From the Deep Midwinter

Posted on Jan 16, 2014

I realise it’s been a while since my last post, but it’s hard to write enthusiastically about grey East Anglian office days, and the photos aren’t too interesting. I did see a pair of Rollers though, in South Kensington of all places!

London Rollers


I’ve been making steady progress with several aspects of the project, although the to-do list seems to keep getting longer!

I’ve made some exciting contacts in Africa and Europe, and am trying to help facilitate some flyway-scale collaborative tissue collection for isotope and genetic analysis. Although it’s beyond the scope of my PhD, I’m really interested in the population structure of the European Roller population – how isolated and homozygous is the remnant Latvian population, compared to the more contiguous southern populations? We’re also interested in migratory connectivity – do birds from different breeding populations mix up in Africa, or do they remain in discrete winter populations?

Isotope analysis is almost finished for this year, and I’ve been dabbling in a few statistical tests. Very much looking forward to getting my hands on more samples next year.

In order to convert my counts of insects (on walked transects in different habitats) into something more energetically meaningful I wanted to calculate the relationship between length and dry weight (probably ash-free weight, eventually) for the different taxa. Again, I need to supplement my specimens with additional samples next year, but I had a fun few days laying out my insects, drying them and measuring  / weighing them. 

Insect specimens

The big bush crickets are my favourite, but they took more than 2 weeks to dry out at 60C! Juicy..

Oven drying

Top shelf at 60C – bake until constant mass

I promised myself that I’d spend the winter months fixing the RFID readers ready for next summer. As you may remember, they caused a bit of a headache last summer, and I was keen to wash my hands of them. But in December I starting playing with them again, and am now pretty confident that I’ve got an antenna design which will reliably pick up provisioning Roller parents. There’s still quite a bit more practical work to do, but I quite enjoy it!  The hard bit will be trapping the adults and tagging them, but that’s a bridge to cross further down the road.

Getting my practical cap on

Getting my practical cap on

The last bit of news relates to rotten eggs, which we collected last summer. I’m currently preparing these eggs for pesticide analysis, to see whether Rollers are being contaminated by any nasties in Europe or Africa. More on this later, I hope!