When it rains, it sprinkles

It’s incredible how marked the difference in climate is with only a few hours of driving distance from the coast. For all of the days I spent dancing in the rain of Newport, I am now tanning in the endless sunshine of Oregon’s central valley. Of course, there are very logical geographic reasons for this–crossing the mountains one is already very aware of the new conditions that lie on the other side. However informed you may be, the body is still always in shock, helplessly succumbing to the new environmental pressures. Within a few days, I had already forgotten what rain felt like, the scents of dampened soil were nothing but a memory, and I suddenly feared of melting if a drop were to miraculously fall on me.

And then, in the blink of an eye, came the rain. It only lasted a day and a half, but while it poured it seemed like an endless affair. Here at the cabin we watched the skies beyond the tree tops anxiously, awaiting to learn of our fate for the next field day. In my coastal spirit, I ventured out into the storm on my bicycle, trying to brave the cold for a quick workout. I quickly learned how weakened my defenses were–within minutes I was a freezing mess. I must have looked like a street dog with its tail between its legs. The land has long since recuperated: the few drops that did hydrate an over-parched landscape were quickly absorbed. The community, however, was still recovering from the phenomenon. Even until now, it is the talk of the town. At the grocery store yesterday, the cashier exclaimed how unexpectedly early the rains started this year. Anyone from the Coast would chuckle–what’s the harm in a little rain?

Dramatized reactions set aside, the rain does have a very real implication for our work. Rains makes it quite difficult to safely extract birds from mist nets. Their feathers get wet and don’t slide off of the netting easily, putting the bird at risk of getting too cold. On days with a slight bit of rain, all field operations shut down and we have to wait it out. The next morning involved a lot of sitting around the cabin discussing whether or not the periodic pauses in the storm made is feasible to open up nets for an hour or two. The risk was deemed too high–many of our sites are at least 40 minutes of a drive away, and it can take about 30 minutes to set up the site once we arrive. In the process of simply preparing to capture and collect data on birds we were likely to meet face-to-face with a wet situation.

So what do Field Technicians do on a rainy day? We recover from weeks of data collection by finally entering data and then prepare for another couple of weeks of furious data collection. My colleagues spent a few hours meticulously typing in data and I helped where I could with editing some sheets, drying materials, and stocking our kit for the upcoming days in the field.

Meanwhile, I also snuck in a cooking session of camping food and loaded the car. We were setting off to an overnight-session in a site behind a wildlife refuge. This means that we drive out the afternoon prior to the banding session, camp in a small grassy area next to the maintenance parking lot, and wake up the next morning to walk past rehabilitated lions and bears on our way to the site before the crack of dawn. It’s ironic to think that these animals are in cages, secured away from the public, yet we are walking towards the back country where they roam freely. I often take a peak through the fences to attempt facing my fears of large mammals. The bears don’t seem to pay me any mind–they’re too busy scratching their backs against the trees–but the low roar of the mountain lion never puts my nerves at ease. The chances of running into one in the field are close to none, but I still make a small prayer that the upcoming site visit won’t be a first.

Braving the rain was worth it. The mist and dampened weather made it a slow day for us, but we caught site of many migrating species at the site. The Cedar Waxwings are in full swing right now, and we happened across a Western Tanager and a Common Yellowthroat. In the distance we could hear the calls of a Red-shouldered Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks, while an unidentified raptor (possibly a Cooper’s Hawk) soared overhead. Rain or not, the birds are still moving, and so are we in our quest to understand and protect them.

Bird on!

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