Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 16, 2011

Eagle Park, Part 1

The old stick nest was in a large hollow in the sandstone fin. Its shape was vaguely bowl-like, and there was whitewash everywhere, but it didn’t look as if it had had recent occupants. We’d hiked a couple of rugged miles off trail to reach it, on the most perfect of spring days — sunny, 60 degrees, 4 mph wind. Conditions were as flawless as they can get in the Utah desert, and to top it off we were in Eagle Park.

Russian Thistle -- "tumbleweed" -- is an invasive species that is the bane of our existence here. Each one has hundreds of thorns. I always wear long pants.

Let me paint a picture of this far northwest corner of Arches. Nobody goes to Eagle Park. There are no trails, and only one little-traveled dirt road passes through Salt Valley. It is deceptively plain-looking from that road, contrasting starkly with the bold and eye-catching formations for which Arches National Park is famous. There is little to demand your attention — until you get past two ridges and a tumbleweed-choked wash. And then…

… you’re in another world. The striking sandstone fins from Devils Garden reach their northern terminus here, and valleys and vistas open before you. Silence pervades everything. How last year’s intern had ever discovered this nest is a complete mystery, as it is about as far off the beaten path as any in the park. My job this year is to visit as many of the previously-documented raptor nests as I can, to evaluate each for current condition and activity. I’m living my dream.

to be continued in Eagle Park, Part 2 

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.

February 17, 2011

Nine good reasons why I blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:39 am
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Sunset at Devils Garden, Arches NP

In no particular order:

. My memory is indisputably faulty, so I want a detailed written record of my national park adventures.

. It provides a context for sharing my favorite current photos. Not everybody has Facebook.

. My family and friends want to keep track of my adventures, and  be able to respond.

. I believe the written word has powerful influence.

. I process information far more completely if I have to tell it in story form, succinctly and colorfully. I come to know myself better as I write.

. I want to inspire others to pursue their lofty dreams by showing them how satisfying it is to pursue mine.

. It’s excellent discipline to practice writing. I get better as I do it. It is gratifying to find just the right turn of phrase to describe my adventures and observations.

. I’m a big fan of the national parks, and want to share my wonder-struck-ness.

. I’ll never write a novel. A few paragraphs at a time is just right.

If you blog, journal, keep a diary, or write novels… leave a comment about your motivation for doing so.

April 29, 2010

This windy day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:34 pm
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Turret Arch, The Windows -- not on our hike

Yesterday my daughter and I hiked 7.2 miles in sustained 40-mph winds in the exposed Devils Garden area of Arches National Park. Definitely challenging, definitely less fun than on a calmer day, but it made for fewer people with whom to share the trails. I even wore wrap-around clear eye protection over my glasses and didn’t care what it looked like, but only that my eyes didn’t get blasted. Much of the time we couldn’t talk, as opening one’s mouth even slightly invited airborne sand to find its way in. Still, when we found protected coves in which to eat a clementine, almonds or an energy bar, our discussion centered on only the beauty around us and the amazing panorama that we were privileged to experience.

Partition Arch & Ilsa

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