Post-doc opportunity in Avian Conservation Ecology

The Boreal Avian Modelling Project (BAM) is seeking an avian ecologist to fulfil a postdoctoral position at the University of Alberta. BAM is a continental scale effort to understand the ecology and dynamics of avian populations and their habitats in the boreal forest of North America (for more details on BAM see Working with a team of avian ecologists, conservation scientists and statisticians, the post-doctoral fellow will conduct science to support the characterization and identification of critical habitat for several boreal bird species in Canada, including Canada Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Common Nighthawk. The position will involve collaboration with federal and provincial governments, industry, and other academic institutions.

We are seeking a candidate meeting the following criteria:

1) Self-motivated & able to confidently interact with people of varying backgrounds

2) Strong background in avian ecology and conservation science

3) Knowledge of regulatory requirements related to migratory birds

4) Experience with wildlife-habitat modelling & Geographic Information Systems, preferably at large scales

5) Excellent and demonstrated writing skills

6) Strong quantitative skills

The position is available immediately. We will take accept applications until a suitable candidate is found. To apply, please provide a letter of interest, CV, and an example of your writing skills in the form of a peer-reviewed paper or thesis.

The position will be located at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, AB with an annual salary of $55,000 plus benefits. The length of the fellowship is 2.5 years.

Candidates should send their application package to:

Dr. Nicole Barker, BAM Coordinating Scientist

Field Fun Friday


Second year male in 2015 with a light, indistinct necklace.

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The same male captured in 2016, now an after second year male with a bold, distinct necklace.

During the breeding season, male songbirds often have brightly coloured and contrasting feather patterns to attract females. These patterns often become more pronounced and defined in older adult males. One of the distinguishing features of the Canada Warbler is the adult male’s dark necklaced feather pattern, which gets darker and more distinct after their second year. Not only did our banded male from 2015 return to the same breeding location, but he came back in 2016 sporting a beautifully developed necklace, and was accompanied by a nesting female! Looks like a year abroad did wonders for this warbler’s appeal. Post and photos by Anjolene Hunt.

Field Fun Friday

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It’s always fun to change things up and work with a new species or in a new habitat. Songbird researcher Anjolene Hunt was happy to help Jesse Watson, Frank Pouw, and Walter the owl carry out Broad-winged hawk capture and transmitter attachment as part of the Migratory Connectivity Project, a collaborative effort between the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the University of Alberta. Photos and post by Anjolene Hunt.

Field Fun Friday

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Brown-headed cowbirds are brood parasites, animals that use other organisms to raise their young. Parents will lay their eggs in a different species nest, and the unsuspecting host will incubate the eggs, and feed the giant chicks, often at the expense of their own offpring. Here, a tiny black-and-white warbler feeds its unintentional adoptee. Post and photos by Anjolene Hunt.

Student research featured in Society of Canadian Ornithologists bulletin: Do Canada Warblers use forest stands altered by timber harvesting?


Bayne lab M.Sc. student Anjolene Hunt’s research on ‘Habitat use of Canada Warblers in an extensively managed forest landscape’ has been featured in the March issue of Picoides, the bulletin of the Society of Canadian Ornithologists. Read her 2015 James L. Baillie Award Report to learn about preliminary results.

It’s all fen and games – field ecology adventures in and around McClelland Lake fen

As an incoming PhD student in Erin Bayne’s lab, I was fortunate to spend the summer before grad school north of Ft. McMurray, AB studying yellow rails and common nighthawks for the Bayne lab. I was struck by the patterns and contrasts of the boreal landscape in the oil sands area, which are well worth sharing as a photo essay.


Figure01Our 2015 field season started with a helicopter reconnaissance of the three large graminoid fens where we planned to deploy autonomous recording units (ARUs) to survey yellow rails. There was much banking and loop-de-looping involved; Tim Hortons breakfast burritos were not a good choice.


ARUs are an obvious choice for monitoring yellow rails for several reasons: 1) Yelow rails are highly cryptic, 2) they’re nocturnal, and 3) they live in floating graminoid fens, which are not a particularly fun place to survey in the dark. Graminoid fens are wet places, and traversing one is akin to walking across a wobbly water bed. By Elly Knight

ARUs are an obvious choice for monitoring yellow rails for several reasons: 1) Yellow rails are highly cryptic, 2) they’re nocturnal, and 3) they live in floating graminoid fens, which are not a particularly fun place to survey in the dark. Graminoid fens are wet places, and traversing one is akin to walking across a wobbly water bed.


Figure03Much of our work was in McClelland fen, Alberta’s best example of a patterned fen and a provincially significant environmentally sensitive area (ESA). The fen is on the southeastern side of McClelland Lake, north of Fort Mackay.


Figure04Patterned fens are characterized by strings and flarks. Strings are the lines of larch and bog birch. Flarks are the graminoid areas in between. Although I’ve yet to use it, I believe “flark” may be the best scrabble word ever.


Figure05These large fens can be difficult to access and hike through, so we deployed the ARUs via helicopter long line. Labmate Dan Yip developed a clever stand design that allowed the ARUs to be automatically dropped from the long line and still stay upright. Hooking the stands back to the long line for pick up required slogging through the fen though.


Figure06Slogging through fens provided the opportunity to see many unique flora and fauna. Pitcher plants are found in fens on hummocks of moss. These plants obtain nutrients by attracting insects who get caught by downward pointing hairs on the sides of the pitcher. The insects eventually drown in the water within the pitcher and the plant slowly digests them.


Figure07In other parts of the fen, microbes create a sheen of oil as a by-product of digestion, which catches the light and fragments when disturbed (by the slogging).


Figure08Our helicopter work also included aerial views of the oil sands development just south of our study area. Here, bitumen, salts, solvents, and sediment on the surface of a tailings pond creates an equally eye-catching pattern.


Figure09Back at camp, we set our tents up in a stand of live trees for safety measures. The area north of McClelland Lake for several hundred kilometres is a sandy jack pine forest that burned in 2011 during the Richardson fire, which was the second largest fire in Alberta’s recorded history. Also, pro tip: get your helicopter to pick you up at camp.


Figure10The regenerating post-fire landscape of the Richardson burn is beautiful. Lab mate Janet Ng and I came across this sunny patch of burned pine and grass during a morning survey for olive-sided flycatchers.


Figure11Turns out post-fire jack pine forest with is prime habitat for common nighthawks, which we spent the second half of the field season studying. Lab mate Daniel Yip found this nest in a stand of burned pine. Common nighthawks don’t make nests – they simply lay two eggs on bare ground. This bird has pulled out all the stops and even cleared a few pine needles.


Figure12By night, labmate Janet Ng taught me how to catch common nighthawks, my PhD study species. We worked at night because nighthawks are crepuscular (i.e., active at dusk and dawn).


Figure13Here, Janet contemplates the coming evening’s work with Maurice, our handsome nighthawk decoy, who helps lure the real birds in. This is Janet’s “science face”.


Figure14With the help of Maurice, we caught male nighthawks and fitted each bird with a satellite transmitter for a migration study by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. You can read more about the project on Janet’s blog post here. Photo credit Janet Ng.


Figure15Doing common nighthawk work in northern Alberta meant staying up real late to wait for dusk, but the slow sunsets through burned pine were spectacular.


Needless to say, I’m excited to get back up north next summer to continue studying common nighthawks!


Post by Elly Knight.