I know I promised I’d be better about Soundbites. I even promised my labmates I’d be better about blogging. In my defense, I present this graph that I hastily drew today on my iPad:


It’s a graph of how in control of my life I feel versus time in grad school. Now I’ve got two and a half years of data to back this up, so even though my sample size is n = 1, I feel pretty confident in the conclusions I’m drawing from it.

The beginning of grad school, when I first arrived but hadn’t started working yet, I felt pretty awesome. But then I started to realize how much work I had to do and how in over my head I felt, so there’s that first drop. Fieldwork was pretty up and down, followed by an alright summer and fall with more up and down fieldwork.

But with writing, it’s like I can’t get the rest of my life together to save, well, my life. Running? Out the window. Yoga? Nope. Climbing? Not on your life. Even simple walks to get outside are only done when I’m running between buildings. It’s like the only things I’m capable of are writing, sleeping, and eating, and anything else requires too much brain power to even attempt.

My advisor Tiffany mentioned that this is a common occurrence when students get to the writing phase. Usually I’m really disciplined about taking care of myself while working, but writing has just sucked that ability out of me.

So maybe the best approach is to just embrace it. Okay, the next month and a half is going to be spent existing mostly as a blob of words who occasionally eats food. Seems kind of fitting for a pre-Halloween post:


Is this my fate? Will I be defending as a blob rather than a human?

Stay tuned…

Also, because I forgot Soundbites this week, here’s a fun link. Because I haven’t become a word blob yet.

13 of the most terrifying sounds ever recorded

Happy Halloween, all!

Hello, blog friends! I know I have been absent lately (and I know how much you miss Soundbites, I promise I’ll be bringing them back come fall term…). But I thought I’d check in quickly and report the successful submission of my first-ever academic paper!

This is a big deal for me. As someone who came from a non-science background, I didn’t really understand how important it is to get your name on something in a journal. And when I started in grad school, I figured I wouldn’t be publishing until I had finished my masters research, since the project was big.

Thankfully, Holger and Tiffany included me on a side project involving red-legged frogs, and I got to take point on it. So after several weeks and months of this:


(image copyright Jorge Cham, PhD Comics)

we finally ended up with a manuscript and some figures worthy of submission. And after a last crunchtime effort by Holger and I this afternoon, we got it out the door just in time for me to go on vacation to Europe for two weeks!

The relief is palpable.

I have really enjoyed having this project be my first manuscript submission, as I have a lot of intellectual investment in it but pretty much no emotional investment (unlike my thesis, which is my baby). Failures during the writing process were easier to learn from, and successes were great.

So keep your eyes peeled…we just have to go through review…and then, fingers crossed, PUBLICATION!

A couple weeks ago I volunteered to be Danielle’s field assistant for the evening. All of the acoustics fieldwork I have helped with in the past has been on a boat, so I was happy to put aside my dead-week studying to learn a little bit about acoustics research on land. It also didn’t hurt that Danielle is well versed in field assistant bribery (Burgerville! Cookies!)

We headed out of town just after five pm, driving north past Albany to the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge. Danielle has a number of pond sites she visits on a rotating basis, Ankeny contains one.


We arrived at the pond in daylight and got right to work counting egg masses in the first study area. Since the egg masses are tricky to spot, it’s easier to work during the day. Together we walked in straight lines across the (shallow) pond for half an hour counting all of the egg masses we could see. Since the egg masses are so tiny, Danielle and I both had to hunch over to see into the pond, sometimes using our hands to confirm a sighting.

I hope someone buys Danielle a massage after her field season is over.
I hope someone buys Danielle a massage after her field season is over.

After we finished our survey effort, we shared some snacks and hung out until nighttime when the frogs started chorusing. When it was fully dark, we put on our waders and headed to a second pond to try and catch some adult frogs. I wasn’t very good at it (the frogs are so tiny and speedy) but Danelle caught a bunch and I helped her weigh and measure them. Finally it was time to record the chorusing!


Earlier in the day I asked Danielle if recording the frogs was a peaceful experience, similar to how I feel when I hear a whale on my hydrophone recordings. She hesitantly told me that sometimes it is…but often the frogs are are too loud for any sort of relaxation. It’s hard to believe that such a loud noise can come out of an animal that is hardly bigger than a quarter, but she was not kidding…


Next time in sharing our research…Danielle goes to sea!

Soundbites is a weekly (less often when Danielle is doing fieldwork) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. Yes, I know it’s been awhile. I’ll try to make this one extra awesome to make up for it.

Dolphins have social food calls: it turns out that humans aren’t the only ones to gossip about our food (see anyone’s Instagram feed ever). These researchers found that wild bottlenose dolphins had particular social calls that were highly correlated with food calls, and didn’t occur otherwise. Dolphins might therefore be sharing information about the food patch itself.

Invasive cane toad calls change the calling patterns of native Australian frogs: as I’m deep in frog fieldwork, you just knew I’d have some frog news for you. Invasive species are bad as it is (and cane toads are particularly bad), but they might also be changing the way native species communicate. Here, one native species decreased their call rate with playback of cane toad calls. I hope these authors extend this work with observational studies, there’s a lot of potential here.

Birds shift the frequency of non-breeding calls above noise: we’ve heard about birds shifting their frequency before, but only with breeding calls. Here, black-capped chickadees (a local species) and American goldfinches both shifted their non-breeding calls (described as “chickadeedeedee” and “po-tay-to-chip”, which I love) above the frequency of urban noise.

Fun link of the week: apropos of absolutely nothing at all, did you guys know that sand dunes sing!??!?! Not only do they sing, they sound creepy! Someone needs to work on some weird ambient music with the stuff, stat!

“Danielle,” I hear you asking, “I’ve been missing my weekly dose of the coolest bioacoustics news! What happened? Where is my fun link of the week??”

Well, bioacoustics friends, field season is what happened.

My frogs are calling and so I must follow them. They seem to have started early this year, probably due to our relatively warm weather. So I have been out placing equipment, maintaining said equipment, and recording frogs for the past two weeks now. The data is rolling in, and while I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, so far the new field protocol has been successful.

So what does my typical day look like? Well, first let’s talk about how it’s not a “day” anymore, it’s a night. My fieldwork starts at dusk with a 30 minute visual survey, looking for frogs and egg masses. If we find any, we (my field assistants and I) weigh them and measure them. After the visual survey, we wait until 8pm rolls around and then take a directional microphone into the pond to record individual frogs. This goes along until 10pm or three frogs get recorded, whichever comes first. It’s often cold, wet, and a little tedious, but it’s always so exciting to be standing in the middle of a pond full of chorusing frogs.

But let me tell you, I am tired.

Fieldwork is great. I love having the opportunity to do it. But they never tell you how to balance fieldwork with classes and having a life outside of science and presenting at conferences and all the other things being a graduate student entails.

Even so, even with all of this on my plate, it makes me feel alive and full of enthusiasm for the science I do when I have a good day. And the good days are plentiful.

So, you want your fun link of the week? How about lots of pictures of adorable frogs, instead?

Little Pacific Chorus Frog male

Gravid Pacific Chorus Frog female

A long-toed salamander, for good measure

And if you really want to experience what frog fieldwork sounds like, go listen to this video.


Soundbites is a weekly (biweekly, occasionally) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound.

Chronic noise impacts anti-predator behavior in house sparrowsa lot of the time, bioacoustics researchers are looking at the impact of noise on communication behavior, but that’s not the only behavior that can be affected. Female house sparrows flushed more easily in chronic noise environments, but this didn’t have an impact on their reproductive success.

Traffic noise affects coloration, not calling, in European treefrogssome frogs use what’s called multimodal signaling to attract mates, where females are drawn not only by the calling but also by a visual cue, like vocal sac inflation (see my previous post). Here, it turns out that treefrogs don’t seem to be  able to change their calling structure, but they are less vibrantly colored in noisy areas. This means it’s likely that noise doesn’t just affect vocal species.

Fun link of the week: this song has been in my head all week, and it’s called WHALE, so I’m pretty sure you should go listen to it.

Soundbites is a weekly (biweekly, occasionally) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. We’re back in the new year (after a holiday break) with all your favorite acoustics news!

Bowheads show increasing song diversity in Beaufort-Chukchi seasin perhaps one of the more hopeful papers to appear in Soundbites, these researchers report 12 separate bowhead song types found in this area, the most to date. What’s more, they attribute the greater variety to population growth!

Noise may affect signal evolution in grasshoppers: I’m loving all these papers coming out about female preference in the face of noise. Here, females of a species of grasshopper showed a change in shape of their preference function when presented with male calls in noise (as opposed to quiet). Since this signal has a sexual selection component, the noise features of a landscape may in part drive signal modification.

Fun link of the week: I give you five minutes of the cutest frog in the world. Listen to its little peeps. It sounds so grumpy. (Seriously, this will cheer you up. It’s great).

Soundbites is a weekly (biweekly, occasionally) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. Can you believe it’s already December? 

Okay, so, the holiday season is upon us, and I thought I would do something a little different (mostly because end-of-term has meant I am fed up with reading papers and would rather look at holiday stuff). Today I present to you: a holiday gift guide for your favorite bioacoustician.

Species of interest cookie cutters: who doesn’t love holiday cookies? Better yet, let’s make holiday cookies in the shapes of bioacoustically relevant species! You’ve got your suite of marine mammals: seals, dolphins, and whales. Let’s throw in a bat for good measure. And of course, we can’t forget about my frogs! And let’s put a penguin in there for Michelle.

Really nice noise-canceling headphones: because we listen to a lot of stuff.

Xtratuf boots: land or sea, it doesn’t matter–a good pair of waterproof boots are necessary for any field season, anywhere.

Acoustics-themed art: how about a print of a waveform of something important to your bioacoustician of choice (like frog calls)? No? Well, you can always get a spectrogram poster instead.

But really, I think all the grad students in ORCAA can all relate to the following comic:


(“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Jam, www.phdcomics.com)

Happy holidays!

Before I went to ASA last week, I had this grand idea that I would do a sort of journal-blog thing, where I’d periodically write little snippets about what was going on and how I was feeling. I started off really well, too, but all of it basically went out the window when Holger came to pick me up Sunday morning.

Let me preface this post by saying that most of the other members of ORCAA have been to a big conference before, including this one last year. This was my first—I had given poster presentations at small symposia, but nothing like this. It was also my first proper presentation.

The first thing you have to realize about ASA is that it’s the Acoustical Society of America. This means that any field that has anything to do with acoustics is invited. Biomedical acoustics, architectural acoustics, musical acoustics…these are just a few of the technical committees represented at this conference. It’s overwhelming. Mostly I hung around with the Animal Bioacoustics crew, which of course makes sense—this is most of what our lab does. I met tons of amazing people: other students, post-docs, researchers, professors. I even reconnected with several people from my old lab, the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program.

My talk was on Monday, in the first session. I honestly don’t remember giving it, except for the point when my slides skipped too far ahead too quickly and when Niki dropped her cup and made me laugh. I was told it went well, though. I do remember answering questions, and feeling like I was able to respond to whatever was thrown at me without embarrassing myself. I even worked in a great response involving natural selection.

The nice thing about having your talk in the first session on the first day is that you have the rest of the conference to relax. The bad thing about having your talk in the first session on the first day is that people don’t always make it to see you. Many friends I made throughout the week didn’t get the chance to see me speak, and nor did one of the best connections I made during the week, Andrea Simmons. Andrea has been doing frog bioacoustics work at Brown for a long time, and I got to talk to her about both her work and mine on the last day I was there. She seemed very interested in what I’m doing, especially moving forward with the work I’m planning for my Ph.D. She also wants to come out and record our invasive bullfrogs with her array!

There were so many amazing talks given by tons of amazing researchers. I learned about horseshoe bats and their weird head movements. I learned about greater prairie chicken vocalizations. I even learned about frog-biting midges that are attracted to their prey through mating calls! And oh, the things people are doing with marine mammals! Marine mammal researchers get the coolest toys, I swear. Arrays and tags and three-dimensional plots of dives…so cool!

The entire experience was overwhelming, intense, and immensely gratifying. I felt humbled to be a part of such an amazing group of researchers, and proud and grateful to be welcomed among them. You only get one first big conference, and I like to think I nailed this one.

I’ve made a Storify of my tweets and others from the conference that you can see here. There was a budding and tight-knit social media presence at the meeting this year, which was great to see; a lot of the friends I made were made through Twitter! Other awesome ASA Storify collections can be found here by Ben Taft, and here by Will Slaton (two of my fellow live-tweeters).