Terns and Plovers!

The past week has been very busy! I logged about 53 hours last week and it’s looking about the same for this week. We have been getting steadily busier since the plover chicks started hatching and now we have terns all over the place!! They are feisty creatures that dive at you when you get too close to their nests and they will even poop on you as a defense mechanism. I got pooped on for the first time today; luckily it was just on my foot.

Today was an exciting day because instead of doing the normal nest searching biz I was able to spend the day trapping and banding terns. We set up the nets, which are spring-loaded “bow nets”, around the targeted nest. They are triggered to swing the net over the bird by remote control, sort of like the plover traps I talked about in the previous post. But before setting up the trap we trade the real eggs out for decoy eggs (I felt like Indiana Jones every time I did this) and put them in a padded ziplock container so they don’t get damaged by the struggling bird. Once the net is set and ready to go we wait in the blind for the bird to sit back on the nest then trigger the trap. Pretty simple. Except that terns are not too bright…a lot of the time they can’t figure out where their nest is because the trap confuses them. They think, “oh, this thing wasn’t near my nest before, so this must not be where my eggs are”, and they then proceed to wander around for 30 minutes trying to figure out what happened. It’s pretty funny when the mate comes to “help” look for the nest and both birds wander around confused. A lot of the time we are able to trap the birds, but we are also under time constraints so if the tern can’t find it’s nest fast enough we have to abort.

It’s really cool getting to collect the birds from the traps and then release them! Soon I will get trained on how to band them too! I’m really excited for that part. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the trapping process because I left my phone at the house today, but next time I will snap a few pics.

After work I went swimming in the lake thing behind the house, it’s nice having a place to cool down after a long day in the sun. Today was 94 degrees which was a huge jump from last week’s 70, so I was sweating a lot.

Here is a smattering of pictures from the last week, they are a bit out of order:

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First sunset I have seen in a while, it’s been so cloudy and stormy most other nights.IMG_6815

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I made homemade pizza with wild cactus on top. I thought the cactus would be too hard to prepare, but then one of my coworkers let me borrow his blowtorch to get all the spines off. That was more fun than eating the pizza.  IMG_6866IMG_6870 IMG_6865

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I thought this cloud looked a little like Godzilla. (you gotta look close)

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Why does it have to be snakes? This is a bull snake that was going to eat the baby plovers. He was angry we interrupted his lunch and let us know by hissing and striking.IMG_6828

This is a screen shot of a video I got while out camera trapping. I believe I sent part of the actual video to baby Golden via text. IMG_6818

The babies are very small and make little noises like the baby dinosaur hatching in the lab on Jurassic Park.

The Mighty Platte River

A lot has gone on since the last time I posted on the blog. I took some more pictures with the work camera, saw a bull snake, saw my first plover chick, went plover trapping, went on a river survey, and went for a short “hike”.

I will just give a brief summary of each of those things then post some pictures at the end.

I went for a walk about a mile down the road from the house and took pictures of birds and a horse and some more cows. It was a nice day that day, but it was also windy…it’s always windy out here.

The bull snake we saw was in the middle of the dirt road right next to our house. I was driving and Staci (the lady that takes in animals) saw the snake and screamed when I drove over it!! I thought I hit a kid! She jumped out of the truck and luckily I had missed the snake so it was fine, just really mad. It jumped and struck at Staci a few times while she was trying to wrangle it. She threw her coat over it to catch it then put it in a pillowcase to relocate. (We don’t want snakes around the plovers).

My first plover chick I saw was during a routine grid search and we just saw a single wet chick in the nest with three other eggs. The chick had just hatched probably about an hour before we got there!

The next plover chicks I saw were while I was out plover trapping with my boss. It was just me and her that day, which made it more relaxing. We went to about 4 different sites that day and only caught one adult bird…the others were on to us. To trap a plover we identify the bird we are trying to catch, then when that bird is on the nest and snuggled in, we go set a trap on the nest (the bird gets up and does it’s broken wing display). The trap is a circle cage with a trap door that is triggered by a remote control that we have. Once the trap is set we go hide in a pop-up blind and watch through a scope for when the bird enters the cage to sit back on the nest (some birds aren’t very smart). Once on the nest we trigger the door to close! Then we go grab the bird and re-band it if it’s bands are old or put new bands on if it was previously unmarked. The one we caught had bands, but we couldn’t re-band it because it was banded by the Virginia Tech people and they do their own thing. We couldn’t catch the bird’s mate, which is the one we were after. However, we were able to catch some chicks on a different nest and band those. They were very cute and little and soft. I loved them! We should get even more chicks this week!!

Today, I went on a river survey with the PRRIP people. They go on a survey 2x a month and one USGS tech goes with them to gather data about the terns and plovers nesting on the river. It was my turn today! Today we floated down the Platte River in little motorized canoes. It was a chilly morning and we didn’t see too many birds, only 7 terns in flight and no new nests; so it was a pretty easy day. We just floated along and looked at birds! I saw lots of bald eagles! A ways down the river the trees get so dense on either side that you can’t see through them; pines, cottonwoods, and others that smell sweet like lilacs and the bird songs echo like in a forest canopy. I saw a couple of homes on the river bank, they were quaint and reminded me of Huckleberry Finn. The river is so high right now that the water was going right up to the front door, but the river people seem to work around it. One house had a porch on short stilts built over the river complete with christmas lights and patio furniture. I wasn’t able to take too many pictures on the river because my phone was buried in my dry bag for safety. I did snag a few of the Platte. She’s a very wide river.

After work I went into Kearney to grab some more vegetables. On my way to the grocery store I stopped at Cottonwood Recreation Area. It was a nice park with a decent trail system that I think I will try to run on the weekends. I went for a little “hike” there, and I could smell some familiar mountain smells which was nice. I even saw some imitation stinging nettle. I also got my first tick! Luckily it was just on my shirt, so I flicked it off and went on my way.

And those are the highlights! It turns out I don’t have as much time to write as I thought I would; lots of long days. I’m averaging 10 hour days everyday, and sometimes more, I’m getting a nice tan though. I will try to update once a week, that seems like it might be better for me.

Here are the pictures from the last week or so!

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That last photo is of a butterfly in my hand

Nebraskaland

So today we visited 4 sites and I took over the job of photographer again. I am still not very good, but I am getting better. I took some photos of some non-plovers and after work I took the camera out to practice around the neighborhood. Here are some of those photos.


DSC_0167belted kingfisher

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herd of cattle (lots of cows out here)

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cute little house on the prairie

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red-tailed hawk sillouette

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baltimore oriole (these are super pretty, I hope to get a better picture soon)

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another of the oriole. If you click on each picture a larger, better resolution version should come up…

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dandelions

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killdeer chick looking wistfully into the river

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mama plover being a good mama (they to a broken wing act to lure predators away from the nest)

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least tern

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another proud cow

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fence line

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robin in a corn field

Rain, Canoes, and Plovers

It has been a pretty crappy weather week. We aren’t allowed to monitor the birds during any kind of precipitation, even a slight sprinkle; it stresses out the plovers and keeps them off their nests when they should be sitting on them. It’s frustrating when it’s bad weather, it costs me money. We ended up getting a late start today due to rain and even thought about not going out at all, but there was a break in the rain so our crew split up. Me and two other girls went to a site called cottonwood to nest search, while the others went to other sites to search. We were expecting the road to cottonwood to have been washed out by the river, but we had a canoe and lifejackets with us, so it was just going to be fun! We weren’t expecting a long paddle, but it turned into quite the event. The other girls were a bit nervous about putting the canoe in, but I was ready to go! But its hard moving the canoe by myself. We got the canoe in the mighty Platte and paddled across safely. All that paddling in the Tetons prepared me for today, I was the only one who knew how to steer! We did our work and when we got back to the canoe the water had already risen a few feet, so we had to wade through a cold marsh to get back to the river. It was a fun adventure and we made it out without a scratch, just some soggy shoes.

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I was also in charge on taking photos today while searching and re-sighting birds. Here are a couple of photos that turned out on the work camera.

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If you can zoom in on the left pic you can see the little bird’s full band combination and number. That was my best picture!

We inputted data for the day and our boss got us pizza! So it turned out to be a good full day of work after all!

Week 1

It has been a busy week! I haven’t been updating the blog as often as I hoped.

Monday I had to go through some training for the job, I learned how to drive defensively and had to take a few quizzes about how not to let viruses get on the computer. Then I got trained on how to do data entry for the job. There is a lot that goes in to studying plovers and terns! We have to keep a record for each nest we find and update it twice a week about how the nest is doing: are the eggs missing, are there new eggs, is an adult present?, etc. Also we have to keep logs about each visit to each site and the birds we re-sight. We enter all that data twice for USGS, then we enter it again for an agency out here in Nebraska that conducts plover studies too. They are called Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP). So I learned all the ins and outs of data entry on monday. Sometimes the data entry after a field day can take 2+ hours!! I expect it to take longer once the terns start nesting!

Tuesday I went to a mine safety course and learned how to be safe around a conveyer belt…mostly stuff that doesn’t apply to us, but we had to get certified because one of our sites is on an active gravel mine. After that we sat through a first aid course. That was a 10 hour day!

Wednesday we were back in the field! And since I was all trained up I was able to be the record keeper for most of the sites and also I re-sighted a few birds! I feel like I’m pretty good at it! However it’s always super windy out here and that makes using the scope/tripod setup frustrating; the wind jiggles the scope and makes looking at the tiny legs difficult.

The next two days were about the same, more re-sighting birds and more updating nest records. Long 10 hour days. We did see a few terns on Friday so hopefully this coming week we will have some new nests to count! These are least terns:

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Yesterday was Saturday. I went to a yoga class in Kearney and later went into Grand Island to see what it’s like. Grand Island is not so grand. I won’t be making a second trip. They had a mall there, but it had a JC Penny, a Dillards, and a Yonkers (whatever that is). Oh and a Victoria’s Secret. My coworker wanted to go to Grand Island just for that…I should have known things would be bleak when the only thing to do in town was go to the VS. I ended up driving back to Kearney, disappointed in the gas I wasted. But once I got back to Kearney I met up with my boss and a lady from PRRIP to watch a snake eat a live mouse! The PRRIP lady ( her name is Staci) had lots of animals at her house! She had 4 cats, 2 bunnies, 2 huge mastiffs, 2 snakes, and 2 turtles. She is a certified wildlife rehabilitator human so she frequently takes in hurt or lost animals. The other night she had a coyote pup! I’m sad I wasn’t able to make it out and see it.

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That’s me holding a snake that just ate a mouse. That is Dante the bobtail cat.

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These dogs are named Pookie and Chewie. They were very friendly!

Today I woke up and went for a run. When I got back there were firefighters outside the house about to start a controlled burn so I decided to pack a little picnic and head out to avoid sitting in smoke all day. I ended up at Johnson Lake state park. I hung out by the lake and read my book for a few hours before heading back to the house. It was a nice little park…not amazing. I think Utah spoiled me as far as state and national parks go, so it takes more than a man made lake to wow me. But it was a peaceful afternoon at any rate.

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I guess that’s a quick rundown of my week. I will try to be better this coming week about updating.

Oh and the sunsets out here are quite nice

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The House

The house that I live in overlooks a small lake area and some sandbars. The sandbars are one of our 7 plover nest sites that we monitor. The house has 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. 3 bedrooms have their own bathrooms, but since I got here late I share a bathroom with one other person. It’s ok though. And I get a cool room in the upstairs loft that overlooks the lake.

This is a frog i saw on the porch this morning. It was very strong and kept escaping from me.

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Looking west at the house (that orange net is where the garden is) and you can kind of see the sandbar plover nest site.

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View from the porch and looking east. (That window on the top left is my room).

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Looking down the road from the house (east then west)

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Walkway on the west side of the house and the really nice washer and dryer!

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Living room and stairs leading up to my room and the office.

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Upstairs where we do data entry. And the open door at the end is my room.

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View from the office and my room.

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More of my room and the kitchen. (you can’t see it, but there are two fridges. And at the end of the kitchen and to the left is the bathroom).

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Saturday #1

Today has been quiet around the house. It has been raining since early this morning. The winds have been howling most of the day, but I don’t think a tornado is likely. If there is a tornado, we have a bunker under the house that we can crawl into. It’s kind of neat! But my boss said that she has only physically seen 1 tornado close to the house since she’s been here (2009). But she has seen others in different parts of the state.

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I went into Overton and bought a couple of things at an antique store.

I made a burrito and watched a movie with my coworkers.

A chair blew across our porch. Dad would like the lightning storm we had tonight. Lit up the whole sky! over and over again!

Those are the highlights from today. I ordered a cord online to upload photos off the camera, so hopefully that gets here soon so I can share those!