I participated in the Wakonse South Teaching conference held in Burnet, Texas over the weekend of March 31st. Other than being in a gorgeous location and the perfect time to be there, I had my mind blown repeatedly during some of the teaching workshops I attended there. I came back with some ideas to overhaul my own teaching, especially my undergrad genetics course. During the downtime in the conference, I made full use of the opportunity to be out and about in the hill country – I wandered the trails and birded and even went on a moonlit walk to the observatory, racking up a total of 23 miles walked in two days. Here is my bird list, available on eBird. And some pics…
With the increased attention that golden-cheeked warblers are getting, with efforts to delist the species, I believe it is a great opportunity to educate and inform the lay population, as well as the very active birding community it Texas, about what the demographic recovery means and what it doesn’t. To follow up my talks in the last year with Audubon San Antonio and Texas Ornithological Society, I will be talking about this topic at Travis Audubon in May this year.
The endangered golden-cheeked warbler is making news again. Some groups in the state believe that the bird must be removed from the endangered species list, and hence open up land for urban development. Last time around (in 2015), the USFWS did not find sufficient evidence that the species had recovered enough to be taken off the list. The fact remains that Athrey et al showed in 2011 that the genetic diversity had declined so steeply in the past 100 years, making it quite unlikely that any recent demographic recovery has accompanied by genetic recovery. The magnitude of declines in genetic diversity and increase in population differentiation observed would require tens of generations at least to approach historical levels. Such recoveries are unlikely to happen in a span of 5 or 10 years. Any assessment that includes the published genetic data would agree that golden-cheeked warblers need to remain on the list. I spoke to the San Antonio Express News for an article that appeared March 9th that says as much.
The Athrey lab welcomed two students – Mohamed Ibrahim (started in Fall 2016) and Travis Williams – both into the PhD program in the department of poultry science.
We also are looking forward to a new batch of chicks from our junglefowl colony, which we have successfully expanded two full size flocks. We recently relocated our colonies to renovated, spacious pens for our birds and they certainly seem to be getting quite comfortable in there.
I recently returned from a trip to India where I visited the Wildlife Institute of India, with whom we will be starting some work. My trip included two separate visits to national parks in India. Among the exciting things I got to see were wild Red Junglefowl which were tripping over each other at Rajaji National Park (near Dehradun), and also Gray Junglefowl at Bandipur National Park, not to mention two herds of pachyderms, dozens of peacocks!a myriad of other amazing birds. But these two species had special relevance on this trip and for work in our lab, so made it all the more exciting to have seen them.
Postdoc Hoa Nguyen-Phuc and I traveled to Tennessee to the property of a gentleman (Mr. Don Shadow) who has been one of the more successful people to keep Red Junglefowl in captivity. Through the contacts and great help of Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin ( professor emeritus at University of Georgia), we were able to coordinate the transfer of these birds so we can attempt to establish our own colony here. It was a tremendous excitement for me to see these birds again, which I have only seen in the wild in India. Hoa, who has extensive experience with wild junglefowl, is taking a lead role in making sure we are successful in our plans.
Here are some pictures