Geese migration, weather changes engage student scientists

Two SUNY Oswego students and a biological sciences faculty member are studying whether changing weather patterns affect the migratory paths and ecological relationships of Canada geese from northern Quebec. They will share findings April 9 during the college’s annual Quest day.

Students, professor discuss geese tracking studyJunior biology major Jeffrey Benjamin and junior meteorology and applied mathematics major Tyler Pelle have worked since last fall on the project with SUNY Oswego zoologist, ornithology specialist and faculty member Michael Schummer, in cooperation with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. They are using high-end, temperature-sensing remote wildlife cameras for their study.

“We have to know what makes them migrate before we can determine what could change their patterns,” Schummer said of the geese. “What types of weather variables influence the behaviors of these geese?”

Benjamin has pored over thousands of photos of geese at the Junius Ponds Unique Area northwest of Waterloo, while Pelle has painstakingly correlated the cameras’ temperature data with that of the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center, known for its ground-based, airborne and satellite snowfall analyses.

At the college’s Quest symposium on April 9, the students will make two presentations—one focused on abundance and foraging patterns as a function of temperature of what is known as the Atlantic Population of Canada geese, the other on reliability of the cameras’ own weather data.

“I find more and more that if you are interested in waterfowl, you’ll need to consult with a meteorologist or a climatologist,” Schummer said. “It’s really fun, because it’s two different languages that have to meld together.”

Quest is the college’s daylong celebration of scholarship and creativity on campus. The young scientists’ project with Schummer benefited from a grant provided by the college’s Scholarly and Creative Activity Committee.

Publications possible

Benjamin said the Reconyx PC 900 professional wildlife cameras went up at the Junius Ponds location in October and came down when the ponds froze over in January. In the interim, the DEC-owned instruments took a photo every hour during daylight hours. At peak during the migration, the week of Dec. 6, Benjamin counted more than 1,000 birds on the pond each day.

Pelle and Benjamin also tracked the geese’s daily foraging flights and other movements, determined types and amounts of precipitation and tracked daily average temperature.

While both students are headed back to remount the cameras this spring, it will be Benjamin who carries the project forward this fall.

“I think that with another year’s worth of data, there’s capability to get this published in a regional journal, if not in a bird journal, and possibly presented at a regional conference,” he said.

Schummer, who with the assistance of graduate students has previously studied mallards’ migratory behavior in relation to climatic factors, agreed.

“My goal always with students is to present locally, regionally and internationally if you can, and to follow up with a peer-reviewed article,” he said. “I expect to keep these guys busy. It’s in their best interests—it really helps them if they go on to do master’s degrees.”

Visit www.oswego.edu/quest for more information, including, as Quest nears, the times and locations for presentations.

PHOTO CAPTION: Flight paths—Tyler Pelle (left), a SUNY Oswego junior meteorology and applied mathematics major, and junior biology major Jeffrey Benjamin (center) have worked with Michael Schummer of the biological sciences faculty since last fall on a project to study Canada geese abundance during seasonal migrations, in relation to temperature, precipitation and other meteorological variables. The students will make presentations at the college’s Quest symposium on April 9. The study aims to help determine whether changes in weather patterns affect migration patterns of the Northern Quebec birds through Central New York.

(Posted: Mar 27, 2014)

Tags: student research, quest, meteorology, geese, climate, biology, biological science, applied mathematics