Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 19, 2011

I found everything but raptors

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:31 pm
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Found this stone tool buried in a wash. Wonder what the drilled hole is for?

For the second day in a row, I had gotten up and dressed at 0420 to attempt a Breeding Bird Census but been rained out. Sighing, I realized that any day in a national park — even with inclement weather or sleep deprivation — is a good day.

We have a saying in my house about each day being a new treasure hunt… and it is. Today’s treasures:

  1. Copious amounts of broken bottles, bowls, plates, and rusty cans and pans in a wash nobody’s been in for eons. These looked like cowboy artifacts from the mid-20th century.
  2. A stone tool 97% buried in the wash where I was walking. Its smooth surface and milky texture alerted me that it was something “other,” so I extracted it from the sand and found what resembled a mano (grinding hand stone) with a hole drilled in one end. I have to ask the archeologist what this is.
  3. If I can't have my Minnesota lilacs, aromatic Cliffrose will certainly suffice. Note happy expression.

    Cliffrose in full bloom. This is a handsome plant with such an intoxicatingly beautiful aroma that I walk by one and am stopped in my tracks and must bury my face in the blossoms and breathe.

  4. Finding how fast I can sprint when a lightning storm arises suddenly and I’m 0.6 mile from my truck. I did not let that big backpack slow me down.
  5. A cottonwood tree outside my window alive with new birds at sunset: Western Tanagers, Wilson’s Warbler, Bullock’s Oriole.
  6. Discovering that my Columbia rain jacket is designed perfectly and functions superiorly in rainstorms.
  7. The spinach-zucchini-black-bean enchiladas I improvised for supper for my sweet guests. Vegetarian cooking is a delight.

What did I NOT find? Raptors of any sort. There’s always tomorrow…

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.

April 6, 2011

“Confident and with purpose”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:38 pm
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The top of Double O Arch, Arches National Park

I was striding up a wash with my boss just behind me this morning, somewhere between points D3 and D4 in our first Breeding Bird Census. Tricia announced, “I have a name for today’s blog post.” This, of course, made me extremely curious and I begged to know what it should be. “Confident and with purpose,” came the reply. A smile crossed my face on this seventh day of work. I was walking like someone who had a sense of what she was about, which was a significant change from last week’s fear and trembling about losing my way and being humiliated at having to be ‘found’ by my law enforcement colleagues.

Maybe it was the two-in-one-day “You’ve got to believe in yourself” admonitions I got. Maybe it was my increasing comfort with maps, GPS, and landmarks. Maybe it was just time for me to set aside my doubts and decide that I can do this. Regardless, today was a confidence-builder.

March 29, 2011

OOCZ — Out Of Comfort Zone

The GPS unit in my hand did not make sense. Why couldn’t the satellites point me in the right direction? Yes, I may be 94 feet from the next destination, but which way should I go?!? I heaved a sigh and followed Tricia, whose familiarity with our bird census plot put her at a distinct advantage. I was secretly hoping I’d catch on quickly. So was she.

Flagging the study plot for the breeding bird census

Welcome to my first day on the job. Baptism by fire may be a good way to learn a new skill, but it is exhausting. Our day was spent flagging a large plot of land within which our weekly bird census will take place. The waypoints for each flag were in my GPS, but our job was to put the small colorful pin flags in place so that I can come out to it during the census days and look and listen for birds in a recordable, orderly fashion. We got halfway done with the flags by the day’s end and I realized that my memory banks were overloaded with trying to remember how to get from point B-6 to point B-5 without trampling the biological soil crust or heading up the wrong wash.

Orange ribbon on twigs is better than a trail of bread crumbs. Thanks, Tricia.

I relished being in the backcountry, in the desert, in the spring air. I disliked the feeling of struggling with technology. Tricia is patiently teaching me route-finding and basic “how not to get lost” skills, but I can tell that they come naturally to her and she may not realize how differently my brain works. Still, as we navigate she is tying colorful plastic ribbons on juniper branches along the routes in order to keep me going in the right direction. This allows me to breathe more easily.

I’m having flashbacks to the first day of third grade. I was at a brand new school and turned the wrong way at an intersection walking home; as I walked and walked and walked, things looked less and less familiar. It got scarier and scarier that September day long ago, but I figured it out, and got home an hour late. Mom was wondering what was taking so long. I was just glad to have that terror behind me.

My ultimate mortification this season would be to radio Arches Patrol and report that I had no idea where I was.

Have you ever been lost and scared?

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