A hot summer evening in the Texas Hill Country, sitting out at a picnic table on the deck with a cold beer and a good book. The field adjacent to the field house is full of white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and feral pig. The bucks spar, the does, pigs, and turkeys graze, and the fawns chase each other through the grass. As darkness falls, the deer fade into the woods, and nocturnal birds, chuck-wills-widows, start to call.
Winter afternoons on Sanibel Island in Florida, perusing the beach for sea shells. The gentle waves deposit hundreds of shells on the sand, sometimes right at my feet! Lightning whelk, horse conch, lace and apple murex, banded and true tulip, calico clam, kitten’s paws, among others. Tiny, colorful coquinas marked from the bills of hungry shorebirds. Sometimes I find a rarity, like a lion’s paw, pearl oyster, or junonia. Sometimes I find huge live horse conchs, the size of footballs. I help them back into the water.
Sometimes, I spot dolphins and sharks foraging in the shallows.
I walk barefoot over the sand and shell piles. One woman tells me I’m brave.
I watch brown pelicans and sandwich terns plunge dive. I wade out to my knees to capture shells before they make it to the sand. Once I am caught up in a feeding frenzy at the shoreline, surrounded by terns and pelicans. I don’t move. Another woman tells me I look like I am one with the birds.
Sometimes, I stay until evening. One evening I succeed in seeing the green flash as the sun sets.
A summer night in a rural mountain town in West Virginia. Thirty field biologists are having a bonfire. We sit on folding chairs and tree stumps around the fire. Beer, tequila, and Southern Comfort make the rounds. The crackling fire feels good in the cool night air. Sometimes, between lulls in conversation, I hear crickets. People talk about their projects: birds, deer, salamanders, and other things. They talk of home. Of school. Of future plans. As it gets later talk gets more intimate. Tales of lost loves and secrets are whispered. Eventually, people start drifting off to bed.
A cloud forest in central Costa Rica. I walk down a lush trail, where plants are growing on plants. Birds flit in the shadows. Every one is new to me. I am in heaven! Two big black birds float through the mist. Black guans! A plump brown bird with a pointy crest, resembling a brown teardrop, sits quietly on a branch. Tufted flycatcher! A robin-sized, black bird with fluffy yellow thighs runs across the trail. Yellow-thighed finch!
The air is moist, mist hovers in the treetops. As I walk I disturb hard dark green fruits that are littering the ground. They are wild avocados, preferred food of the replesendent quetzal, a spectacular Central American bird with irridesent green tail feathers that are nearly two feet long. I scan the tree branches, but don’t see any quetzals today. I know they are there, and that I will see them soon.
I head back to the lodge and sit near the hummingbird feeders. Firey-throated hummingbird, magnificent hummingbird, volcano hummingbird…all visit the sugar water fearlessly, mere feet from where I am sitting.
Winter in the Mojave Desert of California. My boyfriend and I are biology volunteers for the Mojave National Preserve. It is cold, and often cloudy. I hike across old lava fields, creosote flats, and through Joshua tree forest with my boyfriend, as we track collared mule deer. We see wildlife: a desert bighorn ram, kit fox, poorwills, golden eagles, a badger, and more. We find the tracks of feral burros and mountain lions, but never see the animals themselves.
One afternoon, retracing our steps in a canyon, we find a haunch of jackrabbit on our trail, surrounded by fresh lion tracks. A lion had just been there! We look at the quiet canyon walls, but see nothing.
We find a glossy snake at the Kelso Dunes. It acts fierce, but it is not dangerous.
We find Indian arrowheads in the sand, and petroglyphs carved into the rock. We climb to the tops of several mountain peaks for better signals, and find old geo-caches from the 80s. We sign our names to the papers and return them to their hiding spots. We are the first people to find them since they were hidden over 20 years ago.
Spring in the Southern California desert. The sun is warm, but it’s not too hot yet. I visit Anza-Borrego. Desert wildflowers are blooming in the state park, in a rainbow of colors, red, blue, yellow, and misty purple. I hike on trails in the canyons, and stand in the shade of California fan palms. I find a Costa’s hummingbird building a nest.
In the afternoon, I drive to the Salton Sea and enjoy its abundant birds: stilts, avocets, burrowing owls, ibis, phalarope, and more.
In the evening, I enjoy dinner at Carlee’s Restaurant in Borrego Springs. The waiter remembers my name. I drive to Plum Canyon that night and camp, anticipating tomorrow’s adventure.
Summertime in the lower peninsula of Michigan. We are a PhD student and her four field assistants, collecting data on Kirtland's warblers, living in a lakeside field house. Baltimore orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks sing from the tree tops, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill holes in the tree trunks. In the lake behind the house, common loons tend to their young, bald eagles snatch fish from the water, and painted turtles bask on logs.
Our mornings and nights are early, and we make the most of our days. In the afternoons after work, sometimes I unwind by walking the road, listening for mourning warblers and Cape May warblers, and catching the snakes that like to bask on the gravel shoulders.
Often, in the evenings, we play board games together, our favorite being "Settlers of Catan", or we watch DVDs of TV shows (especially Dexter and Stargate Atlantis) and movies, lounging on the cozy chairs in the living room, enjoying cold drinks and nibbling snacks. I always look forward to the end of day social time, with Alana, Sarah, Sky, and Erhen, and it is my favorite thing about working with that field crew.