Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Bird Glamour and Scicomm: The Almost One Year Review

Hello Dear Readers!

I'm not going to try to gloss over the situation, but March and April have been less than glamorous. The District of Tumbler Ridge denied the annual operational funding request of our parent organization, the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, because...well, I'm not really sure why Dear Readers. The reasons we are given (and that are stated in the media) keep changing in moving goalpost fashion. There's potential for a "because...Reasons" meme here. So, I'm sitting here with a termination notice in my pocket (the TRMF had no choice but to issue all of its employees, including me, the notices.) I'm not done writing about this, but that will be a future post, and one filled with more information than the "because...Reasons" that we have been given. Stay tuned.

This development happened in conjunction with a series of talks me and my colleague Dr. Richard McCrea gave in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. First, we helped open the Beaty Biodiversity Museum's newest permanent exhibit Footprints In Time (link to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum website here) on the University of British Columbia campus. This was an excellent partnership: we made the trackway replicas, and then worked with their display and scicomm team to create the interpretive text. The displays look spectacular! Below is a picture of one of the trackway replicas, a 130 million-year-old track slab from northeast British Columbia that contains the natural cast (track infills) trackways of a large theropod (likely an allosaurid) and an ornithopod (likely similar in size and shape to Iguanodon.) That evening Rich gave a talk on dinosaur tracks from British Columbia (with a focus on the Six Peaks Dinosaur Track Site, follow the link for our YouTube video) for the Beaty Biodiversity Museum's Nocturnal lecture series.
One of three dinosaur trackway slab replicas (original specimens currently curated at the PRPRC) now on display at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on the University of British Columbia campus!
I gave four talks over two days at Science World in Vancouver (that may also be the subject of a future post), and then I gave a presentation on what we know about dinosaur behavior from tracks and traces (a.k.a. ichnology) for the Beaty Biodiversity Museum's "Way Cool" series. Then we gave talks on track research in British Columbia in Courtenay for the Vancouver Island Paleontological Society.


I can now talk about the subject of this post, which is my reflections on my almost one year anniversary of when #BirdGlamour took flight! Bird Glamour is a scicomm and sciart project that I developed to introduce people to the wonderful diversity and life history of our present-day theropods, a.k.a. birds, using a rather unconventional medium...COSMETICS!

My most recent #BirdGlamour is the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)!
Each Bird Glamour post comes with a cool fact about the life history of the subject bird, ranging from migration to food preferences to feather pigments: basically, any tidbit of information that I think people would connect with. I launched Bird Glamour on June 9, 2017, with a very simple post.
To be honest, I had no idea how the linking of ornithology with cosmetics would be received. Some people in science are not exactly open to the idea of Science Selfies; however, read the strong rebuttal to this on the blog From The Lab Bench entitled "Why We Scientists Do Instagram." My concerns were unfounded. Bird Glamour is a hit!

There have been great highlights in the short life of Bird Glamour. One was my first video tutorial, developed with Audubon, for a Halloween-themed Bohemian Waxwing Bird Glamour!

I was also asked to do a promotional Bird Glamour for The Urban Interface, a non-profit wildlife and nature education center. They have lovely wildlife Ambassadors for which they care and train for educational purposes. Their Ambassador Pandora, a Swainson's Hawk, is a lovely Bird Glamour model.
Now that I'm nearing the one-year Glamour-versary (oh yes, I went there) of Bird Glamour, I wanted to fly a few ideas past Twitter to see if some new styles or techniques would ruffle any feathers. I went to the polls!

1. Most respondents were quite eager to see me migrate to other continents to glam it up!
I definitely agree! There are so many exciting birds and cool bird diversity to explore!

2. In addition to my usual style of Bird Glamour, people are interested in seeing me do makeup tutorials while I chirp about the bird being glamoured!
YouTube will be a new adventure for me. I'll admit that I feel nervous on camera. I also recognize that I shouldn't feel this way: I've been interviewed many times for documentaries and media. I'm hoping this nervous feeling will fade with familiarity.

3. There is interest to see how these Bird Glamour looks could be transformed to every day looks, or at least a fun evening look!
I will definitely experiment with everyday Bird Glamour looks. I am not an expert in applying cosmetics, so if you're also new to makeup, we can learn (and possibly laugh) together.

4. This poll on incorporating female coloration into Bird Glamour was almost neck-in-turkey-neck. To date, the looks have focused on male plumage (or those birds that have similar male and female plumage).
I agree with keeping the male and female plumage colors separate. However, I will glamour cases of gynandromorphism, the condition where an animal shows both male and female characteristics. Animals with bilateral gynandromorphism look male on one side and female on the opposite side. A recent case of bilateral gynandromorphism that hit the bird news was the gynandromorph Northern Cardinal.

5. My last question involved beak color. Given the array of lipstick colors available, I think people wouldn't mind part of my makeup bill being used for Bird Glamour lipstick!
You'll be proud of me, Bird Glamour fans: I have started acquiring fun lipstick colors!
I also did my first Bird Glamour post that includes lip color: the Herring Gull.
Gulls are the perfect bird for incorporating lips into the Bird Glamour look. Many species of gull have a fairly standard adult head color - grey-white - but there is color variation in the stripes and spots on their beaks!

Reception of Bird Glamour

Online Reception - The sheer number of positive comments and encouragement online is both staggering and humbling. I am thrilled that Bird Glamour speaks to people. Science art (sciart) is a powerful tool in science communication: there's a reason for the saying "A picture is worth a thousand words." Images are a powerful and effective way to transmit complex ideas. The idea of Sketchnoting relies on the information-delivery power of illustrations to highlight key concepts. Using a different style of illustration - makeup - allows me to highlight birds that people might want to know more about.

Bird Glamour also starts some great conversations about bird lives and biology. The most frequently asked question is "Why do so many birds have a black stripe around their eyes?" That's a good question! There was a study done on what the Masked Shrike uses its bold black eyeliner for. Is it to reduce glare for hunting? Does it make the eyes of the shrike appear bold and scary to deter predators? Does it help the shrike camouflage itself for sneak attacks, or hide the eyes so its prey doesn't know it's being watched? When researchers temporarily painted some Masked Shrike's masks from black to white (they Bird Glamoured an actual bird!) the shrikes with white eye masks had more trouble snagging prey and did most of their hunting facing away from the sun. It turns out black eye masks act as sunglasses for birds, at least for Masked Shrikes.

Public Reception - How do people react when they see me in public all Bird Glamoured up? It depends on the setting. I did a Bird Glamour version of the feathered theropod Anchiornis huxleyi, know for its striking black, white, and rusty red plumage, for attending the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Auction.
I had several people who approached me to say they enjoyed the Anchiornis Bird Glamour. There were also some smiling looks, but perhaps starting the conversation of "Hey, why is your makeup like that?" felt too socially awkward for them. I completely understand. Starting conversations with people I don't know is difficult for me as well. Running up to people, waving my arms and shouting "HEY WANT TO TALK ABOUT MY EYES AND ANCHIORNIS?" seems a bit intense, so I need to work on that approach. There were also some unsmiling stares and quick look-aways. That I also understand: Bird Glamour doesn't have to appeal to everyone. Or perhaps they thought I was unprofessional or strange. Well, as my readers and social media friends know, I am strange, but I am completely comfortable with expressing my interests and passions.

Family audiences are very receptive to Bird Glamour. When I did a presentation for families at the Goseong Public Library on Cretaceous bird track types found in both Canada and South Korea, the public reception was great! I had my picture taken with a lot of families! The people in the makeup department at our closest Shoppers are also interested: more than once I've gone in with a picture of a bird and asked "I'm looking for this color. Do you have anything like this?" On seeing some of my Bird Glamour posts, one commented: "Wow, so you're an artist!" That took me by surprise: I have never identified as an artist before. I can pencil sketch with enough accuracy to satisfy my eye, but art is not something that I have ever done professionally. All I could do was stammer for a bit and then say "Huh. Yeah, I guess I am!"

I am planning something super fun for my official one-year Glamour-versary in terms of setting and the bird, and a great bunch of Bird Glamour pictures to share from our West Coast trip.

What birds would you like to see for future Bird Glamour pictures? Do you have a science specialty that would make a great Glamour? Itati (@itatiVCS) has started #EcoGlam #MachineFacts to share how she uses various equipment to do ecology research! I'm going to enjoy following this hashtag!
Stay tuned for more Bird Glamour!

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