Field assistants make the world go ’round

By far the biggest reason that this field season has gone as well as it has is that I have had absolutely fantastic field assistants. Field assistants do much more than simply “assisting”—although that alone is important: I could not take my color-standard photographs alone, I would have trouble setting up a mist net alone, and it would take me much longer to process each junco alone, meaning more stress for the bird.

Jennifer recording data as I measure SSOA

Anthony being a human mist net support where the ground was too hard to put stakes in

But most importantly, field assistants do the same thing that researchers do: they face the challenges of ever-unpredictable field work and say “Let’s try putting the net here” and “What if you made a decoy junco?” and “If we drive back to that town, I can get wi-fi and download a junco song to use as playback” and “I’m pretty sure that snake isn’t venomous.” They chase juncos into the net when you aren’t in the right position. They find nests. They are gratifyingly horrified when you manage to injure yourself with your own glasses.

My totally unimpressive field injury

Field work could not happen without them, they are awesome, and here they are:

Part-time field assistants

Charles is studying American Dippers, a.k.a. “water oozles”. He came on one trip to gain experience handling birds, and remained in good spirits even after the river claimed his iPhone.

Charles with a female Western Tanager

Alison is about to move to England to study jackdaws. She, too, came on one trip to gain birdy experience, and woke up even earlier than the rest of us did every day to go on long runs. Crazy person.

Alison with a female Wilson’s Warbler

When circumstances conspired to leave me with fewer field assistants than I needed, my dad came in on short notice to be a field assistant for one trip. Somehow he completely evaded my camera, so he will be represented by an awesome picture he took on that trip:

Leaping pika butt. Photo by M. LaBarbera

Full-time field assistants

Anthony has worked on butterflies and birds, but his real love is herps (reptiles and amphibians). He is back to working on butterflies for his senior year, then planning to do very cool-sounding things with herps in grad school. He seemed to like the birds best when they bit him.

Anthony with a Brown Creeper

Anthony with a male Golden-crowned Kinglet

Anthony with a female Western Tanager

Hillary life-guarded when she wasn’t out in the field with me, and is probably the reason that I don’t have a bigger scar on my nose. On her week off from field work, she went camping. She is continuing to work on birds this fall, although not with me; I’m hoping that the juncos and I have turned her into an ornithology addict, but given how happy she was when we found that giant gopher snake, I’m not sure yet.

Hillary with an American Robin, one of her favorite birds

Hillary with a gopher snake

Birds, Hillary! You’re supposed to be thinking about birds!

Jennifer spent our nap breaks chasing lizards. She was working on hermit crab behavior and photographing the Museum’s nest collection while she was also being my field assistant; now she’s started a birdsong project for the fall, she’s still working with the hermit crabs, and she’s pursuing scientific illustration. Another crazy person.

Jennifer with an alligator lizard

Jennifer with an American Robin

Jennifer with a Song Sparrow

To all of you: THANK YOU!

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