Birds of a Feather – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Birds of a Feather

Augusta Williams ’13 has her eyes on the sky – or she will this summer when she ventures to Utah to observe the migration of waterfowl in the Great Salt Lake region. Williams was recently awarded the Rochester Academy of Science Undergraduate Student Research Grant to pursue this project, which she has labored on for two years.

A biology and geoscience double major with a concentration in atmospheric science, Williams has spent much of her time at the Colleges studying the migration of winter waterfowl in the Great Salt Lake region and researching how weather radars can be used to track their movements. Since the summer of 2010, Williams has worked to connect the fowls’ migratory behaviors to the surface and upper-air level meteorological conditions.

Williams, who has twice presented at the Rochester Academy of Science Conference, learned of the grant opportunity through her adviser Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird. Williams’ proposal was chosen as the top amongst dozens of submissions and was awarded extra funds for presenting a superior proposal.

The grant will enable Williams to travel to Utah where she will obtain ground evidence that the radar signatures being detected are in fact birds – specifically tundra swans. Using a technique called “moon-watching,” which utilizes a telescope to see the birds fly in front of the moon, Williams will employ night-vision equipment and real time radar equipment to observe the migrations and study them in relation to the weather radar data.

“After spending two years of my life on this project, this has become a huge part of my life. I have poured my entire self into these birds – or at least what we are 99 percent sure are birds. This grant will allow me the opportunity to gain that last one percent,” explains Williams. “All of the speculation and confrontation I have faced because of that last one percent will all fade away when I am granted the opportunity to finally stand in the Tooele Valley in Utah and watch those birds fly overhead. It will be the definition of a dream come true.”

With the project finalized, Williams will be able to prepare her work for publication, which will in turn give her the experience needed when applying to graduate schools. Following graduation, Williams plans on pursuing biometeorology to study how regional and global meteorological conditions influence the prevalence and spread of disease.

On campus, Williams plays saxophone in the Colleges’ Woodwind Ensemble and has served as an Orientation Mentor for the past two years. She has also served as a Writing Colleague and currently works with Laird and Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nicholas Metz as a teaching assistant for the classes of Introduction to Meteorology and the Science of Climate Change.