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ABoVE: Burned boreal forests – the “little moments”

June 8th, 2016 by Catherine Dieleman

One of the best parts of a field campaign are the ‘little moments’ that sneak in while you work. They can really make your day. On that front this field campaign has been no slouch. Yesterday for example, we saw a juvenile black bear while we were traveling to a new field site. We also enjoyed a great sunset over Lake La Ronge here in Saskatchewan, and had a beaver sighting later that evening.

The great sunset the team enjoyed over Lake La Ronge on June 5. (Credit: Dieleman)

The great sunset the team enjoyed over Lake La Ronge on June 5. (Credit: Dieleman)

However, for me one of the best ‘little moments’ happened the day before… Our team is split into a number of different groups that measure different ecosystem characteristics: fire severity, tree density, species and age, as well as soil horizons and depth of burn in the soil. Liz Wiggins and myself work together to collect the soil measurements. As we measure and collect samples from every organic soil horizon, this task can take some time — often causing the soils group to finish up well after the rest of the team. Saturday though, everything came together for us soil diggers, and for the first time on this campaign our little group finished up first. We thought it was worth a victory photo. Sometimes it is the little things.

That Saturday was a particularly eventful day for the whole team. We had a great opportunity to participate in the filming of CBC’s The Nature of Things. Everyone was a pleasant combination of excited with a touch of nerves to be filmed, but generally thrilled to be sharing our science in this medium. The whole filming crew was wonderful, and eased us through the whole process. The sneak peek of the drone footage they shot seemed pretty promising to us, but we will all have to wait till 2017 to see the final footage. I guess some days in the field it is the big things too.

Catherine Dieleman is a post-doctoral researcher in Ecosystem Science at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada

 

The recent megafire around Fort McMurray drew worldwide attention. Not only did this fire devastate a community, the fire also grew exceptionally large and started very early in the fire season. Northern forests are rapidly changing, and fire plays a crucial role in this transition.

A recently burned forest in Saskatchewan, Canada. (Credit: Sander Veraverbeke)

A recently burned forest in Saskatchewan, Canada. (Credit: Sander Veraverbeke)

Fires in the boreal forest emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas. Exactly how much they emit is a difficult question to answer. Over many decades these forest have piled up thick layers of downed needles and other organic material, resulting in thick carbon-rich soils. When a fire spreads through the forest, the carbon it emits comes mostly from these soil layers, and not so much from the actual live trees.

The real question is: how deep do these fires burn into the soils? There is a lot a variability depending on which forest type is burning and how hot it burns.

Some members of our team just excavated a deep organic soil. They will carefully measure this soil pie and cut out some samples for lab analysis. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

Some members of our team just excavated a deep organic soil. They will carefully measure this soil pie and cut out some samples for lab analysis. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

As part of the ABoVE field campaign, our field crew flew into Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on May 28th from Massachusetts, California, Ontario, and the Netherlands. We joined up with another field team from the University of Saskatchewan. After stocking up on supplies, we drove about four hours north to enter vast swaths of boreal forest.

Our goal in Saskatchewan is to quantify how much carbon fires emit in forest types that currently burn infrequently, but may become more sensitive to fire in the near future. For example, we are interested in reburns in forests that last burned only a couple of years ago, or burns in forests where people previously cut down trees. With all the changes that are underway it is important to understand how fires impact these forest types and how much carbon they emit.

Our maneuvers in challenging terrain are rewarded by gorgeous vistas of landscapes that are untouched - except by fire. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

Our maneuvers in challenging terrain are rewarded by gorgeous vistas of landscapes that are untouched – except by fire. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

Since we arrived, we have been hitting up quite a few field plots. Getting to these field plots requires off-trail hiking in often-rough terrain, with soggy bogs and steep rocky hills. We have to scramble through piles of wood that fell down after the fire. Once we get to our desired site, we measure for several hours. We take samples of soils that will be analyzed in the lab and measure lots of trees (as many as several hundred). By doing so, we are able to assess the amount carbon of that was emitted by the fire.

We can link up our field measurements with data from NASA satellites to better characterize all fires within Canada and Alaska. During the day we get rewarded for our hard work with lunches-with-views, mosquitoes, and some thunderstorms that hopefully rain out somewhere far on the horizon…

Sander Veraverbeke is a project scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and an assistant professor in Remote Sensing at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam

Migration Mystery: Meet our Final Space Robins

May 4th, 2016 by Brian Weeks and Ruthie Oliver

Brian and Ruthie here!

Natalie and Willem packed up their bags and flew the coop over the weekend. It was sad to see them go, but we’ve been here until we could find the rest of our space robins. And now we are proud to introduce our final eight space robins!

Robins in the rain

Even though it’s late April and probably feels a lot like spring wherever you are, we woke up to cold wintry mornings the past few days. You might think that rain would dampen our spirits, but we were excited to open our nets because we were hoping the robins wouldn’t want to travel in the rain and wind. Birds can stay warm even in a cold rain because their feathers keep the water off their skin.

As it turns out, a flock settled on our lawn to look for worms! And that’s how we met Birdie Sanders, Twitter, and Skyler. After they were suited up, they flew right back to join their friends!

Skyler is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Lane’s 5th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

Skyler is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Lane’s 5th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

 

Twitter is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. Wagner’s 4th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

Twitter is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. Wagner’s 4th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

 

Birdy Sanders is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Tan’s 5th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

Birdy Sanders is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Tan’s 5th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

Tuesday the sun finally broke through the clouds! The warm lawn must have looked like a great place to stop for lunch because we ended up finding our final four space robins out there.

Trooper is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Caunitz and Mrs. Barsanti’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

Trooper is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Caunitz and Mrs. Barsanti’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

 

Flappy is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Ms. Murphy and Mrs. Nadler’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

Flappy is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Ms. Murphy and Mrs. Nadler’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

 

Hippy is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Ms. O’brien’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

Hippy is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Ms. O’brien’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

Journey is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. Sutton’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

Journey is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. Sutton’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

 

And… our final space robin is Sky!

Sky is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. McFadden and Mrs. Viola’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

Sky is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. McFadden and Mrs. Viola’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

 

We’ve certainly made a lot of new robin friends on this trip, but robins aren’t the only species migrating through the area. Some of our favorites are a Sharp-shinned Hawk (check out those red eyes!), Fox Sparrow, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! Sharp-shinned Hawks don’t just look fierce, they are real predators. They eat lots of smaller birds, including robins – eek! You can learn more about them here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Sharp-shinned_Hawk/id, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Fox_Sparrow/id.

 

We now have 17 space robins flying for us!

Thanks for all your help along the way!

P.S. Chirpie has made a new friend up here at the Boreal Centre. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog as much as they have! (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

P.S. Chirpie has made a new friend up here at the Boreal Centre. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog as much as they have! (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

Meet Five New Space Robins

April 25th, 2016 by Natalie Boelman

The newest space robins

At 6:40 am five American robins flew into our nets. What a great start to the day!

Paul is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Arietta’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Natalie Boelman)

Paul is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Arietta’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Natalie Boelman)

Hudson is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Wasser’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Natalie Boelman)

Hudson is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Wasser’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Natalie Boelman)

Batman is an an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Heilbronn’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

Batman is an an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Heilbronn’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

Robbie is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. McAuliffe’s and Mrs. Cavanaugh’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

Robbie is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. McAuliffe’s and Mrs. Cavanaugh’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

Buckbeak is a young male. His name was chosen by Mr. Krump’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

Buckbeak is a young male. His name was chosen by Mr. Krump’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

 

Other bird species we’ve seen so far

While we’re on the lookout for American robins, we see lots of other bird species. Brian’s been taking some pretty spectacular photos of them, so we thought we’d share them with you.

 

Busy as a beaver!

The other evening we decided to go check out one of the many nearby beaver lodge and dam complexes. We are in Canada after all!

Have you ever heard the expression “He/She is as busy as a beaver”? It comes from the fact that beavers are famous for keeping themselves very busy gnawing away at the trunks of trees until they fall to the ground – timber! – and can be used to build their homes (lodges) and dams to create lakes where there were previously small streams. You can learn all about beavers here and the structures they build here:

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/beaver/.

Although I had heard a lot about how busy beavers are, I had never seen it with my own eyes and wow, was I impressed! Seeing first hand all the work these beavers have done made me feel awfully lazy. Take a look for yourself:

 

That’s all we have for today, but tune in again soon to meet the next batch of space robins!

Space robin by Nicole Krikun.

Space robin by Nicole Krikun.

Migration Mystery: Listen to the singing!

April 21st, 2016 by Natalie Boelman

This morning we woke up to a lot more bird songs in the forest compared to what we’d been hearing in the days before. We were pretty excited. We waited and watched for any of them to fly into our nets.

 

In this video, you can’t really see that there are lots of birds around, but you sure can hear them! At the end of the movie, you’ll also see Brian and Nicole coming out of the woods where we have some nets up. See those cloth bags they are carrying? Each one has a robin in it! The bags are used to transport the birds safely to the location where we work with them. Our nets caught five birds this morning, all at once. We really hit the jackpot!

 

 
Meet our four new space robins: Zee, Big Mac, Pepperoni and Billie Jo

We’ve got four more space robins to introduce you to today! You may be wondering why there are only four birds to introduce you to today, even though we actually caught five.

It’s because not all of the birds we caught were big enough to carry the mini-GPS tags, so we had to let them go after weighing them. Here are photos of the four new space robins:

Zee_namecard

Zee is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Fluger’s 4th grade class. That’s my daughter Aline’s class! (Credit: Natalie Boelman)

 

Pepperoni_namecard

Pepperoni is an adult female – our first female! Her name was chosen by Mrs. Rudin’s 4th grade class. (Credit: Ruthie Oliver)

 

BigMac_namecard

Big Mac is a 1 year old (juvenile) male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Christie-Blick’s 5th grade class. (Credit: Willem Boelman)

 

Billie Jo_namecard

Billie Jo is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Early’s 5th grade class.

Suiting up a space robin

This movie shows Nicole and Brian suiting up one of our new space robins with a harness and mini-GPS. You can see the bird is relatively calm and cooperative.

Movie credit: Natalie Boelman

 

Releasing a space robin back into the wild

This movie shows Brian releasing one of our space robins back into the wild. Nicole showed us that if you put a bird on it’s back, it stays very still because it has no experience being on its back in the wild – it just doesn’t know what to do on it’s back, so it does nothing. The movie shows Brian giving this technique a shot – pretty neat!

Movie credit: Willem Boelman

 

How to hold a little bird

This last movie is of Nicole showing us how to hold a little bird. She does the demonstration with a cute little Black-capped Chickadee, not a robin. You can read about Black-capped Chickadees here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/id. Nicole shows us two different ‘grips’ (or holds) that keep the bird safe while it is being examined: ‘Bander’s grip’ or ‘Photographer’s grip’.

Movie credit: Natalie Boelman

 

More space robins are on their way!

Well, that’s all we have to report today, but we think that a whole lot more robins will be showing up in Slave Lake very soon. That’s because Nicole has a friend living in the city of Edmonton (which is located about 250 km south of Slave Lake) who told her yesterday that there are tons of robins in Edmonton all of sudden. As the birds make their way north from Edmonton, some of them will likely stop in Slave Lake to eat and rest. So stay tuned!

Notes from the Field