Finding babies

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Like many Australian passerines, Eastern Yellow Robins have a protracted breeding season. If conditions are right, nest building and egg laying may begin as early as July (which, for those of us in the southern hemisphere, is the middle of winter). This means that I am one very busy researcher right now!

Although I started my PhD just over a year and a half ago, I still feel new to many of the methods involved in studying woodland birds. Which means that everything is quite exciting, but also means… I am slow. Finding active robin nests requires a lot of patience. So far, my process is to arrive at a site and set out looking for a breeding pair. If I’m lucky enough to spot a bird quickly, I will follow it. Otherwise I follow calls, which are not always frequent. Often I resort to using a bit of playback (a recording of a robin call) to try and see who’s around. Once I have a target, I watch and listen and wait. And pretend very hard to not look like I am watching. The little robins seem to know when I am stalking them!

It seems to be working so far – as you can see from the pictures above. I am finding nests, and it is incredibly rewarding. The nests are quite tiny – an incubating robin barely fits on the nest. But they are adorable! I go back regularly to each nest to monitor its development, from eggs to hatching and then to check in as the chicks develop their feathers and get ready to fledge. The two little babies on the left are the cutest thing I have seen so far. Freshly hatched, I managed to catch them gaping at the camera – they must’ve thought I was bringing a tasty worm. Too cute!

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Go easy – I’m new here!

This is my first blog post here. So please go easy on me!

I started my PhD some time ago now – on Valentine’s day in 2011 in fact. Indeed, I thought that starting my PhD on the 14th of February might cause me to fall in love with my project. And, in many ways I did. But, as with any relationship, there have been ups and there have been downs. Sometimes, I am madly in love…. At other times I wish that ‘we’ could break up, and I have come dangerously close to ‘dumping’ my PhD! But, I think I have found that happy medium – I enjoy the good times and know that the bad times don’t last, and that ‘we’ don’t always see eye-to-eye (especially on how speedily things should be progressing!). I accept that ‘we’ simply agree to disagree on some things.

But one thing is an unrelenting source of happiness – the robins. Although their co-operation in the data collection process is not always perfect, they provide an endless supply of cuteness-factor and “ooooh, aaahs”. And that, for the most part, makes what I am doing worthwhile. Of course I am always striving for robust science, with clear, logical reasoning and efficacious methods. But, in order to maintain my sanity and day-to-day satisfaction, I must allow myself to revel in the wonders that working with wildlife provides.

That is what I would like to share with you here. Thus, I will not be concentrating too much on the science behind my work, although at times I may touch on it to illustrate a point, but rather I hope to provide an insight into the daily life of a wildlife researcher.

I hope you enjoy!