Home is now behind you.

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

–Gandalf

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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.

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)

(first verse)

Like the legend of the phoenix

All ends with beginnings

What keeps the planet spinning

The force from the beginning

(bridge)

We’ve come too far to give up who we are

So let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars

(chorus)

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…”)

(second verse)

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).

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Why stay up all night if there are no owls involved?

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)

(first verse)

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We are not amused.

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

(bridge)

They’ve flown so far to get to where they are

So let’s raise our nets and our poles to the stars

(chorus)

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

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Bonding time.

(second verse)

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)

(repeat chorus)

*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.

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What does an owl with an attitude have?
A scowl!

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. 

This Is Excellent

And I thought, okay, okay, this is excellent.

I do not deserve more.

This is what you stash away and hope to remember when your time on the earth is just about over.”

 

— William Booth

1leHaoZy

Summer evening in Wilson, Wyoming.
August 2012.

How To Catch A Bird in A Mist Net

Or, How to Catch a Bird in 6 Steps

 

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Black-and-white Warbler (juvenile). St. Andrews, New Brunswick, September 2013.

***For those who don’t know what a mist net is, check out this informative, well-written, entertaining, engaging blog post: What Is A Mist Net?***

 

1. Get up early, as in before sunrise, and get yourself to your banding station. Nets need to be up and opened (able to catch birds) by about a half-hour after sunrise. Coffee is recommended.

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The spreading of the trammels. Much consideration goes into choosing just the right stick for this purpose. 

2. Set up your net. This will involve two 10 ft metal poles (electrical conduit poles work nicely) and a mist net. Slide the pole through one set of the end loops on the net, stand up the pole, and then walk down the net lane feeding out your net. Once all the net is stretched out, slip a pole through the other end and set it up.

2.5 If needed, tie guidelines from nearby trees, or stakes in the ground, to help keep your poles upright.

3. Spread out the trammels*. Make sure they aren’t twisted. Use a stick to get them up high enough.

4. Take a good look and make sure everything is set up right, that the net isn’t bunched up or stuck together, or too loose and saggy, and then go on to set up the rest of the nets.

5. Once all the nets are set up, check them at least every half-hour to see if you have caught any birds. If you have, gently untangle them, place them in a bird bag, and take them back to the banding station for processing.

6. Processing will be explained in detail in a following blog post, but here’s the short speal:

Once back at the banding station, we take a bunch of measurements/observations: wing length (called wing chord), weight, age, sex, how fat they are (by looking at the hollow below their neck, one of the places birds will store fat for migration), molt (are they growing in any feathers?), and flight feather wear (how raggedy are their wing feathers).

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A mist net open and ready to catch birds.

It’s that simple!

Haha, just kidding. I wish.

Setting up mist nets extremely early in the morning is one of the few things that has the ability to make me instantly and irrationally angry. When the net is tangled, or your poles keep falling down before you can get them secured so the net falls on the ground and becomes a magnet for leaves and twigs you then must delicately remove, or when your stakes and ropes are missing, or when one of the trammels breaks… Let’s just say that I sometimes have the urge to chuck the net onto the ground, stomp on it until it’s dead, and then throw it in the river. And then punch a panda in the face. That’s how deep the rage can be.

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I don’t care how cute you are. You’ve never set up a mist net, so you wouldn’t understand.

It takes lots of practice to be able to safely and quickly remove birds from mist nets, and to process them efficiently and quickly. Note the emphasis on quickly– being caught in a mist net is stressful enough, so we try to get the birds back on their ways ASAP while being as careful as we can while handling them.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m currently in Canada banding birds, so if anyone’s interested you should stop by the Huntsman Marine Centre and check out our banding station. I welcome the company!

 

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Blue-headed Vireo. St. Andrews, New Brunswick, September 2013.

*refer to What Is A Mist Net?

 

Happy Birding! 

Oh Canada.

Oh hey everyone, I’m in Canada right now. Might have forgotten to mention that… whoops. Anyway, here I am!

water st st andrews

Downtown St. Andrews. This is pretty much it, though there are a grocery store and a few more shops behind me. There are no traffic lights, and the main drag takes up about four blocks. It’s a very pleasant stroll along the waterfront.

I’m working as a bird bander for the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, which is in the town of St. Andrews, which is in the province of New Brunswick, which is right on the Bay of Fundy, and a softball throw from the Maine border (as my mother put it).

Here’s a map:

Google map of HMC

Check out the Huntsman Bird Banding site: St. Andrews Bird Banding Station

My border crossing was not quite as easy as it could have been, since apparently the paper I had explaining my purpose for coming to Canada didn’t pass muster (though it worked perfectly fine for the other bander who flew in from California, and has worked in the past.) But whatever. It was Sunday evening, they must have been bored and wanted something to do. And I really, really, really wanted to sit at the border for over an hour after driving for 8 hours that day on 4 hours of sleep. Really.

After making multiple phone calls to two different people at Huntsman, who tried to explain it all to the guards (and eventually emailed them a differently-worded letter to let me get through, with the promise that it would be printed out and delivered the next day on the proper Huntsman letterhead) I was permitted to pass Go– after I paid for the $150 work visa. I don’t have a problem with this, it does make sense, but I wish they would just be consistent. Apparently this happens every year– some of the banders have no problem, others have hoops to jump through (my hoops were on fire, and I was on a unicycle). It’s easier for everyone if you have one set of rules and stick to them– and if you inform people as to what those rules are. Just sayin.

ship mural st andrews

Ship mural on the side of a building in St. Andrews (if you couldn’t tell from the picture). The town is also sometimes called “St. Andrews by-the-Sea,” probably because of the proximity of the sea.

During our multiple extended waiting periods (seems like just about every 10 minutes or so I’d get called back up to the desk to answer a semi-pointless question), I chatted a bit with the guy processing my papers. First, I explained a bit about what bird banding was. All he seemed to care about was that we put bands on birds. Period. He didn’t want to hear the rest of my spiel, which was slightly disappointing. I like telling people about mist nets.

As he was perusing my passport, he asked, Oh, so were you working in all these other countries? Last year I spent a couple months traveling around in Asia, and I’ve been to a few places in Central and South America as well. I’m very proud of my collection of assorted visas and stamps.

No, I said, I was just traveling for fun. I had a friend who had a Fulbright to study lobster farming in Vietnam and went to go visit him, and then we traveled around a bit. Nepal was my favorite, trekking in the Himalayas was amazing.

Oh, well they’re not countries many people go to just for travel, he replied.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that one. Huh? I would think more people go there just to travel than to band birds. It did seem that all of the non-natives I met in Asia were there “just to travel” (other than that one weirdo studying lobsters), but what do I know, I’m just a lowly-paid field biologist.

He also mentioned at one point that if they couldn’t get everything figured out I might not be able to cross the border tonight, and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way back to Ohio. Again, not sure how to respond to that one. Because I probably wouldn’t have just spent the night in Maine and tried to get across the next day, but instead I would have turned around and driven the 15 hours back to Ohio then and there. Right.

view of the bay

Passamaquoddy Bay, which I think rolls off the tongue quite nicely. According to Wikipedia, it was the site of a large flour smuggling operation that peaked in 1808. After American flour had its heyday, British manufactured goods and then gypsum from Nova Scotia were the smuggles of choice. (Not sure if that’s a proper way to refer to smuggled items, but it should be).

I also was a little confused as to why I wouldn’t be able to cross as a visitor instead, if the powers-that-be didn’t like my paperwork. I could have signed some paper or something that promised I wouldn’t work until I got the proper forms filled out. I mean, if you can’t get a work visa, can’t you still visit the country as a tourist? I didn’t want to bring that up unless I needed to as I figured it would just complicate matters.

Though it started to get slightly challenging (mostly as I was about ready to fall asleep even though the benches were extremely uncomfortable), I tried to be as pleasant and friendly as I could. They probably feel better about letting a slightly odd, chatty girl into their country than one who has been giving the death stare and monosyllabic answers for the past hour and looks like she’s ready to pass out either because she’s had no sleep or been doing recreational drugs.

But I made it, and this first week has been interesting so far. I’ve seen some old familiar eastern birds that I’ve missed during my time out West, though not very many of them. We have a total of 14 nets in 2 different sites, and John and I each run a site. Mine has 8 nets, his has 6. Today, total, we caught 9 birds: John caught 8 of them, which means I had 1. My busiest day so far has been 6. We have the nets open for 5 hours each day, depending on the weather. At least I’m getting a lot of reading done- I’ve already finished one book (Bonk, by Mary Roach. I highly recommend it, though it’s a bit awkward explaining to your boss when she asks “What book are you reading?”).

I still can’t get over the fact that there are no Tetons in the backyard. The ocean is okay I guess, but I’m definitely more of a mountain girl. You can’t climb on the ocean, though there are some cool birds.

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And in other breaking news….

Happy Birthday to my fabulous Mother Dearest!

I know I say this every year, but you’re the Best Mommy I’ve Ever Had 🙂

I love you Mom!

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Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, 2012.

Wildlife Linkspam for Your Reading Pleasure

If you haven’t been reading Rebecca’s nature blog, Rebecca In The Woods,  you should be! She’s a fantastic writer, and always has interesting observations about the natural world. She also has a link to my Cuteness Scale Poll, which if you haven’t taken yet you should! I’ve only had 12 people take it so far, I’m shooting for a much larger sample size before I start doing any stats. We need significant numbers here people, so let’s go!

And in the meantime, also check out Rebecca’s blog. Makes for some great reading!

Rebecca Heisman

It’s that time again – time for one of my irregular collections of wildlife and conservation links from around the web that have caught my eye. Bird-heavy, as always. Enjoy.

  • In Praise of Boring, Local Field Sites. This one brought back fond memories of doing my senior research project at my undergrad college’s nature preserve, a patch of unremarkable second-growth forest that I really loved.
  • Another post that brought back undergrad memories: turacos are a really cool group of African birds, and the only birds in the world with genuine green pigment (the reason we talked about them in ornithology class).
  • I freaking love antlions, and the melodramatic sound effects in this close-up video of one trapping and killing an ant are fantastic.
  • Remember I lived in Wisconsin until this June? They had their first wolf hunt last year. It was supposed to increase public tolerance of wolves. It…

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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.

Things My Brother Says

In honor of my little brother’s birthday yesterday (22, you’re making me feel old here Eric!), here are of some of his more recent quotes– as in, these are the only ones I can remember off the top of my head. I could write a pretty good series of Things Eric Says, and I’m fairly certain one of these days that will probably happen. So perhaps consider this a preview of epic works to come. They say that as a writer you should mine your family life for material. Pretty sure I’m set for writing material for the rest of my life. For a kid with selective mutism he sure has a lot to say when no one else is around, and most of it is hilarious.

Selective mutism is defined (by Wikipedia) as “… a psychiatric disorder in which a person who is normally capable of speech is unable to speak in given situations or to specific people. …. Children and adults with selective mutism are fully capable of speech and understanding language but fail to speak in certain situations, though speech is expected of them. The behaviour may be perceived as shyness or rudeness by others. A child with selective mutism may be completely silent at school for years but speak quite freely or even excessively at home.” This describes Eric to a T. It can be a challenge, but hey, we’ve all got our issues. Some are just more obvious than others. I’m sure some of his teachers, who I don’t think he ever spoke to during his 4 years of high school, would be astounded at at the Chatty Cathy he turns into as soon as he gets home. One never knows exactly what will emit from his vocal cords, so it’s never boring (see below).

—–

Things My Brother Says

 

  • “I’ll bet this metal pole would float.”

 

The King of Drama hiking in Death Canyon.

The King of Drama after a mile or two of hiking in Death Canyon.

 

 

Dad: “Are you in shape yet?”
Eric: “No.”
Dad: “Well then we better keep biking until you are.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • “Don’t make me turn on my synthetic lightning.”

 

Bison at Yellowstone

Bison in Yellowstone National Park, July 2013, just chillin’ like a villin.

 

 

Mom: “The bison like those dry spots to hang out in.”

Eric: “They should try my lips, they’re pretty dry.”

 

 

 

 

  • “Look at that wad of goats over there.”

 

  • After farting in the kitchen directly in front of me, just before leaving the room: “Here’s your gift of Christmas stench.”

 

  • As we approach a waterfall on a hike: “I hear the pitter-patter of falling water. Or 100 mountain goats peeing at the same time.”
Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park.

Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park.

  • “I think my ass geyser just exploded.”

—–

Happy Birthday Eric! You’re the best little brother I’ve ever had, and I can’t imagine how boringly-normal my life would be without you. You are one of the most righteous dudes I’ve ever met, and I’m so proud of you.

Rock on, bro.

 

Missing Connections

This post was inspired by my recent perusings of the Missed Connections on Craigslist. If you haven’t read through them and are looking for a complete time-waster on the internet (and are over 18, as some contain mature content– also, don’t open anything with a picture) I recommend it. Some of them are very entertaining (“You almost hit me in the WalMart parking lot, but you’re so hot, call me”). Oh so romantic. 

To get you in the right mood, here’s a song by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals called “Loneliest Soul.”

—-

  • The cute guy at Old Crow Medicine Show 4th concert—

You were dancing next to me, with your mesh trucker hat, plaid button-up short-sleeve shirt, Chacos, and climbing shorts. We made eye contact once, and then you disappeared in the crowd of identically-dressed men, all of which were more or less of equal attractiveness. So pretty much any guy who was at the concert can feel free to call me… Let me know what color my Crocs were so I know it’s you. (Hint: they’re orange).

I need something 
But I get nothing 
My hearts pumping 
I can’t leave it alone 
I think you know 

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  • Climber-dude we ran into again at Music on Main—

We first ran into you climbing at Rodeo Wall with your friend. You both had your shirts off, and were leading some pretty good routes. We chatted. You had eyes for my friend. I had eyes for yours. We ran into you again, this time with your mesh trucker hat and plaid button-up shirt, at the Music on Main concert in Idaho the next day. You look better with a hat on (the jury is still out on the shirt). Also, my friend is quite willing to be flung. So go for it.

  • Climbing gym patron with The Spot sticker on your car—

No idea who you are, but seeing that sticker makes me homesick for Boulder. I just want to say hi and reminisce about Colorado rock for a while. Also, since you seem to have a gym membership, we should climb sometime.

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  • Trombone player in Marching Fourth Marching Band (the one with the leopard booty shorts, studded belt, calf-skin cape and white drum major hat, not the one in the kilt and cut-off t-shirt)—

Your outfit makes me question your sexuality a bit, but then again you are a trombone player. I was quite impressed by your chops and by your acrobatic ability as you stood on the shoulders of the male dancer and helped lift up the female dancer. If you want to duet, I’ll bust out my clarinet and we can play some funky music, white boy.

  • Dude in the Toyota 4Runner—

You gave me a weird look as I was sitting on the side of the road with my collection of 10 ft mist net poles, large backpack stuffed with mist nets, banding supplies, and a scale, waiting to get picked up after a morning of bird banding. Yeah, that’s right, I saw you looking at me. Anytime you want to come learn about bird banding, you are more than welcome to visit our banding station. Just stop on by, I’ll give you a personalized tour.

Sweet dreamin’ 
Strange feelin’ 
My hearts reelin’ 
I can’t leave it alone 
I think you know

  • Bartender at Thai Me Up—

We talked about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie that was playing on the tv above the bar. I ordered happy hour curry and a beer. You brought me a huge stack of napkins, and then a rag to mop up the curry I couldn’t seem to keep on my plate. I promise I’m not usually that messy, it’d just been a long day and I had just finished climbing at the gym. Invite me back (and pay for my curry) and I’ll prove to you I have better table manners. Also, I want to see the end of the TMNT movie.

—-

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  • Guy on Mountain Project

You messaged me about climbing in Pennsylvania a year and a half after I put up the post. Not sure what part of “I’m in PA for 6 months for an internship, looking to get out and climb. Will only be here until November” you didn’t understand. I have since then had two different internships in two different states, and have accordingly updated my Partner Finder profile. But yes, we can totally meet up and climb maybe sometime when I’m back East in three months. Because I definitely want to spend my three days at home driving two hours to climb at McConnell’s Mills (40 feet tall, 25 routes total, especially after living in Colorado and Wyoming with Eldorado Canyon, the Flatirons, and the Grand Tetons less than 20 minutes away in my backyard. I’m always looking for climbing partners, especially ones who can’t read real well.

Are you lonely 
Like I’m lonely 
I am the loneliest soul 
So leave me alone 

//

Nest Searching: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Nest Searching

When we’re not banding birds, we’re searching out bird nests and monitoring them. This means that, at three of our banding sites, we also look for nests. We’re targeting four species of birds: Yellow Warblers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, American Robins, and Song Sparrows.

Why do we do this? Well, we’re interested in the productivity of the birds– how many babies are they having, and are those babies fledging, or surviving long enough to leave the nest. One of our research aims is to study as much as we can about the survivorship and productivity of the birds in the area, since birds are an excellent indicator species. What is an indicator species you ask? Something like the indicator light on your car, actually. Birds are highly sensitive to changes in their environment, so if the birds are disappearing it can mean something is up with the ecosystem. The causes of their disappearance can be as mysterious as the reasons for the check engine light to come on, but with greater consequences for the world (see “Silence of the Songbirds” by Bridget Stutchbury).

Up close and personal with a beautiful male Yellow Warbler. His feathers are a little ruffled because of the wind. And yes, those are the Tetons in the background.

Up close and personal with a beautiful male Yellow Warbler. His feathers are a little ruffled because of the wind. And yes, those are the Tetons in the background.

We banders are busy people, setting up mist nets and banding birds for six hours every day, so we have lovely crews of Earthwatch volunteers assist us with nest searching. Earthwatch is an organization that organizes groups of volunteers from around the country to travel to different places around the world to participate in “scientific field research and education in order to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.” It’s a pretty cool group, and so far all of the volunteers we’ve had come visit have been absolutely outstanding.

Here’s their website, if you’d like any additional information: Earthwatch. If you want more about the Earthwatch Expedition that deals specifically with our work here in the Tetons, then check out this link: Spotting Songbirds in the Rockies 2013.

Every week the volunteers search for nests, and then we banders are in charge of monitoring those nests, or nest checking, twice a week (on Mondays and Thursdays). Usually this takes place after we are done banding for the day, and we’ll divide and conquer to check the nests at all three sites in a reasonable amount of time.  Sometimes, despite our best efforts, it still takes a long time. Bird nests are not always easy to find. When a nest is found, we take a GPS coordinate, compass bearing, and also fill out a nest card, with a hand-drawn map and written description on the back. Despite this, some nests can be extremely hard to find. (See The Bad, below).

The good

Finding nests, and having the baby birds fledge successfully. Watching them flop around in the bushes, learning how to fly, can be quite amusing.

Yellow warbler nest

A yellow warbler nest with five eggs. To make a nest, a female yellow warbler makes a cup of grasses, bark strips, and other thicker plants, and then lines it with softer materials like animal hair, feathers, and plant fibers. Their nests are usually around 10 feet off the ground, though many that we monitor are not that high up.

The bad

Like I mentioned above, each nest has a nest card with written out directions and a hand-drawn map. I’m not going to mention any names here, but some people are really bad at giving directions. Like really bad. Sometimes I’m pretty sure trying to assemble a TV with only the Korean directions would be easier than trying to find some of these nests using the “directions:”

“Follow compass bearing 5 meters and you will see a pushpin that points to the nest.”

Moose at blacktail ponds

A female moose at Blacktail Ponds. She was not impressed with my thrashing through the willows looking for nests, disrupting her afternoon amble. She posed for a minute, and then slipped away into the willows. For such giant creatures, moose can be surprisingly swift and sneaky. I didn’t see her again.

Right. You try looking for a pushpin in a willow bush, with a “map” that consists of two willow clumps and an arrow pointing to the middle of one of them. I’m standing in a thicket of willows here, surrounded by dense undergrowth, and there are five different willow clumps along the bearing. This is habitat where moose disappear. Eight-hundred pound, six foot tall moose. Hundreds of tourists come here everyday looking for wildlife and they can’t find moose in this habitat, while you expect me to find a pushpin. “Look in the direction of the Grand Teton, and you’ll find a moose.”

How high up is this push pin? What color is it? Is it to the right or left of this cottonwood tree you could have used as a landmark? Do I have to cross this stream, which you also could have used as a landmark?

The fact that we usually don’t start nest checking until after we’ve banded for 8 hours probably doesn’t help much either (my morning coffee has definitely worn off by then). Or the fact that it’s hot, and by that point the mosquitoes have made themselves known. In an attempt to find one particularly frustrating nest, I found a cedar waxing and then a gray catbird nest before I found the black-headed grosbeak nest on the card. At least I knew it wasn’t that I had suddenly lost my ability to locate bird nests.

On the whole, though, most of the nest cards give very good directions, and make it fairly easy to find the nests. There are only a few particularly memorable bad nest cards that make me want to pull out my hair and scream. Which isn’t such a bad thing, the screaming at least, because it lets the moose and bears know where we are so we can’t accidentally surprise them. Which is not something I’d recommend.

Song Sparrow nest

A song sparrow nest. Song sparrows are typically ground nesters, and the female does all the work to build the nest, though the male does help her pick the perfect spot. She makes it out of grass, and will line it with more grass and animal hair. Nests are 4-8 inches across, and 2.5-4 inches deep.

Can you spot the song sparrow nest? I thought not.

Can you spot the song sparrow nest? I thought not. It’s directly underneath the branch on the right, directly under a blue pushpin that you can’t see in this picture. Song sparrow nests are extremely difficult to find, and most are found through a combination of pure luck and many minutes of careful observation of the adults, to watch as they visit the nest.

The ugly

Baby birds are ugly. I don’t care what anyone says, these things are not cute, especially before their feathers grow in. After they are fully feathered, they’re much more attractive.

Black-headed Grosbeak nestlings, about 7 days old.

Black-headed Grosbeak nestlings, about 7 days old. And super ugly. Notice how the feathers on their backs and wings are in tubes, which are called pin feathers. These are their feathers growing in, and have a blood supply flowing through them. As the feathers grow longer, the blood supply will concentrate just in the base of the feather, and the bird will preen off the sheath so the feather can unfurl. Feathers are fascinating, and you can read more about them HERE.

Black-headed Grosbeak nestlings at about day 12. Slightly cuter, but still pretty ugly.

The same black-headed grosbeak nestlings at about day 12. Slightly cuter, but still pretty ugly. Note their gapes, or the lighter corners to their mouths. This is a typical characteristic of baby birds. Gapes are usually brightly colored, and they inform the parent birds about the baby’s level of need, health, and competitiveness, which the parents use to decide who to feed first. The louder, more obnoxious nestlings get fed first, and more often, than the quiet ones. I probably would have starved if I was a baby bird. My siblings were not what one would call demure young children.

Now get out there and find some bird nests of your own to monitor!
Happy Birding!