Friday, July 18, 2008


July 17th, 2008: … The end of April flew by as I made fast friends with my Mexican colleagues, Jorge and Faustino, from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

Neither of them spoke much English, yet I worked hard to bridge the language barrier with species identification assistance. Latin names are rooted much more closely to their native tongue and were of great use.

We developed a “Sign-Spanglish” communication method. It had been years since my formal Spanish training and a couple years since I visited a Spanish speaking country. My last ventures in Spanish were in Spain and the language there compared to Latin America is similar to the comparison of the Queen’s English and North American English.

I would mock extracting an earthworm from the ground and say “Gusano” as I gestured eating it “…eating… warbler..” and then point to the direction of the worm-eating warbler singing and foraging among dangling clumps of dead leaves. They would repeat, “….verm…wheating…varvler…”

And so it went.

Other species were more humorous to act out in charades. For instance, one can only imagine the laughter involved with the combined excitement of them seeing there “new especies” like the “Rose tetas grosbeak.”

It seemed important that they experience as much life as possible in this new and foreign land, so as I learned new species, they learned many and we examined each bird, rock, plant, fungus and earth feature together.

Everything seemed new and that which had been seen before was seen in a new light through their bright Mexican eyes. Faustino had particularly keen eyesight for birds. Though truly a mammal person at heart, he had grown accustomed to seeing birds before hearing them, since the birds sing less frequently in their native Central America habitats.

As a side note, cerulean’s and many of their neotropical counterparts spend the majority of their lives in migration and on wintering grounds. For the population we study, only about four months are spent on breeding grounds.

This is why habitat loss on their migration and wintering grounds is so threatening.

I would be remiss not to mention the comradeship that can be fostered in field research. When people full of enthusiasm and a desire to share learning in a natural setting combine efforts, wonderful experiences happen.

One of Faustino’s only English phrases was, “It’s my life!” I’m not sure were he acquired this statement. Perhaps it was hearing Bonjovi’s song.

It matters not.

It just seemed fitting as we would spontaneously sprint through the woods down a steep a steep slope at the end of the day with Faustino yelling like a Mayan Indian, “…Yes! Ethan… it’s my life!” Or with other moments of fun, discovery, and conversations about the beach or “walley vall (volleyball).”

“Its my life!”

In the late afternoon, we returned from the mountains to the small nearby town of Jacksboro and neighboring Cove Lake State Park. Cove Lake is a birding Mecca and the trails great to explore. Volleyball courts, however, and not birds were our mainstay at the park. Two crews of bird technicians and my wife played a great deal of volleyball at Cove Lake. Our wonderful boss, Tiffany Beachy, would sometimes play with us, too.

It is crucial to have a positive attitude, altruistic qualities, enthusiasm, and an ability to constantly treat people well in order to have a successful field season. A successful season is marked by satisfaction and accumulation of the best data possible.

We shared many new “especies” sightings, volleyball matches, and barbecued meals and I’ll remember them well until the end of my life.

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