Mikayla is my best friend’s little sister. She is 12 years old. She is also my (non-legally) adopted sister*, as I live with her and her amazing family every time I go to Boulder. (One time, we made penguins. They were awesome). Continue reading
A Hike to Taggart Lake
On Sunday last week I decided to go for a short hike.
First though, I slept in til 8 a.m. (that’s super late for a bird bander, we normally wake up around 4 a.m.), then spent a leisurely morning over my coffee and Annie Proulx’s book Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2.
“They made a trip out to scout around. Mitchell was stunned by the beauty of the place, not the overphotographed jagsof the Grand Tetons but the high prairie and the luminous yellow distance, which peased his sense of spatial arrangement. He felt as though he had stumbled into a landscape never before seen on the earth and at the same time that h had been transported to the ur-landscape before human beginnings. The mountains crouched at every horizon like dark sleeping animals, their backs whitened by snow. He trod on wildflowers, glistening quartz crystals, on agate and jade, brilliant lichens. The unfamiliar grasses vibrated with light, their incandescent stalks lighting the huge ground. Distance reduced a herd of cattle to a handful of tossed cloves. HIs heart squeezed in, and he wished for a celestial eraser to remove the fences, the crude houses, the one he bought included, from this place. Even the sinewy, braided currents of the wind, which made Eugenie irritable, pleased him.”
Man Crawling Out of Trees, in Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx
(I apologize for the massive paragraph, but that’s how it was written in the book.)
After my coffee and reading, I headed out to Grand Teton National Park and the Taggart Lake Trailhead.
At first, the trail looked like this:
I wore my usual hiking shoes:
I saw some flowers:
Then, the trail looked like this:
And then I was there:
It was such a nice day, I decided to hike on the mile and a half to Bradley Lake.
On the way, I saw a pine cone and some moss:
And I saw another pretty flower:
However, after a short while the trail started to look like this:
Good thing I wore my postholing Crocs:
The view through the trees of Bradley Lake looked like this:
I wasn’t that impressed, and the trail was knee-deep in snow in some places, so I turned around.
And then I saw a marmot:
After the marmot excitement, I braved my way back through the snow to Taggart Lake, where I could kick back, snack on some carrots, and take in the view.
It was a pretty good day.
Kids (and Grownups) Say the Darndest Things
I spent last summer in Wyoming, where I was working with the Teton Science Schools to band birds. I won’t go into too much about what that entailed, but see Bird Banding With the Teton Science Schools; What Is A Mist Net?; How To Catch A Bird in A Mist Net; and Feathered Friday Article for more details.
Sometimes we would have visitors to our banding stations, educational groups made up of school-aged children and/or adults. It was great fun, sharing all the birds we caught with them, and hopefully passing on some of the passion that we all have for nature and birds. I’m going back again this May, and am very much looking forward to it. Songbirds and the Tetons, what more could one possibly want in a summer?
Sometimes people say some, shall we say, interesting things.
I’d written down some of these gems, and then forgotten about them. To stumble upon them now brings back all sorts of wonderful memories of summer in the Tetons. I can’t say I dislike winter in Colorado, but it’s not quite the same. There’s a little more snow, for one. And it’s slightly colder. Like, I don’t know, maybe by 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit or so (my car told me it was negative 9 here in Boulder last week when I got up to go climbing at 6 a.m. Yeah, I’m not sure why I thought that was a good idea either. At least it was inside. Climbing and birds are two of the only things I’m willing to wake up that early for). Though the snow did stick around up in the mountains fairly late into the summer last year.
The Flatirons are awesome, but it’s hard to beat the Tetons. I mean, come on. They’re the Tetons.
People Say the Darndest Things:
Bird Banding Edition
The kid who kept insisting that they were “Warbling Videos” and “Cheddar Waxwings.”
I said, it’s “Vir-e-o,” there’s no ‘d,’ and “Ce-dar,” like the tree, not “Ched-dar” like the cheese. He insisted I was wrong. First time it was cute. Second, third, fourth, etc. times, not so much. He just would not let it go, and wasn’t willing to be corrected.
Yeah, okay kid. You’re right, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about, and probably can’t read properly either. It’s not like I majored in both zoology and English or anything.
“Look, I can make your scale say Error!”
Definitely one of the worst things to hear someone say about your research equipment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was a little boy. We quickly went over (again) the no-touching policy. Again.
And then I said, in that fake-happy tone you quickly learn when working with children, “Go look at the bird that Sarah has!” (translation: Get Away From My Equipment You Little Cretin).
“So what is there to do around here other than climb and stuff?”
This was a question from a high school student (also male) visiting from Miami, Florida.
I responded to that one with a blank look.
I don’t understand the question. You’re in the Tetons. What else could you possibly want to do?
“Do birds get periods?”
This question came from one of the adult chaperones, because she noticed the rather red stains on some of the bird bags I was holding. A bit of explanation: After we remove the birds from the mist net, we place them in small cotton drawstring bags and securely close them in order to transport the birds safely to the banding station. This keeps the birds from hurting themselves, and from stressing out too much as we carry them back for processing.
The stains were in fact poop stains, because we had been catching a number of American Robins and Gray Catbirds that had been dining on organic locally fresh berries, and when birds get freaked out (as happens when they suddenly and unexplainedly find themselves caught in a mist net) they tend to void their bowels, either in our hands, or in the bags, or all over our log books, or any combination of those places. Or, if you’re extremely unfortunate, in a projectile way all over your face/in your eyes/mouth. Poor Sarah. I’ve never had bird poop in my eye, but I imagine it wouldn’t feel very good. Or be fun to clean off contacts.
Yes, it’s kinda gross, but you get used to being pooped on. Bird bags make excellent poop-wiping hankies, in case you were wondering. I can personally attest that whatever those berries are, they make an excellent dye, both on clothes and skin.
So no, birds don’t get periods. That’s a mammal thing, and birds, as you (hopefully) know, are not mammals. Those red stains are poop, not blood. Also, those stains are huge, and if a bird lost that much blood during the few minutes it was in the bird bag it’d probably be in trouble and I sure as heck wouldn’t be this nonchalant about it.
We take bird safety very seriously, and if there’s so much as a speck of blood on a bird, we notice and do what we can to stop the bleeding before releasing the bird. However, injuries are very rare, and less than 1% of all the birds we capture in our nets are injured. There have been a number of studies about bird safety, and if you want to read one of them there’s a link on my post What is a mist net?
“So who can tell me what this bird is?”
“Oooo, I know, I know, it’s a House Wren!”
“Um… actually, wrens are a little bit smaller, and they’re all brown and kind of mottled looking. This one has a few different colors. It’s actually an American Robin.”
This was an older woman, who was really excited to be out banding with us (she was practically bouncing up and down with excitement). I was worried that she would feel bad that I had to correct her, so I tried to be very nice about it. She didn’t mind at all, because she was just so thrilled to be out with us seeing the birds. It was sweet, and her energy was infectious. I loved having people out to the banding stations who were this excited about everything. Though I tend to be pretty even-keeled, this is how I feel about just about every bird I handle– jump-up-and-down-excited. I just hide it well. That, and it would startle the birds, so I reign it in.
In case you were wondering:
American Robins weigh about 77-85 grams, and are usually 7.9-11 inches long, with a wingspan of 12.2-15.7 inches. House Wrens weigh 10-12 grams, are usually 4.3-5.1 inches long, with a wingspan of 5.9 inches. There’s a bit of a size difference there…
“I’ll bet this metal pole will float.”
That gem is from my brother, while helping me take down nets after banding and apparently contemplating throwing one of the poles in the river. He’s got quite a number of these profound comments, which you can see if you follow the link above.
My dad says, “Yeah Eric, I’ll bet they would.”
My mom says, “Don’t encourage him!” to my dad.
I said, “Eric, if you throw that pole in the river you have to go fish it out, and then explain to Keegan (the crew lead) why the poles are all wet.”
And one more:
“I’ll bet you can’t carry all 20 mist net poles up to the van.”
Said Sarah, the banding educator, to Keegan, the crew lead, because it was the last day of banding and she didn’t want to carry any of the poles.
To which he replied, “I’ll bet I can.”
And he did.
Up from the riparian area down by Blacktail Ponds Overlook, which involves wading through a few streams and then climbing up a pretty steep, though short, embankment to the parking lot. From the banding site to the parking lot is maybe a 10 or 15 minute walk, through uneven terrain, carrying a heavy load of banding equipment in backpacks and these awkward poles.
I found this video someone took of the overlook (see link below). We had nets set in the first clump of willows you see on the right, and then in the willows to the left of the giant open area. Basically, we were scattered around between the camera viewpoint and the pines along the river. Not real sure why the video is 4 minutes long, but if you just watch the first minute or so you can get a good idea of what Blacktail Ponds looks like.
Tetons from the Blacktail Ponds Overlook video
Mist net poles are metal electrical conduit pipes, which can be bought at Lowes or Home Depot (which I have done). They are 10 feet long, and not particularly heavy if you have only one or two, but they quickly start to hurt the shoulder after walking any sort of distance. My limit is 10, which I can only carry for a max of 15/20 minutes before I have to take a break (after which I have no desire to resume carrying said poles).
Also, it’s not at all easy to keep them all together if you have any more than 10: they start to go all over the place, like giant Pick-Up-Sticks. There’s a reason Pick-Up-Sticks aren’t 10 feet long and made out of metal.
After he successfully carried all the poles up to the van (and proved, definitively, that he is much more of a man than Sarah, Bo, or myself– who are all female), we stopped at Dairy Queen and bought him a Blizzard. It should be noted though that he did this before he knew we were going to buy his Blizzard, from which I have learned that if you start any request with the phrase “I’ll bet you can’t [task you don’t want to complete]” you can probably get a guy to do it for you.
Anyone who wants to be my designated pole-carryer this summer, I’ll pay you in Blizzards.
An adventure rightly considered
(Above): Considering, rightly or wrongly, the integrity of the bridge on the way to Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal.
(Below): One of the guest houses along the trail.
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.
An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
— G.K. Chesterton
Nothing is good and clever
One of the lessons of history is that
nothing is often a good thing to do
and always a clever thing to say.”
— Will Durant
How we spend our lives
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard
26 Things I’ve Learned in My 26 Years
Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
— Frederick Buechner
1. Not everything in life has to be hard.
Sometimes the easy path is the one you’re supposed to go down. Sometimes it’s the universe showing you where you’re supposed to go.
2. If you throw the candy wrappers away in the trash, Mom will never find them.
If you stuff them in the couch she will find them and you will get in trouble.
3. Let it be.
As in, the microwave/car/laptop/whathaveyou that is malfunctioning will probably start working properly again if you let it alone for a spell. Granted, this doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. I have in fact “fixed” a microwave and a few car problems this way.
4. A sense of humor will take you far in the world.
I honestly don’t know how you’d get by without one. Life is ridiculous, there’s no getting around that. So just enjoy it. Laugh and be merry.
5. Go camping.
If you want to get to know someone really well, go camping with them. Hopefully you realize that they’re awesome, ‘cause if not it’s going to be a looong weekend.
Traveling is imperative for any well-rounded individual. Even if you can’t physically travel to far-off lands, mental travel can be enough. Read a book, or watch a documentary/movie that transports you somewhere else and teaches you something about other people and the world around you. The world is a large place, but not as big as it seems. The people living on the other side of it are just like us. It is not as scary as you think out there. GO!
7. A good book is always worth its weight in your checked bag.
These are your reserve books for the travels home, because of course you will have finished the books in your carry-on bag. You should have a book to read on your person at all times.
8. It’s better not to tell Mom what you did until after you make it back safely.
Or ever. This includes skydiving, almost getting arrested in Washington DC for sleeping in your car, and picking up hitchhikers in foreign countries. Especially that last one.
9. If you make cookies, they will be eaten.
Especially if you live in a bunkhouse with other field biologists. And especially if they are male.
10. If you simply expect things to work out, they probably will.
The world does not have it against you. It might not happen exactly how you planned, but it will work out in some fashion.
11. Going for a walk is an excellent way to generate thoughts.
12. There are many people in this world who do not know how to put toilet paper on the holder.
Perhaps they purposely didn’t change out the empty roll because they wanted you to have the joy of doing so.
13. Not speaking does not mean not caring.
Or not being intelligent. Sometimes we just can’t speak, or don’t know what to say.
14. Just because that’s how it’s been for a long time doesn’t mean that’s how it’s supposed to be forever.
15. My family will always be odder than yours.
Therefore, there is very little you can do to weird me out.
16. It is very hard for me to be happy if I can’t go outside every day.
Sunshine, trees, fresh air, blue skies, and some mountains would be preferable. That’s all I need. And some birds.
17. Sometimes you just want to do nothing.
And that’s okay. You don’t have to be working on something all the time. It’s okay to take a break every once in awhile and just breathe.
18. Though sometimes you might think otherwise, it’s probably better that you didn’t actually say what was on your mind.
Stupid can’t be taken back, and neither can unkind words (no matter how deserved they are).
Darn it, if only my parents hadn’t raised me to be such a polite and respectful person…
19. Climbing up a mountain on your own steam is a powerful feeling.
The view is always better when you work for it.
20. Be excited about something every day.
I learned this one from my dog, who, for all of his 14 years, was excited to the point of backflips for his food. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that excited about food, and, thinking about it, I’m not sure why not. Food is exciting stuff. Life is exciting stuff. So get excited about it, and don’t bother with what other people think.
21. You can’t outrun your past. Or a charging moose.
And of the two, I can personally attest that the charging moose is much more terrifying.
22. Birds are cool.
Like really cool. For instance, migration. Ruby-throated hummingbirds fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. RTHUs weigh 2-6 grams (0.1-0.2 oz) and are 7-9 cm (2.8-3.5 inches) long. At elevations of 2,000 to 5,000 feet, in 11-18 hours, the tiny birds fly 600 miles over the Gulf. Woah.
23. Send postcards.
Everyone loves to get mail. I mean really, is anyone going to say “Don’t send me any more mail, I don’t like getting a little personalized note that lets me know you’re thinking about me”? No.
24. People leave their brains at home when they go on vacation.
On that note, the middle of the road on a blind curve is not a good place to stop to take a picture when there is traffic coming from both directions.
Also, when the sign on the visitor center says “Hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.” that doesn’t mean we employees want to sit here another half hour while you use the bathroom, ask detailed questions about the refuge, and browse the gift shop. But by all means, go right ahead. I get the equivalent of 87 cents an hour for this internship, and no, I have absolutely nothing better to do with my time right now. I really don’t want to go home and eat dinner or anything like that.
25. Make music.
Sing. Play an instrument. Music is the language of the soul. And it just feels good.
Especially when it involves boomwackers and Call Me Maybe.
26. Love like sunshine.
Love should warm you, brighten up your day, help you to see things you didn’t before. It should be everywhere, illuminating everything.
Also, I wanted to mention that I have learned a great deal of other things in my 26 years, this is only a sampling. Just wanted to clarify.
An Unfortunate Reality
It is an unfortunate reality for innate idlers that our modern world requires one to hold a job to maintain a sustainable existence.”
— J. Maarten Troost, from the book The Sex Lives of Cannibals
Home is now behind you.
Home is now behind you. The world is ahead.”
While contemplating this picture and quote, listen to Concerning Hobbits, one of my favorite songs from the Lord Of The Rings movies.
Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”: the Owl Version
You may have heard the Daft Punk song “Get Lucky.” If not, here’s a Youtube video:
I enjoy this song, and find it very catchy. I also enjoy those snazzy sequin suit jackets they’re all sporting. Classy. However, I think they got the lyrics wrong. It’s pretty good as-is, but there’s a better way. One involving birds (therefore of course it’s better— see Portlandia- Put A Bird On It).
Here are the original lyrics, as best as I can figure. There is some discrepancy between the different sources I consulted during a quick Google search. Pharrell needs to learn to enunciate properly, then we wouldn’t have this problem. And what’s with the hand in the pocket in the video? Get your hand out of your pants, it looks weird.
“Get Lucky” (original version)
Like the legend of the phoenix
All ends with beginnings
What keeps the planet spinning
The force from the beginning
We’ve come too far to give up who we are
So let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars
She’s up all night ’til the sun
I’m up all night to get some
She’s up all night for good fun
I’m up all night to get lucky
(repeat multiple times, changing the “I’m up all night…” to “We’re up all night…”)
The present has no ribbon (or possibly rhythm)
Your gift keeps on giving
What is this I’m feeling?
If you wanna leave I’m with it
(repeat the part about cups, then repeat the chorus a gazillion times. It’s a pretty simple song as far as lyrics go).
Phoenixes, cups, presents, ribbons, all well and good. But owls? Better.
The first time I heard this song I didn’t really listen to the words of the two verses, just the chorus: “She’s up all night to the sun/ I’m up all night to get some…” Obviously, I thought, they’re talking about owl banding. Why else would you stay “up all night til the sun” unless you were catching owls?
So I rewrote the lyrics. Someone had to.
I used saw-whets in this version, as they are the only owls I have experience banding (and therefore the only ones I have decent pictures of), but I’m sure we could easily modify for other species.
“Get Lucky” (saw-whet version)
We’re gonna catch some saw-whets
They’ll fly into our mist nets
And then we’re gonna band them
To study their population
They’ve flown so far to get to where they are
So let’s raise our nets and our poles to the stars
We’re up all night to the sun
We’re up all night to catch some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to catch saw-whets
Now hold your wing out lightly
I’ll shine my black light brightly*
What is this I’m seein?
Got my data, now you’re leavin’
(repeat bridge, which I am too lazy to type out again)
*biologists use UV light (a black light) to age saw-whets based on molt pattern (the way their feathers have grown, and how old they are). They do this by looking at the underside of their wings. Young birds will have pinkish-looking feathers, and older birds will have a combo of pinkish and whitish feathers. Check out the McGill Bird Observatory’s Northern Saw-whet Owl banding page for more information and pictures.
And here’s one more bad owl joke to send you on your way:
What do you call an owl with a sore throat?
A bird that doesn’t give a hoot!
All pictures were taken in 2011 while banding in Presque Isle State Park, Erie Pennsylvania.