Friday, May 21, 2010

Where I Be

The BLM Shoshone District, ID

Fairfield, ID-- a fair field indeed...
Snake River Canyon
The large amount of cliffy, lava rock canyons that are scattered throughout the Snake River Valley (such as these) provide excellent nesting opportunities for Prairie Falcons, Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, and Ravens.  And indeed, Idaho has the largest concentration of nesting raptors in North America!  I always wondered why they put the raptor on our state quarter instead of a big, fat potato...

Snake River Canyon

Flowering Antelope Bitterbrush

There are four or five of these little dudes, but only one came out for me...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Back to the Birds

Dry Canyon
The desert is as green as Yellowstone was white.  All the plants, from the cheatgrass to the low larkspur to the antelope bitterbrush to the willows in the drainage bottoms, are putting their photosynthesis skills to use.  Many are displaying their brightly colored billboards, declaring to all passing insects that this is the best place to dine.   

Low Larkspur

A small scale predation event (pretend the ants are wolves and the beetle is an elk)
It feels great to be back in the sagebrush desert of Idaho; I have missed it greatly.  My position with the Idaho Bird Observatory has brought me to the BLM Shoshone District, where I spend my days scrutinizing canyons, power lines, and buttes for the nests of raptors, ie golden eagles, prairie falcons, ferruginous hawks, etc.  So far, I have only found one nest...that of a red-tailed hawk, but Heidi, my coworker who has been here for 1.5 months already, has found several, including golden eagle and prairie falcon nests.  It is an exciting time out in the real world (yes, the real world); all the birds are going nuts building nests, laying eggs, flirting with their boyfriends, incubating, and some are already feeding youngsters.  I am stoked to be observing it all happen.

Short-eared Owl
Our BLM diesel truck...very fun to drive.
My living conditions are nearly as plush as in Yellowstone.  We are staying in a six bedroom, three bathroom, three fridge bunkhouse with everything provided (even a washer and dryer).  I think I'm becoming a marshmallow biologist.

The super comfy, brand new couches with big screen TV
The kitchen, with Heidi demonstrating one of many uses of a kitchen table.
 It is also the case that I am living in an extremely beautiful area, that being Fairfield, ID.  With the Soldier Mountains to the north, the Bennett Hills to the south, and surround by the Camas is a fantastic area.

 More pictures to come....

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Subaru Tale

Every year, Outside Bozeman Magazine (one of the best local magazines I have ever read) runs a "Suby Tales" contest (this because Subaru is by far the most popular car in Bozeman; you are guaranteed, at the very least, three other Subaru's at every light that you stop at).  Two summers ago, during a field job searching for Mexican spotted owls in Zion National Park, something terrible happened to my Subaru.  This is the story I wrote for this years contest.  (The reply from the editor after I sent it:  "I have only two words: Holy sh**.")

A flash of light and an explosion repulsed the quiet of the desert.  Billowing flames and black smoke rippled against the towering canyon walls and lit up the dark, midnight sky.  Fully unaware of the distant blast and flare, my coworker, Steph, and I were miles away in a slot canyon, deep in sleep.  I wish I could say that I felt some odd feeling looming over me that night, some ominous foreboding or horrifying dream, but it was not so.  In fact, I slept very soundly. 

The work week in Zion National Park was much like all the others.  We parked my 1998 Suby under the only available shade at the Lee Pass Trailhead and headed down the dry, dusty trail winding through the pinyon-juniper woodland.  Forging our way off-trail through flesh snagging scrub thickets and leg-devouring flash-flooded mud, our mission was to locate Mexican spotted owls in the labyrinth of slot canyons in the park.  After hours of trudging and only hearing our own hoots echo through the canyon, an owl finally responded.  Our mission successful and our bodies completely exhausted, we flopped immediately into bed and passed out. 

Several miles away, back at the trailhead, my Subaru peacefully and patiently waited for our return.  There were no storm clouds that night, no lightning.  The heat of the day had passed, and only the midnight stars lit the cool desert.  But as the soft light of the morning arrived, a strange scene was revealed. 

I awoke refreshed that morning, completely ignorant to two sobering facts: I would never see my gear-packed Subaru again and we were stranded in the desert of Utah.  That very day, unbeknownst to us, my Suby would be hauled to a junk yard in some obscure Utah town.  We pushed on through the scrub, rocks, and heat; business as usual in search for our next owl.  The following day, during a sweaty hike in the searing heat, we entertained ourselves with thoughts of sleeping in a comfy hotel bed and inhaling glutinous amounts of greasy food after reaching the trailhead where I knew my Subaru would be waiting.

As we struggled up the final stone steps to the parking lot, I glanced over to see my blessed Subaru.  That's funny, I thought to myself, my car doesn't look like it’s must be behind another car.  Walking closer, I cried out to Steph; "My car is not here...!"  She didn’t believe me at first, but after looking up and scanning around, she entered the same state of bewilderment that had overcome me.  My darting eyes located the tree I had parked under.  No car.  My heart sank.  In place of my car, a black burned spot on the asphalt.  A sign on the no-longer-green, charred tree:  "Jesse DeVoe, Call Dispatch or the Kolob Visitor Center."  At the other end of the lot, I spotted a Boy Scout troop leader who was oblivious to any abnormal circumstance at hand.  With trembling voice, I said "it looks like my car burnt down...can I borrow a phone?”

When the previous morning’s veil of darkness had been lifted, a blackened, skeletal frame could be seen lying beneath a lone, half-charred tree.  The pavement was scorched and covered with ash.  Bits of metal and glass had been flung into the brush.  Melted aluminum and glass had oozed onto the asphalt.  The remains of my Subaru sat like the rotisserie-grilled carcass of a chicken, post-devourment by a famished family of four. 

What evil creature lurked under the veil of darkness that night?  What wicked spirit consumed not just my car, but also my laptop, back-up hard drive, two cameras, wallet, cell phone, many years of accumulated (and expensive) technical gear, and, most importantly, my mother’s homemade chocolate banana bread?  Had the Park Service finally exceeded their tolerance for those darned owl researchers?  Had anti-Spotted owl cronies at long last achieved their vengeance?  My Subaru had exploded, and I shall never know why.