Friday, November 7, 2008

Flashback: Sanibel and Sleezville

I had two jobs between my first two summers in Truckee. First, I worked on Sanibel Island in Florida at JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. My co-worker was great and we bonded very quickly, but in general the work atmosphere was eh. But I did learn a lot in the 6 months that I was there—mostly about the kind of leader I’d want to be later on. I gained a lot of field experience in a short amount of time because I did everything from bird surveys to netting fish to babysitting crocodiles. I won’t go into too much detail, but here are a few things that I wrote to friends about:

I’m back! After fleeing 5 days ago from Sanibel Island b/c of a mandatory hurricane evacuation, I’m back in my high class travel trailer. We just got electricity back late last night…I think our trailers might have been the only place left on the island without power. We spent the entire day yesterday cleaning up debris at the refuge and will have another day of it today.”

Hurricane Wilma, a category 3 with 75-80mph winds. I was just happy my trailer survived. If you hadn't noticed yet, natural disasters seem to follow me from job to job.

So, work at Ding Darling is picking up (just before I leave). The island is full of tourists…especially students on spring break. And it is definitely spring here! I spent the day last Friday walking/climbing/crawling through shit covered mangroves--flagging nests of pelicans, herons, and egrets. It was actually pretty cool. The downside: I got bird crap all over my new Stokes bins (aka binocs, binnies, knockers) and my brown shirt was white by the end of it all. The baby birds were cute though…if you like that naked old man/purple alien-like pelican baby look. Get all that? I’m also doing migratory bird surveys, snowy plover surveys, small mammal trapping (bait em, trap em, shave em, and let em go!), drift fences (caught 7 snakes in one day), and fish seining (had a huge algae fight with my boss and co-workers).”

The second job I took before heading back to Truckee was a avian survey position in Louisiana. I think I have the most interesting stories from this job, and I summed it up pretty well when I wrote mass emails to friends:

The boss man gave us some data sheets and GPS units, showed us the beginning of each transect in the middle of the National Forest, and took off for Arizona. So I’ll be hiking about 4 miles a day through thorns, swamp land, over fallen trees, etc. On my first evening survey I almost stepped on a water moccasin resting on some dead leaves. Rattle snakes are common too – “in these here parts”. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention the transects are near the military base--go the wrong way and you end up in the parts that say “Danger. Keep out. Unexploded Ammunition.” Go the OTHER wrong way and you end up on someone’s private property – we’ve found the land owners tend to carry guns. Oh, and its turkey hunting season.”

I went to High Island for the first time with a co-worker that spring. We worked all day, drove 4 hours or so to the Texas coast, and birded like mad for 12 hours, then went back home and worked some more. We had a great time, and I really loved High Island. There's not much to it, but you see lots of amazing birds in a short amount of time (its a migratory stopover hotspot). I went back again this past spring and I swear I could stay there for days, searching high in the trees for spring migrants. Unforntuanly, the island was hit hard this fall by hurricane Ike, so I'm not sure it will make a comeback by spring '09. I swear I ate the best burger in the world in a little place right on the coast--but I bet it's gone now.

Surveying birds in Louisiana: avoiding army dudes with guns, rednecks with guns, librarians with guns, and water moccasins with guns…no, that last part is not right. Location: Leesville (aka “Sleezeville”) home of the Fort Polk military base and drive-thru frozen spirits (yes, I said, alcohol, TO GO). Things to do: Shoot your trash, visit Walmart, and go to strip clubs. Best places to eat: The Wagon Master (aka “The Wagon Bastard”, huge burgers AND you can throw peanut shells on the floor), The Crawfish Shack (I have yet to try this out, I’ll let you know), and of course, Dot’s Southern Flava (smallest amount of southern fried catfish you can get for $10 and the service was spectacular). Note the sarcasm on that last place. (Sarcasm from me? That’s crazy.)”

I went to the Crawfish Shack this past spring when I revisited Leesville to learn telemetry techniques. I’m not really a fan of crawfish—something about the smell, and the amount of work that had to go into it just to get a tiny bit of meat. And the piles of dead carcasses that were left. Hmm. Honestly I never thought I’d go back to Leesville for any reason—but it’s only a 4 hour drive from where I live in College Station now. It was definitely the craziest job I’ve ever taken, but probably because I stopped trying to fight the urge to be in Truckee every year. Here's one more:

So, if I’m not tormenting water moccasins with sticks and taking their picture, I’m being chased by blind, deaf, and dumb opossums (although they MAY take over the world someday), being followed by lost puppies, or running into naked campers on my transects. Between surveys the guys and I like to spend our time reading or watching Days of Our Lives at the bunkhouse (/It’s the only TV channel we get!) And, after extensive research our crew has decided that we are not only located in one of the poorest states in the U.S. (On the news: Surprise! We’re poor!) BUT it’s also listed as the 2nd most dangerous state (crime wise, see the gun part in paragraph 1). Nevada is #1 most dangerous. Just for your information. North Dakota is the safest. Go figure.”

Like I said, I got all my best stories from this job, and it only lasted two months. By the end of it, I simply couldn’t wait to get back to Truckee—the mountains and lakes, old friends, and of course the adorable Willow Flycatchers.


anw said...

As fun as water moccasins with guns sound (hee hee), I would also prefer the wifls!

Oh, and I think the phrase "dead carcasses" may be a little redundant. But that's ok, you really drove that point home.

Lisa said...

Good point. But I'm going to leave it like that, just to annoy you! It was late, ok?!

anw said...

Love the new blog picture! ;)

Johnny Nutcase said...

fancy new blog, yo. like it. and i like the cottonmouth photo - sweet! those guys are scary!