Dr. Dan Cristol’s BIOL416 Ornithology course has been up and running this very cold spring semester, yet despite the weather the students have carried on. Indoor lectures are on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at 11, but the students must face the elements on many Thursdays starting at 5:30AM (that’s not a typo!), braving extreme cold, harsh wind, and the associated dangerous roads on which they travel to good birding sites. Says Dr. Cristol: “We had weekend field trips to the Eastern Shore and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and another to Craney Island dredge disposal site, where we saw a snowy owl. There was also an option to join the Williamsburg Bird club for two outings to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, one by car and one by boat.”
Dr. Cristol and his students have accumulated some really excellent bird photos from their field trips this semester and posted on flickr. These images are just a tiny fraction of the photos the students have taken this semester. As Dr. Cristol notes, “It's truly amazing what these new cameras can do, even in cold, inexperienced hands!”
Dr. Cristol has 15 students in the class but owing to seat limitation in the department van, only 11 can come on each trip. This arrangement allows Dr. Cristol to lecture and take advantage of unplanned opportunities as they arise. Most of the trips are local - Yorktown, Jamestown, Colonial Parkway, campus, neighborhoods, etc. “We are trying to break the all-time class semester bird list record set in 2006 of 173 species seen on trips. We are on a roll, with 159 sighted already and spring migration still to go. I really want us to find 200 species.”
An official “sighting” can be achieved in a number of ways: birds can be sighted on class trips, or students can go look for birds on their own outside of class. For these sightings to count, either three students must see the bird or one student must produce a photograph. Also, Dr. Cristol’s sightings only count if a student is with him to confirm. Finally, Dr. Cristol offered a $10 bounty (not departmental funds!) for certain wintering birds missing from the list; over spring break, students found, photographed, and added four species to the list, and Dr. Cristol was out $40.
This week the students went searching for owls at 6AM at the cemetery near campus, and used playback calls to find three pairs of Barred Owls. Dr. Cristol also took the students to last year’s nest site of Great Horned Owls that were gracious enough to be there again this year.