Updating ‘About Me’..

 
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As you may have noticed, my “About Me” page needs some updates. Since I started this blog in 2016, “About Me” has naturally changed a couple of times and, as someone who sometimes just can’t press the dang delete button, I simply added on to what was already there when there were new things to tell about myself. What that made for was an exhaustingly long page about a girl who likes to write all about herself. 

So, in order to not have to say goodbye to my precious ramblings, I decided to throw it all into a blog post because I know you’re all just dying to read something that’s been available to you all along. Well, here it is and stay tuned because I’m working on an exciting new updated version of About Me, so once you’re finished reading about me here, read about me in my About Me! Oh dear..

 

About Me (2016): 

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It only just occurred to me, eleven years later, that all this time the island was calling me back.

Seal Island, located 23 miles off the coast of Maine is where I am spending another summer, in the company of four other seabird researchers. We’re here to study the fascinating lives of puffins, terns, razorbills and black guillemots, while living among
them.

I’m returning after an 11-year hiatus, having the ultimate pleasure of first visiting the islands managed by Audubon’s Project Puffin in 2003 and again in 2005. The project was started in the early 70’s by an enterprising young ornithologist named Steve Kress. The near extirpation (local extinction) of puffins from coastal Maine islands due to the hunting and the feather trade led him to devise a way to harbor their return. By transplanting puffin chicks from an abundant colony in Newfoundland to Maine’s Eastern Egg Rock and raising them with vitamin fortified fish in artificial sod burrows, he watched them fly out to sea where they spent the next handful of years before some precious individuals, miraculously, returned to their “natal” island to breed.

Project Puffin now manages seven Maine islands to preserve and protect these ideal breeding habitats for puffins and, consequentially, terns and various other alcids as well as seaducks, known as common eiders, which also nest on the islands. In order to protect these seabird colonies it is, unfortunately, important for our human presence to remain throughout the breeding season to deter gulls and other predators that feed on chicks and ducklings. Without us, the more prolific gull species (Black-backed, Herring and Laughing gull) would take over these islands. These species are generalists and their populations have skyrocket thanks to human-provided food sources like landfills, lobster bait and french fries. Terns and puffins suffer since they’re very specific as to where they will nest and generally don’t exist near human populations. Therefore, protected islands like these provide these sensitive, less abundant birds a chance to persist.

Fast forward several decades and here we are! Puffineers or “island stewards” like me have been managing and monitoring the birds on these islands ever since.

So follow my adventures as we follow the birds for yet another glorious season!

-stacebird

p.s. You can also find my writing on Sierra Club‘s website and Defenders of Wildlife’s Defenders Magazine and in Eugene Weekly

 

About Me (late 2017ish):

Above, you can read my first “about me” post for this page, explaining who I was and what I was up to at the time, which happened to be the start of my 3rds stint with Project Puffin, which why I started this blog, to share what I was seeing and learning through writing and photography. Well, now that that’s been a little under two years ago and, as you can see throughout my posts here on feathersawry, that yes, a lot has happened and I’m really excited to share it with everyone. I love taking what I’m learning and putting it on the table, what do we think about what we’re seeing and what is it telling us?  By combining my writings (aka ponderings) with photography, I’m able to better illustrate what I’m talking about and what it means. Like this check this facey (upper left) I took of myself up in Maine when I worked a stint on Seal Island this fall (2017). Just about the entire island can be seen stretching and squiggling northeast-ish behind me. It’s about an hour’s slow walk to the cabin and I’m on the southwest-ish tip. The very far tip (seen basically next to my ear in the photo) is near the puffins and terns nests, which you see on the explore.org puffin cameras (we call ’em the cams). I’m sitting on the bottom tip of the island where the Double-crested and Great Cormorants have a big ol’ nesting colony. I couldn’t be there on that part of the island earlier in the season while the young cormorants were still growing and dependent on their parents because those parents would abandon their young if their colony was invaded by someone like me. At this point, all the young had fledged and groups were leaving the island to find prey in other areas. Anyways. My point is that my pictures can tell stories and so can my words but together they can not just tell you the story but give it to you, let you gain from it whatever you gain.

So as you may have noticed, this about page needs some updates. So here I am to do just that. Below you can read my first “about me” post for this page, explaining who I was and what I was up to at the time, which happened to be the start of my 3rds stint with Project Puffin, which why I started this blog, to share what I was seeing and learning through writing and photography. Well, now that that’s been a little under two years ago and, as you can see throughout my posts here on feathersawry, that yes, a lot has happened and I’m really excited to share it with everyone. I love taking what I’m learning and putting it on the table, what do we think about what we’re seeing and what is it telling us?  By combining my writings (aka ponderings) with photography, I’m able to better illustrate what I’m talking about and what it means. Like this check this facey (upper left) I took of myself up in Maine when I worked a stint on Seal Island this fall (2017). Just about the entire island can be seen stretching and squiggling northeast-ish behind me. It’s about an hour’s slow walk to the cabin and I’m on the southwest-ish tip. The very far tip (seen basically next to my ear in the photo) is near the puffins and terns nests, which you see on the explore.org puffin cameras (we call ’em the cams). I’m sitting on the bottom tip of the island where the Double-crested and Great Cormorants have a big ol’ nesting colony. I couldn’t be there on that part of the island earlier in the season while the young cormorants were still growing and dependent on their parents because those parents would abandon their young if their colony was invaded by someone like me. At this point, all the young had fledged and groups were leaving the island to find prey in other areas. Anyways. My point is that my pictures can tell stories and so can my words but together they can not just tell you the story but give it to you, let you gain from it whatever you gain.

So anyways, I’m a nature-watcher. It all started with birds when I was nearly too young to remember. I was always taken by them, They’re beautiful, make any spot you’re in more interesting, and can tell you a lot about the environment you’re living in. So after an undergraduate degree in Biology from Warren Wilson College, I put boots to the dirt and went full into field jobs, working with wild birds, monitoring, measuring, banding them, learning about the resources they rely on, the habitats they utilize, their interactions with other creatures as both predator and prey, how their young are born first naked, then fluffy and expected to completely rely on their parents and the awful luck of getting snapped up in the beak of a gull or the paw of a raccoon or the maw of a snake, jaws of a raccoon or the pincers of a hoard of ants. So my interest expanded outward to encompass more than just the birds, they’re always my first and foremost, but you can’t watch just a bird without being influenced by how it’s spending its life and how it’s being impacted by what’s happening to this planet just as much as you are, they’re just less resistant to it and the first to succumb. Think canary in the coal mine.

Well, birds are telling us things, as we spend decades studying them, they’re telling us through trends: through population changes, range changes, reaction to changes in environmental cycles, drought, sea-level rise, and of course the ability to rebound (or rather, decline) in the face of the never-ending onslaught of human impact and development.

Anyways, so all that made me want to share what I’m seeing out in the field with the wider world, especially because I think people don’t have a clue what I mean when I tell them I work with birds and I want them to. And so it took coming out of the field to share what I’ve seen living within it. Pulling a Jane Goodall, is what I like to call it. Except I keep going back. But what makes it possible for me to keep returning to the field is the advance of technology, plain and simple. I can now write to the masses from a computer on Seal Island, whereas when I worked there in 2003 and 2005, I’m not sure we even knew what WiFi was.

 

 

So after about 5 years of hopping around from one field job to another, I shifted gears and headed to University of Oregon for a grad degree in Journalism. There I learned a lot of what I’m applying on my website, this blog and my youtube channel. So I took that experience, combined with some awesome opportunities writing for Eugene Weekly, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and Wild Lens Inc and was able to somewhat keep up with my own blog.

But the field is always calling. So that’s where this blog started out (once again, see below, if you’re actually still reading this at all).

And I found myself in Florida, which has been great as I’ve gotten to spend so much time with my grandmother, a spectacular, sweet, awe-inspiring woman whom I adore. I’ve come and gone a few times, even just having gotten another moment on the island this fall. But now a new leaf turns and I’m headed to Costa Rica in a few weeks where I’ll be started on a whole different experience. I’m going to be able to incorporate learning, teaching, writing, photography and conservation all into one adventure. So stay tuned!

 

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Another Tropical Holiday!

IMG_3260While I may be many hundreds of miles away from family during these past two years of tropical guiding, I can’t say I’ve been lonely, thanks to new friends, young and old. Passing the winter holidays in Central America makes for a confused state of mind, being that I’ve grown up accustomed to the changing leaves followed by an ever-growing chill in the air. For me, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are associated with cold days hiking in forests barren of leaves except for the crunching underfoot. Layer upon thick layer of coverage never seems to be enough to keep the frigid air at bay and yet that doesn’t dissuade us from taking to the trails with puppies frolicking ahead or sniffing and rolling in the unknown behind. Glimpses of foxes melting into the underbrush, red-shouldered hawks stark and stern against the crisp blue sky, bluebirds playing keepaway and chickadees, titmice and kinglets like little ornaments flurrying in the branches overhead, this is what I equate with the holidays.

 

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Here, rather, my closest connection to home is the neotropical migratory birds such as the northern waterthrush and chestnut-sided warbler which whisper hints of a long lost northern summer. Tropical holidays are warm and humid, Christmas trees look out of place, and Tranquilo Bay is brimming with guests in their escape from the frosty north while bringing the jolly right along with them. Happiness and love were a constant as families gathered and reunited. Generations joined together, sharing high spirits which were nothing but contagious as I guided jovial and obliging families along kayak jaunts through mangroves searching out upsidown jellyfish, snorkeling explorations overtop impressive reef awash in fire coral, brain coral and blade coral, even bat-caving adventures through dripping stalactites in water up to our chests on Christmas day. No moment was left unfilled, even the evenings were alight with games and stories. It was an absolute blast. Exhausting, but satisfying.

 

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As we emerge from holiday festivities to greet the new year and things have slowed down for a moment, I’m re-energizing for what 2019 has to send my way. Health and happiness are of the utmost importance and I’m still learning something (or many things) new every day, be it about nature or about humanity, relationships, struggles and forgiveness. I am every day more and more impressed with this team I’ve joined and their endless hard work that makes Tranquilo the phenomenal lodge that it is.

Happy New Year, everybody! 

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iNaturalist: Gotta Catch ’em All!

So here’s my next favorite Pokemon Go alternative: iNaturalist!

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iNaturalist is a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe.

With eBird, you can catch all the birds, but with iNaturalist, you can go after any and all natural life, from mammals to insects to plants to amphibians, even fungal life! So, while the birds tend to always be the first to grab my eye, there’s so much more to in this biodiverse wonderland to discover, identify and learn about and iNaturalist is a great way to take it all on.

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Gotta catch ’em all!

iNaturalist is a “crowdsourcing scientific observation platform” that is super in assisting you in identification of whatever life-form you’re aiming at, all it requires is a decent photo which you upload to the iNaturalist app and sometimes, from just the photo and the magic of technology, it can identify the flora or fauna for you! Or at least narrow it down to family. From there, you can find help from the iNaturalists social community, including citizen scientists and biologists who can help identify your species in question or verify your proposed identification helping raise your sighting to “Research Grade”, meaning that the the species ID has been agreed upon and confirmed.

By contributing your sightings and photos to iNaturalist, you’re adding to a constantly growing database of flora and fauna that can actually contribute to scientific and biological studies not to mention help map out the current range and distribution of species as more and more iNaturalist users contribute their observations.

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What’s neat about the mapping function is checking out what’s nearby, what other people have seen and you might find yourself searching out a fungus or a tiny flower in a place you’ve always visited that you never took into account until you saw someone’s photo of it on iNaturalist. It really is going to open your world, if you let it!

To date, more than 15 million observations have been uploaded worldwide, making for an ever-more complete documentation of the biodiversity that makes up Planet Earth. As more and more people join and (like me) become addicted, we’re achieving something beautiful and probably more important than we yet can determine.

So join me and together let’s take on the challenge and see if we can..cause ya gotta catch ’em all!

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The Tranquilo Life..

So it’s just been a short bit that I’ve been here at Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge where I’m into my second week as the third resident naturalist guide. My first week was a rainy one, but the forest is lush and bubbling with both local and migratory birds. While we’re heading to the end of migration at this point (I managed to miss a good deal of it while thoroughly enjoying myself spending time with family and friends), I still ended up getting in some good ones both before and after my trip. I think the most plentiful were the bay-breasted warblers, which filled our melastoma bushes, eating their berries with abandon. The melastoma is a wildly important food source for the birds on their lengthy migration. This bush in particular is fantastic because it fruits multiple times throughout the season, providing enough food to satisfy both the early, mid and late migrants.

 

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Bay-breasted Warbler, Eastern Kingbird, Chestnut-sided warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Bay-breasted, Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager

 

We’ve also had plenty of Prothonotary Warblers, Summer Tanagers, Northern Waterthrushes, some Red-breasted Grosbeak and a few Catbirds. The prothonotaries seem a dime a dozen lately and we’ll be enjoying them for the duration of the northern winter as well as the waterthrushes and summer tanagers (one of which I can hear chuckling from the forest right now as I write on the wrap-around deck of the main lodge!).

In addition to enjoying the throngs of migrants, I’ve enjoyed settling comfortably into my new home, getting to know the employees who are the local indigenous N’gobe Bugle from nearby Isla Popa. Everyone is so kind, they all have great sense of humors and laugh a lot. They’re also patient with my bad grammar and slow Spanish and they’re teaching me words in their indigenous language (they’re all bilingual!) and it’s fun to learn from Jesenia and Ofelina at the bar and then go speak to Luis, Omeira, Yolanda or Faustina in the kitchen (or vice versa) in their own language and see their surprise! I’m also helping them with English and plan to work further on that with them in the future.

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A sea biscuit on the Zapatillas

We’ve had a birding group and now a big family and I’ve gone along on a few of the excursions thusfar, from the chocolate farm to the nearby Zapatillas islands and out and about snorkeling in various locations. The family was here for  Thanksgiving and we all gathered in the dining room to enjoy a fantastic feast cooked up by jefa Renee along with decadent pies by her daughter Boty. It certainly doesn’t feel like the holidays, but it sure did taste like ’em!

As we enjoy a quick couple of guest-free days before the high season kicks into high gear, we took advantage of the beautiful day yesterday and Ramon y yo, along with Scott, Patrick, Boty and Tres joined some neighbor friends for an day-long caving excursion. The cave is replete with stalactites, stalagmites, shrimp, spiders, whip scorpions, and oh the bats! Hanging in every nook and cranny above, you can hear their sonar squeaks and feel the wind off their wingbeats as they narrowly miss your face. While most of the hike through the winding tunnel is through ankle or knee deep water, there are occasions where you have to full-out swim, dog-paddling your way along with your headlamp shining through the deepest depths of darkness. We had a ball!

Tomorrow we get our next birding group..the high season is on the horizon!

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A Stateside Whirlwind

I flew against the migration a few weeks ago leaving Panama to head north to the United States of IMG_1944.jpgHavoc and Conundrum. I had the opportunity to visit family and friends (and VOTE) before diving into the high season in my new position as a naturalist and bird guide at Tranquilo Bay. Graciously the new bosses gave me some time to see the family since I’ll be busy guiding holiday travelers in the tropics through the holidays. I can’t say I’m sad about missing them, being that the tropics will keep me plenty occupied.

So while in the states, it certainly has been a whirlwind, starting off with three days in Sarasota to see my grandmother, then five with my brother in LA, then just under two weeks seeing the parents and other family and friends in the DC/MD/VA area. And back in Florida for one last goodbye to Grandy before heading ever further south!

During this stay, I was lucky enough to get into nature and see some great birds in each state I found myself in. The fall migrants are well on making their way south but I did see some remnants, a blackpoll warbler, pine and palm warbler in VA and DC. The western version of the yellow-rumped warblers (Audubon’s) and white-crowned sparrows were in LA and the white-throated sparrows, kinglets and juncos are flooding into MD/DC/VA to spend the winter! So while I was sad to leave Panama’s perspective of the migration during my stay stateside, I got a lot more than I expected here up north and I’m sure to see a bit yet when I get back south!

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Check out my eBird and iNaturalist page for these sightings and more!

Not to mention I had the thrill of getting a good taste of autumn colors and a bit of the briskness that is taking over upon the approach of winter to these northern latitudes.

So with the smell of fall in my senses, I’m ready to start the high season. Not a bad way to get started!

 

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A Fond Farewell!

This is my tribute to Dave, Suzanne and Mina for a glorious two-month run at Casa Cayuco.

I’m moving a short jaunt down-island (Isla Bastimentos of the Bocas del Toro archipelago) to join the Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge family as their third guide and I’m beyond thrilled!

Before I go, I want to share my love for Casa Cayuco and the beautiful hidden nature I’ve discovered during my time there..

 

 

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The Tropical Life

Whew, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted..a lot has gone on since I first arrived here in Panama just two months ago! It’s been a dream, staying at Casa Cayuco and helping out with guests, slinging drinks from behind the bar and taking folks into the forest on the hunt for red frogs, sloths, monkeys and birds. Dave and Suzanne are magnificent, hard-working human beings who have created such a beautiful refuge and place for guests to experience the beauty of the forest and Caribbean and all they have to offer. And Mina is my little buddy for life.

And oh the wildlife..

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Nonetheless, I have a big new adventure ahead of me, as I’ve been invited to become the third guide at nearby Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge. I’m going to be sad to leave the amazing friends I’ve made here, but I believe that I will be much more in my element and put to good use at Tranquilo which is a lodge hugely dedicated to birding–I mean, they have a 60ft birding tower for one thing, where you can watch in awe as parrots fly by at eye level! I’m going to start out shadowing their star guides, Natalia and Ramon, who have an infinite knowledge of not just the birds and wildlife of the archipelago and mainland Panama, but also the life under the sea.

How on earth did this happen? Well, I’m certainly still reeling and can’t believe this has basically fallen into my lap! How it fell into place was, Dave and Suzanne had family visiting and gave me a week or so off and they set me up to spend several days at Tranquilo. Renee, Jim and Jay have run this lodge for 10 years and have created a stunningly gorgeous haven for both nature-loving guests and the enormous variety of garden and forest birds that reside there along with the long-distance migratory birds that spend their winter months here in Panama. They’d been looking for a third guide to add to the team and, with the skills and knowledge of the birds and tropical ecosystems I’ve gained over the course of my ~2 years spent in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and here in Panama, I managed to fit the bill..with glee!

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View from their birding tower, Casa Cayuco is close to the farthest right of the island quite a ways in the distance. I think they’re waving!

Dave and Suzanne were kind enough to let me fly and so, I’ll be here at Casa Cayuco for another few days to help with some big groups that are coming and then they’ll take me the 10 minute boat ride down-island to my new home. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and I already know that every minute spent with Natalia and Ramón will massively increase my knowledge of this tropical world I adore so deeply and get so much out of sharing with others. I’m looking forward to starting out shadowing them as they lead birding hikes on the mainland where we’ll be seeing a wider range of species in a variety of ecosystems as I work toward eventually leading those very tours myself!

This is a pretty incredible new development and I will certainly be keeping you all updated. Also, check out my Patreon page where I’m headed right now to upload my newest video, Hidden Nature of Casa Cayuco. Thanks so much for following along!

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