27 August 2014

Nkolbisson

After Caroline and I toured the Great Plains, I was off to Cameroon to attend the Central African Biodiversity Alliance Professional Development Workshop in Nkolbisson, Yaounde. This fantastic opportunity enabled me to improve upon my computer based analysis skills while at the same time interacting with other students working in central Africa. Students came from all over the world, with almost every continent represented, and a majority of students coming from universities scattered across Cameroon. Below is a small news segment from the Cameroonian National News explaining what we were doing (and you can even see my cameo at one part!).



The locality in which the classes took place was another bonus for me. Adjacent to marshland and rural farmland, walking to and from class proved to be an extremely productive birding route. I was even able to find another birder, Jen Tinsman, to go and sort out the West African taxa with. In all, we found over 50 species of bird around Nkolbisson, including the stunning African Pygmy-Kingfisher and common, but always enjoyable, Village Weaver.


Village Weaver (Ploceus cucullatus cucullatus) in Nkolbisson, Yaounde, Cameroon.


African Pygmy-Kingfisher (Ispidina picta) in Nkolbisson, Yaounde, Cameroon.

In addition to these extremely photogenic birds, other species provided a constant excitement when walking to the store or going for a morning walk. Olive-bellied, Green-throated, and Coppery Sunbirds foraged in the flowing trees, Western Bluebills darted from the marsh vegetation and the morning duets of Blue-headed Coucals and Tropical Boubous were never tiring. Every morning seemed to hold a surprise, with the cast of characters always holding a new surprise. I became well acquainted with the local subspecies of Dideric Cuckoo with the male that would sporadically come by and sing, an all-blackish African Paradise-Flycatcher would occasionally forage in the trees in the dorm's courtyard and even a brief step outside of our classroom resulted in Jen showing my my lifer Little Bee-eater foraging in the backyard of the school.

In all, it was a fantastic week of learning and experiencing Cameroon with my new-found friends, and the birding was an excellent bonus. As the week came to an end, however, it was time for me to head west and explore the Nigerian frontier in the highlands of the wet west...

20 August 2014

Kansas and Oklahoma

While traveling the Great Plains, Caroline and I were able to make a few touristic stops. En route to my cousin's wedding, we swung into Gove County, Kansas, to check out one of the greatest landmarks in the state: Monument Rocks. These rocks, amazingly out of place in Kansas, stand as lonely sentinels in the middle of the mundane plains. We took our friend's advice to visit, and definitely didn't regret it! Additionally, the location was a good spot for adding some western birds to my state list: namely, Cassin's Sparrows that were singing in the surrounding scrub.

Monument Rocks, Kansas
The Monument Rocks, an impressive rocky outcrop in Western Kansas, and arguably the most interesting geologic feature in the entire state.

Monument Rocks, Kansas
The arch at Monument Rocks, Kansas.

From here, Caroline and I stopped by the wedding in Colorado for a few days (where I was able to sneak out for quality time with Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Bullock's Orioles) and soon found ourselves on the way to Arkansas to visit her family. Since we were crossing the largely monotonous plains, we decided to try to make it as scenic as possible by traveling along the easternmost fringe of the mountains: the Black Mesa Region. This region, seemingly out of place on the plains, is the only locality in Oklahoma hosting expansive desert canyonlands and Piñon-Juniper woodland. After a long drive through enchanted canyons filled with Elk, Desert Cottontails and Jackrabbits, we spent the night at the remote Black Mesa State Park in Cimarron County, Oklahoma. The location of a large reservoir surrounded by low sandstone cliffs and Piñon-Juniper woodland, it was the most western experience I have ever had in Oklahoma. Our campsite was infested with Cassin's and Western Kingbirds, and Say's Phoebes provided side-by-side comparisons with a nesting pair of Eastern Phoebes. Mississippi Kites foraged overhead, a pair of Bewick's Wrens sang in the scrub, and we scored two species of cuckoo with a singing Yellow-billed Cuckoo near the reservoir and amazingly close views of a Greater Roadrunner along the road. The best birds, however, were an odd pair of giant sandpipers flying overhead. Hearing them at first, I was elated to confirm a Marbled Godwit and a Long-billed Curlew circling over the west side of the lake. The birds came amazingly close, and Caroline enjoyed getting a good study of these two large shorebirds for the first time. As they flew away, we scanned for more shorebirds and, though we were unsuccessful in that endeavor, found a pair of beavers foraging around the willows.

As we left towards Arkansas, we had one last close encounter of the mammalian kind: an American Badger running down the side of the road! We were able to go back and get some close views as he ran off into the yucca-studded grassland. From here, we drove across to the eastern fringe of Oklahoma, and finally left the state along the Talimena Drive in the Ozark Mountains.

Talimena Drive

23 June 2014

Plotting

This past week, I was lucky enough to go to a conference about digitizing biological collections and working on the ecological relationships of insects in Riverside, California. The conference focused on several groups of insects (they people I worked with were interested mostly in the families Miridae and Reduviidae), and we got to swap all kinds of ideas regarding studying interconnected biological systems.

Luckily, not everyone exclusively works on insects, and a couple of us managed to sneak away and do some birding before we got started with lectures on the second day. We followed Two Trees Canyon up above the campus of University of California--Riverside, and thought diversity was low, we got our fair share of California birds. Lesser Goldfinches sang overhead while Song Sparrows sang in the brush and the occasional Red-tailed Hawk flew by. Nuttall's Woodpeckers foraged in the Western Scrub-Jay infested trees and several pairs of Wrentits called the canyon home. It was a good escape from the indoors, and gave me a chance to see many species that I had not seen in several years.

Chamaea fasciata

Wrentits, like this one I photographed several years ago near San Diego, were fairly common near UC Riverside.

Though it was a nice four day foray into the Pacific coastal region, I am now back in Kansas plotting my next moves. Starting Thursday, I will be meeting up with Caroline to do a lower plains circuit. Together, we will drive to Colorado for my cousins wedding and then make our way to Arkansas to see Caroline's family before working our way back up to Lawrence again.

Rough outline of our route, with Lawrence marked by the letter "J".

Along the way, we have the opportunity to visit the high points of three states (Mt. Sunflower, Kansas; Black Mesa, Oklahoma; and Mt. Magazine, Arkansas) as well as explore much of the plains in the central united states. We will be visiting salt pans, xeric woodlands and the beautiful Ozarks. All of this will be interspersed with meeting with family and generally enjoying our time together as we drive across the states. We will return to Lawrence, and the next day Caroline will return to Louisiana and I will head to Cameroon.

Once in Cameroon, I will be attending the week long Central African Biodiversity Alliance conference, where I will be networking, working with GIS and practicing data collection in Yaounde, Cameroon. From there, I will travel west to Buea on the slopes of Mt. Cameroon, and then head deep into the jungles of Korup National Park. If there is time, I will also head north in the volcanic highlands of Bamenda and search for some of the unique endemics found in the mountains of western Cameroon. After three weeks in this amazing country, I will travel to Douala and return home to Lawrence. Need less to say, come August, I plan on sleeping for a few days straight.

Outline of Cameroon route. Equatorial Guinea, specifically in Bata and Malabo (on Bioko) are where I was in November.

I'll keep posting as I can, and let you know how the summer progresses!