Amanda and I recently set off on another international adventure in the name of barn swallow research. This time we'll be spending 6 weeks in northern Israel studying a population of barn swallows belonging to the Hirundo rustica transitiva subspecies. We're extremely interested in better understanding the sexual traits in this subspecies. As you may know, if you've been following our blog, or the blog at The Barn Swallow Project, the story for the subspecies in North America really centers on coloration, while in Europe, it's all about tail streamer length. These are the traits that predict reproductive success for males and what females are looking at when they're assessing mates. In Israel, it appears that females get the best of both worlds and males with the longest streamers and darkest color have the highest fitness. Our collaborator, Yoni Vortman, has some really cool work demonstrating these findings experimentally. Our main goal here is to collect data that parallels what we have for North America and Europe. We'll be quantifying and identifying parasites on and in adults and nestlings, collecting nestling feathers for color analysis, and looking at how all these things relate to reproductive success. More on the science soon...
We survived the long flight from Newark to Tel Aviv despite the small dog that yipped the entire time. Luckily, once we got in the air, the engine noise drowned out the barking, but others were not so lucky. After making it through passport control and customs we took a cab to our hotel to drop off our bags full of gear and clothes for the next 6 weeks. The first thing we did was walk up and down the beaches of Tel Aviv. Despite the winter chill in the air, we were able to walk barefoot in the sand and dip our toes in the Mediterranean. While no one was brave enough to be swimming in the cold sea, there were several people kite surfing. Amanda and I watched them amazed at the height they could get and the fact that they never got their lines tangled with each other. We then made our way to Carmel Market - a bustling street market packed with fresh produce, people, and knick-knacks. On our way back up the beach to our hotel, we stopped at a cafe and had our first meal in Israel. I had lamb kebabs with tahini and Amanda had a delicious grilled chicken sandwich with roasted vegetables. We managed to stay up until about 6:30 pm (our goal was 7) which helped us feel somewhat in the correct time zone the next day.
Our hotel served an amazing Israeli breakfast each morning with lots of hot dishes, cold salads, cheeses, breads, and fruit. It was clear from our first morning that the food during this trip was going to be amazing! We spent the day strolling around the old Tel Aviv port and in the evening met up with some graduate students at Tel Aviv University for a tour of Jaffa and dinner. It's always fun to hear about what graduate school is like in other places, and surprising how similar the experiences are. On Sunday (which is the start of the work week here) we went to the University campus with Roi Dor (a former Safran lab postdoc) and toured the zoological gardens, which is a small zoo with several native species of birds and mammals. We also met with Arnon Lotem, another professor in the Zoology department at TAU, and talked about our various projects. Arnon has been an integral part of our Israeli study system - during a sabbatical stay at Cornell he met Becca where they started discussing the possibility of studying the Israeli swallows. After another amazing meal on campus, we headed back to our hotel and back out for a stroll along the beach in the nice weather.