Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 4, 2011

Terrible, horrible, no good…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:20 pm
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It was a perfect day. Tricia and I were hiking through Eagle Park, the remote corner of Arches, looking for raptor nests. Everything about this spring day was exceptional, even though we couldn’t find eagles. We found petroglyphs, an ancient archeological site, exceptional wildflowers blooming, bobcat tracks, a prairie falcon, a red-tailed hawk, a kestrel. Just being out on the search made the day a complete joy.

La Sal Mountains framed by the Marching Men

And then I lost the park’s GPS.

It is an old and well-used one, loaded with waypoints for every single raptor nest in the park, as well as the 45 flags for the breeding bird census, numerous archeological sites, parking areas, and routes. It is the brains of the whole bird operation. And it fell out of my pocket today.

We spent an hour using Tricia’s newly-learned tracking skills (to search for lost people) retracing our every step. If it had dropped into a sandy wash we would have found it. If it slipped into the morass of tumbleweed, we certainly gave it our best college try, but no glint of plastic could be seen anywhere.

My boss couldn’t have been more kind. She did not utter one negative word to me, nor scold, nor even imply that I should have been more careful. I was the one beating myself up, knowing exactly what I ought to have done differently, wishing I could turn back the clock to our lunch stop when I last had it in my hand.

I’m ready to buy the park a new one, and spend my own free time entering a few hundred latitude and longitude numbers by hand. But still… it hurts to know that my carelessness is behind it all.

Leave a comment: Have you ever lost anything of great importance?

April 16, 2011

Eagle Park, Part 2

Continued from Eagle Park, Part 1

My eye drifted to tall fins about a half mile east. I squinted. Something was different on top, and I lifted my binoculars. A raptor shape! I had found a perched raptor! You may think that is a “so what” statement, but when you work with a skillful and accomplished birder who sees every speck in the sky (even while driving) and every bump on the rocks, you despair of EVER seeing something before she does. Tricia had predicted that this moment would come, and we exchanged a high-five and then set up the spotting scope to see what raptor it might be.

Spotting scopes magnify the image 30, 45, 60 times... invaluable when birding

The distance made it difficult. We could tell it wasn’t black like a raven, but it gave us no further clues. It sat stock still — for a half hour. Meanwhile, my keen-eyed boss sighted a flying raptor and we lay back on the rock to keep it in our binocs. A handsome Red-tailed Hawk circled effortlessly, peering earthward frequently… and then began an aerial display, rising, diving, rising again, tucking his wings, plunging, over and over again… then drifting north until our eyes lost the speck he had become.

I had given up on the unmoving bird to the east, concluding that it must have been a raptor-shaped rock taunting me, but as I turned my attention to it it took off. Its rufous tail caught the afternoon sun and all the pieces suddenly fit together. She had been the audience for whom the flight display was intended. We had a pair! In my business, a pair is a wonderful thing, and may lead you to a nest if you’re in the right place at the right time.

What a day. Our tiredness only added to the sublime sense of satisfaction we felt. Five hours in Eagle Park was a restorative for our souls; I’ll be back.

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 

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