One thing I like about field work is that it forces me to sit still. Most of us, myself included, spend most of our lives looking at our phones, computers, e-readers, tablets, TVs, etc. However, for the last couple of days I’ve been unable to do that.
My task in graduate school is to discover exactly how the noise we produce affects our feathered friends. Specifically, I’m looking at how the noise from gas compressors might affect Eastern Bluebirds’ ability to find food, detect predators, and raise young. Today that meant playing noise to a box with babies in it and counting how many times their parents fed them. That involved sitting in a chair in a field for four hours never taking my eyes off these birds. This was my view:
It sounds like relatively dull work. Sometimes it is.
Yesterday, however, I was reminded of the value of sitting still. I had been in the field for about three and a half hours, and I was feeling it. My eyes were tired from looking through binoculars, sweat was running down my back, and despite my sunscreen I was getting a sunburn I can still feel. I was watching the box waiting for the parents to return when I noticed one of the chicks sticking out of the box. That’s not totally unusual, and I assumed it was waiting for a meal from its parents.
Then suddenly, without warning, the chick flew to the nearest tree.
By the time I had processed what had just happened, the second chick was ready to follow. I managed to snap one photo before it followed its sibling. Finally, the third chick took wing.
By some miracle of timing, I had seen a first flight. I know it was a first flight because once these chicks leave the nest, they never go back. Either they don’t fly and can’t get back, or they do fly and have no reason to.
It made me realize the value of sitting still and watching the world around me. If I’d been at home on my laptop, those chicks still would have flown that morning, and I would have missed it. Instead, I saw the culmination of weeks of choosing a territory, nest-building, laying eggs, incubating, and ceaselessly feeding these babies. The fact that three chicks survived the cold snaps and heavy rains of the last few weeks tells me how much effort these birds put in. Seeing the chicks go out into the world made me appreciate that as a wildlife researcher, I get the opportunity to experience nature in a way almost no one else can. It also made me wish I had spent more time in a beautiful setting just observing what happened in the natural world.
That first flight ruined the last twenty minutes of my trial, but it made my day.