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August 26, 2011 / stephanie

Benefits of Working in the “Urban Jungle”

One of our field sites in the suburbs

If you have been following my blog this summer, you may have noticed that in one of my last posts I said I was finishing my field season in July. Well, as it happens I’m still here (job was extended)! And if you haven’t been following, I have been working on a project in Columbus, Ohio, studying nesting birds in urban yards. It has been a really unique experience compared to past field jobs that I have worked. It has also been a really awesome experience and I have learned a lot. Seventeen years ago, I first started watching birds in my own backyard and a spark ignited. And now here I am again, this time fully immersed in backyard biology and studying the complex interactions happening literally right outside of our doors. It definitely is a different experience, going from simply watching birds to following birds, chronicling their breeding lives for an entire summer and of course, witnessing all the drama unfold!

Juvenile robin

It is also an altogether different experience when you go from wandering the great outdoors to stepping within a white picket fence to count cardinals. It hasn’t always been easy (barking dogs, patches of urban poison ivy, trying NOT to lead all the roaming house cats to where nests are, etc) but urban research definitely has its merits too! Here are some of the benefits I experienced while working in the “urban jungle”:

1. Great people. I’ve met a lot of neat folks who have been earnestly interested in the birds in their yards and have wanted to know more about the research being done. One of my favorite moments was when a retired lady offered me iced tea while my water bottle was running low on a sunny 90 degree day — just what I needed. We also had a couple offer me and the other researchers each a pint of blueberries. And they even let me borrow a pencil when I lost mine in the field. It was always nice knowing that even though most days I’d be out collecting data by myself, I would never really be alone. I would always be working in areas surrounded by houses and people, and sure enough there were plenty of nice retired folks who liked to share stories and blueberries.

An alley at our most urban field site

2. City living. In past jobs I have lived in areas I feel comfortable calling “the middle of nowhere.” These were such places where the hotspot of the town was the local Wal-mart, which may have come equipped with a hitching post for your horses. Living in Columbus has been a different story. Of course they have Wal-marts here too, but they also have Whole Foods and Target and all the other modern-day conveniences I could ever ask for. Columbus also happens to have the best selection of ice cream shops I have ever encountered. I highly recommend Jeni’s if you’re ever in town.

3. Internet everywhere. This does not come standard with most field jobs. But here, there have even been a couple of field sites where my iPod picked up a wi-fi signal and I could check the weather. I hear most peope have phones that do this now though… Well, along that line, I never had to worry about reception for my cell phone either. That’s another thing that doesn’t necessarily come standard with field jobs!

4. Quick commute. Since we lived in the city, we never had to drive more than 30 minutes to get to our urban field sites. The down-side to that is, of course, sometimes we’d hit some minor traffic around the giant, crazy freeway loop. But ah well, due to the short commute, at least I can say I never had to get up before 5am this summer. Last year and the year before that, we had some pretty early mornings, maybe even 4am at the earliest.

American Snout Butterfly

Well, all in all, working as a researcher in the urban landscape proved to be a little different, but definitely fun and fascinating. I don’t want to forget to point out that although we have been basically working  in yards and gardens (so very far from the scenic wild lands in nature documentaries), that hasn’t stopped me from stumbling upon all kinds of neat natural wonders and interactions. There may be a lot more wildlife happenings right in your own neighborhood than you’ll ever know!

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One Comment

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  1. Mary Kate / Aug 26 2011 12:15 am

    You started watching birds when we were 8? haha. Things I never knew! I love your post. Very informative.

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