Category Archives: Biology

Ursuline College’s Eastern Bluebird Trail

Written by Sarah Preston, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Summertime is a quiet time here on campus with many of the students and faculty away for summer break, but it’s also a time bursting with new life, bird life. June and July have produced many Mallard ducklings dabbling in Lake Elissa and a family of KilPhoto 1ldeer chicks running around on their too-long legs. Multiple broods of Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds have hatched and fledged from the nest boxes placed all over campus last year by the Ornithology class.

It all began when my chemistry colleague, Mary Kay Deley, and I decided to take Glenn Hanniford’s Ornithology course for fun in spring 2014. Mary Kay has her own bluebird nest boxes in her yard and has been a volunteer bluebird trail monitor for the Holden Arboretum. She recognized Ursuline’s campus, with its expanses of short grass bordered by wooded areas, as perfect Eastern Bluebird habitat and suggested that we create our own bluebird trail.

The project became a collaboration between the biology department, chemistry department, and facilities and maintenance. One of the lab periods was used to build the nest boxes. Wally Bursic, from maintenance, cut the wood, provided the power tools, and assisted with assembly. Each of the 18 students in the course had the opportunity to build her own bluebird nest box and we proudly put our names on them.

We placed 14 nest boxes in pairs around the campus and eagerly waited to see who would move into them. After the students leave for the summer, the boxes are monitored by Ursuline faculty and staff volunteers who remove the nests of the non-native, invasive House Sparrows to keep their population in check and record species, number of eggs and young, and approximate age of the young for each nest box.

DSC_0206It’s exciting to monitor the nest boxes because you never know what you’re going to find when you open the box. Sometimes it’s empty. Occasionally a messy House Sparrow nest needs to be removed. Often it contains the Tree Swallow eggs or young and the parents will protect the nest, swooping down on the monitor causing her to don the ridiculous umbrella hat. A few nest boxes contain the stick nests of House Wrens, which for some reason include hairy, black spiders, which have been known to make a monitor (who shall remain nameless) scream. Every now and then we open a box and find what we’ve been hoping for, the pale blue eggs of the Eastern Bluebird in a neat nest of pine needles, and we rejoice.

Although most of our nest boxes have been occupied by other beneficial species, we have had moderate success attracting Eastern Bluebirds to our boxes. Last year one nest box, #9, successfully produced 4 Eastern Bluebird fledglings. This summer that same box had another brood of four, most likely produced by the same pair of bluebirds since they are known to return year after year to the same nesting site. With the donation of additional boxes this year, we placed six more boxes in three new locations. It was one of these new boxes that housed a second bluebird family this year; they fledged three chicks within the past two weeks and just laid two more eggs, which, if they successfully hatch and fledge, will bring our Eastern Bluebird fledgling total up to nine for 2015.

Biology Department helps to restore stream banks on campus

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On Saturday (April 26) Ursuline students and faculty helped restore campus stream banks impacted by the tornado that hit the College last summer. The team planted a total of 15 trees, 100 shrubs and 700 live stakes provided by Chagrin River Watershed Partners

The new vegetation will prevent erosion and nutrient pollution from traveling to area streams and rivers that connect to the campus. The project was funded by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. 

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Biology major Sharita Hill awarded ‘Woodrow Wilson Ohio Teaching Fellowship’

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Biology major Sharita Hill has been awarded the 2014 Woodrow Wilson Ohio Teaching Fellowship. This is a national competition which requires several levels of evaluation. Hill is expected to graduate this May and will pursue her Master’s in Education at John Carroll University in the fall of 2014.

Hill has been working on her senior thesis project while interning at Case Western Reserve University, serving as a research assistant and program facilitator for the Infectious Diseases Alliance. She is also the current president of Students of Science at Ursuline. Hill is a mother of two and a Cleveland native.

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Happy Birthday, Jane! World-renowned primatologist turns 80

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Today (April 3), Dr. Jane Goodall, turns 80. Considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, Goodall is also an ethologist, anthropologist and UN Messenger of Peace. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots program, and has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.

Let’s acknowledge and celebrate Jane’s accomplishments in science, environmental awareness and animal rights. Thanks for inspiring us, Jane! 

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St. Martin de Porres

We did it!

Our first meeting at St. Martin’s is done, and I think it went well. We had a class of of 11 boys and girls who live in the Glenville area and we taught them about spreading germs. Of course we had the occasional hiccup because no kid wants to feel like the are in school, over the summer, but we kept them engaged and we all had fun. I wasn’t even nervous about doing my hand washing presentation. We will be going to St. Martin’s every other Thursday throughout the summer.  Our next topic will be vaccinations and communication. These kids are so amazing and open to learn, that just being in the room is a pleasure.  I can’t wait until our next session.

-Sharita Hill

Crazy Week

Usually my work week runs from Monday to Wednesday, but the last seven days have been anything but usual.  Since I’m the “new kid on the block”, my supervisor, Amanda, is making sure I get training and interaction with the team as much as possible so that I will feel comfortable working with the other ladies.  Monday night, after I put the kids to sleep, I started data entry for my relationship survey.  I must have really enjoyed it, because by the time I looked up it was 2:30am and I had entered my last question (question # 168).  The next morning I walked into work feeling very sure of myself, for having completed my first assignment, but was brought back down to reality after sitting through my first Lunch&Learn seminar.

Lunch&Learn is a program that is directed by Case faculty.  It brings all of the student interns together from each department and allows them to present the research that they are conducting over the summer.  We also have amazing catered lunches in the process.  The presentations are encouraged but are completely on a volunteer basis, so I wasn’t worried.  However we were informed that at the end of summer we MUST all present a poster about our research.  This scared me for two reasons; first because I recently participated in Ursuline’s research symposium so I know how much work it takes to make a scholarly poster.  Secondly, all of the other students in their summer program are current Case students who have been conducting their research since last year, and I just started mine last week.  I fear that I will misrepresent the greatness of my program because my actual research time is so limited.  Only time will tell how this story will end.

Wednesday I received training to do informed consents.  This is crucial for conducting my research because I am conducting research on human specimens, and they must be informed of their rights, or none of my research will be valid.  Also Wednesday through Friday I was in and out of the office taking meetings with Sabira and Brynn about the upcoming St. Martin de Porres program.  This is a summer outreach program for children ages 9-12 that teach them about the importance of making healthy life choices so that they can live a safer life.  The teenage peer educators lead the program under the advisory of Brynn, and since the program if funded through the church, the students cannot talk about contraceptives or much about sex.   The topics are surrounded around germs, hand washing, and vaccinations.  Brynn has asked me to speak with the students about what soap does to bacteria on a cellular level in order to drive the importance of hand washing home.  I’m nervous and excited about this. I’ll keep you posted on how next week goes, till then I will practice my presentation so that I don’t look like an idiot in a room full of preteens.

-Sharita Hill

Traveling Belize Style

My husband and I left Miami, taking the morning flight directly to Belize City.

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From there we needed to get to San Ignacio (locally referred to as Cayo), our base for traveling to the Caracol Mayan ruins.  Although we are clearly tourists, I like to travel through Belize like most Belizeans – via the bus.  The school buses, owned by private and collective groups, shuttle people all over the country off their main 4 highways.  So we took a 2.5 hour bus from Belize City to San Ignacio.  I love travelling this way, as you get to have conversations with Belizeans (as well as other tourists) and can become more familiar with local culture and customs.

 

Bus ride in Belize

Bus travel in Belize

It isn’t the most glamorous or even the fastest way to travel in the country, but it is what I prefer.  In fact when I am in Belize (I think this is my 15th trip!) I can’t help but take on the Belizean perspective.  I find that they are very easy going and live life at a peaceful pace.  Things aren’t hectic and frenetic here.

Belize can be very budget friendly or unfriendly, depending on how luxe you want to your experience (i.e. hotels can go for $8 to over $500/night).  I once traveled across the country for a week for under $400, including all food, lodging, travel, guided tours, and gifts for loved ones.  While we are not traveling on this low of a budget now, we are still traveling modestly and are not staying in resorts.

For our stay in San Ignacio, we settled on the Casa Blanca Guesthouse, situated in a slightly more quiet end of the city.  Although the rooms are modest, they are clean, and the hotel has lovely common areas.

Common areas in our hotel

Common areas in our hotel

I am actually writing this from the breezy veranda while listening to reggae from the restaurant a few streets away and drinking a Belikan.  Not a bad first day in Belize!

View from our hotel in San Ignacio

View from our hotel in San Ignacio

Up next… touring Caracol!

Skype the Boss.

I know it seems unconventional to have a boss/mentor who lives and works in Chicago, especially when you work and live in Cleveland, but Amanda makes it work.  She is always available and happy to Skype or text. Today we had our first of many weekly video conference meetings.  Brynne, Sabira, and myself were updated about the activities and expectations of the upcoming week. At this time, the group is most concerned with recruiting more youth liaisons, and so Brynne is preparing to go speak with students at Glenville high school before the school year ends.

At this time I’m only working on creating the entrance questionnaire for the youth liaisons, or at least I would be if my account login was working properly.  But the most important news of the meeting came from knowing that the Peer Education division that i intern for, made the front page of the Plain Dealer on may 28th.

http://www.cleveland.com/frontpage/index.ssf/2013/05/the_plain_dealers_front_page_f_1376.html

I feel so proud to know that I’m apart of a division that is helping to make my city a healthier place to live in.

-Sharita Hill

Tending to family and footsies

My second day in Miami, I had a few errands to run, like buying flip flops (seriously, I forgot these????), some cat supplies, and some food for my upcoming Belize adventure.

Snacks that aren't easily available (or crazy expensive) on tiny tropical island.

Snacks and essentials that aren’t easily available (or crazy expensive) on tiny tropical island.

Hmmm, I never really explained the whole cat traveling thing.  Well, I am not the only ecologist in the family that is traveling the whole summer.  My husband is too.  My kitty (named Gaia) is staying with me rather than my husband, as he has more legs on his trips than me.  While I am in Belize, however, Gaia has stay in Miami with my parents.

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Gaia, my rescue Bengal kitty

I digress…. the rest of my second day in Miami I hung out with my family (with the exception of one, they all live in South Florida).  We got group manicures and pedicures.  I guess that a family that grooms together stays together!  We dined further north in Broward County at a place called Big Bear Brewing Company.  The food was great (ribs and a beer-cheese soup).  But in my humble opinion, their beer didn’t hold a candle to our great Cleveland breweries (shout out to Great Lakes Brewing).  CLE +1.

My third and final day in Miami was spent largely helping out my family.  Ever looking forward to the cuisine of my hometown, though, I had to first brunch at my favorite hole-in-the wall Cuban bakery.  I had a lovely sugar rush from a café con leche and sugar encrusted pastelitos con carne (with meat) and con guayaba (with guava and cheese).

My cafe con leche and pastelitos.

My cafe con leche and pastelitos.

Then I headed home to try and fix my father’s ailing 9 year old computer.  No such luck.  Needless to say, I spent the rest of the afternoon setting up a brand new computer for him.  From there I helped out my brother’s girlfriend with her dental school applications.  See the professor hat is usually not far off, even on vacation.

About 10pm I started packing for Belize.  Since I am traveling through the country like most Belizeans – via bus – I had to adjust my luggage.  Here is a travel tip: rolling luggage does not travel well on the streets and buses of Belize (and other Central American countries).  So I packed up my trusty backpack and prepared for the next leg of my adventure.

First trip in Belize - touring Mayan Ruins

First trip in Belize – touring Mayan Ruins

 

Nothing like the sun in Miami

I left Cleveland on an evening flight, after a long day of work.  It makes for efficient, yet exhausting travel.  Luckily I had a direct flight to Miami.

 

Crandon Park Beach - not a bad way to spend the first day of vacation!

Crandon Park Beach – not a bad way to spend the first day of vacation!

The next morning was my beach day.  My mom and I slathered on some sunscreen and headed out to the beaches.  We didn’t go to South Beach, like I originally planned because Memorial Day weekend is Urban Beach festival, which means the streets were shut down and set up with multiple police check point stations.  All in all, it was too much of a headache that I preferred to avoid.  So we went to Crandon Park instead, which was relatively empty.

Relaxing under the palms

Relaxing under the palms

 

We settled under a palm tree for some partial shade and then basked in the bathwater temperature Atlantic ocean.  The continental shelf is further out in this section of South Florida, so it is shallow for really a long stretch.  There are also lots of seagrass beds, which are home to bottom dwelling marine creatures, like crabs and clams, and juvenile fish.  Once the fish grow up they head out to the coral reefs.

Exposed sea grass beds during low tide

Exposed sea grass beds during low tide

 

When the tide rolled out, the beds were exposed, prompting seagulls, anhinga birds, and pelicans to feast on the exposed fish and invertebrates.  Some of the exposed creatures included pink marine worms that truthfully looked like pink condoms. Some teens were freaking out about them, thinking they were jellyfish they would be stung from.  I assured them that there weren’t.  They delighted in touching the worms.

 

Intrigued by the exposed marine life

Intrigued by the exposed marine life

Marine tube worm exposed during low tide

Marine tube worm exposed during low tide

I strolled out to check out the beach dunes, which highly protected ecosystems.  The plants have really deep roots that function to prevent the sand from eroding away into the water.  They also are home to sea turtle nests!  I really couldn’t have asked for a better lazy beach day!

 

Beach dune ecosystem

Beach dune ecosystem

I ended the day with an early dinner at Tarpon Bend in Coral Gables.  Their mojitos and calamari are to die for.  I also splurged on some oysters and a shrimp sandwich.  Let’s just say that I am happy I do not have a shellfish allergy.  I love them way too much. YUM!

My favorite: raw oysters on a half shell

My favorite: raw oysters on a half shell

Mojito!!!!

Mojito!!!!