A Few Things That Make Me Happy

A Few Things That Make Me Happy

A List In No Particular Order

 

Anhinga, Everglades Natoinal Park, Florida

Anhingas also make me happy. Because they’re awesome. I mean, come on. Look at that eye makeup and hairdo.  Red eye, blue eye-liner, green eyeshadow, artfully disarrayed frosted spikes. Hotness. 
Everglades National Park, Florida

 



 

  • savoring a cup of tea while wrapped in a blanket in front of the woodstove.

cape breton highlands national park

Or savoring a cup of tea while sitting on a rocky beach in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, because you don’t have any pictures of leisurely tea drinking by the woodstove.


  • waking, realizing there is no real reason to be up yet, and staying in bed, eyes closed, half awake/half asleep, dreaming.

Memorial Day in the Mountains

Camping up on Black Balsam, in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina.


  • the smell of walking through a pine forest in the cool  just after dawn.

H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Oregon

H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Oregon. I took this in May 2010. If I recall correctly, it rained pretty much the entire three months I was in Oregon.


  • the sound of woodpeckers tapping and hammering on branches.

red-cockaded woodpecker Carolina Sandhills NWR

Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Carolina Sandhills NWR, South Carolina. I spent a great deal of time chasing them around in the woods. It was fun. Other than the chiggers and the poison oak.


  • getting sucked into a good book for hours, and only coming up for air when you desperately have to pee. Or eat.

Galapagos Islands lava gull

This has nothing to do with reading a good book, but surprisingly I don’t have any pictures of me reading. So here’s a picture I took of a Lava Gull and chick in the Galapagos Islands back in 2008. The adult is in breeding plumage, which is why it has the red eye-ring. And, it’s eye is closed. It’s napping. Parenting is exhausting, from what I hear.


  • having progressively logically ridiculous conversations, that are in turns creative, silly, and in a strange way logical.

Like planning our post-apocalyptic commune, or our skunk ape/NASA/unicorn conspiracy theory, or pretty much any time Meghan, Patrick, and I opened our mouths.

 

Dave Shealy's Gorilla Supplier

Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, Ochopee, Florida. Based on the drawings (which are based on a first-person description from someone who wasn’t the artist) in the “Skunk Ape Research Handbook,” that is totally a gorilla statue, not a skunk ape.


  • the smell of a rock wall, on the 2nd or 3rd pitch of a multi-pitch route.

 

Rock Climbing Utah

Climbing Castleton Tower with Max. I recommend climbing desert towers with someone who doesn’t say, “You know, if this tower fell over we’d be screwed” as you reach the belay on the 3rd  of 4 pitches. Near Moab, Utah.


  • singing along as loud as I please to a good song on the radio.

everglades national park, florida

Thankfully I have no pictures of myself singing, so here’s another cool bird picture (you can never have too many). This is a Purple Gallinule, a sweet bird that lives in Florida. They live other places too, but this one lives in Everglades National Park. Well, that’s where I saw it. Maybe it was just on vacation.


  • snuggling with my dog in my tiny bed

I prefer blonds in my bed

Extra happiness: snuggling with both a dog and a cat. All those blond pet hairs covering your person and clothing are just pet love stuck all over everything in your life.


  • riding my mountain bike down Game Creek trail, where I discovered one of the meanings of the world “exultation.”

Jackson Wyoming

One of the many beaver ponds along the trail. Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming.


And here’s a video of what is probably a Ruffed Grouse on Game Creek. It’s a good thing I ride slow, otherwise I might have run it over. These birds could definitely use some street-smarts.

Look both ways before you cross RUGR!

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

Canyonlands National Park Utah

Canyonlands, Utah

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.

lily in sunlight

Oregon

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.

 

imageswhisper-words-of-wisdom_615x454 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.

winter camping Wyoming

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.

Fundy National Park New Brunswick Canada

Fundy National Park, New Brunswick

6. Travel.

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!

blue springs state park florida

Another travel perk: hugging manatees.

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.

skydiving Ohio

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.

Adopt a kitten, get some sweet corn!

11. Going for a walk is an excellent way to generate thoughts.

galapagos islands

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.

change toilet paper brain damage sign

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

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.

Lauren and Grandad with hats

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.

Nepal Annapurna

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.

Teton Science School Wilson Campus bunkhouse

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…

Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

19. Climbing up a mountain on your own steam is a powerful feeling.

The view is always better when you work for it.

trekking Mt. Kinabalu Malaysia

It is not always advisable to wear Teva sandals and socks to climb mountains. But I find them to be excellent hiking foot attire.

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.

food truck moab utah

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.

Fundy National Park New Brunswick Canada

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.

Ruby-throated-Hummingbird-52

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.

south carolina hiking

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.

033_461x615

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.

Home is now behind you.

Home is now behind you. The world is ahead.”

–Gandalf

075_615x461

Home is also just down the path to the right.
South Carolina, 2012.

While contemplating this picture and quote, listen to Concerning Hobbits, one of my favorite songs from the Lord Of The Rings movies.

The Cuteness Scale: A Poll

The Cuteness Scale: Bird Edition

Mostly just for fun, and because I wanted an excuse to go through all my cool bird pictures, I made this poll. Please take it, and rank the following 15 birds on their level of cuteness. This is a highly-scientific research study, in case you were wondering. I even have funding from the NSF– the National Smith Foundation, which provides itinerant Smith children with food and shelter while they are in-between field jobs. The only requirement is that you are a biological child of Mike and Vicki Smith, so luckily I don’t have much competition for funding.

This is just the first edition of this poll, I feel like improvements can, and probably shall, be made. I think it would be really fun to do a cute baby bird one next, but I’ll have to go on a picture-gathering mission first. Or just do a few more field jobs.

For more information on the birds included in this poll, check out these links: 

Black-capped Chickadee

Yellow Warbler

Red-eyed Vireo

Black Vulture

Brown Creeper

Anhinga

Blue-footed Booby

Florida Scrub-Jay

Cooper’s Hawk

Waved Albatross

Mourning Dove

Wilson’s Snipe

Red-naped Sapsucker

Common Raven

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Thanks for taking my poll!

Hope you had fun! I know I did.

A Day In the Life of an Endangered Species Intern

I wrote this for my MatadorU travel writing course, and thought it would be fun to share here. It’s about some of the field work I was doing while I was in South Carolina last year.

When I leave the house in the morning it is dark enough to use the brights. I drive my truck along a paved road, which turns to dirt. The packed dirt is first tan, then reddish-orange, then almost white. A nightjar stares me down from the middle of the road, but as I slow it flies off into the dark.

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A red-cockaded woodpecker foraging in a pine. Note the black and white barring on the back, white cheek patches, and black hood. The males will have small red patches on the back of their heads, which typically can’t be seen unless the bird is riled up and raises its feathers.

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The dark is softer when I arrive at Compartment 20, my destination. I wait in the truck, drinking tea from my thermos and listening to the radio, until the sky lightens. Just before sunrise I take one last sip and then slip into place with my spotting scope, binoculars, and notebook. I position myself about 100 yards from the nearest cavity tree and wait. The cavity I’m watching, a dark hole about 25 feet off the ground, partially hidden between branches, looks lifeless.

After ten minutes I see what I’ve come for: a red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) bursts out into the morning, chattering loudly. It forages in a nearby tree, tapping here and there on the bark, flaking off pieces that swivel to the ground. After a few minutes another RCW joins, and the two flit from tree to tree calling and foraging, taking stock of the day.

Fully grown, an RCW is the size of a robin with black and white stripes running across its back, sometimes called a ladder back. Like clowns, they have giant white cheek patches and tiny black caps. The males have red cockades, or small red patches, on each side of their black caps.

I follow the pair for the better part of an hour before I leave them to their business. Back at the truck I take a sip of now-cold tea before reading through my notes. Both RCWs were unbanded, which means they had not been captured and fitted with aluminum USGS numbered bands or colored plastic bands, which we use to identify individual birds. Because there were just the two of them, they are most likely a potential breeding pair, or a pair of mated RCWs who for whatever reason didn’t nest this year.

I was out this morning doing an early morning nest check, observing what was going on in a particular cluster of RCW cavity trees. These checks help to determine the overall breeding status and size of the RCW population on the refuge. They also mean that I get to spend early mornings in the woods staring at trees, hoping birds will show up so I can follow them and see what they’re up to.

In 2012 I spent three months as an endangered species intern, studying RCWs with the biologists at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge. My internship, arranged through the Student Conservation Association, provided me with the opportunity to do hands-on conservation biology and work with government biologists to study an endangered species, a bird that few have heard of, let alone seen. My background in biology, and specifically ornithology, the study of birds, has taken me around the country to different wildlife refuges and protected areas, where I’ve had the privilege to experience many different aspects of the natural world.

Carolina Sandhills is located just outside of McBee, South Carolina, which is located just outside of the middle of nowhere.  As a local intern explained to me, towns in the region are defined by whether or not they have a Wal-Mart. McBee does not have a Wal-Mart.

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Carolina Sandhills NWR is divided into 21 compartments; each typically has 10-12 clusters of cavity trees. The maps give us an approximate idea of where the trees are, and we then find them on foot using a compass and a large dash of intuition. It sometimes took a while to find particular trees, as the maps are not entirely accurate.

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Red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealis) have been on the endangered species list since 1970, and the current population is estimated to be about 12,500. Like many endangered species, RCWs are closely tied to their habitat, in their case the longleaf pine ecosystem. There once were about 90 million acres of longleaf habitat spreading across the eastern United States, from New Jersey south to Florida and west to Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. Only 2 million acres remain, in mostly isolated patches scattered through the southeast.

That much ecosystem doesn’t just disappear on its own. Logging, agriculture, the turpentine industry, tree farming, and urbanization, along with the suppression of natural fires, contributed to the decline of longleaf pine. Of these, burning is perhaps the most critical, because when fires are suppressed the composition of the forests changes. Fewer fires promote the growth of hardwoods, which the RCWs have no use for. They need pines, and pines need fire.

Natural fires, caused by lightning strikes, are typically low-intensity burns. These fires incinerate the fallen needles and grasses and leave mature trees undamaged. This keeps the area around the longleaf cleared, reducing competition and providing open areas for their seeds to quickly absorb nutrients from the ash. Longleaf pine forests are typically composed of just longleaf; there is an obvious lack of mid-story trees. The ground is covered with a high diversity of plants, all of which benefit from fire as well. Frequent forest fires “acted as the thread which held the longleaf pine forest together (1).”

RCWs are the only woodpeckers that nest in living pines. Connoisseurs, they prefer their trees aged: old-growth longleaf pine being most favored. The best longleaf will have red-heart disease, which softens the heartwood enough for the birds to easily excavate a cavity, anywhere from 10 to 80 feet off the ground. Longleaf pines have a high resin yield, and are very sticky trees. RCWs will open up sap wells all over the tree, which are especially good at keeping away rat snakes that will try to climb up and eat their eggs and nestlings. It is easy to spot cavity trees once you know what to look for—a large reddish section of bark midway up the tree, encrusted with sap.

Biologists (and interns) monitor most of the trees on the refuge with cavities, of which there are over 1,300. Thankfully, we only need to monitor the ones with recent activity, about a third of the cavity trees. The refuge is 45,348 acres, so there is a great deal of driving and hiking involved in this line of work.

Later in the morning, I drive to the office to fill out the official observation form for Nancy, the refuge biologist. Grabbing up my notebook and the spotting scope, I head inside.

“So how did it go out there?”  Nancy asks.

“I had two. They stayed mostly in Compartment 20, then headed towards that farm across the road off the refuge, then back towards Compartment 21.”

“That’s interesting; I wonder why they went over there. Ok, good. I thought I had heard birds out there during nest checks. Did they have bands?

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My peeper, leaning on a marked cavity tree. All known cavity trees are marked with a broad band of white paint to help not only biologists but also the firefighters who set prescribed burns on the refuge identify them. Peepers are about five feet tall and extend up to 35 feet. 

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“Nope, both unbanded.”

“What trees were you watching?”

“I was set up on 93, and the first RCW came from the cavity near the top of the tree. The other came from behind me, probably 97.”

We talk a little more about details of my observations, and Nancy shares her morning experiences in a different compartment. I fill out the official observation form, and she gives me my instructions for the day. I have five trees to inspect, checking up on nestlings we banded about two weeks ago.

“How’s your peeper been working?” she asks. Peepers are cameras on telescoping poles, which we use to ‘peep’ into RCW cavities. They keep us from having to climb the trees so we can make our observations more quickly, which means less stress for the birds, though not always for us. RCW cavity openings are about 2 inches in diameter, and directing a camera head smaller than your fist into a 2 inch hole 30 feet or so above the ground takes a bit of skill and practice. As a rule, the sun will be in your eyes, it will be windy, and/or there will be branches in the way.

“Okay I guess, but sometimes the arm that holds the camera up doesn’t stay tight, so when I pull it out of the cavity it flops straight down, and then I have to lower the entire thing and re-adjust it if I need another look, which is a pain.”

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A RCW nestling, about 7 or 8 days old. Its eyes are unopened, and the feathers are just starting to come in and poke through the skin. Their feathers grow in tracts, the darkened areas on the bird’s head, back, and wings. It takes RCW’s about 20 days to become fully feathered and reach adult size.

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Woodpecker nestlings are altricial, which means they are born without feathers, eyes closed, and are pretty much helpless. It takes about 20 days for RCW nestlings to grow in their adult feathers. Juvenile males will have the distinctive red crown patches on their temples; females’ just plain black and white. I peep into cavities and look for splotches of red, jotting down the number of nestlings and their sex: male, female, or unknown, if they are being uncooperative and sitting on top of one another so I can’t see the back of their heads.

As I drive off through the refuge towards my first cavity, I hear the chatter of brown nuthatches in the pines to my left. They sound like so many squeaky toys, jumping around in the trees like little yippy dogs. Listening closely, every once in a while I hear the “sklit, sklit” of an RCW flying overhead.

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1. Auburn Forestry site: The Longleaf Alliance

Additional Information

Blog posts about my experiences: 

How To Capture and Band a Mourning Dove

First you must bait the fields, which have been disked properly by an approved U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee. The area where the bait is placed must first be raked smooth, so the doves can see the bait and have a nice landing area to wander around in and leave footprints. You should probably not joke about leaving dirt angels (like a snow angel, but in dirt) when asked by your boss if you did raked and baited correctly. (What kind of question is that though, really?) Also you should probably not leave messages written in the dirt for said boss, though said boss never did see it.

Baiting the dove field.

After you put out the bait (sunflower seed is what we used) place a metal trap over the bait pile. There is an art to putting out bait. It must be perfectly arranged under the trap or the mourning doves won’t come. They’ll just hang out around the outsides of the traps and not go inside and get caught.

Whitney with the seed bucket.

After an hour or so, go back and check the traps. If there are doves in them, cover the trap with a sheet to calm them down so they don’t hurt themselves against the wire before you get them out.

Whitney removing a dove from the trap while Brady busies himself with the bands.

If you’re really lucky you’ll catch more than one or two doves at a time. However, in my experience, you only catch multiple doves when a big storm is blowing in and the last place you want to be is crouched over a metal trap in the middle of a wide-open field as the lightning gets closer and closer. Then you’ll catch 20 at a time. Other days, maybe 5.

Lauren removing a dove from the trap. Brady stands in the back being exceptionally useful.

After removing the mourning dove from the trap, determine age, sex, and molt status. If any of the feathers on the body and wings have buffy tips, it is a young (hatch year) bird. If it is a hatch year, then the sex is unknown. If it is an adult, males have a slate colored patch on the crown and rosy-tinted feathers on their breast. Females are plain and boring looking. Molt is determined by looking at the wing feathers and seeing which one is growing in, and therefore is shorter and a slightly different color than the older feathers.

Whitney figuring out molt status.

Once you have all that information figured out, a numbered band from the USGS is placed around the right leg of the dove. We were given 100 dove-sized bands, so once 100 are caught we’re done. The banding is done to help gather information about the doves during the dove hunt.

Brady preparing the bands.

Once the band is on, and the the information is written down, release the dove and start over!

Lauren with a dove.
You can’t really tell, but this is an adult male mourning dove. Most of the adults we catch are males.  Nancy thinks this is because males are dumber than females. Might make an interesting study…

Animals on the Refuge

Though you might not realize it from reading my blog, there are in fact other animals at Carolina Sandhills in addition to red-cockaded woodpeckers. Here are a few pictures of some of them and fellow intern Whitney’s arms. There may be a full-body shot in there somewhere too.

We found a turtle! This is a male yellow-bellied slider. Male because it’s flat on the bottom (in fancy terms his plastron is slightly concave). The theory is that this helps the males to climb on top of the females when they breed.

I like the shadow of Whitney’s hands and the turtle on the ground.

We found a small tiny lizard that tried to climb Whitney’s pant leg during one of our vegetation surveys.  Our best guess is eastern fence lizard. Whatever it is, it’s cute.

Whitney found a land snail and brought it in the kitchen! She was outside the bunkhouse one evening making a phone call, and found this dude on the stoop. Actually, this snail might be a dudette, or both (many snails are hermaphrodites) so let’s just stick with “dude.”

One afternoon as we were driving back to the office, we saw a dark shape lumbering down Wildlife Drive. We first thought it might be a raccoon, but as we got closer we realized it was a beaver. We stopped the truck a respectable distance away, got out, and took some pictures. Instead of staying away from us, the beaver strolled right up, crossed the road in front of the tuck, and trundled along just a few feet away from where Whitney was crouched taking pictures. It then crossed back over the road and headed into the pond.

Close encounters of the beaver kind.

The Beaver Song, which I learned from Chris at Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm. There are also hand motions, which I’d be more than happy to show you sometime. I only remember the chorus, which is a call and response.

Long tail (Long tail)
Big buck teeth (Big buck teeth)
Swimmin in the water (Swimmin in the water)
Chewing on trees (Chewing on trees)
Building up a dam (Building up a dam)
You know who I am (You know who I am)
I’m a Beaver, I’m a Beaver, I’m a Beaver! (I’m a Beaver. I’m a Beaver. I’m a Beaver!)

Swimming away, looking for trees to gnaw on.

Beavers can weigh up to 60lbs, and can be 23 to 39 inches long, excluding the tail, which adds an additional 8 to 12 inches. Not something you typically expect to see trucking down a paved road in the middle of the afternoon, especially as beavers are usually nocturnal.

And these pictures don’t have Whitney in them (and therefore are not nearly as interesting) but I did find this really neat insect while I was cleaning my peeper– the telescoping camera we use to look in woodpecker cavities. Not sure what it is, but it’s cool!

The Last RCW Banding

Friday was the last RCW banding of the 2012 season. It’s been a busy few months, and while it is nice to not be as busy (especially in this heat!) I am sad that there are no more trees to climb and ugly baby woodpeckers to play with. My time here at Carolina Sandhills is almost up, and it’s been fantastic. I am exceptionally glad I took this internship and was able to spend 12 weeks here working with RCW’s. Birds are always fun, and climbing trees is awesome, but I think the best part of this internship has been all the people I’ve been privileged to work with. While I’m not always excited about getting up early or having to tromp through the chigger/horse fly/ poison oak infested forest to look for cavity trees, every day is still fun because of the people here. I’m not sure where the future will take me after I leave this place, but I’ll never forget the experiences and people. Especially Brady Vaassen, fellow intern and one of my housemates, who is sitting here on the couch next to me asking when I’ll write a blog post about him and trying to get me to move so he can have the entire couch. Just because you’re 6ft 5in and a bit doesn’t mean you always get to hog the couch.

Pictures were taken by the fabulous Whitney Wallet, intern extraordinaire and friend of the first class.
20ft up a longleaf pine at a RCW cavity. And yes, I do have a turkey feather stuck in my hair.
Trying to get the nestling out of the cavity with my noose.
Nestling secured in the bag slung around my back, and heading down to the ground to get it banded.
Getting ready to band (or standing around looking important).  That’s Evan Brashier on the right (not an intern, he actually gets paid), he banded the chick since I got to climb up and noose it.
Chick in hand, I make my stand, ready to band, best in the land.
The passing of the RCW chick.
Evan banding the chick. It was about 9 or10 days old.
Climbing back up to put the newly-banded nestling back home.
I don’t normally get this excited about putting nestlings back, but there were some interesting comments coming from the peanut gallery on the ground (aka Whitney and Evan).

More RCW Banding

The red-cockaded woodpecker nesting season is dying down, and all the babies are starting to fly away. Here are some pictures, taken by myself, fellow intern Ashley and high school intern Katie, of the climbing/banding process.

Here I am starting to climb up the tree. I’ll go up another rung to where I can reach the bracket (just above my head on the ladder, against the tree) and then I’ll wrap a chain around the tree to secure the ladder. The ladders are in 10ft and 5ft segments, and have tongues on the ends to attach them together to whatever height we need. The highest I’ve ever had to climb was 30ft, or 3 10ft ladders.

At the cavity, getting ready to remove the chicks. The rubber tubing is my noose, which I stick in the cavity and use to grab the nestlings.

Hanging out 30ft above the ground. The view is generally pretty nice from up there.

Our banding kit. We put aluminum bands with unique numbers on each nestling, and also a unique combination of colored plastic bands. This is so we can later identify the birds without having to catch them again to read the tiny numbers on their legs. With binoculars or a spotting scope, you can sometimes (if the birds cooperate and permit you a good view of their legs) read the color combination.

This nestling has color bands yellow/white/yellow on its left leg, and an aluminum band/light green (which you can’t really see in this picture) on its right.

Two RCW nestlings, about 9 or 10 days old. Their eyes have just opened, and their feathers are starting to poke out along their wings and tails. The one on the right was feisty, and liked showing off his legs.

This chick was old, probably 11 or 12 days old. We generally try to band them between 7 and 11 days old, because they don’t have so many feathers for us to accidentally pull out. Also, it’s generally easier to get them before their eyes are open, because they’re not quite as aware of what’s going on and can’t see the noose and try to get out of the way.

Right leg: orange/light green/orange.
Left leg: aluminum/light green.

I like banding older chicks because their legs are bigger and it’s easier to get all the bands on, but, being older, they’ve figured out how to use all their body parts and with more actively struggle. This guy here has mastered his feet, and would grab our fingers. The younger birds, especially before their eyes are open, can barely stay upright in your hand.

Since most of our birds have finished nesting (we have about 128 nests) we are now starting our early morning cluster checks. This means we station ourselves by trees we think may be active (which means the woodpeckers are using them) before sunrise and wait to see if any RCW’s come out. We do this to see if the cluster has a potential breeding pair which just didn’t nest. Typically the birds will come out and then chat a little with their mate, who roosts in a different cavity, before heading out to look for breakfast. The real fun part (other than getting up at 5 a.m. to be in the woods before sunrise) is then following them around for an hour or so, to see if they lead us to nestlings or a new nesting cavity. We have spotting scopes (telescopes on tripods) that we use to see the colored bands, and we carry those around with us as we traipse around after the birds. It’s not too bad, if you don’t mind waking up really early and then chasing after birds in the woods. Which I don’t. Birds are one of the only things I’ll wake up before sunrise for. The others are traveling and rock climbing. Sometimes.

Festival Fun in South Carolina

Last weekend was exciting. Instead of spending all my time in the bunkhouse baking bread (what I did the weekend before), Whitney (fellow intern), Jake (her boyfriend), and I hit up two local festivals: the Pine Straw Festival  in Patrick and the Strawberry Festival at McLeods Farm just outside of McBee.
First up was the Pine Straw Festival. We drove all the way to Patrick, 20 minutes away, for this.
The Pine Straw Festival did have a bouncy slide, which I suppose was pretty exciting.  I don’t know they would have let us on, though. Maybe if we had a small child they would have, but there weren’t any around we could borrow.
Small line-up of old cars and some people I don’t know.
Don’t have booths like this at home in Ohio…
We spent about four minutes walking around because I wanted to take pictures of pine straw (of which there was none). Pine straw is fallen pine needles that are gathered up and used as mulch. You would think that if the festival was named after pine straw there would be some there, an informational booth or something at least. But no. I was disappointed.
I soon got over my disappointment when we headed back to McBee and McLeod’s Strawberry Festival. A much better festival, primarily because we ate peach enchiladas and ice cream (makes my mouth water now just thinking about it) and they also had a booth for Carolina Sandhills Refuge, wagon rides, cornhole, and kids crafts. And strawberries, peaches, and other fresh produce.
I bought a basket of these delicious strawberries, some of the best I’ve ever had. And now I have a sweet white plastic basket that says Mac’s Pride.
Yummy-looking peaches. Haven’t had any yet, but the peach ice cream was good.
They also have a small museum with all sorts of neat random old stuff, including cars, artwork, cash registers, cases of old knives, a row of rocking chairs, and these decoys.
Wall of tools and things.
One of the collection of old fans sitting next to the collection of cash registers.
Whitney and I went to the small McLeod’s produce stand just down the road from the refuge one day after work for peach ice cream. Not a good idea. Now that I know there is homemade peach ice cream so close,   I’m going to be there everyday after work. My entire weekly stipend is going to be spent on peach ice cream.
If you’re interested, here’s the McLeod’s website: http://www.macspride.com
It says they deliver peaches, but I’m not sure how far (as probably most of the people reading this are not in South Carolina). I plan on personally sampling a large variety of their produce, baked goods and deserts in the next few months, so I’ll let you know how everything is.