From the professor’s perspective…

Over the past month, we have been a bit quiet on social media as our team has transitioned from the field back to the classroom.  The RealDuckTails students are now back at the University of North Dakota and embarking on a new part of the journey… what to do with all the data they collected?

While this part of ecological research may not yield as many cool videos or pictures — but there will still be some as we take a closer look at the data — it helps us tell the story about the birds we studied this summer.  For example, John Palarski is working to wrap up a 3-year study of how blue-winged teal spend their time at the nest. Does the female leave for “mommy time” (a time when she leaves the eggs unattended to eat, loaf, and get a drink) at the same time every day? How long is she gone? And does she leave multiple times a day, once a day, or not at all on some days? John will be presenting a poster with these results at the upcoming National Wildlife Society Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico during the week of September 24th.

Sam Krohn will also be presenting his research in an oral presentation at the same conference.  Sam will be evaluating how well we can infer “Who ate the nest?” from what evidence we find remaining. Using a well-established protocol developed from captive studies that links predator foraging (eating) behaviors to the evidence, we can assign what we think it is and then compare it to the video footage of who really stole the eggs!  While the method has been used for many years, no one has ever compared it to what happens in the wild and our cameras are allowing Sam to tell us how good that protocol is!

New interns Allicyn Nelson and Jaylin Solberg are just starting the journal of learning about how mallards hens spend their time at the nest.  Much like the work John and former intern Nick Conrad conducted on blue-winged teal, we are asking similar questions about mallards.  In “light” of the recent eclipse, Allicyn and Jaylin, also want to explore how nest initiation (date when 1st egg is laid in a nest) might be influenced by photoperiod (how many light and dark hours we have each day!).  The summer solstice provides the longest day of the year and may be a major cue for why we see our peak nesting when we do.

Social media intern Mason Lombard is exploring how much we got all of you engaged! What worked best? Do you like the hatching ducklings (ok – who doesn’t?) or do you share the posts more often when we have other videos about nest predators, flowers, or the lives of the interns? Ideally, we want to be better at reaching out to the public to share the amazing lives of the birds we study and wild places we spend our time trying to conserve…as well as tell who we are that do this work and how we do it!  So we are trying to learn from you as much as we are from the ducks we study!

We are also working to produce videos to share with our followers in collaboration with UND Communication students that tell a more complete story about our research and perhaps add some fun to the observations we have in the field.  I have seen a few of the drafts of these and am very excited to share these soon to our RealDuckTails audience!

Over the coming months, we will provide updates via Twitter, Facebook and our blog to help share the journey of discovery our UND students take as they explore questions they have developed, sort through videos, classify animal behaviors, and quantify the patterns we observe and eventually prepare to hit the field for another season. As a professor, first and foremost I am super proud of all the students accomplished this summer in the field.  And now that we are back at UND, this is another special part of the journey I look forward to watching each year as the students see what those long hours in the field teach us about the animals and ecosystems we love and as they have the opportunity to share their findings with a variety of audiences!  We hope you will stay “tuned in” and enjoy the journey with us as we reflect on the summer and look to what else we need to study next summer.


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