I’ve been doing internet-less research all week so haven’t been able to upload things! But here’s some thoughts I had while away:
This is what my setup has looked like for the past week. I’ve spent my days hunkered down monitoring hummingbird feeders, or out catching and measuring them. It’s almost unbelievable that we’re in Costa Rica, as the temperatures been around 50 degrees every day (because we’re at 9,300 feet (this high altitude is outrageous! I feel so out of shape, sucking wind just walking up a small hill!)). The first day we got here, it felt like my body went into shock. My skin was transparent and blue and I had to miss our first afternoon because I just couldn't warm up. But as the week went on, I acclimated. Layers, layers, layers. We’re staying at this funny motel/rest stop/humming bird scientist’s Mecca. You would never guess it by looking, but people come here from all over the world to study hummingbirds! The establishment hangs feeders all around, and every day this little man comes and unhooks them, one at a time, and fills them with fresh sugar water.
I know this is boring, but these are the 4 types of hummers we studied this week: Magnificent, Volcano, Fire Throated, and Green Violet Ear!
We’ve got mist nets set up—it's this verrrry fine netting attached to two poles, kind of like a volley-ball net. It’s near impossible to see them, so the birds fly into it and kind of drop down into its excess . Then we rush over and untangle them (“It’s like taking off a very tight jumpsuit”, my professor says, “First the feet, then the body, neck, and last the head!”). It sounds sort of cruel explaining it here, but the birds never get hurt (you have to be a certified ornothologist to even get mist nets, because if people aren't careful, they'll leave them up unmonitored and if the birds sit too long they can get hurt). But the net is gentle. Our professor, Geraldo, keeps telling me not to touch the birds because my hands are “too chilly” (they could die if they get too cold when they’re being handled) so I have to keep sticking my hands under my arm pits to warm them up before untangling them. Then we measure their beaks, trace their wings, swab off some pollen they’ve stored on the beak, weigh them (which involves kind of stuffing them into this little cone, and putting them on a scale, they don’t seem to mind the small space), and then we paint their little tiny ity bity toe nails—to make sure we don’t catch the same one twice—and release them! It’s pretty fun, we’ve gotten really good at identifying them quickly—species and gender.
Can you see this? It's hard to see, but it's a mist net!
Isn't she beautiful? WOWOWOW
Maya, organizing our science station!
Besides the mist-netting, we also do feeder monitoring—looking at hummer interactions and counting the number of times they take a sip. The feeders are on the other side of these great big glass windows, there’s no heat here but the sun rises early and beats through the glass. It’s slow work, but not so bad. We start early, one minute of observation, 4 minutes off, one minute observation, 4 minutes off (ad infinitum). I try to make the best of the 4 minutes of rest we have—like read as many pages of my book as I can, or sometimes when things get really slow, I like to imagine what It’d be like to have a beak like they have. It would be a huge nuisance, really. On some of these hummers, the beaks is about a third of the length of their whole body! Can you imagine the things you wouldn’t be able to do if you had a 3 foot long beak sticking out of your face? But in all, it’s been a nice time to just sit. With all the chocolate caliente I want. Just me and the birds.