Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The ever-present data and its analysis, a workshop, a holiday and a ring

Well it's been quite the month! Although I like to save the best for last, I can't hold this one in for very long so: 

I'm engaged!!! =D

I'll spare you the lovey-dovey bits, but let me just say that my feet have hardly touched the ground since my fiancé put the most beautiful ring on my finger *elation*.
This opens up some very interesting points for discussion, which, to do them justice, I will leave to another blog post. For now, let's just take a look at what PhD-related things I've been doing...

sorry, got carried away looking at my ring

So I had my annual meeting, where I presented to my supervisors various bits of analysis that I did so far and then we talked about moving forward. The plan officially now does not include another field season.

My best hope of going into the field again is by inviting a MSc student to do work on a topic related to my PhD for their dissertation. This would be quite a good thing to do actually, not just because I'd be going out in the field with them for a bit, but also in terms of getting experience supervising, and maybe even a publication. I did advertise for a MSc dissertation this year, but unfortunately I didn't get good candidates so it didn't happen. Hopefully I'll have better luck next year.

The result of the annual meeting was an action plan for the next 12 months. This was not that easy to do. Things just get so sketchy after about 3-4 months. I did manage in the end to break up my time into week-long chunks. This way, I don't have ten different things to be doing over a long period of time. That would be very vague, and it wouldn't allow me to check my progress effectively. What I've come up with allows me to estimate how many weeks I will be dedicating to each task, and I'll be able to clearly see if I'm falling behind schedule. There's a lot that needs doing, but I'm happy with my plan.

The first thing on my list was to explore the effect of altitude on my birdies. In my previous post I showed you a map with different sized and coloured bubbles representing the extent of the various land uses at each of my sites. Other than land use / habitat type, altitude is another major factor in what birds will be present at a particular site. Different bird species occur at different altitudes.

Although my GPS unit has the capability to record altitude, there were a couple of sites where it obviously didn't have good enough signal to give me a reading. Another way of getting the altitude values for my sites is to look at a map with elevation contours. This sort of thing in GIS is called a Digital Elevation Model (DEM). Several of these exist, and the one that was reccommended to me as the best is the DEM derived from the Nasa Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM) by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Consortium for Spatial Information (CGIAR-CSI), which is freely available online. Here is an image of the DEM - elevation increases from pale blue through pale green, orange, brown to white. Check out those three beautiful river valleys in the southwest!

I love it when people and organisations make usefuly things like this available online for others to use. Love it!

Other than extracting elevation data for my sites (and understanding what it means), during the last month and a bit I have also prepared for and presented a talk at a workshop in Cyprus. Being invited to give this talk was a very important milestone for me, because, although it was not a scientific conference, it was my first ever talk to people other than my peers. Actually, it was a talk to a mixed audience, with scientists and non-scientists participating in the workshop.

The workshop was organised by BirdLife Cyprus and the Cyprus National Rural Network, as a first major step in setting up a Farmland Bird Indicator for Cyprus. The coordinator of the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS) and his technical assistant were invited as specialists to help us move forward towards a common bird monitoring scheme for Cyprus. This was a very interesting experience for me. Not only did I talk about my work with relevant people, including people from the Game Fund Service and the Ministry of Agriculture (my talk went very well if I do say so myself), but I got to see what it's like to try and get different groups of stakeholders to cooperate and to work towards coordinating their actions towards a common goal. Like my friend said, sometimes it feels like "trying to push jelly up a hill". It was indeed a very interesting workshop.

I actually offered to do a big chunk of work for them, if we can come to a data-sharing agreement, and on the condition that it will be part of my PhD. I've been hoping on getting the data anyway, so if analysing it a bit differently in order to suit the needs of the Farmland Bird Index is the price I need to pay in order to get access to the data I need, then I'm totally up for that! If I can do this, then I will actually have done something with direct application to Cyprus EU policy.

I should explain, but to do that I need to go into the Farmland Bird Index in some detail. As I am about to go attend a workshop, this is not the time. And indeed, possibly not the place - how many people who read this blog are interested in EU wild bird policy???