Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How I got stapled to a live turkey, and other fond memories of California

Round about this time of year I usually start making a list in my head of all the reasons I should probably not live in northern Germany much longer than necessary. One of my complaints is my general lack of opportunity to observe and interact with wildlife. I spent the better part of a decade doing biological field work, spending most of my time in the general proximity of wild animals. Sometimes it was more proximate than "general proximity" would suggest.

One day early in grad school, I was on my way into research museum where I worked, when I was stopped by the museum's eccentric old preparator, who was on his way out and wanted my help on I knew not what. I ended up on the beach with him and an armed National Park ranger using a carving knife to remove the head and fins of a dead whale that had washed up, for reasons that were not entirely explained to me at the time. I think the skull may have wound up in our museum's collection, but the ranger kept saying something about things not ending up on the black market.

Another time, my friend Alan wanted help catching and marking the wild turkeys he was studying. He would set up big walk-in traps baited with grain on cold mornings, and trap a whole flock of turkeys at a time. Then he would pull them out one at a time, measure them and attach a patagial tag to their wings. My job was to hold the birds' wings still while he attached the tag. Well it was quite cold and wet and my fingers were numb, so I didn't immediately notice that the rivet had gone not only through the bird's wing (as it was supposed to) but also into my hand. It took perhaps a minute to detach me from the turkey without further injuring either and bandage my hand before we could move on to the next turkey.

More often, my wildlife fix came in the form of bird-watching or lifting rocks to find lizards or salamanders. It was a rare week in California that I didn't get to do some wildlife viewing, and nature was as close as my back door. Here I live near the middle of a city with a long cold dark winter, and the life of a lab and desk biologist just isn't as adventurous. There is a city park across the street which in summer hosts some interesting if overfed animals, but especially this time of year I feel the absence of wildlife. Of course there is no guarantee that the next place I live will be so wild as is Berkeley (or preferably more so), but I can hope.

1 comment:

jte said...

From campus of Dartmouth College to established forest in approximately no time flat.