I miss my quail

23 07 2008

This is the fire that broke out in my old field site Monday midday. Not by chance, this field site is also adjacent to my parent’s house so my mother, who arrived home to find a fire fighter hanging out with the dog, Satchel in the yard, a friend counting the bunnies in bunny-magic-land to make sure they were all present (despite not knowing the precise number—I don’t either it is 6 or 7—sorry mom!) and an enormous number of messages on her answering machine, was able to report on its progress to me. The fire was quickly controlled and extinguished, despite it being fast moving through an area ripe for a blaze (+50 years since the last fire).

I think about my birds, or more precisely, the descendants of my birds (since my banded pajaros certainly are all dead by now), almost daily. OK, so I am neurotic. When I visit, I always make sure I at least get a glimpse of them—and force the children to look at them and get excited (which they do for a moment and then run off to something more compelling to them. I’ve actually noticed this phenomenon with other birds, which I want to sit and watch and I honestly cannot understand why anyone wouldn’t want to sit for hours wondering what the hell those chickadees are talking about…)

So, the first thing I thought about, after my mom told me the house was not threatened, were my birds. Surely some of them died. And surely many of them were frightened as only a bird trapped in a fire can be. I wondered what fire retardant does to the animals below, and what effect it has on the environment long term. These are things I don’t really want to worry about, to be totally honest.

I also, just to confuse the matter, think about the fact that ultimately, the fire will probably be good for the quail—the fresh green up creating a bountiful food supply in a region where the thick chaparal prevents new growth. This is the whole relationship between the individual being and the group or species I always find so problematic–it is the place where animal rights and conservation often diverge (e.g. euthanize the goats to save the island’s biodiversity). I feel both impulses strongly–both dueling inside me.

Anyway. My plan was/(is?) to start banding my birds again next month, when I am in San Diego with the kids. They are old enough for me to be gone most of the day in the field (though not old enough to really help yet) and I want to re-establish my data collection with these birds. I am still struggling with my (animal rights?) concern about the effect of banding and trapping–I tell myself it better be a damn good bunch of information I get from any creature I mess with–and this of course makes me feel anxious.

And now this fire. I am scared of what I’ll find down there. I’ve already witnessed destruction on the site–two roads blasted through during my dissertation research, nests trampled during revegetation attempts. Although those times, I knew the site so well I could see the ghosts of the plants and the nests of animals long after they had been bulldozed. Now, I do not know the site as well, do not have any banded birds, so perhaps I won’t be so sad.

I do know that yesterday my mom saw a small bobcat by the house–and I am glad the bobcat is still around, hope that it is not the only one (the construction made me worried that the bobcat that often visited my traps would not be around for long)–but it is clearly unsettled by the fire. And I suspect my birds will be as well, and I wonder if I will even be able to find them in the short week I’ll have to try.

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