can you work both Summer Session 1 and 2?

How many hours/week would you want to work this fall?

Are you interested in continuing to work this winter/spring?

Given the choice, are you more interested in:
Evolution/Behavioral Ecology
Conservation Biology/Ecology

Further Adventures from Laketown

I’m sitting in our main trailer listening to the rain patter down. It is a rainy Sunday, and we are probably ½ of the way done with packing and clean up. Grouse season is over for us. Andre and Jessica have left for their next adventures, and we’ve literally pulled up stakes and folded our tents.

 

It was a fun and productive last week. We got a few days’ respite from precipitation and were able to squeeze in some last experiments for Ryane’s project. The crew also finished their last vegetation sampling day- against all odds they actually completed samples at all eight of our target leks. Gail and Holly Copeland continued their Sisyphean struggle to get useful noise regulations for sage-grouse habitat in place, and spent a day with some Red Desert Audubon folks teaching 4th graders about birds and what it’s like being a sage-grouse biologist.

Castle Garden Eaglet

On the fun side, we watched the sun set from the 360 panoramic view at Nine Mile Hill, made the annual pilgrimage to the petroglyph area at Castle Gardens in the Gas Hills, and watched The Sagebrush Sea on Stan’s giant TV while eating moose burgers and ice cream. It was an epic week for eating, as we also worked in a salmon chowder from Jessica’s cache of Alaskan salmon, dinner at Cowfish thanks to Ryane’s mother Patti (thanks Patti!), and the end-of-season ‘thank you’ dinner from Gail at Svilar’s in Hudson. And one last pan of my famous buttermilk biscuits too!

Cool folks in a cool room on a hot day

 

Cottontail remained an adventure until the end. Experiments on the left (west) side of the lek remained impossible due to the high water level. Even if we could rig Salt and Peppa to be amphibious, the birds in those areas were all forced from their territories. Many of them simply moved away from the water, and we found them squabbling for new territories above the water line. Others disappeared, and one banded male even showed up on the upper lek.

Sage-grouse contemplating his flooded territory

We got GPS points for the stakes we could get to, and even retrieving the stakes was a bit of an adventure!

Ryane wading out into the mucky water to retrieve our grid stakes and signs

 

The high water did lead to some interesting photo opportunities though!

Trailcams are blowing my mind!

Sunset, another time when the grouse may be courting!

I LOVE that I can still be surprised by the sage-grouse even after 10 years out here. Sometimes it is just a matter of luck, as in having a particularly wet spring and seeing Cottontail lek disappear under the rising waters of the reservoir at the far end of the valley.

Sometimes the surprise comes from a change in our perspective– in the tools we use to observe the birds and the questions we are asking. For example, we just watch birds on the lek in the morning. We know the birds typically arrive just as the eastern sky is starting to brighten, and hang out on the lek for some length of time depending on weather, number of females, etc. Then they go foraging. Our assumption was that very occasionally the birds come in at dusk, and we know that typically around the full moon males will congregate on the lek at night and potentially be displaying for much of the night (they often leave earlier in the morning at that time as if they’ve been working hard under the light of the moon). That pretty much sums up our somewhat naive understanding of the timing of sage-grouse lekking activity.

Trailcams allow monitoring around the clock in all kinds of weather

Thanks to five trailcams on loan from Tim Vosburgh, a biologist with the BLM office in Lander, we are now getting a much more systematic view of when males are present on the lek. We will need some time to go through all the thousands of photos we are getting, but we’ve found a few surprising things already:

Two males at Monument Lek already in a territorial dispute at 6PM

1)   Evening lek attendance can begin a lot earlier than we thought. We thought based on a couple of encounters with birds at dusk that males would not come in until well after the sun went down. Not so! We’ve had some really cloudy afternoons and have had males on before 6PM.

Almost all leks had displaying males after 8PM

2)   Evening lek attendance is very common. I just looked through a sample from about a week of activity from three leks, and I think males were present in the PM pretty much every day on each lek.

3)   (Pending more data) Evening lek activity seems pretty synchronized across leks. My suspicion before was that it might be driven by random attendance of a few males that would then spur more males to join. I was expecting to find patterns where one lek would be active and another would be empty. Based on my quick scan through the photos, I think males on leks may be pretty consistent in how they respond to environmental cues such as precipitation, wind, and cloud cover.

This is a very limited sample of leks right now, and mostly around the full moon. Hopefully next year we can start monitoring more leks and start at the beginning of the season.

And for fun, a couple of other lek visitors: