Wow! How do I begin to explain my impression of the bird survey project? Let me begin by telling you about my experience with birds prior to my time in Baja.
Before this internship, my experience with birds included curation (taxidermy) of bird specimens for the Natural History Museum of UC Santa Cruz, and occasional birding with the natural history club at school. Some of the birds I have curated for the museum include a Black Oystercatcher, a Cassin’s Auklet, an Allen’s Hummingbird, and a Black Cormorant. My experience was not limited to bird taxidermy, but also includes birding with friends and for my Natural History of California field quarter class. But for the most part, my bird experience prior to the internship had been with immobile and easily identifiable birds. When I was told I would be conducting bird surveys during this internship, I was a little intimidated but ready to learn.
On the first day of the surveying trip, one professor from UABC La Paz asked me to count Black Brants in the San Ignacio lagoon, while on a small boat. Counting Black Brants in the middle of the day with a beaming sun, reflecting bright shimmery light from the water’s waves, made for an embarrassing first surveying experience. With shaking binoculars, I counted for a while and finally gave him my count, one hundred Black Brants. He responded with a chuckle, and said there were probably more like four hundred.
This internship has been a challenge with a steep learning curve, but after the first three or four days of the trip I was able to better help with bird surveys by offering my counts, which contributed to accurate data intake. During this time I also practiced my bird identification, particularly of larger and more distinct species. For example, I became familiar with Long-billed Curlews because they are large and have a very distinctively long and curved bill. Black Brants were also good as a beginner bird to survey because they have distinctive white bands on their necks and white undertail coverts, which my supervisor liked to call its “pañal” which means diaper in Spanish. Something unique to the internship in Mexico that I had was being able to learn shorebird names in Spanish. It has helped me greatly in identifying them. For example, a Sanderling is called “playero blanco” which has helped me figure out what those white shorebirds on the beach are. Some names are also just more fun in Spanish, with my favorite being pihuihui (Willet).
Towards the end of the trip I had a lot of fun looking out for Snowy Plovers, and became proficient in identifying their sex (if they have a darker semi band mark around their necks they are male, if it is lighter they are female). We also looked for colorful bands around their legs. These anklets are used as markers to be better track the success of Snowy Plovers during their lifetime. I was able to find one with bands, and helped determine the color of some my fellow surveyors spotted.
As the bird surveys progressed, not only did I become better at identifying shorebirds, but I also bonded with people from different learning institutions who had a lot of incredible stories and knowledge they wanted to share. Eduardo Palacios and his wife, Lucia Alfaro, have worked on migratory birds and habitat conservation since the 1980s, and used to conduct surveys on rough terrain without the technology they use today. Daniel Galindo, a professor at UABC La Paz, shared with us his research and work with Snowy Plovers, and I got to see the bigger picture of the surveillance and observations of Snowy Plovers along the west coast. I also got to meet students working on their undergrad thesis and PhD papers and learn about the projects they are involved in, including their research, and how they got where they are. Most of them got their undergrad in marine biology, and one person was an oceanographer…and all of them had a passion for birds!
Lastly, I wanted to mention that because my internship in Mexico started in mid-January, and not two weeks ago like the other EFTA internships in the U.S., I will write my blogs a bit differently. Instead of telling you about my week, I hope to show you more of my experience here in beautiful Baja California, by projects and themes. I hope to explain the importance of the Peninsula for migratory birds and a healthy worldwide ecosystem in general. Additionally, I will be sharing with you my role with Terra Peninsular, and their mission to connect local communities to their natural environment with outreach and environmental education.
Until next time, amigos!!