Sunday, August 23, 2009

Obsessed with the weather

I have a nightly ritual that I perform Sunday and Wednesday evenings. I check the weather, sometimes repeatedly, until I go to bed. I come home from work Sunday afternoon and hop on to check for the chances for rain and the temperature for Monday morning. I watch the early evening and night news, scarcely paying attention to the news until the weather pops on. Then I'm all eyes and ears, turning the TV up and keeping my eyes glued to the map of the city and the radar, searching for rain clouds or other weather warnings that may keep me indoors.

You're probably thinking I'm a little on the OCD side and maybe I am. You're probably wondering why I'm obsessed with the weather too. It's a mistnetting thing. As you know, I mistnet on Monday and Thursday mornings and the rain and even the temperature dictates whether or not we put the mistnets up for the birds. In the spring, if the temperatures are too cold (below 35 F), we either postpone our mistnetting session until the temperature rises or we cancel. The birds use an incredible amount of energy to stay warm (I read during the winter, a chickadee can lose 5% of its body weight overnight.) and as much as we love mistnetting, we do know that it can be stressful on our feathered friends. No sense on adding stress to a bird running on limited energy.

And the rain. Rain is our foe for many reasons. Human safety is the biggest reason we obsess over the weather. As you know, lightning often accompanies a good storm and our mistnets hang from aluminum poles. Many of our nets are also located on hills and in valleys where you often climb up and over nature-made obstacles like fallen trees and bushes. Imagine dashing to close a net in the pouring rain where there is mud and limited visibility. It wouldn't take much to slip and fall or twist an ankle. And of course there is the birds. Imagine yourself hanging upside down, tangled in a net with the rain pouring down your body. Birds have hollow bones to enable flight. As you can imagine, it can be difficult, if not impossible for a drenched bird to fly. A wet bird also has a lowered body temperature. So now the bird has to use twice the energy to raise that body temperature and attempt to fly to a safe place.

So I watch the news and check the internet before retiring to bed. In the morning I get up and look outside the window before sitting in front of the internet again to check the radar. Most mornings you know without a doubt whether or not you're mistnetting. But there are those mornings when you see a patch of rain looming on the radar horizon, but it looks far enough away that you could probably get a mistnetting session in but it's a gamble. I've been on the wrong side of the dice on that bet but I'm sure most field biologists have miscalculated their odds on the weather. There have been a few times my cohorts and I have gone running in the rain to close the nets.

Then there are the near misses. Last year a thunderstorm appeared from nowhere with a tornado in tow. That was an exciting morning. Fortunately the tornado went a different direction and we got the nets down before the rain hit. Just last week a cold front blew in while we were mistnetting on the prairie. Initially we marveled over the beauty of the clouds that accompanied the front, but when the temperature dropped, the wind picked up and the thunder began to rumble, we got a little worried. While debating on whether or not to end the morning, the clouds continued to swirl ominously and the wind blew, but the rain was scarce. We took a gamble and only took down 2 nets, leaving 3 nets open. We won that gamble. We received a smattering of rain before the scary clouds passed on. Turns out the storm hit just north of our location.

Yes indeed the weather is a frequent topic of discussion amongst us field biologists, especially the bird biologists. Bird watchers are also obsessed with the weather but the parameters are different, not to mention tolerance for things like temperature and rain. That topic is also a whole other blog entry.

In the meantime, I just got my weather report. Tomorrow will be sunny and pleasant. Perfect weather for mistnetting.

Until next time...

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