Open Spaces is featuring monthly posts by Student Conservation Association (SCA) interns working to promote, protect and study wildlife on public lands all over the United States. Since 1957, SCA has been connecting young people from all backgrounds with life-changing, career-making conservation service opportunities. Learn how you can get involved at www.thesca.org . Today, Sara Prussing checks in from Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.
||A successful capture of an American avocet chick! Photo courtesy of Jen Christopherson
Summer has come with a bang to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Cool May showers and high river flows have become distant memories in the swelter of June and July. The wetlands resound with an enticing cacophony of breeding birds. Above the deep marshes, the oinks of white-faced ibises mix with the harsh scoldings of Forster’s terns and nasally laughs of Franklin’s gulls. Passing by a stand of reeds or bulrush, a lucky visitor might hear the whinny of a nearby sora or the territorial grunt of a Virginia rail. During May and June I listened for these reticent rails during secretive marsh bird surveys and was fortunate to spot a few. Today, though, my eyes are set on a less elusive target.
Refuge biologist Howard Browers and I are on a shorebird banding mission. While we drive, high-pitched kleets ring in our ears as the mascots of Bear River Refuge, American avocets, glide into view. The avocets are in full breeding mode, adorned with cinnamon hoods and shadowed by their offspring. Once I spot three avocet chicks wading idly on our right, the game is on.
I hop out of the truck, net in hand and wader boots pounding the ground. The chicks scatter in different directions to thwart me, but my attention is entirely focused on the farthest of the three. It runs freely above the sulfurous mud, and I follow with a galumphing stride. I start to close the gap and reach out my net, closer, closer… SCHLUMP! Without warning, my left boot slides off and I collapse in the muck. Scrambling up, I watch the chick disappear behind a curtain of bulrush. As I pass the spot, I glance down to see a bundle of feathers crouched between the stems. I gently close my fingers around its torso and begin the long trek back to shore.