Let the Fieldwork Games begin

Welcome to the new blog! (I’ll miss you, Diaryland, but maybe you should have updated since 2003.) I’m in southwest Puerto Rico this summer to study a population of yellow-shouldered blackbirds. I’ll tell the field season story later (as usual, it’s long and permit-filled), but here’s what I’ve seen so far.

I’m living at a University of PR-owned field station, built on an island fifty yards off the coast. You have to park your car on the mainland and wait at the dock to be ferried over on a little motorboat.

This place was impossible to find at night. Many, many thanks to fellow biograd Alex, who guided me over the phone before I personally checked every privately owned dock in town.

The island’s name is Isla Magueyes (Agave Island). It’s also home to a 50-year-old colony of feral Cuban iguanas. Guess who was hanging out by the  doorstep on my very first morning?

The iguanas are endangered in Cuba but doing quite well here. Most of them retreat when you approach, but some of the males give the territorial headbob display (look, someone published a paper showing their headbobs have already diverged from the Cuban population’s).

Looking north, you can see the coastal town of La Parguera, which caters to divers/tourists and has a pastel seaside-resort feel. In the foreground is my dorm building, filled with lots of horrible mosquitoes. Today I called home to request the electric swatter that was last summoned in Maine 2006.

Much like the Bahamas, the island is ringed by mangroves that transition to dry forest toward the interior. I saw some familiar plants (agave, mahogany and gumbo-limbo) and new ones (cactus, mesquite).

And toward the south, more tiny islands. I watched great frigatebirds soar overhead while listening to yellow warblers, bananaquits, black-faced grassquits, Caribbean elaenias (a very insistent flycatcher), and some thuggish-looking orioles called troupials.

Tomorrow I meet with my collaborators to see the field sites and blackbirds for the first time. It’ll be so weird to hold a not-quite redwing in my hand.

It’s the field season again!

One response to “Let the Fieldwork Games begin

  1. You may have heard this already, but one of the best tips I heard for mosquito bite is putting a scotch tape on the bite – the tape supposedly constricts the swelling and pulls out the venom. Give it a try!

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