Latest Entries »

Sooo…I’ve been getting bugged to once again start blogging about what I actually do in the field by the relatives and friends who wonder what the heck I do when I’m out and about, stalking birds.  Justified, probably, since my introvert self rarely shares anything beyond, “Peace, Out! I’m off to (insert random place)…!”

I made it back to field work (let the peasants rejoice!!!).  Hard to believe, but my fourth season working with endangered species in central Texas is fast drawing to a close.  After a two year break from any and all biology work, which withered my soul, being back in the field was sheer bliss!  I’m kind of dreading heading home: It’s hard giving up the birds again!  However, fingers crossed, I’ll be back a-snugglin’ my feathery friends come spring!

It was difficult getting back into the swing of things: My body liked to inform me daily that, uh, hello McFly! We don’t do this anymore!!!  We prefer to sit around watching movies, snuggling with cats, and having date night with Ben & Jerry! After a couple of weeks, though, it felt like I’d never left.  I forgot how utterly free I feel when I’m in the field, it is indescribable.  I am somewhat grateful for my long hiatus: Field work became exciting again, gone was the exhaustion I once felt after endless months of pushing myself to the limit.  Getting the chance to work on my old study site this season was amazing: Every rock, trail, and canyon I saw was like greeting an old friend.  Once again getting to hold birds, who are a crazy combination of intensely hardy and yet insanely fragile, was intensely blissful…even chickadees, masters of net tangling!

It has been unusually temperate in central Texas this season, I’m spoiled! The heat has made an appearance from time to time, but in general it has been unusually comfortable.  I missed the wild beauty of the hill country! Wildflowers and butterflies abound, and there is always something exciting to draw my attention.  Fossils, coyotes, scenery…and yes…even the absurdly over-sized bugs that give me an epic case of the willies….all draw my attention.  I’ll miss the solitude of the field once I return home.  I am already counting down the days until I can return.  I am fortunate, indeed, to have the opportunity to do something I’m so wildly passionate about.  I feel more like myself than I have in an insanely long time!




How in the heck is it 2015???  Thanksgiving was a blur. Christmas is just around the corner.  And…it has been over a year since I last even looked at my lonely little blog.

The circumstances that brought me back here once again are surprising, in a way, considering the life I was leading when I started this blog oh-so-long-ago, as an optimistic, dewy-eyed field biologist.

For the past two years, I’ve been working as a substitute teacher (Oh, the pity I now feel for the substitutes I met as a  child!) at a vo-tech school.  I’ve been fitting fieldwork in occasionally (this summer I was cuddling Cerulean Warblers), but in general I have been attempting to find a way to make a stable income whilst staying local.  Why? What made me leave my birdies and the forests I so love? A man.  The wrong man, that is.

Sooo….yeah.  That didn’t work out.  Somehow, I find myself a few weeks away from thirty, depressed, living at home,  and working a world away from the field work I love.  I’m mopey.  I’m nowhere near the awesome physical condition I once was in whilst scaling the mountains of Oregon in 2014.  I’m that kinda sad that has me weeping at odd moments and going on dates with every doughnut in a tri-state area.

I’ve been wondering what I should do now that my future has changed shape. Should I become a teacher? A homeless vagabond? Somehow brush up my horrible math skills and tackle the GRE? Go to debtor’s prison for free tv and food?

I’m working as a long term substitute in a CIS class and what was our assignment today? Creating a WordPress site.  On a whim, I put in my old user name, somehow unearthed my password, and voila! My little adorable Saw-whet Owl was staring at me.

I miss being that girl: the one who travels and blogs and gets to handle amazing birds.  I feel like a lost wreck right now, but looking back? I was awesome! I traveled the country.  I didn’t make tons of money, but I made enough.  I saw animals and flowers and scenery that boggles the mind.  I got to go to a job I genuinely love every single day.

What happened? I feel like a failure in many things, but one thing I know: I was meant to be a field biologist.  Its my ideal career.

I used to get so excited for new field jobs.  I would look up the birds of the region and plan on what I was going to see.  I would take a gazillion pictures of anything and everything I saw.  I wrote journals, and blogged, and dreamed, and planned.

Somehow I lost the magic, and jobs became a drudgery.  I missed my boyfriend, I took things like banding and birds for granted.  I stopped enjoying my work and lost sight of exactly how wonderful field work can be.

I think, somehow, I have to find my way back to nature.  I don’t know exactly how: should I throw caution and stability to the wind and just become a hard core seasonal biologist, jumping from job to job? Should I get things together and try to make a bid for grad school? Maybe simply digging my camera out and taking pictures again and blogging about it a little bit will help.  I have no idea.

But I do know this: I miss being me.



I live!

I live!

California Quail. I am, surprisingly enough, still alive after such a ridiculous hiatus from blogging. More soon!

Hello from windy Pennsylvania!  (windy is an understatement.  Felt like a hurricane out there today…!)

It’s been a birdy week for me.  Which has been nice, keeps my thoughts firmly planted on feathers, not feelings, a major plus!

Pennsylvania is currently experiencing an irruption of species such as Common Redpoll and Crossbills, which basically means that these birds, which don’t normally winter in our range, are showing up in high numbers throughout the state.

I’ve always wanted to see a Common Redpoll.  No idea why, its not like they are crazy awesome like a Northern Lapwing (someday, I will see you, cursed bird!).  They just have always struck my fancy.

On Saturday, I yet again motored over to Lancaster, PA in hopes of tracking down a flock of redpolls known to frequent the area.  Despite a valiant effort, no luck!  I did, however, run into a group of rather grouchy birders, whose scathing glances were chillier than the weather.   Their presence wasn’t wholly unwelcome, as it was their stares and pointed scopes which revealed a little flock of White-winged Crossbills.  I watched a male feeding acrobatically for some time, a truly beautiful bird.  I had seen multiple females before, yet this was my first view of a mature male – amazing!

Monday brought ice, which meant a day off for my teacher father.  Ever intrepid, he offered to drive my mom and I up to the central part of the state to try and catch some Redpolls known to frequent a particular feeder.  Though it was raining and sleeting and my fingers still feel frostbitten, we ran into some luck.  Through the rain we were able to see two female Common Redpolls snarking seeds and chattering electrically – second life bird of 2013!

Today,  I was met with a pleasant surprise.  Returning home from some errand running, I was standing in my living room looking out my picture window towards a large hemlock tree just beyond the bird feeder.  Gazing vapidly at the branches of the tree it stuck me that something looked a bit odd out there.  Are there always large red things hanging from the branches?  Nope!  Six White-winged Crossbills were gorging on hemlock cones, just outside my window.  I snatched up my camera, popped out side and was instantly surrounded by the small flock, quietly chattering away to each other as they enthusiastically eviscerated pine cones.   I was entranced by their antics, and watched them until they abruptly vacated the area, in search of their next meal.


It made a nice change from the normal feeder fare of mouthy chickadees and our local mockingbird, fondly known as Hitler, who patrols all sources of food in our yard with due dilligence.

Hoping to chase down more of these winter treats this week!  Headed to Texas next Friday for the Spring, will be quite a different crowd of birds to be seen!

Happy birding!

Hello!  I am indeed back from the black hole of no blogging I’ve been in for some time.

Its not that I haven’t had ample reason to blog:  my owl job was amazing!  I truly believe that it will always remain a highlight of my field work career.  In the end I banded at least 200 Saw-whets, as well as multiple Eastern Screech Owls (both red and grey!) and a Barred Owl.  I’ve held many birds over the past few years, from hummingbirds to hawks, but I have to say: there is something special about owls.  Sure, I had my share of nights where if felt like one more painful talon injury would send me screaming into insanity, and working all night every night was by far more difficult than I could have ever imagined!  I learned the true meaning of exhaustion.  But in the end, it was one amazing experience.  I could really see myself wanting to study owls further in grad school.

I suppose I just haven’t felt like blogging.  The past three months have been tough, to say the least.

I really dislike the me! me! me! nature of blogs, and how sometimes people plaster them with way too much personal information (even though, I do see, by nature a blog is generally a self focused venture).  It has always been hard for me to separate parts of my life.  I’ve always had trouble being anyone but me online, if that makes sense.  Whether it is gaming, or blogging, or whatever: I’m always me.  I can’t assume another persona.  So when I’m sad in my real life I’m sad everywhere.

But enough of that. Way too personal for my tastes.  Hoping to get back into blogging in the next few weeks.

So! In an effort to keep my mind occupied I’ve been trying to get out and bird more, partially fueled by the fact that I sold my soul for a Nikon D-7000 camera this past black friday.  I will be paying for it until I’m 80 but who cares.  Money is overrated, right?

Coming from a point and shoot to the new camera, which is, to my inexperienced self, quite involved (the thing has more buttons and settings than a space shuttle!), there is definitely a major learning curve.  I’ve been pouring over the user manual, as well as several How To books, and while I can at least use it, I am still way over my head.  At this point, I can take pictures using pre-set settings.  Like auto.  But when it comes to going beyond that, to understanding what settings I need to change to fix what issue, I’m lost.  I am learning, however, new things every time I pick it up, and I’m having a blast doing it.  If you drive by my house these days you will see me hunched over, haunting my bird feeders, manically chasing around birds with my lens.

It is amazing how having the camera and trying to learn on it has made me see old friends in a new light.  Birds which are mundane to me: chickadees, and other feeder culprits, have come to life again.  I find myself watching them for hours through my camera, being delighted by their antics.  I’ve found the joy in birds again, which sometimes gets lost during field work, when it becomes something tedious and challenging.  Everything I see I’m thinking, how can I shoot that?  And while sometimes I get frustrated that I can’t get the pictures I want, I still get excited at the clarity I can capture that my old point and shoot couldn’t even touch.  For example:

chicken smaller rbnu at feeder smaller squirrel smaller wbnu at feeder smaller

Nothing super great, as I still have no clue what I’m doing.  But still.  Compared to some of my old photos, the quality difference is shocking.

Here in Pennsylvania, this winter has been quite interesting, bird wise.  Extremely high numbers of rare hummingbirds decided to over winter this year.  Along with the rare-but-not-overly-so Rufous, species such as Allen’s and Calliope made apperances (positively id’d by local banders).  Huge numbers of Common Redpolls (which have still eluded me, grr!) have been wandering around.  Pink-footed Geese, Trumpeter Swans, etc etc.  There have been lots of opportunities to see cool birds.

Two weekends ago, my parents and I took a trip out to Philadelphia to the John Heinz NWR at Tinicum,a place I hadn’t visited in many years, to track down a Northern Shrike that has been a regular for months now.  It was a horrid day for birding, Extremely foggy, damp, and cloudy.  Did not see a hint of the shrike, although we did get one of the dreaded “You should have been here yesterday!” speeches from a birder.  Always a day late…!  I lugged the camera out but I have no clue how to adjust it to take decent cloudy day pictures.  Everything was slightly blurry and not impressive.  I do expect a bit much:  I get annoyed when the photos look bad.  In all reality, however, I was taking out a camera I’m just barely getting to know, shooting far away birds in bad conditions without a tripod.  Le Duh.  It wasn’t all a waste however.  We did get to see a roosting Saw-whet owl, which was pretty amazing.  I’ve missed seeing them since banding ended.  And we did find a pretty crazy amazing pizza/stromboli/cannoli place..much to the chagrin of our waistlines!

This past weekend we met with more success.  It was a beautiful day – unlike the 10 degrees F we have today, it was a lovely 45.  Sunny.  No wind.  Clear.  We liesurely hiked the trail into the place where the shrike is usually spotted.  Along the way, we saw a Horned Grebe, a fun bird I haven’t see in a few years.  I also had some fun once more re-visualizing formerly mundane birds.  Even mallards became an amusement, trying to snap a picture or two:

flying rbgu philly smaller nomo philly smaller tinicum mallards smaller

And what awaited around the next bend? The shrike of course!  He was way too far for any kind of decent picture sans a super mega awesome telephoto lens, best I could do was a blurry that blog is the shrike! :

Shrike tin smaller

It has been really fun taking some day trips to try and track down some birds.  I’ve been lazy most of my winter’s at home.  I’m usually a bit burned out from the field season, let alone busy elsewhere.   I’m hoping to track down some Redpolls before the winter ends.

I have about a month until work begins again, I’ll be returning for my third season working with Golden-cheeked Warblers in central Texas.  I’m excited to be able to start something new and be busy again, sure there shall be lots of fodder for blogging!.

Happy birding and stay warm!

Let’s see.  What happened yesterday?

Well.  Great migration day.  Outside our houses tons of kinglets and migrating raptors and warblers were lurking.  At one point, I found a particularly pish-tastic flock.  Normally, in my experience, birds are less pish-responsive in the fall.  Unlike the breeding season, they have no territories to defend, no young : there jusn’t isn’t as much reason for birds to get all riled up at some crazy human making odd noises at them.

However, one group of feathered friends was very reactive.  I was walking, heard some chips, tried a pish and instantly was surrounded by an army of chattering chickadees, kinglets, vireos, and warblers.  One hatching year female black-throated green was extremely interested.  She perched about three inches from my face and looked inquisitively at me for some time.  She was so close I could see her molt limit with the naked eye!  Of course my camera was all snuggled up safe and warm in my bedroom, but it was still a sight to see..

What else happened? Hmm.

Oh.  Yeah.  Owls.  Six of them. In my  hands.  Wooo!!!

I have banded Saw-whets before at one of my jobs a few years back, but we only caught about a half dozen. I knew they were adorable but I’d forgotten exactly how adorable.  They are heart-breakingly, a truck-driver-would-coo-like-a-girl, mind bogglingly, out of this world cute.  They sit on our hands, batting their feathered eyelashes looking like a mix between the watery eyed Puss-N-Boots from Shrek and a newborn kitten, turning a room full of biologists into a cooing mass of emotional jello.

I mean seriously.  Should anything be allowed to be this cute?  I would not mind being re-incarnated as a rodent if I were permitted to be eaten by a Saw-whet.  I’m totally cool with that.

Horrible picture, but still.  Look at that face!!!  I  am officially in love.

Hopefully this is the start of many more to come.

Happy Birding!

Eek.  How is it October already? I’m on day 3 of my fall field position working as a Saw-whet Owl intern in..woo hoo! home state of Pennsylvania.  Which is great, it means my bird enthusiast parents can visit and hopefully get in on some owl action.

It was so nice to not have to make some epic 3000 mile trek to get to work this year.  Driving can be fun, but by myself, on a limited budget – it gets tiring.  Lying mapquest had it at 2.5 hours away but I made it in an easy hour and a half.  In all my time as a field biologist, I’ve never gotten to work in Pennsylvania – I’m finding it just as exciting as working somewhere far away.

No owls yet, alas, but hopefully soon.  Shaping up to be a busy season indeed.  I’ve never worked nights before like this – it is going to be quite a challenge!

I am working a stone’s throw away from the famous Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempner, PA.  I haven’t yet had time to get up to the sanctuary to peruse the raptor movements, but I hope to soon. Our crazy schedule is going to make recreational activities tough but hopefully I can fit some in.

What little birding I have done has been great, though.  Yesterday I walked out of my door and stepped into a large mixed flock of migrants.  In amongst the throng of angry masked chickadees I found a Blue-headed Vireo, an American Redstart, and Blackburnian and Black-throated  Green Warblers.  I also saw my first Blackpoll – eesh! already??- of the season  and, like one of those fuzzy pictures of a UFO, an unsubstantiated possible viewing of a Myrtle Warbler – heaven forbid.  I saw it really quickly, so I couldn’t be positive.  Not that I don’t hold some affection for the infamous Butter Butt, but really, not sure I’m ready for the Yellow-rumped hordes of doom.

Get to do the fun task of net lane cutting after significant rain today, ick.  Hopefully our nets will prove lucky tonight!

It is so nice to be busy once more, helps clear the head!

Harbinger of Fall


Well it has been a migration-tastic few weeks.

Some highlights include a really nice Black-throated Blue Warbler male who performed nicely for my mom and I.  He was a little ham, perching feet away and strutting his blue coat like a pro.

I’ve been birding fairly often, it is really nice to be out.  I haven’t been home for migration in years, and last I was home, I was a birder, but fall warblers and calls? A complete mystery.  It is wonderful to get to bird my home turf with my field work honed eyes and ears.  Some of our local parks have yielded some great evenings of birding, featuring mixed flocks of Magnolias, Black-throated Greens and Chickadees, with the occasional Red-eyed Vireo, Tennesse Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, and others thrown in.

The migrants have also been making house calls.  The other day I went to check the mail and heard a ton of warbler chips.  Lurking in the pines right across from our house was a nice bunch of Black-throated Greens, with a Blue-winged Warbler thrown in (I really think it may have been a Lawrence’s Warbler, but I couldn’t be 100% sure).  Another day, I went for a walk and another Black-throated Green and a Tennesse flew right in front of me and landed inches away in one of our apple trees.

Today brought a true sign that fall is definitely coming.  Along with a definite bite to the air, kinglets have shown up overnight and could be scene lurking in our trees.  I love these little guys!  Hard to believe migration is so far along already.

Birding has really been great these past few weeks.  My personal life has been a mess!  Relationship blues.  And I keep going I’m fine! But then I see a couple being cute and I’m not sure if I want to toss my cookies or douse them with water.  And I find myself far too often being down with Ben and Jerry as my date for the evening.  So I’m boyfriend-less and puffy.  Awesome.  Having birds to go watch has been helpful though, gets me out of my doldrums and back into the world of living.  When I’m watching warblers dart around like feathered acrobats for a moment I’m happy, for which I’m grateful.

Tomorrow begins my stint as a Northern Saw-whet Owl intern.  I’m nervous, but honestly very happy to be getting out of my house and into the field.  Hoping the outdoors and busy work will really help me de-puff and smile again.

Happy (Almost) Fall!

Migration Sensation

Hello hello!

Hasn’t been much happening recently. I am off work until I beging my next seasonal job, which will be banding Saw-whet Owls (woo!) in October. Until then, I’ve been laying low, letting the birdies fade to the background.

However, I did sneak out for some migration birding last week, which was fun. I forgot how action packed this time of year can be! Instead of one or two birds bouncing around, the trees were packed with hungry migrants feasting to fill their bellies for the long flights ahead. In just under an hour I saw multiple warbler species including Blue-winged, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white, Canada, Prairie, and Magnolia. A Philadelphia Vireo made a quick appearance, as well as a few million Red-eyed Vireos, some still with begging young still in tow, milking mom’s generosity to the max. A caterpillar gobbling Yellow-billed cuckoo also grace the forest with its presence, as did a few angry Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Going out a bit really whetted my appetite for some fall birding, hoping to make it out a few more times in the next week or so.

Happy (almost) fall!

If you had told me a few days ago that I would ever see something that could possibly rival viewing both Great Grey AND Long-eared Owls in one night, I would have laughed maniacally (no Chris Cooper urging needed).  What, short of seeing Big Foot doing the Bunny Hop down the road, could possibly beat that???

However, the joke is on me!  The Grey Wonder and The Eared Legend was definitely rivaled by the sight that greeted me yesterday morning.

The field season has slowed down greatly.  Nests have fledged, birds are leaving the area – there simply isn’t all that much to do, unless you count watching paint peel as a hopping activity.  In fact, today was my last day in the field this season, I am heading back to Pennsylvania (yay! no ten minute trek to use the bathroom anymore!) tomorrow.  Thus, to kill time, and for kicks, we have been doing some recreational boreal forest bird banding, hoping to nab culprits like Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, etc (all of which seem to love chattering at us while we set nets up but then disappear as soon as they are up, grr).  On our way to a dawn banding session yesterday, I spotted something odd sitting on top of a roadside dead tree.

Something about it just struck me as unusual.  It was a mid-size bird, with a rounded head, and a really long tail.  I immediately started babbling, trying to convey to my boss that I wanted him to back the truck up, which, finally, he understood (eesh! not being able to decipher birder garbler..tsk tsk!).  Two guys on my crew were the first out, but alas! The bird flushed.  We ran after it but couldn’t find it.  I was just starting to get the omg! we missed something cool mope, when I heard it : something screeching loudly nearby.  Peering around in the darkness of a stormy dawn, suddenly we saw dark shapes…everywhere!

It was torture!  I’d forgotten my binoculars so all I could do was stare at the bird perched a few yards in front of me and listen for the verdict from my optic-wielding co-workers.  I’m pretty sure my heart temporarily stopped when I heard Hawk-owl! shouted out.   Indeed, it was definitely a Northern Hawk-owl, a bird I’ve long dreamed of seeing.  But was it one owl? Nope. Two? Nada.  Three? Warmer..but no.  Four? Five? No and no.  Six? Bingo! Six.  SIX!!! Northern Hawk-owls, two adults, four screeching, begging fledglings, which thankfully I was able to see quite well after my boss took pity on me and lent me his binos.

Hello. We are two of the most awesome birds ever, here for your viewing pleasure.

It was amazing!  The babies, which were fairly old, kept up a constant carcaphony of begging calls, hoping to be fed (hey, might as well mooch off the parents long as you can!).  Mom and dad flew over a few times, obviously wary of the five nerds pointing various scopes and lens at their children, and then disappeared.  The fledglings and their antics kept us entertained for a good twenty minutes or more, we couldn’t seem to stop watching them.  Who would have thought that we would see one hawk-owl, let alone six?  I am still pinching myself just to make sure it was real.

So, I guess good old Manitoba had one final ace in the hole for me and my compatriots.

What a day!  Not only did we see this amazing gaggle of owl awesomeness, but we also went to see The Dark Knight Rises, which was superb!  Owls? check.  Life-bird owls? check.  Awesome Bat-esque entertainment? Check.

No complaints here!