Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Aw Crap

OOPS. I did it again. Where did the time go? Believe it or not, I think about my blog often. I think of a topic or of an event and say to myself, "That would be a great blog entry!" But the words often do not accompany the idea. I've read several times that wannabe writers need to write every day. I don't know why I don't put forth the effort. I enjoy writing. I know my writing would stay decent if I practiced more often. But sometimes the idea of writing every day intimidates me. What if I run out of things to say? What then? How much would I have to write if I wrote every day and for how long? Is there a rule book?

But for today I will catch you up on what's been going on for the last several weeks. Prep for Summer field work. I realize over 75% of my entries are on this very subject and I apologize for my lack of originality. But I promise future blog entries will be about other topics. I PROMISE. (Ok, now I just need to hold to the promise)

I attended a bird banding conference in October and met several people who were also passionate about their field jobs. One man in particular gave a presentation on the importance of the questions and design of a research project. His talk began niggling at the doubt I had over MY research design. I wasn't confident with my research methods. I was more-or-less blindly going on what I had done on the projects of other professionals.

I thought a lot about what the man talked about after that conference and began reforming my questions. That took a few weeks but when I was happy with my study questions, the research methods for my project loomed overhead. This happened around the same time I started looking for grant money and inevitably, all the grant applications asked about your research methods. Ok, time to stop procrastinating and take a hard look at the way I was doing my field work.

So I emailed the gentleman who gave the presentation at the conference. We corresponded for about a month and I walked away knowing that some of my research methods were not appropriate for my study. Ouch. But on a positive note, he helped me refine my bird census technique and made me realize that I needed to completely revamp my Nestbox study.

One of the big things the field researcher from the conference pointed out to me was the need for control sites. One of the main questions of my project is centered around bird response to prairie burns and overall habitat size. I had no other prairie habitats to compare to the focal point of my study at the Nature Center. So I began looking for other prairie habitats around my area. In the past, a great chunk of Missouri was covered in prairie. Today, only about 1% of prairie remains in the Show Me state. Finding at least 2 other prairie sites promised to be a challenge. But luck was on my side. I found 2 organizations that sported restored prairie habitat and both were less than 20 miles from my home. I'm still ironing out the details with one of the organizations, but the other prairie (and accompanying paperwork that will absolve me of trouble with the law when I'm hiking around at the crack of dawn) is good to go.

I applied for one grant in early January and will be writing a revised grant proposal to turn in to the Nature Center in the next few weeks. There are still a few worrisome details I need to iron out. Like how in the hell do I perform a habitat assessment? I need to determine plant dominance and density in my prairie plots. You have no idea how often I think about this and worry. I did find a website created by a professor at a university about that very topic. I also have a book that touches on it as well. So really, I should put this concern to rest.

As to my Nestbox Study. Well, I'm disappointed in the results from the last 2 years of data. But writing the report and giving the presentation was good practice. This year I would like to get kids involved. I want to bring field science to the kids. What better way to teach conservation and respect to the environment through hands on experience with living animals? I've pestered at least 2 of my coworkers to let me practice on their children. I hope I have little helpers this summer. That would just make me squee.

You may wonder why I'm putting forth all this effort. A few reasons. I still have hopes for graduate school somewhere in the distant future. If I can create a successful study design on my own, graduate school will not seem so impossible or overwhelming. This research stuff is good practice and a good confidence builder. For me, this study is what conservation is all about. Discovering how plant and animal life are affected by human disturbance and in turn, showing those results to the public. And there's this tiny seed of a dream that perhaps in the future, people will see my work and want to hire me as a contractor to evaluate their management practices on their property, or do freelance work with school districts and take kids OUTSIDE during science class or after school.

But for right now, I'm just in love with the birds and the beauty of the prairie.

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