CU Diversity & Inclusion Summit

What does it mean to be a student of a marginalized group identity in a university lacking the cultural, socioeconomic, racial and ethnic diversity that is needed for those students to thrive? I can tell you from my personal experience that it means to be resilient, aware, flexible and most importantly strong. That’s what the marginalized students of the University of Colorado are: strong. The CU Diversity and Inclusion Summit started fast out of the gates with Carlotta Walls LaNier, original member of the “Little Rock Nine,” setting the tone for what would be a difficult and uncomfortable (but necessary) discussion. For those who don’t remember, The “Little Rock Nine” were a group of black students who made the national spotlight after the intense resistance they faced when they were the first to attend Central High School, an all white high school, after the Brown vs. Board ruling which ended segregation in public schools. Let me just say what a privilege it is to be in the presence of a person with the distinction only made possible by courage and leadership that was ahead of its time. A woman who was brave in her approach of looking for a simple opportunity. Like she says, “Our intent was to get the best education possible.” Let me regress to the original question, before this becomes about my feelings. I’m writing to share my interpretation of the feelings expressed by CU students because they matter to the university, community, and me. And they should matter to you too, because it’s not just a CU problem.

Carlotta Walls LaNier telling her story.

Carlotta Walls LaNier telling her story.

The range of the social issues that were discussed in the summit made it possible for everyone to feel engaged. Topics ranged from discrimination of the LGBT population to the impacts of environmental justice on sustainability (one of my favorites). But the real take home message of the summit was the impact of the campus climate on the students. There were two sessions over the two days, which if they stood by themselves they could have made a summit on their own: “Beyond Ferguson: Reactions for Graduate Students of Color on Race, Gender, Justice and Whiteness at CU” and “Can we ‘Be Boulder?” Some of us can understand the feelings of the students, and some of us cannot; but we can all acknowledge the valor that these young men and woman have, because to share their feelings leaves them vulnerable and open. It is hard for a person of color, let alone a student who at a young, tumultuous age is dealing with so much already, to wade in waters unknown and feeling like no one is looking out for them. These students come to this campus, and have a feeling of isolation, loneliness a feeling of not belonging or fitting in. They walk around campus and wonder: Why does nobody look like me? Why does it feel like nobody understands me? They walk through clouds of micro-aggressions, racism, genderism and all sorts of other “isms” because they’re not part of the dominant group, and it sucks, it really does. It is not a great feeling to be invisible and all of the students said that on campus they felt invisible, like their story doesn’t matter, that they are a someone who comes from deficit rather than an individual that brings something unique to the university.

University of Colorado graduate students sharing their experience.

University of Colorado graduate students sharing their experience.

It is such a visceral and damaging campus climate for these students. This is why it’s so hard to recruit but even more to retain these students. I’m just glad that they find solidarity in one another with student groups and the like. So what does it mean to be a student from a marginalized group on a campus like that of CU’s? My advice to you is to ask, don’t be afraid to have this talk. It’s not a bad thing if you don’t understand someone, I and many others would say we would expect that. But what you don’t want to do is ignore it or pretend it doesn’t matter, because it does. It matters on campuses around nation, in workplaces, out in the field, in the locker room, on the slopes, in your grocery stores and even in your home. It matters to those students who had the guts to share, it matters to myself and it should matter to you too.

Best in Show

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Here is a list of some of the KBO interns’ favorite birds whose glamour, behavior, and plain birdiness stole our hearts.

  1. Steller’s jay. Uncommon to some of the crew members that came from the southern hemisphere, this bird was on their bucket list as well as all of the jays in general. There is something about the rock and roll crest and the bright blue back that makes everyone turn their heads. This bird has so much personality and also so much controversy in conservation talk that we were always excited to band it. There are no jays in the equator; there are birds similar to jays but no jays. So it is an exciting bird indeed.
  2. Varied thrush. A common bird to Oregon, that is for sure, but when we unexpectedly got a wave of migrants, we were surprised. At one time we saw over a hundred fly through the banding station at the Oregon Caves. It was breathtaking. We first heard them calling and shortly after we felt them coming through the forest. One by one, we watched them coming closer and closer. Then they hung around the banding table area for about ten minutes before they continued on their path. It felt surreal because of their proximity to us, they flew through the trees rather than over them. This species is sometimes confused for the American robin, due the amount of orange in their body but they are distinguished by a dark blue or grayish breast band. The females usually have an indistinct band but the males’ is usually more vibrant with a bluish gray back. Beautiful birds.
  3. Mountain chickadee. One of our favorite birds due to their sweet “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call, but also among the ones who caused us the most problems. Chickadees always get themselves into the most difficult tangles due to their ability to grab very tightly with their feet. They put themselves into a pocket which they then close the opening with their feet with as much netting as they possibly can. So as a bander, we have to often try to remove the feet first when we cannot grab the body, but as we take some netting out of one foot, they quickly grab more netting from nearby, re-tangling themselves. But despite their rowdiness to get us as far away from them as possible, they have taught us to be efficient and avid at the most difficult tangles.
  4. Wilson’s warbler. Distinguishable by their yellow bodies and black cap in males, this bird is a loved one by our banders due to their docile behavior. Although we saw plenty of them during the fall migration, they are a species of concern and have been featured in the 2014 State of the Birds Report as having had a steep decline.
  5. Sharp shinned hawk. The bird that turned a day around, from a slow one to action packed. Due to the mesh size of our mist nets, we can mostly catch small to medium-size songbirds and near Passerines. This is why when we caught a hawk; it was always an unexpected surprise. Since we are not trained to catch raptors, we often found extracting from nets scary. Not because we could hurt them or because they were very tangled, but because they could potential injure us with their talons. Their presence is unlike any other bird, we were always in awe by their strength and fierce look.
  6. Evening grosbeak. Only seen and heard by our most advanced birders, these birds were mainly captured at the beginning of the banding season. I never got to band one myself, but everyone else who did could not stop talking about how pretty they looked. When I did get a glimpse of them, it was normally through a crew member that had noticed them flying over. But I was never quick enough to get a good look at them since they normally flew over high and fast. Although my chances for banding them are no longer possible, I will feel content if I see them at my feeders this winter.
  7. Cedar waxwings. This was the bird that we always wished we could catch in our nets, but almost never did. Waxwings usually hang out in large flocks, which make them noticeable when they are around, but they are experts at avoiding the net. We are attracted to them by their black masks, mohawk, and colorful accents on their brown body like the yellow on the tail and the red on the tips of their secondaries. These tips are actually waxy, which are not seen in any other songbird from around here.
  8. White-crow sparrow. Their song is among the prettiest them of all. But not only that, they have a complicated life history with five different sub-species varying in behavior, migratory routes, and even song. What we observed the most of in Southern Oregon when banding were Gambel’s white crown sparrow which nest in the Alaskan tundra and winter as far south as Mexico. We loved them not only for their song, but also for how easily it was to age them. The black and white crown is developed during their second year, making it very easy to identify between a hatch-year and an after hatch-year bird.

Moving Forward

eggs in handI am happy to announce that I am officially bander certified by the North American Banding Council. The test took place in Ashland, OR and was a very rigorous, three-day exam consisting of four parts: a written, practical, specimen, and interview. We were tested on our ability to operate a banding station, set up/take down mist nets, identifying the common species, proper banding and adjustment, proper aging and sexing techniques, morphology measurements, the history of banding, correcting data sheets, bird morphology, avian first aid, and more. I can’t believe I’ve had to learn all of this in only two months! But It feels extremely rewarding to have accomplished it. In the beginning I didn’t know the first thing about banding and my songbird ID was limited. But now, I feel well equipped and confident with my banding, aging and sexing techniques and can no longer step outside without naming all the birdcalls I hear. It’s fantastic.

During the practical exam, I realized that this was the last time I would be banding in southern Oregon and the nostalgia kicked in. As I banded my last bird, which was a stunning northern flicker, I wondered, “What will a few days without handling birds be like? I can’t believe they won’t be what I’m surrounded by for half my day.” For the last few months, I’ve been working in the field, it’s been a busy time from the Oregon coast to Alaska and southern Oregon. Forest, tundra, ocean, and wild creatures have been what surrounds me. But now,I’m surrounded by quiet the opposite, cars, buildings, and many many people. After only three days outside of nature, it feels odd and its a big change… nonetheless it is a much needed break from the long hard working days in the field and the perfect time to spend with family.

So where do I go from here? To start, I plan on making a trip to my Peruvian home country during the winter or early spring. Not only am I excited to visit friends and family, but I’m also looking forward to participating in some banding outings with the Santa Eulalia Biological Station. Now that I have the bander certification, I want to take the next step in getting trainer certified, so that I can offer banding workshops while I am in Peru. Once I come back to the northern hemisphere, it will be the field season once again and I can’t wait to jump on some cool projects. Shortly after, I will be starting graduate school at Oregon State University. I will be involved in seabird telemetry, tagging and tracking petrels, fulmars, gulls, and more during the winter and breeding season. Not only this but I will also be in charge of vessel seabird counts and coordinating the reproductive success research on common murres out of Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, OR.

I’m very excited for what 2015 has in store for me and meanwhile I will be enjoying lovely outings in beautiful Oregon for the rest of Fall.

Bird on!

KBO on Conservation

Male Spotted Towhee

I’ve spent some time talking about my experience banding for Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO), but I have not yet explained who are they and what they do. So let me discuss. KBO is a non-profit organization that focuses on the long-term monitoring of landbirds in southern Oregon and northern California.

They impact the community around them by performing Decision Support Tools (DST) which deliver scientific information to those in position to benefit birds and their habitats, such as land managers. One of the most recent ones developed, was a guide for private landowners on restoring oak habitat. The guide explains the importance of oak habitat, the role of private landowners in oak restoration, highlights oak species in the region, and gives instructions on how to monitor bird species to document ecological benefits of oak restoration activities. This document has contributed to such an extent that with the help of the Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network partners, 6,000 acres of federal state, and private land were restored. This benefited oak-depended birds like the Oak Titmouse and it was highlight in the most recent State of the Birds Report as an example on how conservation does work!

KBO has also been actively involved in the Trinity River Restoration Program. This program works to restore salmonoid populations that have been impacted by dams in the Trinity River in northern California. The restoration involves creating more riparian habitat that will benefit both fish and bird populations. For this KBO has been monitoring bird populations in that area for many years. They have expanded the bird monitoring by implementing two additional methodologies: one to determine whether birds are nesting in the recently restored riparian habitat, and if so, whether the young is successfully fledging. The results will allow for a better understanding of the restoration response and influence the adaptive management framework.

In terms of the banding data I collect with my team of six biological technicians, that is part of the effort to track population abundance, reproductive success, and survival of birds in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion. KBO works in conjunction with the Humboldt Bay Observatory with whom together operate on 16 different monitoring stations, estimation 10,000 bird captures a year. Banding data collected in addition to point count surveys, also goes to the National Park Service Klamath Network which aids national parks in the assessment of ecological integrity of the parks at stakes. The network includes Crater Lake National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Redwood National and State Parks, Whiskeytown National Recreational Area, and the Oregon Caves National Monument where mist-netting surveys are implemented.

KBO also performs environmental education. They have recently developed a Northwest Nature Shop, where kids in elementary and middle school can explore and gain a deeper sense of place by learning about to their local ecosystems and land issues. However they have long been involved with developing curriculum for interested teachers, performed classroom visits, field trips and camps, and visits to their monitoring stations.

These are only a few, of the many ways in which KBO is contributing to conservation in our local environment. I invite you to read their story or make a donation to save migratory birds at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/saving-migratory-birds

Good Mourning Dove

I'm trying to wake up while not disturbing any ghosts!

I’m trying to wake up while not disturbing any ghosts!

I think it was a great idea to go birding at the cemetery on the week of Halloween, props to whose ever idea that was. I was able to tag along to Green Mountain Memorial Park, to go birding with a group of bird lovers that head out with owner of the Wild Bird Center, Steve Frye. It was my second outing with Steve and company, and I felt exceptionally confident of my abilities, maybe it had to do with me having capable binoculars this time. I even took a crack at identifying a raptor, and to my surprise was right on the money. I’m still astounded at how easy it is for experienced birders to identify birds simply by a evanescent glimpse of them or a snippet of their call. Isn’t there a saying about how patient mothers are or something? Well, they should replace mothers with birders because I tell you it is a truly difficult skill that one has to develop and maintain to become a birder. I’m glad there are people like the ones in the birding group that are not just very knowledgeable, but also very inviting. They can smell out a newbie like me and instead of casting me off they are excited to share with me what they know. Like, how a black-capped chickadee and a mountain chickadee differ in that the latter has a broad white eyebrow, or that just because a bird is blue, doesn’t make it a blue jay and a well secluded mourning dove in a tree is not a baby pigeon, whoops!

Can you guess what this is?

Can you guess what this is?

Well it’s great to see that we birders (I consider myself one now) are a friendly bunch! I was touched by the hospitality in such a way that later that day I decided to take my young cousins on a birding expedition. They cheered in unison when I asked them “¿Quieren ir a ver los pájaros?” although I doubt they’ed ever been birding, but they were game and so was I. So we hopped in the van and they in their car seats and we drove to Waneka Lake, where we walked around the lake and had some close encounters with canadian geese as we made or way to a marsh in the back where a handful of mallards sat. They asked me a lot of questions, some of which I answered and then some of which had me pondering them as well. I realized as we sat on the steps of the observatory deck, the girls switching between binoculars and pointing out the ducks, that the little encouragement and generosity shown to me by the expert birders had trickled down into myself and now my cousins. It makes a big difference when experiencing something new that those that have already been there make an effort to support those who have yet to indulge. Hopefully that adventure we took will ignite a desire for birds and nature in those kids, and they too can one day be engaging the new guy on the bird walk, teaching him what they know about mourning doves and chickadees.