I've been home from Hastings for about two week now, but I felt like another post was in order before I wrap things up on this blog. So here's your basic "a day in the life" post. What was it like to live and work at Hastings, to wake up every morning and stare at birds all day?
6:00 am: alarm rings. If it's been an especially hot week, this may happen at 5:00, not 6:00, because you're trying to cram in as much field work as possible before it hits 90º at noon. If it's been an especially long week, this may happen at 6:30, because you've decided that sleeping time needs to be extended by whatever measure possible, and you really don't need more than half an hour to get ready.
7:00 am: knock on Natasha's door. Almost begins to waka. Vague human noises come from inside.
7:05 am: knock on Natasha's door. Natasha informs you that she has just woken up and will be out in a second, really, she will.
7:10 am: Natasha emerges, hair wild, Almost on her shoulder, chocolate bar and instant miso soup in hand. We pile into the car. Almost hops onto the back of the head rest and poops on the seat.
7:15 am: Bring Almost to his aviary, where he will spend the day.
7:20-7:40 am: Arrive at the office and discuss duties for the day, using the board and the feeding watch calendar. The board is a wonderful mishmash of more or less relevant information.
7:45-11:30 am: Conduct a feeding watch. A feeding watch is a three-hour observation session at the nest of a woodpecker group. Speaking into a voice recorder, note when a bird arrives at the nest cavity to feed, what type of food it's carrying (acorn pieces or a freshly caught insect), when it enters the cavity, and when it leaves. To get to the group where you have to do your feeding watch, you'll need to carry your backpack, your spotting scope, and a rolled-up blind. This is best accomplished with rope or with your mad balancing skills (see photo at the beginning of the post).
This is a video I took just after the end of a feeding watch. These birds are nesting in an artificial cavity that was put up by researchers for their use; they will readily use these cavities, and it makes some types of studies and experiments easier to conduct.
To give you an idea of what the parents see when they go into the cavity to feed their babies, here is a picture of the chicks at this nest when they were about twenty days old.
A feeding watch is considered successful if the woodpeckers feed approximately 20-30 times during the 3-hour period. If they don't, or if the watch is interrupted somehow, you have to go back and re-do it the next day.
By 11:30 am, your legs are cramped and you are growing very sick of this little blind.
You are glad to get up and hike back to the office or, sometimes, straight to wherever you'll be spending the afternoon. Roll up your blind and strap it back onto your back, along with your spotting scope. On the bright side, your water bottle is now empty and light.
In the afternoon, you might do any of a few things.
1. Census. The researchers on the study are constantly keeping track of which woodpeckers are present in which group, so periodically, we do three-hour watches just to determine who's around. Lots of band-reading. Also lots of photo ops (these photos are taken with a smartphone through a spotting scope).
2. Scoping all the holes. At the end of the season, we do a cavity survey, which means that every hole on Hastings that has been used in the past couple of years has to be checked for nests or for other uses.
Here is Robin using her mad skills to scope a hole at the Plaque group, 45 feet above the ground.
3. Data entry or office work. Towards the end of the season, it is so hot in the afternoons that even the birds didn't want to be moving. You don't want to be moving either. No point in doing a feeding watch if no woodpeckers show up to feed. Use this time to transcribe your feeding watch recordings onto spreadsheets so the data can be analyzed.
4. Assist at a banding. When the woodpecker chicks in any given nest are 21 days old, they are fitted with colored plastic bands so they will be individually identifiable in the field. Banding can be a complex process, but Natasha has it down to an art. First, she climbs the tree.
Then she gently scoops the baby woodpeckers out of their hole and brings them down to the ground in a soft bag. They can't fly at this age, and they don't mind being cuddled together with their broodmates. After all, they've lived squished in a tree cavity for all 21 days of their lives up to now.
When she reaches the ground, Natasha takes out one baby at a time and takes measurements of its weight, wingspan, bill size, and a few other metrics.
Next, the chick is banded. Each baby gets three colored bands and one aluminum band with a unique serial number (that way, even if somehow it lost all of its colored bands, it could still be positively identified if it were re-captured). The bands are like bracelets; they sit loosely enough on the legs that they can move up and down, and they are extremely lightweight. Colored bands can be solid-colored, split (two colors), or narrow striped. There are so many colors that it is nearly impossible for two birds to have the same band combination. The colored bands are picked haphazardly and don't follow any particular formula. You love to pick the color bands, even though you have to do so with your eyes closed. Natasha thinks you are weird but lets you do it.
Examples of colored bands: split dark blue-light blue, solid yellow, and narrow-striped light pink-bright pink. In the top right corner, a metal band is fitted into a pair of pliers made especially for banding. The hole in the pliers makes it impossible for them to close all the way. That means you can squeeze tightly to close the metal band without having to worry about accidentally hurting the bird's leg.
This chick has just been banded. In the field, its bands would read: "Metal/Yellow; Dark Blue-Light Blue/Orange-Dark Blue." We can't tell whether this bird is male or female until it molts into its adult plumage in the fall, at which time females will develop the characteristic black band across their foreheads.
5. Sometimes the day will be interrupted by a seminar in the early afternoon. Resident or visiting researchers give a weekly talk (followed by a potluck in the evening).
Once, during the hottest week of the season, we had a very special seminar.
4:30 pm (give or take, based on what time we started work and how hot it is): go home. Pick up Almost from the aviary on the way back. Because the aviary is his territory and you're entering it, he will get mad at you and may peck you, which he's not allowed to do. Preemptively filling his bill with a nut is a good way to get around this. Usually he gets over his moodiness once he's out of the cage and on your shoulder. Walk him to the car, where he will poop on the seat.
5:30 pm: Dinner. You eat breakfast early and hike all day, so your meal schedule is kinda funky. You were hungry for lunch at 10:30 and by 5:30, it's dinner time as soon as you can throw something together.
6:00-9:00 pm: Housemate time! Read, relax, play with Almost, or watch Bones.
8:20-9:15 pm: Roosting. This is the creepy-sounding part of field work.
"So what do you do with the woodpeckers?"
"Well we sit really still and watch them go to bed so that in the morning, we can scoop them out of their cavities with spoons."
The purpose of roosting, or watching the woodpeckers in particular group at sunset as they go to bed, is to determine which cavities they are sleeping in. Then, if there are unbanded birds in the group, Natasha and Eric can set up an bobber next to the cavity entrance, attached to a long string. When the string is pulled, the bobber plugs the entrance. Then the woodpeckers can be scooped out of the hole (sometimes a large cooking spoon is necessary if the cavity is especially deep), measured, banded, and released.
Mosquitoes aside, roosting can be a peaceful, relaxing experience with lots of good views of pretty trees against the sky.
9:30 pm: Bedtime. Or more Bones, but remember, the alarm rings at 6.
Woodpeckers are popping out of eggs all over the place here at Hastings. With the breeding season in full swing, it's rare to get a day off, and even rarer to get the same day off as someone else. Robin (my fellow Acorn Woodpecker tech) and I somehow managed to swing it one day last month, and we drove down to Big Sur. Here we are in a fallen redwood tree.
Big Sur is a region of the central California coast known for its spectacular views and state parks. Robin is familiar with the area after working there a few years ago on a California Condor conservation project. Her work involved hauling frozen dead cows up mountainsides to feed to the birds, as well as radio telemetry to track specific individuals.
California Condors, members of the vulture family, are huge, ancient birds. They were around when wooly mammoths roamed the earth, and they're still around today, but they're in trouble. Their populations have been declining for centuries, and they became extinct in the wild in the late 20th century. Through captive breeding programs, condors have been reintroduced into parts of their former range (including this area of central California), but there are still only a few hundred California Condors living in the wild. They are scavengers, and among other things, they are at high risk for lead poisoning from ammunition left in the carcasses that they eat.
When I came to Hastings, the California Condor was one bird I was excited to see. They are more common south of Hastings (in Big Sur, for example), but I knew anything was possible. I lucked out one day while sitting in a blind right by the main office, watching an Acorn Woodpecker group. As I focused my scope on a dead tree nearby, I saw a large shape in the distance. It was too big for a Red-tailed Hawk, and as it glided closer over the hill, I could see that the undersides of its wings were partially white. Its primaries stuck out at the tips of its wings like feathers. It was the wrong shape for a Golden Eagle, the second large raptor that immediately sprang to my mind, and the color pattern was not right for a Turkey Vulture.
Then the bird flapped its enormous wings, only once, only downward, with no upstroke, and for the first time I got a sense of the sheer size of this creature I was watching. California Condors can have a wingspan of up to three meters (9.8 feet). That's almost twice my height (I'm 5'2").
I watched as the condor glided over the hill, crossed over the office, and then disappeared behind the trees on the other side. It made no sound that I could hear, but it was magnificent.
I was excited to see more condors in Big Sur, maybe at closer range. Unfortunately, although it was beautiful and sunny at Hastings the morning of our trip, the weather was quite different on the coast.
A dense fog covered the land, and sometimes we could barely see the water.
We met up with one of Robin's condor conservation friends at a roadside pullout and checked in. He had a portable radio antenna and was scanning the area for signals (as part of the condor conservation project, condors are radio-tagged so they can be individually identified and their movements monitored. Condors weren't moving much in the fog and chill, but one bird gave a steady signal, and he was close. We looked around, and after a little while we found him, perched 600 feet down on the rocks below us. Condors are huge birds, but he looked tiny.
Our day was relatively condor-less after that, but we took a hike through a redwood forest and had fun discovering lots of other nature-y things. I felt like a kid playing in the woods, especially when we found the huge fallen redwood tree that I mentioned before. Here's a picture that gives a better sense of the scale. I'm 5'2".
Really, there's nothing like hiking through a redwood forest to bring out your inner child, probably because it makes you feel so small.
We found flowers, bugs, and flowers with bugs in them.
We meandered through gorges, and despite the fog, we found a pretty view at the top of a mountain.
Somehow, even though we spend all day watching Acorn Woodpeckers, Robin and I still stopped to watch a group high up in the redwood forest. We were amazed that they made granaries in what is known to be a very hard wood. We were temporarily miffed that none of the birds seemed to be color-banded, unlike the ones at Hastings, but our attention was drawn pretty quickly by an active nest, parents and relatives flying all around and scrambling to feed the noisy chicks.
After our hike, we returned to the overlook for more condor-searching, but no birds were in the area, and the fog was just as dense as it had been earlier. We did see some other cool things off the coast, though, including my first looks at Pigeon Guillemots, and great views of passing dolphins and migrating Gray Whales.
After a lunch at a favorite restaurant of Robin's and a stop for groceries in town, it was time to head back home. Back to our very own misty hills, greedy woodpecker chicks, and gorgeous wildflowers at Hastings. Back to more tiny little natural marvels, like this Western Fence Lizard basking in dappled sunlight.
Last week, Natasha and I took a road trip with a woodpecker.
He sat on our shoulders. He pooped on the seats. He jumped onto the dashboard. He sang along to the music. He became alarmed at low-flying gulls, groves of shade trees, and passing motorcyclists.
The woodpecker in question is Almost, who is almost two and lives with Natasha. When Almost was banded as a 3-week-old chick, Natasha found that he was missing half of one wing, and the other wing was not fully developed. He would never be able to fly, which is a death sentence for a wild Acorn Woodpecker. Rather than euthanize him, Natasha raised him as an education and outreach bird. Now, in addition to acorns, he eats almonds, walnuts, and hickory nuts from Trader Joe's. He pecks holes in Natasha's furniture and poops on her floor. And he loves company.
Last weekend, Natasha and I drove up to Berkeley to help man a table at UC Berkeley's "Cal Day," which Berkeley's open house for admitted students. Hastings Reservation (where we live and work) is managed by Berkeley and associated with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology there, so as part of the Cal Day showcase, we brought posters, tree climbing gear, a radio antenna, and some woodpecker cavities to show people what we do.
It's pretty weird, a soon-to-be Yale undergrad and a PhD student from Old Dominion University presenting research at a UC Berkeley event. But let's not kid ourselves; it's about the woodpeckers, not the humans and their arbitrary universities.
Almost was the star of the show. People were curious about him, what he was, why he was with us, what he ate, etc. etc. We answered a lot of the same questions over and over. Since I've already given you an overview of what I do every day and what the woodpecker research entails, I'd like to address the good questions. The meaty questions. The woodpecker questions. Presenting...
Cal Day, Abridged
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Please Do Not Pet the Woodpecker
Question: What kind of bird is that?
Answer: An Acorn Woodpecker.
Q: Why is he called an Acorn Woodpecker?
A: Well, he eats acorns. That might have something to do with it.
Q: What are all those holes for?
A: Acorn Woodpeckers make holes in trees to store acorns. Each hole fits one acorn perfectly. In the fall, they pick acorns off the trees and stick them into holes to save them. That way they have something to eat when there are no insects around in the winter.
Q: Do they farm bugs? I heard they farm bugs.
A: That's a myth. It's much more energy-efficient for the woodpeckers to eat the acorn meats, which are rich in protein, than to wait until they rot and eat the insects that come to feast on them. Studies have been done to show that the acorns in Acorn Woodpecker granary trees are remarkably free of insects. In fact, the woodpeckers constantly maintain their granaries and throw away any rotting acorns to prevent fungi and insects from infesting their stores.
Anyway, doesn't it also make a lot more sense that they're eating the acorns than that they're farming bugs? I mean, farming is pretty cool. Leafcutter ants do it. But let's not overcomplicate things. Occam's razor, people.
Q: What's wrong with him/why is he in captivity?
A: Most of the Acorn Woodpeckers in the population that we study are color-banded, and newly hatched chicks are banded when they are 21 days old and have not yet left the nest. Almost hatched in a nest at Hastings, but when Natasha climbed his tree to band him, she found that he was missing two thirds of his right wing, and his left wing was underdeveloped. He would never be able to fly, and he never would have survived in the wild. Rather than euthanize him, Natasha raised him to be an education and outreach bird. (Don't try this at home. Keeping wild birds in captivity requires special permits, and the people at Hastings have them.) Almost is very friendly and loves meeting new people. But he's not domesticated, and he's not a pet––he is a wild animal who is simply habituated to humans.
Q: Can I pet him?
A: Almost doesn't like to be petted. Also, he's a wild bird with a very strong beak, and he could do some serious damage if he got angry. He could peck holes in your fingers. He could draw blood. He could cause massive liability problems. Please give him his space.
Actually, Almost is normally very gentle. But there's a serious reason he doesn't like to be petted. Acorn Woodpeckers do not practice allopreening (preening each other's feathers). In some birds, like parrots, birds preen each other as a form of bonding. Acorn Woodpeckers hardly ever touch each other, so to them, being touched is scary and makes them feel threatened.
Q: Can I touch him?
A: Please don't touch the woodpecker. He doesn't like to be touched.
Q: Can I stick things in his granary, like my fingers?
A: That really wouldn't be a good idea. Almost gets angry if people mess with his granary. Remember what we said about the finger-pecking? If you want to stick acorns in holes, we have a nice piece of granary over here, and lots of acorns you can play with.
Q: He's a woodpecker, right?
A: Yes, this is an Acorn Woodpecker.
Q: There's this woodpecker that won't stop drumming on my metal gutters. How do I make it go away?
A: In many species of woodpeckers, males make loud drumming sounds to advertise their presence and attract mates. They typically look for the loudest materials they can find: hollow branches, gutters, sign posts. This is a natural part of their behavior, and it will stop in a couple months once the breeding season is over. But this question isn't particularly relevant to Acorn Woodpeckers, who drum only very rarely, during territorial power struggles.
Q: Did he make all those holes?
A: Yeah, he did! Well, most of them, anyway. This granary branch broke off of a tree, so some of them were made by other woodpeckers. In Acorn Woodpecker family groups, all the woodpeckers pitch in to make holes for acorns. It's a lot of work.
Q: How long does it take to make one hole?
A: Usually it takes 15 minutes to an hour. But that varies depending on a lot of things, like how hard the wood is and how good the woodpecker is at pecking. Woodpeckers are born knowing they should peck and knowing how, but they aren't born knowing how to peck well. Almost made some pretty pitiful holes when he was a baby.
Q: Why don't the acorns just get stolen by squirrels?
A: Squirrels and other birds definitely try to steal the Acorn Woodpeckers' acorns. But Acorn Woodpeckers live in close-knit family groups, and they defend their territories year-round, not just in breeding season. If a squirrel or a Western Scrub-Jay tries to steal acorns from a granary, the whole group of Acorn Woodpeckers gets mad and gangs up on them. A squirrel is no match for six or seven Acorn Woodpeckers.
Q: Excuse me, where's the bathroom?
A: Pretty much anywhere. On our t-shirts, on the car seats, on the ground...
Q: *stares blankly*
A: Oh. Um. Through the doors, up the stairs, and to the right.
Q: Is that a real bird?
A: Yes, it's a taxidermic specimen from the museum.
Q: Is it dead?
A: ...yes? I hope.
Q: So, do Acorn Woodpeckers live around here?
A: Acorn Woodpeckers live throughout most of California, wherever there are several species of oak trees in the same habitat. Their range extends up to southern Oregon and down through parts of Mexico and Central America. Acorn Woodpeckers are also really adaptable. They do fine in cities. You might have seen them around your home or in a nearby park.
Q: What's the climbing equipment for?
A: Acorn Woodpeckers build their nests in cavities really high up in the trees. So to band the chicks, Natasha has to do some serious climbing.
Q: Can you make the woodpecker come out of his cavity?
A: Almost loves people, but he's met more people in a few hours today than ever before in his entire life. He's a little overstimulated, so he's taking a break right now. He'll come out when he's feeling rested.
Q: Oh look, he's coming out of the cavity! He's so cute! Can I touch him?
A: Please do not pet the woodpecker.
I love answering questions about Acorn Woodpeckers. Do you have any that we weren't asked at Cal Day? Comment and I'll do my best.
Spring is breeding season for birds, and it shows. They're wearing their brightest plumages, they perform crazy courtship displays and sing beautiful songs, and when they've found mates, they begin building nests to raise their babies.
Watching a bird build a nest is pretty magical. Some birds weave strands of grass together. Others scoop up bits of mud in their beaks and glue their nests to ledges or houses. Some, including Acorn Woodpeckers, lay their eggs at the bottom of hollowed-out tree cavities. Regardless of how exactly they build their nests, many birds spend a lot of time on them, making them as cozy, sturdy, and safe as possible in order to safely raise their babies.
Time for the tenuous connection to my own life. Unlike the birds, I am not preparing to mate and raise babies this spring. But I have spent the past couple weeks settling in to a new place, organizing and re-organizing my space to make it my own, and delighting in the spring weather and the antics of the breeding birds all around me. Since mid-March, I have been living at Hastings Natural History Reservation in Carmel Valley, California. I'm working here as a field tech on a long-term study of Acorn Woodpeckers, and I'll be here until July.
It's beautiful here. The habitat is mostly oak savannah, which means oak trees interspersed with grassland, chaparral, and other open habitat. In other words, acres and acres of rolling hills that look like this:
To an easterner, one of the most striking things about this landscape at this time of year is the wildflowers.
To an Acorn Woodpecker, this landscape is home.
In general, a woodpecker makes its living by pecking wood. Most woodpeckers peck at trees to extract the insects living in the wood. Others, like sapsuckers, make little holes deeper into the tree and drink the sweet xylem sap, or eat the insects that are attracted to the sap. Woodpeckers also use their tree-pecking skills to excavate larger holes, or cavities, which they use for roosting (sleeping at night) and, during the breeding season, for nesting in.
But Acorn Woodpeckers don't stop there. No. Acorn Woodpeckers take woodpecking to another level. In the fall, they drill acorn-sized holes into tree bark, dead branches, or even house siding and store acorns in the holes, making "granary" trees that provide them with a food source through the winter and spring, when there are no acorns to be found. They also eat bugs, tree pollen, and various other things, but acorns are their staple.
So what am I actually doing here?
People have been studying Acorn Woodpeckers at Hastings for decades, and every season there are a few different scientists researching different aspects of the Acorn Woodpeckers' social interactions.
Why are Acorn Woodpeckers so interesting? They have a very complicated social structure. They live and breed on discrete, defined territories, in groups, not in simple pairs like most birds. The breeders in a group can be just a male/female pair, or they can be a polygynandrous group of a few males (usually brothers or closely related) and a few females (usually sisters or closely related, but unrelated to the males). This means that babies raised together might be siblings, half-siblings, or cousins.
To make things even more complicated, the breeding woodpeckers in each group are assisted by "helpers," offspring from previous years who stick around and help to raise their younger siblings or cousins, even though they don't breed themselves.
This system raises lots of questions from an evolutionary perspective. For example,
There's a lot of complicated evolutionary biology happening here. But as a field tech, I'm doing the dirty work. Right now, there are a few main things I'm doing.
1. Censusing woodpecker territories. We have a list of all the individual birds that are known to be part of each group. But we have to update that list periodically because sometimes birds die, sometimes they move away to other groups, sometimes new woodpeckers join a group, etc. So I conduct three-hour watches at a given territory and try to identify as many woodpeckers as possible. When I determine that a certain bird is still in that group, I update the list with the date it was last seen.
But how do you tell the birds apart??? They all look the same.
The majority of the population of Acorn Woodpeckers at Hastings is color banded, meaning each bird wears several colored leg bands that can be read through a spotting scope to identify the bird in the field. Here is a photo of a captive Acorn Woodpecker named Almost showing off two of his color bands. Almost lives with Natasha and is missing part of his wings, so he can't fly. He can certainly climb, though, and he can make holes and eat acorns. So life is pretty good.
It's pretty easy to read Almost's color bands in this photo, but imagine trying to read bands on a bird that's a lot farther away, moving around on a tree all the time, and often sitting on its feet and fluffing up its belly feathers. It's challenging. But reading color bands is also very rewarding when you get it right, because then you can be certain that you're looking at a specific individual bird.
The artist in me loves reading color bands because of, well, the colors.
Red Orange Yellow Light Green Forest Green Dark Green Light Blue Medium Blue Dark Blue Mauve Light Pink Bright Pink Dark Pink Brown Gray Black White
They can be combined in many different ways. Bands can be a solid color, split (like the bands on Almost's right leg), or narrow striped (narrow stripes of two different colors, repeating along the band). Sometimes the color combinations can be frustratingly hard to read, like if a bird's leg is Light Blue-Light Green/Light Green-Light Pink. In bad light, those colors all look the same. But other times the colors stand out beautifully, like one bird whose left leg was Yellow/Orange and looked like a flash of sunlight when she took off from a branch.
When I'm able to read two or more of a bird's color bands, I write down the colors on a data sheet, along with information like the date, time, species name, and the specific territory that I'm censusing. I also write down the sex of the bird, which is very easy to determine in Acorn Woodpeckers: all you have to do is look at the extent of their red caps.
Here is a page from my field notebook. I've recorded the band colors I was able to read on several woodpeckers. The circled numbers on the right side of the page are the individual bird ID numbers: by comparing the bands that I saw to a list of birds previously seen at this territory, I can usually confirm which birds I saw.
This particular census was special, though, because I found two birds at this territory that weren't there before. They are numbers 5700 and 5833. You'll see that I wrote a little four-letter abbreviation under each of those numbers: PLQE and PLAN, respectively. That means that those birds were listed as living on other territories (called as Plaque and Plaque Annex, or PLQE and PLAN), and they must have moved to this territory since the last time someone censused it. Finding out about birds that have moved like this is part of the reason we do these censuses. In a little while, the master list of the woodpeckers will be updated, and these birds will be transferred from their old territories to this group, called RE28.
2. Moving base stations
Natasha, the PhD student I'm working for, is specifically studying Acorn Woodpecker dispersal. Acorn Woodpecker "helpers" (young from previous years who stay on their natal territories to help raise the next year's chicks) spend some of their time scouting around for new territories that they might be able to move to in order to become breeders in their own right. Natasha has fitted a bunch of woodpeckers with solar powered nanotags, which are so light that the woodpeckers don't really pay any attention to them. The tags ping every so often as long as there is sunlight. To pick up the signals from the tags, Natasha has placed three base stations at various Acorn Woodpecker territories. The base stations have an antenna and a data logger. Every time the base stations get a signal from a nanotag, they record the date and time, which nanotag it was, and how strong the signal was. Natasha can use this information to figure out where the woodpeckers are going, when, for how long, and with which other woodpeckers (they often travel together with their broodmates).
The problem is, there are only three base stations (these things are expensive) and there are a lot of woodpecker territories. The base stations stay at each territory for two days, so every other day they need to be moved. Natasha has randomized the order of the territories that the stations go to.
Moving the base stations around like this gives Natasha a good sample of where the woodpeckers are spending their time. She hopes to use this information to figure out more about dispersal patterns: where are woodpeckers going, and why? They often disperse in family groups, but when do these groups form and how long do they last? I try to think about these big questions when I'm hauling a base station up a particularly steep hill.
3. Roost watches
Most of the woodpeckers on Hastings are color banded, but there are many that, for one reason or another, slipped through the clutches of the banders. If the birds aren't color-banded, we can't track their movements from group to group. And if there is more than one unbanded bird in a group, keeping track of the group's interactions becomes a nightmare.
Natasha plans to capture and band as many unbanded woodpeckers as possible. But capturing them isn't easy. To do that, she sets an ambush in the morning to catch them as they come out of their roosting cavity (Acorn Woodpeckers sleep in holes in trees, which helps keep them warm and safe from predators). The catch here is that there are a lot of holes in trees, and in order to catch the woodpeckers, Natasha has to know beforehand which cavity they're sleeping in.
Roost watches involve sitting very still for about 40 minutes right as the sun goes down and the woodpeckers go in to roost, watching the possible cavities and keeping track of how many birds go into which cavity.
4. Finding nests
It's breeding season for Acorn Woodpeckers! We have already found a few nests with eggs in them, and yesterday four chicks hatched in the nest of the woodpecker group that lives right by our house. Throughout the next two months, we will be monitoring the Acorn Woodpecker nests, banding the chicks, and doing feeding watches to determine which members of the group care for the babies, and to what extent.
When we census groups, we have to be on the lookout for possible nests. One indication is woodpeckers sitting in cavities during the daytime, sometimes sticking their heads out.
But hey, it's nice to have some variety.
My main work is with the woodpeckers, but I delight in watching the other birds and animals around here, too. The other day, I found an American Kestrel nest in a hole in a dead tree. One of my housemates is monitoring Western Bluebird boxes, and she has already found some babies.
On a few occasions, I've been bobcats walking around in the middle of the day. Mule deer roam the fields and there are apparently wild hogs around, although I haven't seen them yet.
On wet mornings, newts cross the road and cause delays.
Anna's hummingbirds zip around everywhere, showing off their beautiful pink throats.
And wherever you go, you can hear the "waka" calls of Acorn Woodpeckers. We'll see what the rest of the season holds. Here's to baby woodpeckers!
Hey look, it's a Bald Eagle!
Maybe you weren't going to read this post. It has a boring title, and it's obviously going to be about birds again. But I hope this photo changed your mind, because this is going to be a quick one, and it's going to be photo-heavy, and it's going to feature some cool birds.
The handsome dude in the photo above is a sub-adult Bald Eagle that was caught and banded at Hawk Ridge last week. This was the second eagle caught this year at Hawk ridge, and the second eagle caught by bander Miranda Durbin in one week, and also the second eagle Miranda had ever caught. The other banders are getting pretty jealous of Miranda at this point.
Bald Eagles take five years to develop full adult plumage, with that famous pure white head and tail. This bird is a sub-adult, meaning it didn't hatch this year, but it's not five years old yet. It's probably a pretty advanced sub-adult (third or fourth year) because, as you can see, its head is really mostly white. But there are a few brown feathers in there.
The bird also has some white on its wing feathers...
...and on the feathers at the base of its tail.
Here's counter Alex Lamoreaux holding the eagle.
Miranda and Alex and the other banders are brave souls. Let's take another look at that beak and those talons.
The bird could do some serious damage if it tried. Luckily, though, no one got hurt (birds or humans) and Alex got to set the eagle free.
So, getting to see that eagle banded was really cool. But up at the count platform, we see eagles flying by every day, sometimes as many as ten or fifteen per hour. So what really got us excited was a visit from some Sandhill Cranes.
We could see them coming from a ways away. Sandhill Cranes are huge and lanky, with long wings, necks, and legs. They formed beautiful shapes in the sky as they flew out of the clouds over Lake Superior.
Here's a (heavily cropped) picture of the cranes closer up. As if their huge size and crazy crane proportions weren't enough, they have these funky little bright red caps, too.
Here's a video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library of Sandhill Cranes coming in for a landing. Along their migration route, they rest and feed in large groups, like the one shown here, and the sight of the cranes coming in to roost for the night or taking off in the morning is said to be spectacular.
The birds migrating over our heads at Hawk Ridge are pretty spectacular. But I have been enjoying the birds right here in the neighborhood, too. The part of Duluth where I'm staying is more rural than Newton: there are frequently bears, deer, and foxes in the neighborhood, and all the houses are surrounded by trees. The streets are wide and shady, and little footpaths cut between the blocks every so often; you can take a bike through or pass on foot through the trees without having to watch for cars.
All this is great for the birds, like this male Scarlet Tanager I found by my door last week.
There are also flickers everywhere. A flicker is a colorful woodpecker that can often be found poking around on the ground, acting like a robin. When they fly, they flash yellow feathers in their wings (or red, on the West Coast). This guy was sitting in a tree along the road, looking very handsome.
That's all for the photos! Coming soon: Broad-winged Hawks are starting to migrate in huge groups, called "kettles." I'm hoping to have some pictures soon! Stay tuned.
Thursday, September 3rd, was a momentous day. I turned 18. And it's about time! Now I can sign forms for myself, vote, get called in for jury duty, get married without my parents' consent, and do lots of other fun things!
In the past, my birthday has been a funny combination of happiness and worry, as it usually falls in the week before the first day of school. In sixth grade, the first day of school was September 3rd, and my birthday gift was meeting a whole bunch of new people, none of whom knew or cared much that it was my birthday. In any case, I usually celebrate my birthday at home, or on Cape Cod, with my family and friends. When I wake up in the morning and come downstairs, my mom has made brightly colored "Happy Birthday Kaija!" signs and hung them from the light fixture above the table. Sometimes there are presents. Every year, we eat angel food cake and strawberries after dinner.
This year was a little different. School isn't looming. I'm in a new place with new people, but they aren't twelve and awkward and covered with zits. I'm not with my family––we had our angel food cake in late August, before I left for Duluth. And I'm on the cusp of my first real "grown up" year to match my "grown up" age. We're not in Kansas anymore.
But despite all these differences (and because of them), I had a really great birthday. Here's how it went.
I woke up at what felt like a much too early hour. It had rained most of the previous morning, and we hadn't gone to Hawk Ridge until noon (the hawks won't fly in a hard rain, so there's no point in getting wet and miserable. This is a nice aspect of hawkwatching.) The air felt damp and heavy when I woke up, and I opened my blinds, thinking that maybe today would be another rainy morning. And maybe I would get to sleep a little longer. I looked out the window and saw... very little. It wasn't raining, but a dense fog had settled over Duluth. Visibility was poor, and the trees looked eerie.
Despite the fog, we headed up to the ridge, driving with headlights and windshield wipers and peering anxiously around corners before making frantic left turns, hoping that no cars would materialize and hit us. We made it up to the ridge in one piece, set up the merchandise trailer, put down our bags and... waited. The fog was dense enough to block all views of the sky or the city below. If any hawks were flying in this weather, the only way we would be able to count them is if they flew out of the fog and directly at our faces.
There seemed to be no point in setting up a spotting scope, and Alex and Karl hadn't arrived yet, so I poked around the top of the ridge for a while. I went a little ways on a few of the trails around the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. I found a lovely spiderweb covered in fog droplets. But the wet plants whacked my bare legs and the ground was slippery, so I turned back.
Just when I seemed to be looking at spending my birthday morning, and maybe the whole day, on top of a foggy hill with no birds, without a sweatshirt (the weather report had said it was going to be hot!), Alex arrived. Good, at least I would have someone to commiserate with about the lack of hawks. But Alex walked to the count platform, took one look around, and informed me that we were going to go look for warblers. As long as there were no raptors, Hawk Ridge could do without its counters.
We headed down to Park Point, a long, narrow spit of land into Lake Superior. On my first day, Karl told me it was "the longest strip of land in the world. Or something." It's actually the largest freshwater sand spit in the world, but hey, close enough, Karl. At the end of the point is a park, and the various stands of trees were fairly dripping with warblers (for you non-birders: warblers are small, colorful songbirds, known for their beautiful colors and songs, and also for being really hard to identify correctly because there are so many of them and they change plumages with age and throughout the year). The warblers, having started their own fall migration, weren't eager to fly in the heavy fog, so they had stopped at the park to forage for insects among the leaves. At Park Point we were below the fog, so visibility was slightly better, although we still couldn't see out onto the lake or up to the ridge. The birding was amazing. Often there were several species of warblers clustered in the same tree, or flitting from shrub to shrub as we eagerly tried to pick them out from the leaves. We saw beautiful Cape May and Magnolia Warblers, several tiny Least Flycatchers, striking black and white Caspian Terns, and many gray-brown Swainson's Thrushes hopping on the ground under the trees. We even got a glimpse of a Mourning Warbler, an elusive and uncommon bird that was a first for me.
Those of you who are interested can find my full eBird checklist here.
Around 1pm, we got a call that the fog was lifting over the ridge, so we made our way back to the car as quickly as we could. For birders, that means stopping only for some birds, like for a Least Sandpiper that flew circles over a flock of Ring-billed Gulls, or for a Savannah sparrow that flew so close by Alex's face that it almost hit him. Eventually we were in the car, headed to the ridge, and all was going well. Redstarts darted overhead and we tallied our first robin of the morning. And then we hit traffic. The Aerial Lift Bridge, which spans the channel between downtown Duluth and Park Point, was lifting up to let a ship go through. As someone put it to us gleefully later on, "you got bridged!" It was like one of those bad dreams where you desperately need to get somewhere or do something but your legs won't move. We could see the fog clearing and we knew the birds were flying, but we still had a ways to go.
Then I saw the warbler. It was in the low branches of an evergreen tree just to our left, in someone's yard at the edge of the road. We grabbed our binoculars and found more birds: an American Redstart in the tree's upper branches, a Red-eyed Vireo in a bush just yards from the car door. We forgot all about the bridge, and before we knew it, the traffic cleared and we were whizzing towards the ridge.
The fog was fast disappearing and soon the sky was clear. And the hawks were flying! We had 107 Sharp-shinned Hawks in the first hour after we arrived, and 134 the next hour. The clickers were going like mad. There was a steady stream of Bald Eagles, too, a mix of adults and immatures, and some came close over our heads.
At the count platform, we have another responsibility besides identifying and counting birds. The Hawk Ridge raptor banding station is located just down the ridge from the count platform, and it's our job to radio over to the station if there's a good bird coming their way, so they know to be on the lookout. I enjoy playing with the radio. It makes me feel like I should be saying "Roger" all the time and using funky codes.
Anyway, after we had been at the ridge for a couple hours, I spotted a bird out in front of us, flying fast, with pointed wings and a long, narrow silhouette. I could tell from its shape that it was a falcon, but I'm still working on my raptor ID skills. I needed to wait for the bird to get closer before I could tell whether it was an American Kestrel, a Merlin, or a Peregrine Falcon. But Karl and Alex didn't need to wait. They spotted the bird and jumped up, cameras at the ready. A few seconds later, an immature Peregrine Falcon zoomed over our heads, wings locked in a glide, headed directly for the banding station.
It was amazing how quickly they caught the bird. Frank, the banding director, told us later that the falcon dove in after the lure at 80 or 90 miles per hour (well shy of that species's record speeds of nearly 200 mph, but still.) Best of all, we were invited down to the station to see it.
I couldn't have asked for a better birthday present.
After a long day of exciting hawkwatching, we headed home, where I finished up a great birthday with some strawberry ice cream and mini M&M's.
And I received one more birthday present: chocolate owls from Karl's girlfriend, Jane. They were delicious!
More news of birds and life coming soon!
Thanks to Becca Webster and Janelle Long for inspiring the title of this post.
On the morning of September 1st, I arrived at Hawk Ridge at 8:30. Counters Alex Lamoreaux and Karl Bardon had been hard at work since dawn. Since I'm focusing on hawks, I come a little later in the day, because the hawk migration tends to start in the mid morning. But I arrived in time to witness the middle and tail end of what turned out to be a historically huge migration of nighthawks and passerines.
The word "passerine" refers to a bird of the order Passeriformes. Birds in this order are often referred to as "perching birds" or "songbirds." They include finches, robins, chickadees, thrushes, crows, jays, sparrows, warblers, vireos, cardinals, swallows, orioles, and mockingbirds.
Like raptors, many species of passerines migrate. Unlike raptors, they're small and wickedly difficult to identify in flight. When you see a soaring hawk as a black speck against the sky, it's hard to tell what kind it is. Now imagine trying to identify a much smaller black speck, only instead of soaring by above your head, it's zipping past your face, taking only seconds to pass out of sight.
Remarkably, Alex and Karl were able to identify by sight most of the passerines that passed close by, and they identified other, farther birds by their size, flight style, or flock formation. Colorful warblers flashed by, Cedar Waxwings whizzed across the ridge in their tight flocks, and once in a while a woodpecker flew overhead with its uneven, undulating flight. I did my best to be useful, pointing out passerines and doing my best to count the easier birds, like Blue Jays and waxwings, which are relatively easy to identify in flight. Then Alex put me to work counting Common Nighthawks.
This is a Common Nighthawk. (Photo by Eric Heisey, one of my friends from the Cornell YBE. You can see more of Eric's awesome photos here!).
Common Nighthawks are not passerines; they're in the order Caprimulgiformes, and they're pretty funky-looking. They're related to owls, not hawks, despite their name, and they are mostly crepuscular (meaning they're active at dawn and dusk). Nighthawks are very distinctive in flight: they have long, narrow wings, and they sort of flutter, flying around in circles and dodging back and forth. They do this because they are aerial insectivores, which means they eat insects in the air. In fact, a Common Nighthawk needs to eat insects in the air. Its beak is practically useless, and its throat muscles are weak. Instead of picking up bugs and swallowing them, it simply flies around with its mouth open and lets the bugs go down its throat, where they are zapped by its digestive juices.
Until I got to Duluth, I had never seen a Common Nighthawk. That changed abruptly yesterday morning. Nighthawks migrate en masse from their breeding grounds across the United States and Canada to their wintering grounds in South America. When I arrived at Hawk Ridge, hundreds of birds were streaming past on all sides of us. Often, they were far enough away that I could barely pick them out with the naked eye. But when I raised my binoculars... WOW.
The birds wheeled through the air, rising on thermals and forming massive flocks in the sky. This behavior is called "kettling" and it's most obvious in the first photo, where you can see the birds in the center of the flock forming a spiral shape. Broad-winged Hawks are another species that forms "kettles" as massive numbers of birds ride thermals up into the sky, so you'll probably be seeing more kettling hawks on this blog when the Broad-wings start moving through, in mid-September.
Here's a closer view of one of the flocks of nighthawks, where you can see their narrow silhouette and flapping flight:
And here you can see the birds' telltale white wing patches and blunted heads:
Everyone was impressed with the numbers of nighthawks and songbirds that we saw yesterday. All together, the counters tallied over 28,000 Common Nighthawks, the third highest count ever recorded in MN, and over 33,000 warblers. These are near-record numbers. You can read Karl Bardon's detailed summary here, and Alex's morning eBird checklist here. I want to emphasize that my own checklist is greatly reduced in species and numbers; I didn't identify nearly the number of species that Alex and Karl saw, nor was I able to count all the birds. But I'm glad to have made some sort of contribution, however small, to recording this incredible flight. And it sure was amazing to watch!
Stay tuned for more updates! I'll try to fit in some non-bird stuff at some point, too, but the hawks are starting to come in full force, so it might be all I can do to keep up.
On August 30th, I got on a plane to Minnesota. Here's me, having successfully checked one bag and hoping that the other one wouldn't be too big for the little carry-on boxy measuring thingy at the gate. Spoiler: it wasn't.
Why Minnesota? The answer has to do with the magnificent creature below.
For the next two months, I will be doing a traineeship at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory here in Duluth, Minnesota. What do I do all day? I count hawks! Sometimes they're just black specks on the horizon. Other times they come close, like this Red-Tailed Hawk. I'm going to be learning how to identify them, both close up from their markings, and from far away, using subtle clues like their shape, how they hold their wings, their flight patterns, and how much they flap. It's no easy task, and before the hawks can be identified and counted, we have to find them.
Luckily, Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve is located on a hill, looking out over Lake Superior.
This is the view from the count station. The blue in the distance is water and the sky over the lake (it was a hazy day today). The hawks mostly come from the northeast (to the left, in this photo). They're on their way down from Canada to warmer wintering grounds farther south. Some of them won't go very far; others will travel all the way to Central and South America.
The hawks don't like to fly over the vast expanse of water that is Lake Superior (would you?), but they would rather not stray from their migration route. So they turn southwest and fly right along the edge of Lake Superior. This route has another benefit for the hawks, too. As you may remember from chemistry class, water has a very high specific heat capacity; that means it takes a lot of energy to heat it up. Land heats up much more quickly. As the sun shines, the air over the land heats up more quickly than the air over Lake Superior, and it begins to rise, replaced by cooler air that flows off the lake. These rising air currents are known as "thermals," and many types of hawks use them to facilitate migration. It's much easier to glide in a spiral up a thermal, then spread your wings and glide down to the bottom of the next one, than it is to flap-flap-flap all the way from Canada to Mexico. The presence of a ridge at Hawk Ridge creates updrafts, which also help the migrating hawks stay aloft.
All in all, it's a good place to migrate, if you're a hawk. Today, we scanned the skies for specks to identify. Sometimes we were rewarded with looks at birds like this sub-adult Bald Eagle.
The black tips on this bird's tail feathers and the brownish markings on its white head mean that the bird isn't quite grown up yet––it's less than five years old, but it hasn't just hatched, either. A full adult Bald Eagle will show a pure white head and tail.
This is our owl decoy.
It's a stuffed Great Horned Owl, set up on a pole near the lookout point. It wobbles back and forth, looking quite realistic. Why put up an owl when you're watching hawks? Owls are nocturnal predators, and after dark, they may attack roosting diurnal raptors. Hawks are aggressive towards owls, and many will fly close to the decoy, swooping and dive-bombing and generally putting on a good show. We got some breathtaking looks at Sharp-shinned Hawks and Merlins as they swerved and dove at the owl, which ignored them entirely and kept wobbling in the wind.
Here are our counters, or clickers, or tally devices, or whatever you want to call them.
Attached to a board and bungeed to the railing of the count platform, they make a handy way to keep track of large numbers of the most common species. It's easier than writing numbers on data sheets, then erasing them, then re-writing them. From left to right, we have Bald Eagle (Adult), Bald Eagle (Sub-adult), Bald Eagle (Juvenile), Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Turkey Vulture. Then there are a few left over for other species that happen to be particularly common on a certain day. Or we can get all fancy and use adjacent counters for the tens and ones places, for easier data entry.
In the middle of the afternoon, the count platform got a call, via walkie-talkie, from one of the banding stations: an adult Bald Eagle had been captured. We headed down to see the magnificent bird. It remained very calm the whole time we were there.
After the bird had been banded and everyone got photos, it was time to let it go.
The eagle gave a couple powerful wingbeats, and we could hear the feathers whooshing against the air. Then it banked slowly and headed towards a stand of aspen trees, where it perched just out of view. It was a wonderful end to my first day.
This morning (Tuesday) saw a huge migration of small songbirds and thousands of Common Nighthawks, though it was a slow afternoon as far as hawks were concerned. More details and posts to follow!
This summer, I did some babysitting from time to time. One of the girls I watched is four and a half. She was very cute, but sometimes she fussed or lashed out at her sister or screamed when she didn't get what she wanted. She had to be reminded to use her words. The thing is, to a four-and-a-half-year-old, using words isn’t always easy. She might know that she wanted to say is, “Could you please drop that purple marker and give it to me right now because you've had it already for five minutes and it’s really my turn, please?” but that’s a lot of words, and some of them are hard to pronounce, and maybe she didn't quite remember how to say “already,” and she got so frustrated that hitting came to seem like a much more effective way to get her point across in the moment.
Most of us don’t remember how frustrating it was to be four and to not be able to articulate our thoughts as effortlessly as the big amazing grown-ups around us. When the grown-ups said things, they made sense, but when we tried to do the same, somehow it didn’t come out quite right. And yet we persisted, because there wasn’t any other option, and because the benefits of suffering through toddlerhood were so great: to be able to speak and think and talk and read and write in our native tongue, more or less without trying.
This summer, I willingly turned myself back into a toddler. I was four again (or if I'm being honest, more like two) for two nights a week from 5:30 to 7, at BASE, the Boston Area Spanish Exchange.
That’s right, I’m learning Spanish. And as with most things in my life, you can blame it on the birds. A few months ago, when I was searching for ornithology internships and field research positions, I kept stumbling across positions in fantastic-sounding countries in South America. “Please send us writing samples in English and Spanish,” one of the descriptions said. For others, “knowing Spanish is beneficial, though not required.” Another one stipulated, “candidates with strong Spanish language skills are preferred.” Drat. I have been taking French in school since sixth grade, and I’ve gotten pretty good. I spent three weeks in Paris this winter with the Newton North French Exchange, and refused to speak any English with my host family. I can write and comprehend fluently, and my speaking is improving steadily. There are still countless words, phrases, and idioms that I don’t know, but if you plunked me down in a francophone country, I would be (and was) totally fine.
As for Spanish, my grasp of the language was limited to bizarre fragments gleaned from my friends at the lunch table at school, as most of them took Spanish. I knew how to say things like ¿Qué estas haciendo? (What are you doing?) and ¿Puedo ir al baño? (Can I go to the bathroom?) and “Yo sé que la unica manera de eliminar la pereza es ser muy estricto”*** which came from a seventh-grade Spanish class skit having to do with a ghost, and which my friends were still repeating ad infinitum well into high school.
Anyway, I gave this some thought. I have really enjoyed learning French (and I’m not stopping! More on this in future posts!) and between future bird-related travels and the large Spanish-speaking population both in the United States and elsewhere in the world, it seemed like I had everything to gain from studying the language. So I signed up for a twice-a-week Spanish class, bought a textbook, and began at the beginning. “Me llamo Kaija Gahm. Vivo en Newton y tengo diecisiete años. ¿Cómo estas? Estoy bien, y tú?”
Of course there is a limit to how much Spanish one can learn in three hours a week. But taking this course has taught me a few things. First, language learning is really cool. The fact that kids can, simply by hearing words around them, learn to string those words into coherent sentences is mind-boggling when you try to do the same as an adult. In class, I listen and jot down phrases (Hay esta = there it is), mentally resolving to use them the next time the opportunity presents itself. I have gained new insight into how I talk to my babysitting charges: even repeating what they say, but elaborating, helps them to feel heard and gives them new words for their stories and sentences.
In Spanish class:
Profesora: “Kaija, ¿por qué necessitamos los adjetivos?”
Kaija: “Uhm… para hablar bien?"
Profesora: “Sí, para describir las personas y las cosas muy específicamente!”
Kid: “The queen goes inside the tornado and it’s very sad!”
Me: “Did she want to go inside the tornado?”
Kid: “No! The tornado comes onto her and she doesn’t want to go!”
Me: “She gets caught in the tornado, and it takes her away?”
Me: “Does she say ‘Oh no!’?”
Kid: “OH NO!"
The second thing I’ve learned from Spanish class is this: French helps. Wow, does French help. I have a second set of cognates to work off of, and I’ve already grappled with the grammar structures. I was able to grasp “haber” easily because it’s analogous to the French “il y a,” and reflexive verbs make sense to me. I know what definite and indefinite articles are, and I have practice with making accords between gendered nouns and adjectives, verb conjugations and subjects. In one class we had a contest to see who could identify the most adjectives, verbs, nouns, etc. in the lyrics of a song. Three people scored highly, and within three points of each other. The other two scored much lower. I did well and I thought I knew why. After class, I checked: sure enough, the high scorers had all studied French before taking this class. Of the other two, one had never taken a foreign language and the other had studied German, which has little relationship to Spanish.
Interestingly, though, French also hurts. It seems that my brain has a compartment for English and a compartment for all other languages. I frequently find myself saying “des” instead of “unas” or “unos”. The word “les,” which is a definite article in French and a personal pronoun in Spanish, never fails to confuse me.
Most of all, taking Spanish has taught me that comprehension, especially when another language is helping me out, comes lightyears ahead of speaking. It’s frustrating, much like being trapped in a bubble, able to perceive the world but unable to engage with it. But hey, now I know how it feels to be a baby! In January and February of this year, I’ll be switching back to French, living with a family in Rodez for a month or so as part of a work exchange program called Workaway. But I hope that sometime this year, be it over the holidays or next spring, I will have a chance to continue studying Spanish, because even though being four is great, I’m pretty excited to grow up.
***If you were wondering, this translates to “I know that the only way to eliminate laziness is to be very strict.” All I know is that the skit was about a ghost. If you’re confused, you’re in good company.
Jump to a Post
Welcome to Hawk Ridge
A Massive Migration
A Happy Birdthday
Photos from the Week
Visiting the Banding Station
A Watched Kettle Never Streams
Food, Part 1
The Big Picture
Last Weeks at the Ridge
Belize, Part 1
How to Look at Birds, A Guide (or: Belize, Part 2)
All Creatures Great and Small
Kids and Language, Again
More Photos from France
Food, Part 2
Building Nests in California
Please Do Not Pet the Woodpecker
Condors and Creatures in Big Sur
A Day at Hastings
I am a high school graduate taking a gap year before college. I’m interested in birds, biology, and the natural world, as well as history, foreign languages, writing, and reading.