After nearly three months of senior projecting, it is time to say farewell. Well, maybe not quite yet – there are still more than two weeks left until senior project presentations, where we, the seniors, will share our findings with and showcase our final products. I’m really excited to see what everyone else has discovered over the past months! With such a diverse array of projects, there will be something to learn from each and every presentation.
My own final product will be the not-so-grand spectacle of… a research paper. My friends’ ideas of compiling a bird photo album or having a live, captive mockingbird demo were much more engaging, and definitely would have made for a more interesting showcase than 15 pages of text- and graph-filled paper. Unfortunately, the first idea wasn’t sufficiently academic, and the second one was impractical (and at least slightly unethical), so I’ll have to settle for a plain old research paper. It’s a work in progress at the moment, but it should be finished up in time for the showcase. Also, if you want to see a less stale version of my project, my presentation will be from 7:30 to 7:45, on Wednesday, May 23rd, at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel.
Now, back to the specifics of this week, where I conducted the third round of surveys at the four close sites. It was a wonderful, peaceful close to the project, with pleasant temperatures and melodious birdsong.
On Monday, I was feeling lazy, so I walked the loop around my house. This was the only day that could be classified as “chilly,” but the crisp air and breeze perfectly complemented the wispy clouds overhead.
The next day, I surveyed the BASIS site, accompanied by SALT Bot (many thanks for the salty yet helpful company). Unfortunately, no photos from that day to share, but plenty from Wednesday, when I took my final survey trip to Coyote Valley.
Interestingly, 3 out of the 4 local sites happened to have a railroad running through them. Coincidence?
Perhaps the most interesting sighting of the day was a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds going after a raven. After a brief aerial battle, they succeeded in chasing the predatory raven away:
Wednesday also marked the day that I finished analyzing my local recordings. On Thursday, I took a break from surveys, and did analysis of Sierra Foothills data – enough to bring all six sites up to at least two valid individuals (most have more). Here’s what the updated graph looks like:
Not looking good for a difference in mimetic frequency between urban and rural… and a t-Test confirms that there is no statistically significant disparity. So, collecting more data only gave more support for the null hypothesis: any difference in the averages of the two groups is simply due to random variation. Individual variation was super high among mockingbirds not only in the same urban/rural habitat, but even among the birds at any particular site. I’d have to record and analyze hundreds more birds to obtain a statistically significant difference (which may not even exist at all). But for now, with the amount of individuals I have, the answer to one of my primary questions is NO, there is no difference between urban and rural mimetic frequencies.
The other question I had set out to answer was about how the ecological links of model species to mockingbirds differed between rural and urban sites, if at all. This is a question I am still in the process of answering, using the catalogue of all mimicked species. The answer will be found in my paper and presentation!
That’s all for data. Here are some more photos from Friday, the final survey day! It was spent ambling around Alviso, listening to mockingbirds, and playing a seemingly endless game of hat tug-of-war with the wind.
Somehow, I noticed this sign for the first time on the final day of my project, on my way out of Alviso. Welcome, indeed!
First piece of advice for next year’s prospective senior projectors… do it! Don’t back out. You won’t regret it – it’ll let you skip three months of school. Kidding – though that might be one reason to participate in the project, the main reason, at least for me, was the potential for independent discovery. On the three month journey, you will learn much not only about the topic you are pursuing, but also about yourself. It won’t always be a smooth ride, but that’s what the external and BASIS advisors are there for: to talk over challenges and find ways for you to overcome them.
Speaking of advisors, I first of all have to thank Mr. Sean Peterson of UC Berkeley’s Beissinger Lab. I probably wouldn’t trust myself with a recording device and give myself access to the lab’s recordings, but Sean did, and for that I am very grateful. Also, without our weekly phone calls and discussions, there’s no way my project could have progressed as it did. Many thanks also go out to Dr. Anuradha Murthy, my BASIS advisor, for all the support and advice. In fact, Dr. Murthy was the one that sent me along the path of a bird-related project at the beginning of the year.
Another piece of advice for the juniors: do what your heart tells you to do! If you have some unconventional passion, then there surely is a way you can translate that passion into a feasible senior project. Go for it!
Besides my two advisors, I also want to thank Ms. Belcher for undertaking the difficult task of organizing and coordinating our projects (yes, including all the pesky deadlines we had to meet). Additionally, my conversations with my family were a great help in determining what to do next, so I have to thank them for that. Also, my friends made me view my passion (craziness?) for birds in a new light, which I really appreciate. And last, but most certainly not least, I must thank the birds! This project wouldn’t have even existed without them.
To any readers, if there’s one thing I hope you will take away from this blog, it’s that nature is awesome, and it’s everywhere! So go outside, experience it, let it give you fun and fascination, strength and solace. Or, simply open your window on a summer afternoon, and listen for a minute or two. Soon enough, you’ll hear the rich, bubbling song of a mockingbird!