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19 July, 2002

July 19, 2002

No sound or sight of a helicopter, yet - looks like I'll get another night of enjoyment in my little yellow NorthFace VE-25 tent! Last night was great - as long as sleep isn't the priority - as I laid awake deep into the early morning hours due to the noisy swans in our nearby lakes! Today was a beautiful weather day (which means no bug plague!). As I am trying to prepare for the end, I want to make sure and tell you everything, but am afraid I'll never clearly explain all. I did mention a couple days ago that I've learned a lot from the tundra. The learning goes beyond just naming birds. I've learned much about field research, bird biology and some about teaching, as well.

First, as a science teacher, I feel it is important to encourage students to make good, detailed observations of things we are studying. I also hope to motivate them to ask interesting, thoughtful, science questions. As I've been out here learning myself, I realize that just telling somebody to make accurate observations or encouraging them to ask questions isn't enough. As the summer has progressed, I've realized that my observations are becoming much more accurate and detailed. Although I've always wanted to make the best observations, it was not until I've made many that my observations could be accurate. By seeing many different birds a number of times, I began to see the detail. At first, they were just birds. Then, some had a long beak or some had a short beak. Some were brown with white bellies, some were white with black bellies. As I continued looking, I started seeing that some of the short-billed, brown with white bellied birds had some differences. One I noticed had a white eye patch. Another I noticed had orange legs. That is when I really began to identify birds. They weren't just sandpipers, they were semipalmated sandpipers, pectoral sandpipers, stilt sandpipers! Just the desire to make good observations isn't enough. It takes practice and it takes experience. It takes a certain body of knowledge or previous observations to know what it is you should look at to compare and contrast. As a teacher, I realize that I must provide similar opportunities to students if I really want them to become better observers!

The same is true of questions. At first, my questions were basic - how many eggs does that bird lay? How does a hen incubate the eggs? What is a brood? Why do they molt? As the summer has progressed, I became more interested in the subtleties of the birds. That is when my own questioning changed to ones of a higher level. What would happen if the eggs were incubated at a higher temperature or lower temperature? What physiological changes occur to allow the hen to develop a brood patch and become an effective incubator? Chickens lay unfertilized eggs, would a bird in the wild ever lay eggs that were also unfertilized? Again, before I could get to a point to ask these questions, learning had to take place first. I needed the basics of ornithology. I needed the vocabulary to communicate with the rest of the group. Most of all, though, I needed to become interested in the subject. Once I was hooked (began to enjoy watching the birds and wondering if they would have a successful summer), then the questions became more clear. I 'wanted' to learn more. Even more exciting, at that point, I was motivated to try to read more and find the answers myself. As a teacher, that will be my goal. Hook the students - get them excited about the subject matter, get them involved in the subject, expose them to things they don't know - then, maybe, I can really get them to learn!

The science learned is also exciting! As a re-cap of the summer research, we collected data on # and size of eggs, location of nests, success of nests, estimations of hatching dates, habitat descriptions and incubation temperatures of the nests. We collected down from the nests and we attempted to track the hens with her young to collect data on direction and rate of movement. Why did we want this information? (Hopefully YOU asked that question)

Over the next couple days, I hope to explain to you why we wanted the data and provide you with some of our preliminary results. I believe in a journal entry about a month ago, I provided the data on average # eggs/nest, as well as the average length, width and mass of the eggs. There is a basic reason that data is valuable - science wants to know! Science is the search of answers to questions, and that is just a basic question in regards to the breeding biology of birds. The information could be useful if nests were compared between two slightly different habitat areas or between two summers that differed slightly in temperatures or precipitation. There are many different ways to look at how/why eggs have a parcticular size!

In the last couple of days, we've finished returning to nests to determine which were successful vs. depredated. If a nest is found with young, it is obviously successful. Also, if the nest is found with egg shell fragments, and more importantly, egg membranes, the nest would be considered successful. If the nest's lining is torn apart, egg shells are found in just 2-3 pieces and/or there are no membranes, it would be recorded as unsuccessful or depredated.

I took the time to count up all the nests we've monitored and tally up our unofficial results. For the King Eiders, only 12/41 nests were successful. With the Tundra Swans, 7/12 nests successfully hatched. The White-Fronted Geese succeeded in 27/34 of the nests we've re-checked. So, with a little quick math work, only about 23% of the King Eiders studied were able to pass their genes on to live ducklings; approximately 60% of the swan couples now have offspring with their mix of genes; and almost 70% of the geese succeeded in life's ultimate goal of getting their genes passed onto the next generation.

Those numbers should get you asking questions! Why was the success rate so low with the King Eiders? How will the population be affected in the future? Are 'low' years typical at times . Is successful hatching somewhat cyclical? How is nest success related to the number of foxes or gulls or terns or bears in the area? Is there any relationship between earlier spring warming and nesting success? And even more questions when you start looking at the swans and geese. Those are the ultimate questions! Some of the other data we collected may help to provide insight into the 'why's', but that is the exciting part of science. Answers only lead you to more questions!

Tomorrow, I'll explain a little about incubation temperatures, habitat evaluations and radiotelemetry work (tracking) of birds. Please join me with more questions! Or, better yet, email me your questions! Or, even better yet, join us on July 22 and July 25 via the website for a life web broadcast! The broadcast on the 22nd is scheduled for 3:30 pm EST, and the 25th for 10:00 am MST. If you join, you will be able to listen to conversations between me and a group of other teachers and students. You will also be able to see related pictures to the topics we discuss and email in questions that I can answer immediately. Please join us!

Details of the Live WebBroadcasts:TEALive Broadcast - Connect with TEAs in the Arctic!

Monday July 22 at 3:30 pm ET with Kim Hanisch

Kim's Expedition Description & Journal: ../tea_hanischfrontpage.html

The July 22 broadcast will also include a group of teachers from Brooklyn College working at the American Museum of Natural History.

Thursday July 25 at 12:00 pm ET with with Kim Hanisch

Kim's Expedition Description & Journal: ../tea_hanischfrontpage.html

You can access the TEALive Real Audio sessions and software through: http://www.wrps.org/tea/

To test your connection -- you can test your connection anytime by clicking on the "Listen to a Previous Broadcast" link at http://www.wrps.org/tea/ and selecting any of the broadcasts listed.

We invite you, your students, and colleagues to e-mail questions for the live broadcast before and during the RealAudio session from the e-mail link at ../tea_newsfrontpage.html (or email directly to broadcast@tea.rice.edu). The questions will be provided to the TEA in the field during the session by the broadcast host.


This is an example of part of a Low Centered Polygon that is now dry. The raised edges of the polygon are created by frost heaves (ice/water freezing and melting within the soil and vegetation). Between the two raised ridges of adjacent polygons is a 'trench' which is usually filled with water. On the other side of the raised area, is a low-lying meadow like area which used to be filled with a few inches of water. Finally, in the top part of the picture, you may see water standing in the 'trough' formed where 3 or more polygons and their trenches unite.


This is me relaxing in the same swan next. Definitely shows you how small Yumiko is compared to me! Actually though, the nest is as wide as I am tall!


This is Yumiko pretending she is a swan sitting in her nest. Definitely shows, though the size of the nests of these beautiful birds build!


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