Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 7, 2011

Breeding Bird Census #1

Kathryn listens for birdsong at dawn, with the La Sal Mountains as a backdrop

0445 came early. My eyes opened to see the green numbers on the alarm clock, and I pushed myself to a sitting position. Rubbed the sleep from my eyes, threw on uniform and fleece layers, ate my Cheerios and strawberries, drank tea, grabbed my full pack and a flashlight, and headed down the pitch-black road to meet my boss at the truck.

We had to be at the census plot 30 minutes before sunrise, and it’s about a 40-minute drive to get there; that makes these census days start very, very early. As we watched the La Sal Mountains become silhouetted by the pre-dawn light behind them, we knew that NOBODY in a cubicle in corporate America would be having a better day than ours.

Sol's first rays hit the Entrada sandstone fins of Devils Garden. Photo by Tricia.

Mission: to discover what breeding birds inhabit our census plot near Devils (sic) Garden. (Excuse the digression, but I think it’s a government plot to rid the English language of apostrophes!)

Forty-five pinflags mark a grid, with 100 meters separating each. My task is to walk the entire circuit once a week for ten weeks, clipboard in hand, stopping three minutes at each flag. Any bird I see or hear must be coded onto the data sheet according to its behavior and sex, if known. The entire census will take me one day weekly to gather data and record it on species maps. Sighting clusters will indicate that birds are nesting in the plot; if I always see a pair of Juniper Titmice at G3, for example, there’s got to be a nest nearby.

This is going to be one of my much-loved tasks this season. A day spent in the shadow of mighty Entrada sandstone fins, with all senses heightened to take in every bird I can find, and nobody intruding on my solitude…

Today’s photos taken by Tricia, nature photographer extraordinaire. I left my camera at home on purpose so I could concentrate on birds.

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