With our research in phenology, we are currently most interested in the bookends of the growing and breeding seasons, spring and fall, here in Massachusetts. That leaves the summer which, with the exception of Caitlin working away in Acadia, is our time to catch up on writing, attend conferences, and spend time with our families. With parents and a partner out west, I spent the month of July working from sunny California!
Okay, I actually spent the month in foggy Marin County, at Point Blue Conservation Science's Palomarin field station-- or as many call it, Palo. Palo, like Manomet in Massachusetts, is a long-term monitoring station on the coast; biologists have been banding birds at Palo year-round since 1966. In the breeding season, another group of Palo biologists maps nests and territories of breeding birds on the grounds, even banding nestlings for a long-term genealogical data set. Many of the biologists that do this work are interns, hired on for a season to learn current bird monitoring techniques. That was me, for most of 2011. I loved being an intern at Palo, and in addition to bird ID and bird monitoring, Palo taught me the value of observation and natural history knowledge in conducting good science.
So I returned to Palo this July to live with friends, read and write about phenology, and to do some songbird banding! We opened our mist nets 15 minutes after sunrise and closed them 6 hours later, checking for birds every half hour in between. Palo has 14 net locations that range from coastal scrub habitat to douglas fir forest and now, at the tail end of the breeding season, we were catching lots of recently-hatched birds and adults that were finishing up breeding and just beginning to molt. We caught between 20 and 60 birds most days, primarily Swainson's Thrush, Wilson's Warblers, Song Sparrows, Wrentits, and Selasphorus Hummingbirds. It was great to be back.
Stations like Palo and Manomet help us answer questions about phenology, like whether migratory songbirds are changing their arrival and departure dates over time in response to climate change. And that's the value of long-term monitoring stations-- they help us answer questions that, 40 years ago, we didn't know we would have today.
So, if you ever find yourself in Marin County, I strongly recommend a visit to the Palomarin field station!
(Photographs courtesy Sam Roberts)