Directed Research was one of those concepts that was very abstract to me when I first learned it was a key component of SFS. It sounded like an amazing experience but I did not have a concept of what it actually would be when I signed up for this program. Would it be a completely independent project? If so, would I be ready for that? I don’t consider myself an expert in anything really. Or, would we have lots of direction? Also, I have found in my time at Davidson that research is not something that I am particularly good at or am passionate about; I have accepted that it is completely okay for me to be a biology major and not want to do research, it just rules out some career paths which is something I have a hard time choosing.
The hummingbird garden at Selvatura, one of our sampling sites
Because of my lack of expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by the research options we were given. Working with professors in their area of expertise was a unique opportunity. Our Directed Research counts as a whole 4-credit class crammed into less than a month, so it is pretty intense; Directed Research consists of a week of preparations which included meetings and lectures, a week of field work, a week of data analysis and writing, and two days of presentations. Right now, I just turned in the first draft of my paper, fingers crossed! Obviously, the week of field work and data collection has been my favorite part. A few years ago, I never would have guessed that I would work with hummingbirds in Costa Rica, holding, measuring, swabbing pollen from, and learning about them. Nor could I have imagined how many different species of hummingbirds live in Costa Rica; around fifty species inhabit the country which makes North America, especially North Carolina, seem kind of lame in terms of hummingbird diversity. But, now I can easily tell the difference between a Green Violet-ear and a Coppery-headed Emerald, a Violet Sabrewing and a Purple-throated Mountain-gem, among others. I have to say that I think the Purple-throated Moutain-gem is my favorite! The males have beautiful purple throat and a iridescent blue spot on top of their head that you can only see if the light hits it just right. The females have an amber colored breast that is still beautiful although not as flashy as males. Also, these hummingbirds are petite and were very abundant at the places we sampled.
Photo courtesy of: http://500px.com/photo/19987327
The week also provided lots of time for bonding with our group. I feel fortunate to have gotten to know some people far better than I did before. When you work with people catching and observing birds and riding around in a packed van for a week, you see their real personalities and get to share lots of laughs (especially from creating hummingbird jokes). Also, I played so many hands of Hearts and loved it. I also had some really good food, like fig with condensed milk ice cream from the Monteverde Creamery, a humongous banana and dulce de leche crepe, a Peruvian seafood and yucca dish, so many slices of the best pizza Costa Rica has to offer (at Tramonti in Monteverde/Santa Elena), and enough bean and avocado sandwiches to be sick of them by the end of the week.
Here are some of my favorite pictures from the week:
That’s my finger, with a Green-crowned Brilliant on it!
Left: we were obsessed with waiting for hummingbirds to land on our feeders, these were not shy around people, they would zip right past your head and after a while land on your finger if you were still enough. Right: we set up mist nets to capture hummingbirds and take morphological measurements of them. During our measurements, we had a few escape artists. G, our program director and DR supervisor, said that you have to treat hummingbirds like children and be firm but gentle.
Left: our data collection table; yes, it is a kid’s table that we bought in Monteverde because G forgot to pack a real table; right: Hannah and Hillary measuring a hummingbird’s wing length.
Directed Research ended up being a very memorable experience and I have learned so much more about not only hummingbirds but the research process in general.