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July 25, 2010 / stephanie

the perks of being a field biologist

So my 3 months working at Fort McCoy in Western Wisconsin are now over. I thought I would have more time to blog while I was there, but I guess I will just have to spend some time catching up now! I’m happy to be back at home in Madison but I will look back fondly at my time in the field and of course, look forward to my next time in the field! Even though, yeah, I haven’t quite figured out what I will be doing next year yet.

What’s so great about working such an unpredictable job where you often end up covered in scratches, sunburn and bug bites?

Let me tell you!

1. Peace and quiet. OK, I worked on military bases twice now so I can tell you it’s not always that quiet or peaceful. But you do get chances to get away from it all. Sometimes there might be some faint gunshots going off in the background, sure. But when you wander through the prairie or deep into the woods, it’s just you and nature. You don’t have to worry about being bombarded with emails or phone calls, just fresh air and bird songs.

solitude from stephanie on Vimeo.

An old train tunnel that has been converted as part of the Sparta-Elroy Bike Trail in Wilton, WI

Probably the largest bird I have ever posed with, at the Graveyard for Fiberglass Animals in Sparta, WI

Peace and quiet at Fort McCoy

2. Free Food. Not always a guarantee of course, but something I definitely benefited from this year. Late June brought tons of plump blueberries and blackberries and they were absolutely delicious!

3. Travel. I get to see fun parts of the state/country/world that I normally might bypass as a tourist. For instance, who knew that Sparta, Wisconsin has the largest cemetery for fiberglass animals (you know the huge ones you see at bizarre roadside attractions in the middle of nowhere!) When else am I going to be able to canoe the Kickapoo river or walk into a mile-long tunnel on the Sparta-Elroy Bike Trail? And did you know there’s a park in Texas where you can actually step in real fossilized dinosaur foot prints? Or how about, how would you feel about not just visiting the Amazon rainforest but sharing your accommodations with bats and baby owls, washing your clothes in a tributary of the Amazon river and swimming in lakes filled with caymans and piranhas?

4. A sense of adventure. Sometimes as I was walking through the army base looking for birds and butterflies, it would feel kind of like I was a kid again pretending to be an explorer in my own backyard. Except this time my backyard was much bigger. And the real US Army was following me! Ha, just kidding. There are some stories though that soldiers have accidentally kidnapped wildlife researchers, mistaking them as part of a military exercise! It almost happened to me, but I was able to explain what I was doing and everything was OK. Whew.

5. Discovery. You never know when you might discover something new, or at least witness something that not many other people get to see. Fort McCoy happens to be a huge reserve for a Federally Endangered species of butterfly, the Karner Blue. Since there are so many of them there, I had a few moments where one would land on my finger and lick the salt off my skin. Here I am, with this tiny endangered butterfly the size of a thumb nail and it’s finding nourishment from my sweat!

On another occasion, I sat down to take a picture of this other species of butterfly when I heard some strange squeaking. It turned out three lively and playful badgers were emerging from their den maybe 15 feet away from me. Luckily, I was able to catch it on camera! To give you an idea of how rare it is to see wild badgers during the day, my supervisor has been working all over this same army base for four years and has never seen one. Here’s a glimpse:

badgers from stephanie on Vimeo.

Hope you enjoyed a look into the life of a field biologist! More to come later.


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