Bites and birds

May 20th, 2007, 10:49 pm PDT by Kat

It’s that time of year again – the mosquitos are out, and so I must start my annual bite count. I went to a farewell party tonight at Lisa and Brian’s for Ted and Angie who are headed off to the University of Northern Arizona. We had tasty burgers that Lisa made and REALLY yummy baklava that Buddy made. I love that everyone here seems to like food as much as everyone at home! But, there was some sacrifice to be made:

Bite count 2007: 8

But, strangely enough they aren’t that itchy. Heh, now that I’ve typed that, they’re starting to itch.

Anyways, I also caught 5 birds this weekend. 3 adult males, an adult female, and my first juvie of the year. YAY! I also almost caught a woodpecker, but it was too big to fit into the trap. It did, however, stick it’s head into the trap to eat some of the seeds. Not sure what kind of woodpecker it was though – quick Oli, what is this?

Only 4.5 more days until Greg gets here! YAY!

I got wild birds to lay in captivity!!!!

April 26th, 2007, 7:09 am PDT by Kat

So for the past month I’ve been on a mission. I have several adult House Finches that I caught last year in our aviary. Since I need a small army of juvenile House Finches this year for my research, I thought that I should try to breed the adults that I have. Now, I spent the entire time that I was in Vancouver breeding Zebra Finches, but that’s easy. They’re pet shop birds that breed readily in cages. But, I figured it was worth a shot with these birds.

So I set out to try to breed my House Finches. I’ve seen a couple of birds nesting on man-made platform-type structures: under awnings, in light fixtures around campus, and of course in trees. Well, each of our flight cages within our aviary has an old Christmas tree in it, but I wasn’t sure they’d nest in those. So I built 1’x1′ platforms for them and hung them from the ceiling of each flight cage. I also provided them with hay in these small open wire cages hoping that maybe they’d use them as nestboxes.

After 2-3 weeks, I was starting to get discouraged. They’re totally ignoring my beautiful platforms, and only 1 of the 5 pairs built a nest cup in the small open wire cages. Then I noticed that in all of the cages, the hay level was WAY lower than it was when I first put the hay in. Hmmmm…. where the heck did the hay go?

Go figure, they’re nesting in the trees! Heh. I think I’ve worked on Zebra Finches for too long. So I have 1 nest with 5 eggs and another nest cup, but no eggs yet. That makes 2 nest cups and 1 full nest! I haven’t been able to find the nests in the other 2 cages, but those Christmas trees are pretty dense, so they could be in there somewhere!

So yes, I am an avian matchmaker! ๐Ÿ™‚

Yes, I’m still alive

April 22nd, 2007, 8:34 pm PDT by Kat

I realize that I haven’t blogged in a while. Sadly, that’s because I live an extremely boring life. I’ve started to blog numerous times over the past couple of months, and couldn’t really think of anything to say. But, just so everyone knows what I’ve been doing the last couple of months, here’s a brief synopsis of my life:

I’ve started catching House Finches already. Last year Greg and I got here in the beginning of May and immediately started building traps. But, I didn’t really get started seriously catching until the end of May. This year I started about a month ago, and have already caught 7 adult males and 2 adult females. I’ve actually taken a short break from catching now because I think the females have started laying, and I don’t want to break up any happy couples.

I’m attepting to breed my adult House Finches in our aviary. With the help of Buddy and our new tech, Danielle, I built these wooden platforms that I was hoping they’d nest in. So far, no luck. I also put hay into wire boxes for them. I think a pair of them MAY be starting to nest, but the others… not so much. So we’ll see. If I get any eggs, I’ll take pictures.
I’m still trying to make the damn HPLC work properly. We’re changing out one of the major components (the detector), so hopefully that’ll improve the system, and I can get my samples run – only a year after I started this project that was only supposed to take a couple of months. Whatever… just want it to be done!

In an attempt to get into shape (or at least not to get any chubbier than I already am! Damn thesis weight!), I’ve been going to yoga and spin classes with my friend Lisa. They’ve actually been a lot of fun. I think we’re going to try to go to more yoga classes during the summer – when there aren’t seminars, or journal clubs, or lab meetings to go to.

Buddy and I have unofficially moved our office to Friends Cafe, the coffee shop that’s down the street from the Biology building, but is still on campus. It has windows (which our actual office lacks), and is steps away from coffee and pastries. And surprisingly, we get a lot of work done there, even with all of the people that stop by and join us for coffee.

That’s about it. Like I said, I live a boring life. Highlight of my week – shopping at Target, and at the American versions of Winners – TJ Max, Ross and Marshalls. I got new Teva’s for $11, Reef flip flops for $10, and a nice little ultra-suede reading chair! ๐Ÿ™‚ This week I have to take my car in to get the temperature switch fixed so that Rusty stops blowing hot air at me. Not good for the upcoming summer!

Knowledge and Truth

November 9th, 2006, 12:49 am PST by Greg

I was talking to one of our grad students today. He mentioned an old email sig he had seen, and I convinced him to send it to me:

When you realize you know everything, you can get your Bachelor’s.
When you realize you know nothing, you can get your Master’s.
When you realize your supervisor knows nothing, you can get your Ph.D.

Have truer words ever been spoken? Since I think we have readers nearing the end of each of those phases, I thought it would be appreciated all-around.

Computers: working = life easy, not working = life sucks

September 7th, 2006, 3:17 pm PDT by Kat

I’m back in North Carolina now. As Greg blogged, I wasn’t able to do everything while at home because there was just too much to do, too many people to see, and not enough time to do everything or see everyone. Sorry to those I missed. I promise I’ll see you all in December.

My trip home was slightly crazed. Greg and I woke up at 3:30 am to get to the airport by 4:30 am for my 6:00 am flight. Because of the new security measures, they want you to be at the airport 1 1/2 hours before a domestic flight. This would ordinarily make sense. However, security at YVR doesn’t actually open until 5:00 am, so being there any earlier is just dumb. My mistake #1.

My mistake #2 could not have been avoided. My original itinerary was to fly directly home to Chapel Hill from Toronto (after Tina and Oli’s reception near Halifax). However, since I decided to add a trip home to Vancouver, my two flights (Vancouver to Toronto, Toronto to Raleigh/Durham) were on separate itineraries. Bad. Bad. Bad. They wouldn’t check my bags all of the way through to RDU. So when I got to TO, I had to go to baggage claim and get my bags, which is outside of security, instead of heading directly to Terminal 2, and claiming my bags there to take them with me through customs (if they had been checked all the way through), which is still inside the secure area. Instead, I had to re-check-in at the Air Canada counter. Normally this isn’t a big deal. However, for some reason it was a zoo. The check-in kiosks were 5-deep, and the line to check baggage stretched far enough away that you couldn’t actually see the counter. So, even though I was there 2 1/2 hours before my flight, I only had 30 minutes from the time I actually checked in to the time my flight was supposed to leave. Luckily customs was super short, as was security. I got on the shuttle bus to go to Gate E (for the record, I HATE Gate E). I was so relieved when I got off the shuttle. But then I stepped into the small terminal that houses 13 gates (E254 to E266). It was pandemoneum. There were people everywhere and planes at every gate, but the screens weren’t displaying any relavent info on which gate to go to. Apparently, Air Canada’s computers had gone down that afternoon. This was after the morning flights were all delayed to due bad weather on the East coast. So, everyone was in this small terminal, nobody knew anything, and random flights were being cancelled. My 4:00 pm flight was cancelled. However, the 12:30 pm flight was not, and it was delayed. So, I was the second-to-last standy-by from my flight to get on to the “earlier” flight, which finally left the terminal at around 5:30 pm. From what I gathered, that may have been the only flight leaving the terminal for the new few hours. They weren’t sure whether the “later” 9:30 flight was going to be cancelled or not. So, I got to RDU only 2 hours later than scheduled (although a lot more stressed out that scheduled!). Bad news, my luggage did not get on the plane. Oh well, no big deal – I still had clothes back at the log cabin. So, I took a cab home, took a shower, and went to bed. My luggages were delivered to me by 11:00 am then next morning. Not too bad. The worst part was that I was stressing about missing my 4:00 flight while I was in the check-in line because the screens said that my flight was on time. They knew that the flight wasn’t going to be on time – heck the 12:30 flight was still there! They could have at least changed the status to delayed, and I would have had a slightly less stressful day.

Anyways, I’m back now. I just finished my abstract for SICB, the conference I go to almost every January. Keith is looking over it now. It seems wrong to me that the title of my abstract has both “telencephalon” and “starling” in it. I think I’ve made a horrible mistake. I think I’m going to go home now.

We’re still alive

August 1st, 2006, 8:55 am PDT by Kat

I haven’t blogged for a week, but there isn’t really much to say. But, here goes anyways.

We’ve been working on getting the log cabin neat and tidy and Sunday we had incentive. We had the Sockman and Burmeister labs over for dinner. Actually, is was only half the Burmeister lab as 2 of the women are in Panama doing fieldwork, and their tech and her husband couldn’t make it. Lucky for us, as I’m not sure there’s enough room for both full labs. Anyways, Greg made salmon with onions, dill, and lemon; garlic mashed potatoes; steamed green beans and strawberry-blueberry compote to go over ice cream. All went well, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. They also all seem to like the quirkiness that is my new home, so that’s nice.

Speaking of the new home, the pictures of the fully furnished log cabin are now up in the gallery. I’m still working out (with Suyoko) what the color scheme should be, so the sky blue futon cover will soon be gone, and all three of the white bookcases will have fabric hanging in front of them. Just have to figure out what kind of fabric. It’s slightly difficult to “design” the log cabin because all of the furniture was handed down to us from the people we subletted our old place from or found near (but not in!) dumpsters. So, of course, nothing matches. But, I’m working on that.

On the science side, I’m working on my NIH proposal to get funding for the rest of my post-doc. If I don’t get any $$ in this round, I may be coming home sooner than expected! Last year I was running around frantically trying to get reference letters because one of my committee members was on vacation and didn’t leave a letter before he left, and the other had written a letter but didn’t inform me that she had sent it, and then promptly left for a conference where she was incommunicado for a week. Luckily both Jim and Francois (old members of the Williams lab who now have spectacular positions at Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research) wrote me letters at the last minute. This year I was prepared. I wrote to people early. Unfortunately I again missed Norbert, who again went to Germany. But, no worries, it was still early enough to contact Jim and Marilyn (one of my undergraduate project supervisors) to write me letters. Whew! Everyone had sent their letters out. I was calm. But that didn’t last long. To date, I have only received 3 of the 4 letters. The remaining one is Tony’s, my PhD supervisor, making this letter the most important one! Funnily enough, he was the first one to mail his letter on July 11. It is now August 1, and I still don’t have his letter. So, yet again, I was freaking out over reference letters getting in on time. This year, Oliver and Emily are the lifesavers as they are FexExing me a copy of the letter. Craziness! At least there’s still time for FedEx!

Catching birds is also not going well. I think for some reason there are no more HOFIs in Chapel Hill. Well, at least none around my traps! So, I’ve packed up my feeders at the one site I’ve been catching at and will move them to the original site that is closer to the department. Today is Adam’s last day, so I won’t have anyone to help me haul the traps out. So, being closer to the department will mean that I can still try to catch on my own until mid-August. But, the birds I do have are doing well. The conjunctivitis ones are getting better, and no new cases have developed. Yea!

New bites: 10 (including another one on my face which I think I got from a mosquito in my office). Total summer bite count: 63.

It’s been a crazy past couple of days

July 26th, 2006, 9:13 am PDT by Kat

Keith got back from the field today. I was expecting a gaggle of field assistants to be back with him, but I guess they all went to their respective homes for a break after a summer of tenting it in Colorado. Keith brought back about 60 Lincoln Sparrows: ~20 adults, ~20 first years that can feed themselves and ~20 young first years that Adam is currently feeding every 2 hours. So glad I’m not a tech or a grad student. Keith seems to think that kind of work doesn’t fall into the realm of what a post-doc should have to do (at least one that’s not going to be working on the LISPs anyways, so I don’t have to do it! Yippee! They’re pretty cute (kinda small and round and fat). I’ll get pictures up of them being fed soon.

So to prep for the arrival of these new birds, I had to move my birds inside and clean/disinfect the aviary cages. I thought that would be a 1-day job: move birds in the morning, clean flight cages in the afternoon. Nope, it took 1 whole day to move the birds. Mostly because I didn’t want to net them as they were probably already stressed from being in captivity, and I didn’t want any more to develop the eye-swelling thing that HOFIs are prone to. So, instead we set the traps that we usually catch with inside the cages, and when the birds decided they wanted to eat, they got caught and the moved. Well, apparently some of them weren’t really hungry, and didn’t go into the traps until after 4:00. So it was a whole day of checking the aviary every 15 minutes.

The next day (yesterday) was spent cleaning out the aviary cages. It had rained heavily the night before and earlier that morning, so everything was damp. I know the last couple of days it’s been scorching in Vancouver. Picture that, plus torrential rain on top of it and humidity like you’ve never felt before, and that was what Adam and I got to work in. But, we were able to get everything washed out, scrubbed, and disinfected by noon. Luckily there was a break in the rain during the time we were actually out there or else we’ve have been soaked though. As it was, everything from the kneed down was soaked, and the water wasn’t too clean. This is the life I chose.

A couple highlights from the day:

1. Greg picked me up from work because it was POURING down rain around the time I wanted to go home, and I had already gotten soaked on my walk in to school that morning by passing cars. This may not seem like much, but Greg doesn’t really like to pick me up from work when I can just as easily walk.

2. On our way out to the old place to pick up the last of our stuff and pack up some of the old tenants stuff for her movers, we drove by what apparently was a low-lying area. There were firemen off to one side clearing out what looked to be a clogged drainage pond. But then I saw a news van and thought, hmmm… this place isn’t that starved for news that this would be a big deal. Then I looked across the street from where the firemen were, and in a parking lot, there were 5-6 cars submerged in flood water with only about the top 6″ poking up out of the muddy water. I guess it really did rain hard!

3. Greg and I went to this Mexican restaurant that he had wanted to try. This place is right behind where day laborers congregate in the mornings to get picked up for work. People drive up in their trucks or vans, call out how many workers they want and what the job is, and guys pile in, do the job, and then get dropped back off at the end of the job/day. At least this is how it works in Los Angeles. I’m pretty sure it’s about the same here. Anyways, Greg figured that it was probably a good place to eat because I guess he saw some of the day laborers go in or come out of this restaurant. If it’s good enough for them, it’s probably authentic! So, we decided to get take-out. We walked in, and it was more of a diner/small convenience store/meat counter (I think – that part was empty). The menu was all in Spanish, and the people didn’t seem to speak English. So, with a bit of broken Spanish (I know stuff like “apple” and “Pedro has a dog. The dog’s name is Spot” from elementary school Spanish!), some pointing, and giggles from both us and the woman helping us, we ended up with 3 chicken tacos, a special platter (fixin’s for 5 tacos: chicken, beef, shrimp, rice, beans, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno peppers), a bag of sweet bread, and a bag of chicharone (fried pork skins – Mexican as well as Filipino delicacy!). Forgot to take a picture, but it was REALLY good. I think we may try to go back and mime ourselves more good food. In any case, we got a good meal, and the woman helping us has a good story!

Almost a snack

July 12th, 2006, 11:07 am PDT by Kat

After catching a record 9 juvies on Sunday with Greg and his parents (his dad was thrilled!), Adam and I went out to see whether we could do the same on Monday. Not only did we not catch anything, but the birds that were around my traps almost became lunch to a passing hawk. There I was, watching as the one finch that showed any interest in my traps the whole morning was about to hop into a trap, and then whoosh, birds flying everywhere. I looked up from my binoculars, and a small- to medium-sized hawk landed near my traps scaring everything off, and then immediately took off. I’m pretty sure nothing was actually caught – there were a bunch of sparrows around where the hawk landed. I think it may have been a Merlin. It was bigger than a kestral and had blue on its wings (Oli, help!) Anyways, it couldn’t have waited the 2 seconds my finch needed to convince itself that it really wanted to go into the trap. No…. it HAD to attack just in time for my bird to turn around and fly out. Dammit! Anyways, it was pretty cool to see a predation attempt.

Monday was not a good bird day at all. When I got home, Adam called from school and said that some of the juvies that we had previously caught had conjunctivitis. Apparently House Finches are prone to getting this eye infection because they get these external parasites that make their eyes swell up. I ended up going back to school and catching all of the ones with puffy eyes (5 of them), and isolating them so we can treat and monitor them. Crappiness. Anyways, they seem to be doing better (I hope it’s not just my imagination). Luckily it seems to have only struck in one of the large flight cages, but we’re keeping a close eye on everyone.

Caught 2 more birds today though. Yay!

Over the last week I’ve received another 7 bug bites (including 1 on my face!). Total bite count: 50.

I faught a rock, and the rock won

June 23rd, 2006, 8:36 am PDT by Kat

On Wednesday I was walking to the University Employee Clinic to give them a copy of my immunization records (I need it to get a swipe card for the hospital where I’m learning HPLC). I was walking along in the 90ร‹ลกC heat, when I came across a gravelly section. No problem, I’ve walked through gravel millions of times in my life. Well, this gravel had some bigger pieces in it. Still, it’s gravel! NOPE! Some of it was gravel, some of it was embedded rock jutting out of the ground, resembling gravel! So, as I saw and stepped over a large-ish piece of “gravel” with my right foot, I must have dragged my left foot a bit too close, and the pointy rock clipped the inside of my pinky toe and wrenched it outwards. If it was gravel, my toe would have probably still been stubbed. But it wasn’t it was a freakin’ rock, a boulder even! So, the inside of my pinky toe was purple and the toe was swollen. Unfortunately, with all the pain and annoyance, I forgot to take a picture. But trust me, it was a very dark purple.

The worst part was that I still had to walk to the clinic and back. So, on my way back, I saw a bus. I figured I should take this bus instead of walking all of the way back (it was probably the distance from Cornerstone to the West Mall complex, and it was stinkin’ hot). So, I get on the bus and ask the guy on it (driver was not there) whether this bus went in the direction I wanted to go. He said yes. The bus took off, and nope, it didn’t. It brought me back to the Clinic, and the closest stop was actually past the clinic! @(#*&(#*%)($^!!! So I trudged back to Biology in the heat, soaked the shirt I was wearing, and that’s when discovered my toe had turned purple and swollen. Crappiness! At least Greg was around, so he drove by and picked me up so I didn’t have to take the bus. Luckily, it’s not broken, just really bruised.

As for science, we caught 5 juveniles yesterday, but none today. We did catch an Eastern Towhee, a female Cardinal, and a bunny (pics posted soon)! Adam actually caught the bunny by running after it and scooping it us in order to move it away from the street and into the woods so it wouldn’t get run over. The bunny was really cute. Loud, but cute!

I found furniture, a beetle and a dollar

June 19th, 2006, 7:46 pm PDT by Kat

Today was very strange. It started off with me deciding to go to work late. These days late is 7:45. Craziness! Anyways, I walk out the door of our townhouse, which happens to be by the complex’s recycling containers and one of the dumpsters. There they were… two practically new chairs and a slightly worn large end table. When people move out here and they have “extra” furniture, they leave it “by” the dumpster. So, I got 2 new chairs and an end table! I think the table is read wood too! Yippee! And, I wasn’t even late for the bus after hauling the stuff back in to the apartment.

For the last half week I’ve been working hard trying to catch birds. After all of those early mornings and 13 mosquito bites later (Total bite count: 43; mostly around my ankles because I wore capris one day and forgot the bug spray), we got 3 adult females. For some reason there were tons of birds out, but none were going in the traps! Tomorrow we put 12 potter traps out, and if these damned birds want any seed, they HAVE to go into the traps to get it. Anyways, we put up traps at a new location, and were watching them for a while. We we were looking for the ideal spot, we came across the LARGEST beetle I’ve ever seen! It was like the big slow beetle in The Lion King. I freaked a bit because I thought maybe all of the beetles around here looked like that. No, turns out Adam, who has lived here all his life (well, about an hour west of here) has never seen a beetle like this. Whew! Anyways, there’s a picture in the gallery. On our way back to the lab I found a dollar on the ground! Yippee again!

HPLC is going well. I’ve got peaks, and I know which peaks are which! One of my compounds is missing and so I have to tweak the solutions to pull it out from the “junk” peak that comes out first. That’ll be this week’s HPLC mission. I could have started that today except that when I went in on Sunday to do what I ended up doing today, I found out that the swipe card that the PI gave me didn’t actually work. So, even though I wanted to do HPLC on a sunny Sunday, I couldn’t get onto the floor where the lab is! Oh well!

Oh, and I bussed to the mall on Saturday. Even with the car I don’t feel entirely comfortable driving to the only decent mall here. You need to take the highway to get there. While I can drive on the highway, I don’t like the cloverleaf on- and off-ramps, and the off-ramp from the mall is a cloverleaf. So, I forked over $4 for the bus (all-day pass) and went shopping. I’d forgotten how cheap things are here (in the states) when they go one sale. I got a Pottery Barn silver clock for the office for only $5. It was regularly $30! I definitely felt good after that. And we NEEDED it (have to say that or else Greg will have a fit).

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