A flagship year for avian research at Los Amigos

July 23, 2018

In 2018, four exceptional students and/or professionals were chosen as our Franzen Fellows.  Jointly, their passion for birds has led them to pursue work in the Amazon rainforest in order to protect this great frontier.  Currently, the Los Amigos Bird Observatory (LABO) is hosting two of its fellows, Alex Wiebe and Will Sweet.  In this post we will become acquainted with the work that these two are doing and their achievements along the way.

Will Sweet arrived to LABO on May 17th, 2018, and got right to work.  He is examining how different stages of succession around oxbow lakes impact the avifauna communities in the Los Amigos Conservation Concession. To avoid waiting for succession to unfold in real-time, Sweet has set up an observation pattern around three oxbow lakes that are already in different successional phases, from relatively new to almost totally grown over. He conducts point counts along these lakes to assess which birds inhabit which successional level.  In his pursuit, Will strives to understand the contribution of oxbow lakes to the Amazon basins’ high bird diversity, furthering our knowledge of changing landscapes’ effect on avian diversity. Will aims to attend a graduate program next fall while continuing to pursue his passion for birds.

Will Sweet conducting his morning point counts at Cocho Raya | Photo by Zander Nassikas

Finishing his last year of undergraduate studies at Cornell University, Alex Wiebe is spending his summer collecting data on one of the least understood family of birds: tinamous. They are secretive and skittish, which makes them difficult study subjects. Wiebe’s interest in patterns of avian geographic distribution in the Amazon, as well as the factors that affect their distributions, has led him to Los Amigos.  Tinamous are a natural choice for Wiebe’s work. They reach their highest density in the area around Los Amigos with 11 out of the 47 species represented, and since little is known about them, his work stands to have impact. Wiebe will be using his background in statistics to create a spatial distribution model of the tinamous of LABO and across South America. In order to collect his data, Wiebe conducts point counts in a variety of terrestrial habitats, while also recording the locations of rare species as they are heard.  With his results he will build a better understanding of this enigmatic family of birds.

Alex and Will have had an incredible summer thus far and have reached numerous achievements along the way.  Recently, Alex broke the world record for an on-foot Big Day with 347 species. A Big Day is a competitive birding ‘race,’ in which the contestant attempts to see or hear as many different bird species as they can in one 24-hour period. And Will was able to identify a species that is new to LABO: the rusty-margined flycatcher. The work that is being completed by these two fellows will undoubtedly help conserve the Amazon rainforest and the avian species that call it home.