I’m down to the last week of my field season studying birds in Indiana. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of vegetation surveys. Sometimes doing veg work is fun because you get to work with a partner and fulfill the lifelong dream you had of swimming in rose bushes. This year we learned some basic tree identification, which was pretty interesting. I now know the difference between red oaks and white oaks. I also can tell dogwoods apart from sycamores, which is a pretty impressive feat. Sometimes trying to identify a tree can be quite annoying when the tree is 70,000 feet high and you can’t see any of the leaves. Beech trees are easy to pick out because they like to whack you in the face with their branches as you walk around. Sweetgums are interesting trees because when you crush the leaves, they give off a citrus-like fragrance.
This year we gave a crappiness rating for our veg plots. This was done for fun and to see what kinds of birds like to nest in complete junk. Usually I can tell if a plot is going to be miserable by the birds I hear. Blue-winged Warblers, White-eyed Vireos and Yellow-breasted Chats are a few of the birds you can find in dense, shrubby thorny areas. The worst thing that happens in these plots is when you have to measure leaf litter and shrub cover in a mess of rose, rubus, greenbriar and spicebush. Sometimes we literally had to crawl into the middle of a patch of thorns. I generally add points to the crappiness rating if I get stabbed by thorns, smacked by trees, tripped by logs or stung by nettle. One time, a hiker tripped over a log in my veg plot so I immediately added a point to the rating. Sometimes, we do get beautiful points where there are no thorns in sight and lycodpodium (mini living koosh balls) covers the ground. Then fawns come and lick your hand while birds are landing on your shoulder. At any rate, the season has been adventurous and I’ve had a lot of fun. There have definitely been moments where I was miserable, but the good has far outweighed the bad. I’m going to miss the birds and more importantly, my friends on the team. Excuse me now while I dream of taking a machete to some greenbriar.