Full Moon Hike

There are days when when I definitely have the best job in the world.  (TM)  Stayed on campus, working on thesis revisions until 2am on Wednesday before driving home.  Revised the entire thesis in about 8 hours.  Which is ridiculous at some level.  Which probably explains why I am now sick.  It started off as a sore throat, became an annoying cough, and today is a very hoarse voice and truth be told, a painful cough.  But I am still going to work because I am the only one in this morning and because there is something very bird related I need to do!

Yesterday, I went on an amazing bird-related adventure for work, which I will relate later.  In the evening, I led a 2-hour full moon hike.  Not much of a hike as the group wanted to stand and watch the things we saw.  I forget that people don’t realize how amazing all the wildlife and ecosystems around us really are – I see it all the time, and teach it all the time, so even when I’m not there I know, but most people don’t.  We saw a Wild Turkey running down a trail, watched the Red Wing Blackbirds setting up their territories, the Canada Geese come home for the night, a Great Blue Heron finding its final meal of the day, bats come out to scatter around the sky searching for insects, we heard bull frogs, spring peepers and one other species of frog wake up, spooked a deer and one other thing we couldn’t identify.  The bats swooped across the night sky and dipped into the pond creating ripples along the flat surface.  We watched the sun set and the moon rise.

Birds and Butterflies: Thesis Progress

Still need a title for my thesis.  Mentally, I keep calling it “In Defense of Kestrels” and “Plight of the Kestrel” by they don’t quite have the professional ring I’m looking for.

Submitted first draft of thesis Saturday evening.  Had feedback on Sunday morning while I was doing turtle fieldwork that the first draft was very impressive.  Yay!  Met with my adviser this afternoon to discuss revisions.  These mostly fell into the minor edits and formatting types.   Those are due 48 hours from now.

As of 20 minutes ago, I had confirmation from all members of my committee regarding my defense date.  It looks like I will be defending on May 6th at 1pm.  Exciting!

Well it’s exciting right now.  I’m sure as the hour approaches, there will be butterflies, but butterflies are exciting, right?

Now, I have two weeks to pull together a defense. My adviser is putting together a copy of his archives of kestrel photos – hopefully they’re the photographer’s.  He has a photographer who likes to join him in the field for a day every season and take photos.  If anyone else has kestrel photos they want to share, I’d love to see them.

Best part about my defense date?  It’s the same day my 2 papers are due for evolution and I have my last evolution exam.

Kestrelets!  Or very ugly ducklings.

Kestrelets! Or very ugly ducklings.

Painting the Painteds

**Not a bird post.**

So apparently there is more to this world than birds.  (What?!) One of my classmates who shares an interest in birds, currently researches demographics of painted turtles and musk turtles at the School of Conservation in northwest NJ.   I’ve been invited to help with the data collection.  Or enticed… there have been offers of witnessing territorial battles between Ospreys and Bald Eagles as well as exotic warblers. (None of which I saw today.)

After class on Tuesday night, we headed up there to handle a turtle emergency.  A turtle emergency being defined as not having enough time to process turtles and return them to the pond. We worked there until 12:30 am. Whee!


The lake at the School of Conservation.

I got to go back there again this morning to help with collecting and processing.  When we arrived, bright and early (8ish, but it was a 90 minute commute!) it was still in the 30’s so we processed turtles collected last night before heading out on the lake.

In many ways, field research is some of the best work there is.  (In many ways, I can see why people think the spending on science and research is extravagant.)    If you saw us, canoeing all about the lake, we looked peculiar.   We had 2 canoes, but 1 GPS and 1 temperature sensor. A quality field GPS costs significant money (1000s).  The canoes were constantly together and separating, together and separating as we roamed around the lake as we had to return to the other canoe each time they caught a turtle.


Musk Turtle. They smell and bite. Birds are much better.

How does one catch a turtle?  Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this part of the process because I was leery of taking my camera on the lake without knowing what I was getting into!  I had heard stories of mishaps and near collapses.   If you have two people, one person steers, and the other portrays a figurehead, or George Washington (who I suppose is also a figurehead in many respects), stands at the prow and points.  The pointing is generally in the direction of a spotted turtle (not a species). The steer-er, in the steer, navigates the boat there, then the pointer switches roles and becomes a turtle catcher.  While either sitting or standing, they need to use a net with along handle to scoop up a turtle who will try to run away or burrow into the mud.

The turtle team at work in the lab.

The turtle team at work in the lab.

We did this for about two hours, before heading inside to process the 25 turtles we collected.  Processing entails recording lots of information including size, mass, shell characteristics, and collecting a genetic sample.  If these were birds, you pluck a feather and done deal.  Since they have no feathers (silly things), we either need to do a bucal (mouth, saliva) swab or a coacal (anal) swab.  That was my fun job.  The final steps entail marking them and photographing them.  That’s where the title of this post comes in.  We actually paint codes onto them so we can easily spot them from the canoe and identify them in the database.

Processed turtles are collecting in the pool waiting to be released.

Processed turtles are collecting in the pool, waiting to be released.

After all the collection is done, they are returned to the lake until the next time we catch them.

Following Alice Down the Rabbit Hole


Alice, the House Finch

Do you have house sparrows living in the atrium and the food court of your local mall?  We also have them at Home Depot, in the garden section.  So today, I was very surprised to step into the campus train station to hear the same sound of bird chirps that resonate in those large structures.  As I headed up the stairs, I soon saw why.  There was a female House Finch, fluttering and flying at one corner of the stairwell.   I didn’t want to leave her there.  (Had she been a House Sparrow or a European Starling I could have cared less.)  Unlike Home Depot and the mall, there’s no greenery, no food court, no food source.   I tried cooing, chirping, and clucking to her with my hand extended, hoping hope against hope she would just land on my hand and I could carry her to safety.

She had other plans.  She looked at me; fluttered away and looked again.  After a few minutes of this, she decided to begin flying further up the stairwell.  So I followed.  Every pause, I would do my best to speak House Finch and reassurances to her.  So post by post, window by window we traveled through an empty passage way of light and glass.  She darted behind piping, balanced on beams, peered out the panes.  We got to the second stairwell.  She was so close to freedom, but then she flew back down the tunnel.  I weighed my choices of remaining with her, or going on to class.

Like the white rabbit, I was already running so very late, so I scurried off to class.  As I went, I mused about how following a bird felt much like falling down the rabbit hole.  Much more sensible than naming a bird Rabbit, I named her Alice.  I reasoned that if she was going by the time I returned, then she didn’t need my help, but if she was still there, I could help her when I had a slightly larger window of time.

Persistent little bird, she was still there, beating away at the glass holding her prisoner.   No Red Queen to keep her running in place to keep up, just an invisible wall of glass.  (A barrier of nothing seems very apropos of Carroll).   As I approached I could see a male House Finch mirroring her antics and distress on the other side of the glass.

I only snapped a few photos of her as it seemed cruel to stand there documenting her distress with the perfect photo while she beat away her energy on the glass.   As I stood there, talking to her, a second human appeared.  Alice’s plight resonated with her and we discussed how to best return her to her home.  Catching her and communicating with her clearly weren’t working.

We headed up to the walkway and tried to open the windows, but the windows required a special key.  The broken door at the East Entrance had been repaired and would no longer stay open.  She pulled out a notebook and decided to try fanning the bird down the West Stairwell towards the closest exit.  For lack of anything else to do, I ran down to open the door.  She got Alice close, when Alice turned and flew back up to her corner.  I took a risk and took out the binder containing the notes for all my classes this semester and used it to prop the door open and headed up to help herd Alice down the stairs.

 Upstairs, I had nothing to fan with as my binder was below.  To prevent her from flying over us, I began to climb the railing to block her from flying above our heads.  Alice panicked, flew above my head, and I stumbled, knocking my sunglasses off in surprise.  (That would have been photoworthy.)  So not the best idea. Next, I took off my sweater and hoped that unlike bulls, birds avoid red.  Or if she preferred red, I could catch her in my sweater and carry her to safety, without breaking a wing or a sweat.

The other student began fanning Alice down the rabbit hole, and I stood at the top, helpfully bonking myself in the head with the zipper as I waved the sweater about like a banner.

We navigated Alice to the entryway where she selected the corner opposite the doors and returned to pummeling herself at the glass.  I walked down and waved my sweater at her encouragingly, trying to guide her towards the open door.  She panicked and flew over me and up to the landing.  We retreated upwards, sneaking beneath her to not scare her further upwards.  In addition to the notebook fanning, I began to gently toss my sweater upward to entice her to move from her hiding spot on the beam.   We navigated her down again.  I crept out the door, retrieving the binder, closing the open door, and propping open the door closest to her.   After several more minutes of dancing back and forth with Alice, we then herded her out the door and into freedom.

Here a Kestrel

Here a kestrel, there a kestrel, everywhere a kestrel.  Or, if that were the case, I’d need a new thesis topic!  It’s thesis writing week for me.  So there don’t anticipate many posts, unless they’re reflections.   What I can share is that I’ve gotten about 2800 words down so far and I spent most of this afternoon making a table.  (I’m very excited about this.)  One of my favorite quotes is by Oscar Wilde.  I think I spent most of a year in high school English pondering the quote.  He says, “I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.”  The table feels like my comma. ( Hopefully I won’t have to take it out!) I think if I spent less time thinking about the quote and more time writing, I’d be further along, but I’m pleased with my progress so far.

However, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted a real photo. So I’ve dug out an appropriate photo from the archives.  Enjoy!

Male American Kestrel prepares for take off!

Male American Kestrel prepares for take off!

We’ve just finished banding and tagging this adult male kestrel and he’s about to be released.   He looks big and fierce, doesn’t he?  Mind you he’s being held by a six-year old.   Quite a professional six-year-old, too!  She comes out in the field with us as her mother is runs the Sussex team and she can do pretty much everything competently at this point except carry the ladder and drive the vehicle.

Don’t Leave Home

Without a Camera: the sad lesson of 2004.
Disclaimer: All of the Following is True.  None of the Following is Exaggerated.

Once upon a time, there was a very fortunate undergraduate who won a quest trip to spend 8 days rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon because she spent a very pleasant half hour chatting with a wizard woman from Arizona State University at Flagstaff  while visiting a castle conference in Pittsburgh.

Beginning of the Owl Story

How I began my journey: (1) I travel across mountains, grasslands, and desert to Arizona. (2) Yay, there are 8 days of rafting to look forward to! (3) I set off from the University of Arizona on a quest to study depredation.

To extend her visit out west she found a job for the summer as a squire field research for the kingdom University of Arizona.  It was a long journey to a distant land, so she hemmed and hawed whether or not to take her cauldron camera.  Ultimately she opted not to.  Her motto was better safe than sorry.

How my journey continued.

Whatever will happen next? (4) I visit four mountain ranges throughout my quest.  (5) I trudge through the Huachucas, listening and learning.  (6) Heading back to base camp.

Her work took her throughout the Santa Catalinas, as far away as the Pinalenos, up the Chiricahuas and down the Huachucas in search of deprecated nests. Up and down the mountains she went carrying boxes, nests, and ladders. Searching, listening, collecting. Returning through the gloaming from a long day in the field, she wandered down the mountain slope.  It was quiet, peaceful.

How my journey ends.

How my journey ends: (7) Wait, what is this I see? (8) Is it an owl in a tree? (9) New lifer. Glee!

She paused to look up, to enjoy the beauty, when to her surprise she saw an owl in the tree ahead of her.  Spellbound, she slowly, cautiously drew closer until she stood beneath the owl.  She peered up, the owl peered down and time passed, the girl looking at the owl, and the owl looking at the girl. Though it was doubtful the girl was the first human the owl had ever seen, It was the first owl for the girl.   Sadly, the girl didn’t have her camera with her to record such a momentous occasion.  Moving like a mouse creeping past an owl, she slowly drew her wand guide from her rucksack and compared the images in her spellbook to the bird before her.  At long last, she settled on Spotted Owl.

Today, the girl is on her fourth camera and has only seen one other owl in the wild to date though she gets to work with one through her current quest.