UD’s Buler recognized for work with radar ornithology

Jeff Buler receives the 2015 H.R. Painton Award from the Cooper Ornithological SocietyThe University of Delaware’s Jeff Buler has been presented the 2015 H.R. Painton Award from the Cooper Ornithological Society for his paper “Radar Analysis of Fall Bird Migration Stopover Sites in the Northeastern U.S.,” which was published in the society’s journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications.

The award is named for Harry R. Painton, one of the four founders of the Cooper Ornithological Club in 1893, who bequeathed funds to establish an award that recognized original and significant ornithological research.

Buler, assistant professor of wildlife ecology in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, received the award at a recent joint meeting of the international Cooper Ornithological Society and American Ornithologists’ Union in Oklahoma.

“It was an honor and a surprise,” Buler said of the award. “It basically came out of the blue. It is a real honor because it is among the most prestigious awards that this society presents and it is only presented every other year. It is reassuring to know that you are doing good science when your peers recognize that and give you an honor like this.”

Buler said the paper was the culmination of many years developing a new approach to using weather radar to map distributions of birds on the ground during migration.

“The first paper to publish on a similar approach was in 2009, and so it is very fresh,” Buler said. “I think part of the recognition of this paper is that the approach is being embraced by the community and that people appreciate and see the potential of using weather radar to inform us about the ecology of birds in powerful and in broad scale ways.”

With co-author Deanna Dawson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Buler mapped stopover distributions of birds during autumn migration in the northeastern U.S. using 16 weather radar installations across the region.

“We’re pretty much the only group in the country that’s doing this right now,” Buler said of the pioneering study developed at UD.

A major focus of Buler’s research is developing an application to use radar analysis to study birds and bird migration. He said students in his laboratory are working on a follow up to the study incorporating more years of data and doing ground validation surveys at sites in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. That project will continue until spring 2016.

“We’ve continued to work on this system, and we have made some improvements on the methods since we’ve published that paper and expanded the number of years we’re looking at so that we can start to say something about longer term trends and changes in distribution,” Buler said. “We’re building a larger knowledge base from this system and continuing to explore questions related to bird migration throughout the whole northeastern United States.”

Meeting representation

At the Oklahoma meeting, Buler said UD was well represented as he organized a workshop in “Weather Radar Ornithology 101” and a symposium on “Recent Scientific Applications of Weather Radar for Advancing Ornithology.” Five out of the 15 presentations at the symposium were by current UD affiliates. Buler, along with an undergraduate, two graduate students and a post-doctoral researcher, gave presentations.

Additionally, a former UD graduate student of Buler and Sid Gauthreaux, Buler’s “academic grandfather” who he called the “pioneer of radar ornithology in America,” also presented at the symposium.

Buler also became an elected fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union during the meeting in recognition for his contributions to ornithology.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.