Greetings from Oklahoma!

Hi everyone.

I would like to share with you some of the absolutely amazing experiences I have had this previous week while attending the AOU/COS meeting 2015 at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Although the venue attracted fewer participants than last year’s meeting in the Rockies, the campus here in Oklahoma has its own beauty. Red brick buildings in green surroundings delineate the campus, which has been nominated as being one of the prettiest campuses in the United States. Furthermore, the University hosts two impressive museums, the Fred Jones Art Gallery and the Sam Noble Natural History Museum, not to mention a giant Stadium and the National Weather Center, which serves as the primary information hub on severe weather events occurring throughout the States.

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University of Oklahoma – the ‘humble’ Stadium

The AOUCOS2015 proved to be a successful meeting. The whole thing was kicked off with a two-day special workshop on how to analyze geolocator data. Led by Nat Seavy and Eli Bridge, the exclusive group of around 25 people including myself, was introduced to the R-package Geolight as well as some brand new Bayesian approaches to deal with geolocator data. Simeon Lisovski presented the SGAT (pronounced: ‘TAGS backwards’) package and Eldar Rakhimberdiev presented his new package FlightR. Both packages are characterized by their abilities to include prior knowledge of the species’ ecology to inform the movement model, thus enabling us to make the most of our data to assess migration stopovers and routes. Furthermore, they provide the opportunity to incorporate uncertainty metrics of the location estimates. I am convinced that these packages will become important tools for future geolocator studies.

Besides the interesting workshop on geolocators, AOUCOS2015 also provided an exciting scientific program from a migration perspective. Two daylong symposia were devoted to migration studies, many of the talks included new insight from radar studies. I especially noticed a focus on combining different approaches with results from radar studies, such as automated acoustic monitoring of night flight calls, radio telemetry and ground surveys. These combinations may help us in identifying migrant songbird species, understanding reverse migration patterns and stopover duration.

Some other interesting highlights from the meeting:

  • Henry Streby gave an entertaining talk on the highly debated paper from Current Biology on tornadic storm avoidance by Golden-winged Warblers. Apparently, they have deployed 450 geolocators this breeding season on Golden-winged Warblers from several populations across the breeding range.
  • David Winkler has used geolocators to confirm that a recently developed Argentinian breeding population of barn swallows (breeding at the southern edge of the former wintering area since the 1980s) now exhibit short-distance northward migration behavior as other southern-hemisphere migrants.
  • Henning Heldbjerg gave a nice talk on how the decline of starlings in western parts of Europe might be related to changes in agricultural practices (e.g. loss of grazers). He has used the Pinpoint tags from Biotrack with great success.
  • E-bird data, the Breeding Bird Survey and the value of citizen science in general received a lot of attention at the meeting. Among others, there was an interesting approach to combine e-bird data and stable isotopes to estimate migratory connectivity in conspicuous species such as Rails.

The meeting was packed with social activities including a trip to Oklahoma City to watch the roosting behavior of the local colony of an estimated 125,000 Purple Martins. A truly impressive sight!

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Purple Martin colony about to settle for the night in just two trees in Oklahoma City

The meeting also included a keynote talk by the famous journalist and author David Quammen on ‘Ebola and other scary viruses in a globalized world’, as well as a sneak preview screening of the new documentary by Su Rynard ‘The Messenger’. The film gives an honest picture of how we as scientists do research on birds across the globe while addressing the major challenges faced by migratory songbirds worldwide. I was truly impressed by this film and it was fun to see many familiar faces on the screen.

Finally, I ended the meeting with a field excursion to the nearby Wichita Mountains. Here we got to see many cool bird species such as the Painted Bunting, Black-capped Vireo, Downy Woodpecker, Blue-chinned Hummingbird and the Red-tailed Hawk. In addition, we had the opportunity to get extremely close to a herd of Bison. I will leave you with these two pictures which should give an impression of the fantastic time that I have had in Oklahoma.

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Bisons grazing around the Wichita Mountains (which are actually not mountains but hills)

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The famous Bird Jam and Poetry Slam event where meeting delegates show their creative skills

 

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