Current field sites
Awash National Park, Ethiopia (since 2010)
Suburban areas of New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County (since 2010)
New York City and its surrounding suburbs are home to the descendants of a small house finch population introduced to Long Island in 1940, which has since grown enormously and dispersed in all directions. Our hope is that this population proves ideal for tracing the development of a song culture from its bottleneck origins to a fully realized new repertoire. With this in mind, our recording team scours the widely diverse urban and suburban neighborhoods of our home town, microphones in hand, listening for the telltale terminal buzz of a house finch song.
Whether we're cruising slowly with the car windows rolled down or roaming the streets on foot, the sparse distribution of these birds compared with their California counterparts makes them somewhat difficult to locate. Add to that the insistent noise of urban traffic and booming stereos, and it becomes a real test of patience. But long days of searching are often rewarded with the discovery of a pocket of house finches in some unexpected corner of the city, and conversations with the colorful local fauna make welcome distractions in the meantime.
On the left is one of Queens College's own resident house finches. He has claimed a perch right outside the classrooms at Remsen Hall and regularly greets students with song as they emerge from lecture. In the middle, Franny is taking a break from urban field work to record a house finch singing on a farm in Ithaca. On the right, a less cooperative bird is fleeing the scene.
-contributed by Franny Geller, 8/2012
Prescott Peninsula, Quabbin Reservoir (since 2004)
The beautiful Quabbin Reservoir with its Prescott Peninsula is the perfect place to do field research-- on a great number of things, I suppose, but for me it has been perfect for swamp sparrows-- a well-defined population in a large wild area with restricted public access, about three hours northeast of Queens College. The folks at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation have treated us very well for five years and counting.
We are regularly rewarded for getting up early to balance on tussocks, with sightings of moose, bear, mink, coyote, and fox (yes even we hardcore biologists never lose our fascination with animals that are big or kill things). The greenery here is vibrant and interesting as well. Our site fell squarely in the town of Prescott before it and four other towns were flooded for the Reservoir in 1937; so we see a combination of reclusive wild plants, long established introduced species, and even the occasional cultivar such as lilac or forsythia that has persisted all these decades. I have begun a list of the wildflowers of the site (posted here), both those in the flooded forest and marsh and those on the roadsides and fields. I encourage our students and visitors to use and augment it.
On the left Dana Moseley, who is midway through her graduate work based on these Quabbin swamp sparrows, is attempting to engage a fledgling field assistant in the joys of nature.
On the right with me are valuable veteran field and lab managers from the first three years of the project: Cosmo Laviola and Stephanie Wallace, both of whom were intelligent and reliable helps to us and our young birds. The marsh in the background of this picture has been the most productive part of our site at the "Forest Products Swamp" as we have mischievously named it (because of a sign that indicated that "Forest Products" were going to be removed from its boundary just during our first field season). Unfortunately, however, because of the actions of beavers, the marsh has been drying up, allowing snakes, chipmunks, and shrews better access to the swamp sparrow nests, causing a precipitous drop in sparrow reproductive success in this area: an interesting ecological cascade!