I am going to write about two things in this post. Two things because I am compelled.
the poor feathered things have
but then this blog, and my research as well, results from compulsion
I visited the fire cut yesterday. This was the path cut by the firefighters in 2008 to provide an escape route while they battled the brushfire that had been started by a hot pan lifted off a campfire and placed on the ground.
All you want to be
The plants have retaken the path.
is part of the fire
It was hard going, to get down the cut to the edge of the fire, and I felt badly for pushing through the brush.
All you want to be
However, I needed, was compelled, to go down there one more time.
is the fire part
I also, of course, encountered poison oak. And monkeyflower (Mimulus arantiacus). I was, in fact, trapped in a sea of monkeyflower which was lovely and disconcerting at the same time. It is a group of plants that my grandfather first taught me to identify. It is also a group for which very interesting research on genetics and evolution is being done, even at this moment (click here for more)
burn, crackle in the fire,
There are still some burned and dead remains of plants but they are interwoven with the living. There are is also the hosing, and metal fragments I saw the very first time I came down the hill. Burnt rocks and ash.
burn, crackle for my need!
The quail have been on the path too—I found a track, of course. I think, perhaps, they’ve been everywhere.
A Bird came down
Walking, always walking.
And how must that feel to be such a small animal, with wings, and to walk the hills?
one of the forms of my dreams was you, who, like me, are many and no one
I watched the Cooper’s hawk strike. I heard the distress cry then all fell silent.
I watched the Cooper’s hawk perch and all fell silent.
Whether the birds will waken is still uncertain
I’ve been reacting to what seems like people implicitly misunderstanding what I am doing down here—moment by moment and in the big picture as well. I feel indignant and it feeds both my anxiety and my sense of isolation.
However, I realized, that I, perhaps, have not explained myself very well. Perhaps I need to be clear about what field work with California quail entails.
the gaps left within us
At least I might try to give you a sense of what it entails to do this brief stint of field work.
by the secrets of others
I will try that here.
amid the streaks of let me
I have made clear, I believe, my own obsession with this group of species. I may come back to that but suffice it to say that I am driven to learn more, uncover more of Derrida’s trace, of this group of birds.
in and let me in
When I started working on my dissertation, when I was first learning how to work with the quail, I discovered that they were not like perching birds. This may seem like a silly thing—of course they are not passerines—but it means a totally different approach to trapping. And, because they are not territorial, because they daily exploit different locations of a site, because the pattern of locations they visit might vary, they require a particular approach to timing and location of trapping and a particular approach to observations.
I discovered that there had been far fewer people than I would have expected who had actually, recently, done behavioral work on these birds. Part of this was because a couple of researchers had not published their work yet but another part was because a handful of behavioral researchers had tried and given up working on these birds because they were too difficult (I, luckily, learned this after I’d gotten some handle on the trapping).
So, here, roughly, is what a day is. Up and out at first light. Traps set. Wait. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to take observations at this time. This depends upon where I’m trapping and whether there is a good spot for observations. In Poison Oak Gulch, where I’ve been trapping recently, there is no good spot because the birds rest in the brush and forage in an overgrown field where they move through dried vegetation that is twice as tall as the top of their heads.
I usually check the traps every 30-45 minutes. So…check traps. Remove towhees or jays or doves. Or quail. If there are quail, I put them in bird bags and carry them over to be processed. Processing takes up to 15 minutes per bird. This is what it is: band birds (3 celluloid 1 metal band), measure tarsus with calipers, measure beak dimensions with calipers, measure wing dimensions and crest with wing rule. Count crest feathers. For adult males, measure tan, black and brown patch height with wing rule. Examine moult. For juveniles, count moulted and growing primary and secondaries. Take blood, take photo, take mass using a pesola spring scale. Release where trapped. Then there is calling.
Then I wait another 30-45 minutes. While I wait, I take notes on observations or, even when I cannot see what is going on, vocalizations. I wait and get bitten by ants and flies fly in my ears and buzz
I heard a Fly buzz
I also, if I can see the traps, get to watch quail walk around and around or start in only to be startled away by a squirrel calling. Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) go in the traps as do cottontails (Sylvilagus audubonii). They eat the seed and kick it out so the quail can eat it as they walk around. They block the entry with their butts.
I watch the greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
I think I hear a squill call but then realize it is the Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottis).
Sometimes I walk the site and look for signs.
This is all assuming I’ve set up a system for trapping on the site—that I’ve a sense of the place to lay the traps and when to set them. Things are different if it is a new site, if the pattern has changed.
I work this way through the morning, until 10 right now; though in the fall, winter and spring, the timing changes. I take a break midday (after running the traps all day for a day or so to make sure I’m not missing anything) then start it all over in the mid-late afternoon. I work then until dusk. I cannot trap after dusk because I do not want to release birds at dark. I can take observations, which I do.
When I’m doing field work—I can’t do normal things. I can’t be normal. I get dirty and scraped and bloody; bitten and I cannot understand what people say to me. I have to be in it, try to be a part of it—the nature (and I don’t mean Nature capital N which is out there because these spaces are all around us and we are in it, we just think we are not). It is connection—it takes work to get this connection—it is sight sound smell taste touch. It is hot and frustrating and I feel crazy but also I feel that connection that exists nowhere/noway else–and I get a glimpse into something, little flashes.
These bits of vision are there for the work.
I notice you
For a moment
quotes are by HD, Emily Dickinson, Bill Callahan, Nicholas Abraham, Joyelle McSweeney, Ella M. Sexton, Jorge Luis Borges, Inger Christiansen