Wednesday, 27 January 2010

New Year Same Birds

I am happy to report the completion of 199 out of 202 surveys! The last 3 will be taken care of with the help of my BirdLife Cyprus friend on Saturday morning, and then we can all have a party and celebrate the end of a super efficient winter fieldwork season!

This winter's work has actually gone very well. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. My car has proved itself on slippy muddy roads, only 5 days were completely written off due to bad weather, and I got soaking wet (and hailed on) just once. I have had an excellent field assistant and her help in data recording, navigating, putting up with me, and helping to keep me sane was nothing short of invaluable.

As the winter bird surveys are winding down, I have been stressing about fieldwork in Spring/Summer 2010. Some time in October during a discussion with my supervisor it was suggested I focus on linking avian diversity and abundance to viticulture and vine management practices. Since then, the prospect of this has been looking increasingly unpleasant, but I've begun some ground work on it, by interviewing winery owners and visiting vines. As a result, it's officially looking borderline horrid.

Turns out vine management is a very very complicated business. Although I now know the rough timing of the various managements (pruning, cultivating, spraying, fertilising etc), it all depends massively on a seemingly endless list of factors: climate, altitude, weather, soil conditions, grape variety, vine spatial arrangement, governmental policies and funding, and the experience, objectives and whims of the vine owner... And obviously the avifauna is hugely affected by the surrounding landscape and the mosaic as a whole.

Now it is my view that the land-use mosaic is the most important determinant of the birds that are using a particular vine. The vine itself is very important as well, of course, as it is a complicated system in itself, with lots of bits of management-related disturbance maintaining variety in the habitat, but it is just one part of the whole patchwork of land-uses in the landscape, and on its own it will not save or destroy the avian biodiversity of Cyprus.

As my brain struggles to wrap itself around all these interrelated factors and I attempt to formulate intelligent questions linking birds and viticulture and how to answer them, I begin to think about the possibility of forgetting about fieldwork in Spring/Summer 2010. This morning, I received an e-mail sent from the Gods. My supervisors seem to have been thinking on the exact same lines! I am now a bit concerned that they have managed to establish some form of telepathic link to my brain (think Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).

Anyway, this means that I am now faced with a radical change of plan. I normally don't like these sort of situations, but I'm sure I'm making the right decision in changing my approach. Fieldwork on an unclear objective in less than 2 months' time feels rushed and risks wasting time and effort asking questions that, may not be outright wrong, but just not the best. And I don't normally settle for "not the best".

Now to re-organise my time...