Mist-netting and passerine bird banding in Alfred, NY

A key component to bird studies is bird banding, in which each bird has a band with a unique number placed on the bird. Sometimes, larger birds will also have colored bands placed on them which allows the individual to be recognized without recapturing them.  This allows changes in populations, dispersal, survival and migratory movements to be studied. Banding birds also gives insight into natural history, particularly, on body conditions during taxing periods of their life cycle like breeding and migration. As part of my undergraduate studies, my class did an activity on bird banding at my professor’s house. Since he is a master bander we were able to sample birds in mist nets.


The study was conducted on November 21st, 2013 at Dr. Beaudry’s house in Alfred, New York from 9:15 am to 11:00 am. Mist nets (which are large thin nets that birds can’t see in flight and therefore fly into and get caught) were set up near feeders and the collected birds had data recorded about their body and they were banded and released. Data collected included age, sex, wing length, weight, and furcular fat score.

In total there were 16 birds captured from 4 species; Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), and Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus). The details of each individual are recorded below (table 1).

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Vegetation Sampling: an example lab

The following is adapted from a vegetation sampling lab I did in college.


In order to properly study an area, one has to know certain characteristics of that area. Studying the vegetation of an area has its many benefits. These include allowing us to understand the difference between communities, describe habitat, and understand how vegetation reacts to certain environmental gradients. In this lab, we focused on using the point-centered quarter method to characterize a forested slope.

From the data collected we can calculate average density per hectare, relative density, density, basal area, relative basal area, frequency, relative frequency, importance value, and relative importance value. These values allow us to compare characteristics among different species. This was the main objective of this lab.


This study took place on Pine Hill Alfred, NY on September 9th, 2013. Following the gas pipeline trail behinds Ann’s House on the bearing N10Wo we walked 5 meters off the gas pipeline trail. At that point we placed the center of a quadrant composed of 90o quarters. Quarters 1 and 2 faced North, 1 being on the East side. Quarters 3 and 4 faced South, with 3 being on the East side. We determined the four closest trees to the quadrant, with a diameter at breast height over 10 cm. For each tree we calculated the distance from the quadrant, diameter at breast height, and the tree’s species. The same process was repeated for a quadrate located 25 meters from the path.

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Soil classification- a case study on Alfred, New York soils

An understanding of physical properties of soil leads to an understanding of how other processes may take place. The majority of these properties also change very slowly, therefore, a small difference can mean a lot. Soil texture is determined based on the proportions of the soil that contains sand, silt, and clay. This effects specific surface area, water relations, tillage, erosion, agrichemicals relations, and environmental considerations related to soil. In particular specific surface area plays a key role in determining the interface or contact zone between particles and their surrounding environments. Organic content is important for soil fertility, water absorption, and nutrients for the soil. Water content is important as plants need water to grow, and it is also needed to help replace water in the water table. Color helps to determine what the specific context of the soil may be. For example, a reddish soil indicates exposure to oxygen and possibly iron. Lastly, pH affects the surrounding environment of the soil, and its ability to hold minerals such as calcium.

There are basically three schools of thought when it comes to classifying soils; engineering, soil science, and OSHA. I am going to go into the most detail with the soil science approach because it is what I am most familiar with.  Unified Soil Classification System (USCS) is the most common engineering classification system used in North America. It breaks soils down into three groups; coarse-grained soils, fine-grained soils, and high organic soils. Coarse-grained soils are sand and gravels, while fine-grained soils are things like clay and silt. High organic soils are peat soils, which I discussed in my wetlands overview post. These three groups are then further broken down. The coarse-grained soil classification is broken down into sand and gravel based on the particle size. Typically this is done using a stack of sieves that sort soil by particle size. The top sieve has the largest mesh, and progressively the mesh gets smaller and smaller. The stack can be shaken by hand or placed in a shaker.

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