A studious autumn and a winter in the tropics

After a busy summer in Wales, Norway and Iceland collecting data in the field, I returned to Oxford and to a more “normal” life. I started teaching students again, analysing the data collected over the summer, and preparing my next field expedition – 2 months (January-February 2019) in the Indian Ocean.

Analysing data takes time. I first need to process all the data to put it in a suitable format for analysis, then match it up with what we call “metadata”, i.e. the bird identity, breeding success and other information we have about each bird/nest. I then plot the data in a software called ArcGIS to visualise it – this time I even made cool animations to see the data in real time. Once I know what the data looks like, I spend several weeks writing bespoke code using softwares such as MatLab and R to analyse the data and extract quantifiable parameters, e.g. how far birds forage from their colony, how many kilometres they fly each day, or how much time they spend in flight. Once all the relevant parameters are obtained, I need to do a statistical analysis, which aims to test if the effects and differences I observe in the data, between birds or colonies for example, are real, or too small to be significant. Once all this is done I can start putting it all together in a paper which will be then published in a scientific journal.

I presented the preliminary results of the analysis at a big conference, the British Ecology Society conference in Birmingham in December – the first time I presented the results of the projects to my peers. The feedback was positive, and people found my findings interesting – always a relief when presenting new results for the first time. One of my key findings so far is that birds go and feed at different distances from the colony depending on the colony, and it looks like the further they have to go, the poorer the breeding success at the colony. I am now doing more in-depth analysis to confirm these findings.

After Christmas I flew to the Seychelles and I am now spending 6 weeks on Aldabra Atoll in the western Indian Ocean doing a not-so-different study on tropicbirds, another poorly known seabird, which is declining here. It’s hard work but it’s a nice way to escape the UK winter!