Airdate: Apr 27, 2012
Scientist: Steve Williams
Science Diary: Climate Change - Bird
In a cloudforest in northeastern Australia, chirping birds may provide clues about the effects of global warming.
Science Diary: Climate Change - Bird Count
Music; Ambiance: Conducting a bird count
Williams: Just got to sort of almost turn off your other senses and just concentrate on the sound.
Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. We're on Mt. Lewis in North Queensland, Australia. It's daybreak, and field biologist Steve Williams is doing what he does every morning here, counting the number of birds by listening to their sounds.
Williams: Probably one of the biggest problems is that all of the birds all have different calls. They don't all just have one call, so you not only have to distinguish between species, but each bird has its own repertoire, and then to top it off, each place you go that same bird has a different call."
The bird count is part of a study of climate change in the area, checking the number of species at different elevations on the mountain.
Williams: Because the idea when we're doing these sort of is not just to identify them. We're trying to count the number of individuals, so you've got to try and keep a spatial sort of mapping ahead of where each individual call so that you can see, oh no, that's a different-that's a new individual.
Whenever I'm not in the field for three or four months, it takes me the first hour or so to sort of switch on all my mind again to actually recognize it. Of course, I'll hear things, and I'll go, "I should know what that is," but, you know, I can't remember for a few minutes, and then it comes back to you very quickly. I guess it's like a language. If you don't use it for a while, you get back there, and you can't understand it, and then, after a little while, it sort of starts to come back.
The bird count gets incorporated into the rest of Steve Williams's data on the number of different species inhabiting Mt. Lewis and how they're affected by climate change. For more information, check out pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.