Page 12 - Wild Hope - Vol 9
P. 12


                                   Willow Flycatcher

                        A day in the life of a field biologist surveying birds in the High Sierra.

                                                STORY  AND ILLUSTRATIONS  BY  CHRISTINE  ELDER

               4 am j the birds are already awake.   joe in hand, I sit down at the fire circle,   that are keeping me warm and dry.
               Not me. The full moon shone too brightly   smoke still rising from the embers, which   Our research protocol dictates that we
               in my tent last night and it didn’t set   I stir with a stick, awakening a tiny flame,   crisscross the meadow, stopping every
               ’til right before the alarm buzzed. This   and I warm my chilly hands.   100 meters to look, listen and record
               ain’t no sleepin-in-half-the-day vacation,   My field partners—biologists from   the birdlife we see and hear. Each song
               though. We’re here on serious business:   The Institute for Bird Populations—are   is subtle but unique—the squeak of a
               counting birds. And birds, as I’m re-  ready, so we head out, shouldering our   grosbeak, the warbling of a vireo, the
               minded right now, so snug in my sleeping   day packs laden with field equipment,   chipping of the nuthatch, the quick, three
               bag, get up waaaay too early. And those   and make our way down the trail, the   beers! of the olive-sided flycatcher. Check,
               Wilson’s snipes never did quiet down,   path illuminated by our headlamps.   check, check and check. A noisy pair of
               “winnowing” the night away over the   There’s a crunching sound as our boots   sapsuckers catches our attention. We see
               meadow with their incessant courtship   strike the frosty ground. Hiking through   them visiting their nest cavity high in a
               displays.                            a lodgepole pine forest, branches snap as   cottonwood and hear the persistent beg-
                  There’s dew on the tent and the air   we navigate a maze of downed trees. We   ging of their hungry nestlings. Check.
               is nippy, despite the fact that it’s almost   stop to study the topo map and make a
               summer solstice, but at 7,000 feet eleva-  course correction, aiming north towards   8 am j the sun finally peeks over
               tion, that hardly matters. Good thing   our destination.                 the ridge to our east, burning off the
               I slept with my field clothes tucked into                                morning mist and revealing a vast field
               the bottom of my sleeping bag to keep   6 am j reaching our first survey   of wildflowers of every color: white corn
               them (and my feet) warm. I yawn, take    site, daybreak is finally upon us, and I   lily, wild onion and mariposa lily; yellow
               a big stretch, pull the headlamp on    can see a heavy mist hanging over a large   monkey flower, buttercup and mule’s
               over my beanie, and step out of my tent.   meadow that’s the size of several football   ear; orange leopard lily; red paintbrush,
               The dawn chorus is going strong—nut-  fields. The scent of mint fills the air as   columbine and elephant head; pink
               hatch, finch, robin, warbler, vireo, all   I walk through a patch of pennyroyal,   pussy paw; blue larkspur; purple camas,
               singing their hearts out. Coyote yip in   releasing its aromatic oils. This is a typical   penstemon, lupine and shooting star.
               the distance.                        alpine meadow, covered in grasses, sedges   I pick a blossom and press it between the
                  It’s not morning without coffee, so   and rushes, each preferring a different   pages of my journal.
               I fire up the Whisperlight and brew a   degree of moisture, which clues us in to
               strong batch, complete with my comfort   just how soggy a certain area might be. So,  10 am j it’s warming up, so off
               food essentials—mini marshmallows    as I take my first steps into the chilly creek   with the layers. Knit beanie, neck gaiter,
               and ground chocolate. With a big cup of   water, I am grateful for the hip waders   wool sweater, gloves, are all stuffed in

               10   WILD  HOPE

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