The snow is gone, the solar radiation has increased to levels high enough to turn me into a human lobster, and, best of all, the shorebirds are returning to northeastern British Columbia! The return of the shorebirds heralds the beginning of my summer neoichnology field work.
Neoichnology is the study of tracks made by extant animals. One of my research activities involves building a representative collection of shorebird (and other bird) tracks from the region. This year I am able to get an early start (for this region) on collecting data. Yesterday I made my first research foray of the year (as opposed to surveys for the return of shorebirds) into Bullmoose Marshes (thanks to the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society) to test a prototype of a Super Secret Awesome Track-Collecting Device.
Okay, it's really a piece of foam covered in mud. Super Secret Awesome Track-Collecting Device sounds much more exciting, doesn't it?
In the spring and early summer, when the water levels are still high in the marsh, the shorebirds go about their usual business of foraging and displaying along the submerged shorelines, except that their usual activities tend to not leave tracks. They also enjoy perching on partially submerged logs - again, not a substrate on which tracks usually impress.
The shorebirds that have first returned to the marshes this year are the Solitary Sandpipers.
|This is why I need a telephoto lens.|
|Meet my quarry - the Solitary Sandpipers!|
Step 1 - Gather your equipment:
- One piece of 5cm thick, high density polystyrene foam
- One stick
- A sharp knife
- Nylon rope, at least several meters long (depends on how much free water is available at the study area)
- A five gallon bucket
- A shovel
- At least one field assistant to take photos of their boss flolloping around in the mud (I brought both our field assistant and our summer education coordinator for an afternoon of birding)
|All of the gear loaded into the back of Dagon, my trusty steed. There is enough material here for two stages.|
Step 2 - Attach the mooring rope to the foam stage. Obviously I will want to be able to pull in the stage after (if) I see shorebirds walk on its surface. I cut a hole completely through the foam. I tied one end of the mooring rope on the stick mid-length. (Make sure to clean up all the foam bits, or pre-cut in the lab.)
|Please, well-meaning tourists. Do not untie my stages. (I camouflaged the rope.) Also, please, well-meaning muskrats. Do not chew through my mooring ropes.|
|It's like icing a swampy-smelling cake. The entire surface is coated with the local substrate.|
|It's a bit late, but this is my offering to #ManicureMonday.|
I double-checked that the mooring rope was firmly attached to the dock, and then sent the stage out for its maiden voyage into the marsh.
|It's still floating!|
On the way to check the first stage we set afloat for feathered visitors, we found a small exposure of marsh mud. Solitary Sandpiper tracks were preserved! (Note: Solitary Sandpipers are the first shorebirds to return to the marshes this year, and so far there have been no sightings of the Greater or Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, or the dowitchers.)
|How many prints do you see here?|
|In-progress plaster casts of the Solitary Sandpiper footprints.|
Tomorrow I'll revisit the stages and check them for prints. Hopefully I'll be able to report that the stages were attractive to the birds and well-used!
UPDATE 21-05-2014: Success! The floating stage at the end of the Sora Trail was not only used by at least one Solitary Sandpiper, but it was foraged on! The prints were very shallow, so I opted to take a series of 189 photogrammetry images (which I will begin processing tonight) instead of the replicating the entire surface in plaster. Stay tuned!
|The SS Cthulhu. (Yes, I named my stages using the Lovecraft mythos. It seems fitting, as they are covered with glop.)|
|Solitary Sandpiper prints on the SS Cthulhu.|