Bald Eagle State Park is very popular because of its massive man-made lake. (Well, massive for Pennsylvania anyway.) Bald Eagles nest here every year, giving the park its name, and you can frequently watch them harass the osprey as they try to steal fish. You may remember my post about the recent birding cup? Those bird photos are all from this park.
The park kind of defies a single photograph, so I made some panoramas to help encompass the lake.
I did get a couple of nice “standard” shots, so I’ll share them below.
Always it happens when we are not there–
The tree leaps up alive into the air,
Small open parasols of Chinese green
Wave on each twig. But who has ever seen
The latch sprung, the bud as it burst?
Spring always manages to get there first.
Lovers of wind, who will have been aware
Of a faint stirring in the empty air,
Look up one day through a dissolving screen
To find no star, but this multiplied green,
Shadow on shadow, singing sweet and clear.
Listen, lovers of wind, the leaves are here!
- May Sarton
They may be chock full of invasive species, they may be disturbed and thick with brambles, they may have beer cans hidden under brush piles, but there is something honourable about marginal woodlands.
We can’t always get to pristine forest, much as we would like to. Sometimes, we have to soothe our souls with a forest made of survivors. They still have their beauty, don’t they?
They still have wildlife.
And they are an excellent place for a nap.
A while back I wrote a post on how to tell if you’re a crazy cyclist, and I thought it would be fun to do a similar quiz for field biologists. Now you don’t have to be a field biologist to fill a lot of these criteria…naturalists and nature enthusiasts, basically anyone who loves to be outdoors, will fit a lot of the descriptions.
1. Not easily bugged Insects are omnipresent in a field biologist’s life. They are a fact of nature. Yes, even in the snow. If you find yourself unperturbed by arthropods, give yourself one point. If you don’t mind creepy crawlies crawling or creeping on your skin, give yourself two. If you’ve even washed dead insects out of your hair at the end of the day, give yourself five.
2. Parasitized If you spend a lot of time outside, you are guaranteed to pick up an unwanted visitor (or five, or fifty). If you’ve plucked at least one species of ectoparasite off your body at the end of the day, give yourself a point. Give yourself two points if you’ve picked off more than one species after a day in the field. Give yourself five points if you’ve flicked said ectoparasites at your friends over a cold one at dinner.
3. Weathered Field biologists tend to be obsessed with the weather. We’ve been through it all, rain, hail, sleet, snow…and we’re constantly discussing what the weather will be like in five minutes and in five days. If you’ve ever had a conversation purely about the weather (past, present, or future) that lasted longer than 15 minutes, give yourself one point. If you have a weather website bookmarked, give yourself two. If you check the website more than ten times a day, and/or can tell when it is going to rain by sensing that subtle temperature drop preceding it, give yourself five.
4. The two shelves paradigm Field biologists are remarkably good at carrying lots of heavy equipment in the field. Any field biologist worth his/her salt knows that there are two shelves on the (standard) human body that can bear a lot of weight: the shoulders and the hips. If you’ve ever carried more than fifty pounds of equipment (to include bags of soil of course) into the field, give yourself a point. If you’ve ever had a binocular strap tan, give yourself two. If you’ve carried a backpack full of mist-netting equipment, a car battery, a thirteen foot pole, and a nine foot aluminium ladder through a peat bog (or the equivalent), give yourself five.
5. Thermostat Field biologists spend time outside in all kinds of weather and all kinds of seasons, so they tend to have a pretty high temperature tolerance. If you find that you are comfortable in a range of temperatures more than double that of *ordinary* humans around you (i.e. humans adjusted to temperature controlled conditions), give yourself a point. If you’ve ever gotten frostbite before you’ve felt cold, give yourself five.
6. Big Fish Most of the field biologists I’ve known love to spin a good yarn to anyone who will listen. If you have a particular obsession for storytelling, give yourself a point. If most of your stories start with, “This one time, in the field…” give yourself two. If you can point to scars on your body to go along with the story, give yourself five.
7. Hands on Field biology is a very hands on career. It requires you to apply both your body and your mind to solve problems. If you’re a hands on kind of person, give yourself a point. If that includes catching/holding wild animals, give yourself two. If you go out of your way to find salamanders under rocks, give yourself five.
8. Junk in the trunk You has to be pretty innovative sometimes when you’re in the field. Maybe you’re in the middle of nowhere, you certainly can’t afford to backtrack to the nearest Wal-mart to pick up something you’ve forgotten. If you always have a healthy supply of duct tape in the trunk of your car and the ability to make just about anything out of PVC piping, give yourself a point. If you’ve ever invented something on the spot to solve a problem using just out of the junk in the trunk of your car, give yourself five MacGyver. Remember, a good field biologist always has a lot of junk in his/her trunk!
9. What’s in a name? Competent field biologists are very aware of the living world around them. They often know the names not only of their study organisms, but of the flora and fauna around them, the types of ecosystems to expect in given locations, and the land use history of their area. If you can comfortably name more than 50% of the plant and animal species in your area, give yourself a point. If you know most of them by more than one name (i.e. common and Latin), give yourself two. If you’re more embarrassed about forgetting the Latin name of burdock (it’s Arctium minor, btw) than about forgetting the name of that guy you just met, give yourself five.
10. Out of doors There is something incredibly special about being outside. That’s where everything happens, am I right? If you require a certain amount of time outside every day, give yourself a point. If you must get outside, even in the face of incredibly horrible weather, give yourself two. If you get hives from spending too much time indoors, give yourself five.
11. It’s a dirty joke It’s true, field biologists get pretty dirty. Wading through waist high mud will do that to a person. If you have a high tolerance for being covered in dirt, sweat, and blood, give yourself a point. If you turn the water black when you finally get to take a shower, give yourself two.
12. Creature comforts Staying at a field station requires you to sacrifice certain comforts of civilization; hot water, electricity, food other than beans and rice…yet, if you are super stoked to stay at a biological station because of all the cool animals or plants (or fungi) you will possibly spot, give yourself a point. Give yourself five if you are willing to travel halfway around the world, camp in snow, or sleep in a tree canopy just for the chance of seeing that one rare thing…
0-12 Just not an outdoorsy type? That’s okay; nobody’s perfect.
13-20 You’re a weekend warrior! You like the occasional dalliance with nature, but you’re not signing any contracts.
21-30 Puppy love…you’re getting to that point where you miss the out-of-doors terribly when you can’t be out there. This is just the beginning, my friend.
31-40 Pretty tough! You’ve got the makings of an excellent field biologist. Think about quitting your day job. (Hint: don’t do it for the money.)
41-50 You’re probably a naturalist with a strong passion for everything outside. You might even have lists of the different things you’ve seen. Heavens forbid!
51-57 Yep, you’re a field biologist all right. I’d shake hands with you, but you smell.
YYYYYYYYYYeeeepp. I am a 54 according to that quiz. Sorry about the stench.
What’s your score?
Back when I worked for an ornithologist in the swamps of northern Ohio, one of my primary jobs was nest-searching. Bird nests are intentionally cryptic and that makes them exceptionally difficult to find. Add to that the fact that our study organism was the American Goldfinch, which nests preferentially in brambles, and that our study site was in a swamp lush with poison ivy (up to my hips in places), and it made for a challenging task.
Wading through blackberry thorns, green briar, and multiflora rose from 8 am to 6 pm every day left my legs looking like someone had taken a lash to them. They still have an intricate mesh work of fine white scars that stand out across my shins.
And, though I had been resistant to poison ivy at the beginning of the summer, it wasn’t long before I became sensitized to it. At the end of the season, I was “one gigantic poison ivy blister”, according to my “hilarious” PI.
But those Goldfinch nests. Boy were they things of beauty…composed of thistle fluff and cattail down, they shone like golden pillows in the sunlight. And to find one was so rare…we searched every branch of every bush and tree across that nature reserve for weeks, a sweeping arc of field biologists on the hunt.
There were rewards for all of this effort and pain. Namely*, if you were the one to find a nest, you got to name it. It was a unique privilege, and I will tell you that when I found a nest, I glowed more than any time I received an academic award, no matter how prestigious.
Naming the nests was a game in itself. You were under a lot of pressure to come up with something clever or cute, funny and witty. Because every nest was such a precious resource, it just had to have the perfect name.
And the names told the story of how the nest was found, where it was located, or the personality of the parents. There was Hole in the Wall and Diamond in the Rough. There was Phoenix (for a nest we thought was dead that was resurrected) and A Pirate Walks into a Bar (a bad joke, because the nest was completely inaccessible). There was Powerline and Northern Shamrock and Copper.
Isn’t it funny how the simplest things can sometimes mean the most? A good name earned a guffaw from our team leader and the respect of the other field assistants (not an easy thing to win). A poor name fizzled like a bad firework. Those names were immortalized on the maps we drew out of our sites. We followed each nest, and each family of birds for months, watching as the parents mated, laid eggs, hatched and reared their young. We spent hours in bird blinds recording every move of the mother. (“3:12 pm mother gets up and looks at eggs. 3:13 pm mother sits back on eggs. 3:15 pm bird flies overhead. mother looks up.”)
We weighed the birds and recorded the colour of their plumage. Holding those little embryonic nestlings in our hands to keep them warm inevitably caused us to bond with them. In the case of a happy ending, we watched the little nestlings fledge and fly for the first time, all stubby tails and clumsy wings.
We mourned every nestling mortality as if it was our own.
*That’s a pun. Duh.
Just a simple, short day hike in Boyd Big Tree Conservation Area (map). It is a brand new conservation area in PA, and it’s pretty small, but it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon if, say, you drove a friend a long way so that he could take a big exam and you have a few hours of downtime.
I brought my camera along, just so I could bring you; don’t you feel special?
Mt. Wellington is the mountain overlooking Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. It is 1,271 metres (or 4,170 ft) tall, and you can walk right up from the ocean to the very top in a day. It’s a nice hike, and not too difficult!
My friend Abby and I hiked Mt. Wellington in July, which is the coldest month of the year in Tasmania, and all of the locals said we were crazy. But I hiked it with nothing but a jumper and long trousers and was fine. Maybe I just have a high tolerance for cold?
Sadly, at the top we couldn’t see a thing for the fog.
Yesterday I was working in the field, and a wasp somehow got into my trousers while I was walking from one plot to another, hauling my very serious science wagon full of water tanks.
Because I was walking, my leg swung forward, the fabric of the trousers trapped the wasp against my thigh, and it stung me in a frantic panic attack. I am accustomed to this sort of thing, so I shot a quick glance left and right, evaluated my aloneness, and dropped my trousers to get the wasp out.
Apparently, it had flown in through my pocket, which has a mesh inside through which it stung me. I don’t think anyone spotted me with my trousers down; I was pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
But this whole situation reminded me of a story. A while back, I was working in a thick tangle of scrubby brush. My team and I were searching for the nests of a type of bird that loves thickets and dense vegetation. It was a lot of work to find the nests; we had to check every branch of every shrub in the reserve, which meant many long days of painstakingly working our way through spiny brush. Because the nests were fairly rare, it often felt like a thankless job.
One day, while I was working my way north, I pulled down a branch to check it for a nest and a beetle tumbled down and fell into my shirt. It not only fell into my shirt, however, it also fell into my bra.
Now, if you have ever had a fair-sized beetle in your clothing, you will know that its first response it to stick out all of its legs in different directions and start clawing around. Given that this beetle had fallen into a particularly sensitive area, and given that it had particularly spiny legs, I let out a loud WHOOP and thrashed around through the thicket, struggling to pull my shirt off over my head.
I finally managed it and, almost simultaneously, tumbled out into an open area. I had thought we were in the middle of nowhere, in a protected nature reserve, so imagine my surprise when I found that I had stumbled right into the center of an equestrian competition.
A young girl performing dressage on a chestnut mare with an elaborately braided mane gaped at me, someone in the audience gasped.
I was still in dire straits, so I reached in my bra, snatched out the beetle with a “HA!” and dove back into the thicket without so much as a “how do you do?”
I hope I didn’t affect the poor girl’s score too badly.
Last night I raced a massive thunderstorm on my Dragon.
I live in an area where there is heaps of rain, and we’ve been seeing a lot of the wet stuff over the past few weeks. It is capable of pouring for days nonstop, so imagine my excitement when, yesterday afternoon, the sun peeked out behind some clouds and meandered surreptitiously into a little patch of blue sky.
I bounced down the stairs and right onto my bike and kicked off with a whoosh and a big grin.
The first ten kilometers were uneventful and pleasant. I meandered south and east, came back around along a river and up a hill (a 2 km climb at a 9% grade or so).
Now, my uni is nestled in the middle of an east-west ridge and valley system, so as I headed north, I was aiming directly at a ridge of mountains. “Haha,” I said to Dragon, “Look at how much it is raining on the ridge. Glad we’re not there!” (Dragon hates rain.)
But there was an ominous feeling building up in my stomach. After a few km, I took a hard left and started heading west, parallel to the storm. It started getting darker. “Um,” I thought.
I felt the temperature drop a few degrees and a cool, quiet wind started to blow steadily south. I could feel the sprinkling of the first drops of rain. The big clouds began to roll over the ridge and down into the valley like a herd of wild horses.
I took another hard left and started heading due south, the storm right on my tail. Swoosh! I sped up and over a steep hill, and then along a flat. I rode past a woman who was taking pictures of the storm; her hair was being blown about by the increasing winds. As I approached, she sprinted back to her car, not because of me, but because the massive thunderheads hot in pursuit.
As I flew by, she shouted over the wind, “Do you need a ride?!”
“No, no!” I shouted back, laughing giddily. I waved an arm at her and bent low over my handlebars.
Thrum, thrum, thrum, I was fully geared out and pumping hard on the pedals, leaning forward intently. For 10 or 11 kilometers, I stayed just on the fringes of that storm, pulling slightly ahead on flats and downhills, losing ground when pumping my way up steep slopes.
Then, suddenly, I had to turn west, parallel to the approach of the storm.
Those clouds rolled right over me with a melodramatic FLASH of lightning and a triumphant RUMMMMBLE. Well, there was nothing to do but put my head down, pedal hard, and belt out lyrics to bad music at the top of my lungs (and out of tune) as rain poured over the both of us (my bike and me), and the sky lit up with flashes.
It’s not the first time I’ve been caught by a storm. Nor will it be the last, I expect. But I thought it was a fun story for today.
I am both a fairly active person and a field biologist, so you could say that I have more than my fair share of scars.
In the summer, lacing back and forth underneath the dark tan of my shins, there is an intricate latticework of fine white scars. It is complex enough to look as though it was by design, but in fact is just the result of spending a summer doing fieldwork in a massive blackberry thicket. Every day I would come home, take off my field pants, and cluck in dismay at my legs, which looked like someone had taken a lash to them; they were oozing blood from dozens of scratches.
One day, I was murmuring about my scars to my friend, “I have so many scars!” I exclaimed, as if suddenly noticing after all these years.
She looked at my legs and said, “Don’t sweat it, standingoutinmyfield” (okay, maybe not in so many words) “Scars are like life’s scrapbook.”
Almost all of my scars have a story behind them.
This cat’s eye dash across my left knee from when I was rappelling down a sheer granite cliff in the pouring rain with only a chain to hold onto and cold, slippery hands. I slipped 5 meters and cracked that knee hard against a boulder.
Or this angry red centipede of a scar on my right knee from when the skateboarder collided with me.
Or the road tar that is still in my knee from a bicycle accident so many years ago.
Or the 5 cm slash across my right shin when I accidentally dropped a tree on myself doing trailwork. Shortly after that, I fell down a steep slope, rolling and bouncing to land on my back with a solid whump. There had been a sharp, jagged stump sticking up between my right arm and my body when I landed. 10 cm to the right and I would have been, if not dead, at least in urgent need of medical care.
And don’t even get me started on my hands…
So that’s it then. I guess I’m just lucky to have so many scars to remember my stories by!
Do you have a story for your scars?
Well, the Red-rumped Irruptives took away the mangy boot trophy again. *sigh* That’s okay!
We had a great time regardless and I got to see a new “life bird,” a Northern Parula. I don’t have a zoom lens, so I can’t get bird photos, but here’s one I found on the internet:
Who’s a pretty bird, hey?
We did make a few other friends on our long hike, though. Here’s a baby painted turtle we found:
For something so little, they make a big noise!
And some Red Admirals were very interested in my sweaty socks and pack.
And maybe we made a canine friend or two as well!
It was late June. I had been working all day in the sultry summer heat of a wetland restoration area in central Virginia, wading through shoulder high grasses. I had checked endless numbers of tree tubes, recorded deer damage and germination success on each and every one.
In other words, it was prime tick season in prime tick habitat.
Trudging wearily back to my beat-up field vehicle at the end of the day, I knew I should do a tick check…but I was too tired. I longed to head for home, where I could peel off my sweat soaked clothes, take an ice cold shower, and wash the dead insects out of my hair.
Some days are like that, particularly days that involve wetland restoration areas and germination surveys.
So, instead of checking for ticks, I slumped behind the wheel, put it in gear, and drove onto the motorway.
It wasn’t long before I felt something crawling along the sensitive hairs at the nape of my neck. I cringed, reached up, and plucked it off. Yep, a tick. I rolled down the window and let her fly off at 100 kph (~60mph). A tick has probably never moved so fast.
Then I made the mistake of looking down at myself…there were eight ticks in plain view, crawling about on my field clothes.
I must have been quite the sight, weaving down the highway at 100 kph, flinging tiny black specks out the window. Eventually, I decided that this was hazardous behaviour, so I screeched to a halt in a skeezy petrol station, leapt from the vehicle, pulled off my shirt, and frantically flung ticks in all directions.
After I had calmed a bit, I looked up and realised that there was a gang of dangerous looking Mexican guys, leaning up against an old Ford pick-up, smoking cigarillos, and watching me through squinty eyes. I jumped, flicked one more tick off the driver’s seat of my car, dove back behind the wheel, and peeled off, not bothering with my stinky shirt.
Despite all my efforts, I was still picking off ticks at every stoplight on the way home, albeit at a less frenzied rate.
I don’t know how many I found during that frenetic drive, but when I got home I bundled up all of my clothing and put it in the machine to wash, took an icy shower, checked myself carefully one last time, and went to bed.
Well, you can imagine how I felt when I woke at 2 am to a tick crawling across my eyebrow.