To The Mouse Mobile!

I groggily woke up to the wailing of my alarm. My phone lit up and it was the only thing I saw in the room. I was so tempted to click the snooze button but I knew that if I did that I would miss out on my first day out on the field.  That wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. I quickly tossed the sheets off of me and jumped out of bed before I changed my mind. I tiptoed through the dark house so as not to disturb my slumbering roommates. Walking in the pitch black reminded me of a past experience. I suddenly remembered standing in the dark rainforest, listening for the waking white faced capuchins to pass over us… My memories are easily triggered by my senses and some of my greatest memories are of me doing field work.

Flashback to Costa Rica! Ashley looks up to the trees observing our capuchin group.

Flashback to Costa Rica! Ashley looks up to the trees observing our capuchin group.

My duties at TRNWR consist mainly of outreach and onsite education. Two things I am new to and am learning so much about every passing week! There aren’t many field opportunities out here, but I was able to get involved in one. On this nippy Thursday morning, I hurried to be ready and out of the house by 6 in the morning. The marsh birds survey crew was meeting up at the refuge at 615, the time the sun rose that day, and I did not want to be left behind. I met 3 fantastic volunteers and we all happily jumped into a government rig. I made myself comfortable. The vehicle smelled a little funky, but that seems about right for a vehicle that is used for field work. We began to drive away when a volunteer chuckled loudly before sharing a piece of interesting information with everyone in the car. “Did you know they call this car the mouse mobile hahaha!” Nooo, it was too late for me to abort this mission, so the next thing I did was ask “why is it called the mouse mobile?” Jim responded with an obvious “well because mice live in it, they are probably cruising with us right now.” Welp, my backpack moved up from the floor to my lap because I was not going to risk picking up any hitchhikers. To my surprise I was pretty comfortable in the mouse mobile. I think it was because I was wearing tall rain boots and so I was confident nothing could crawl up my pants (yes I realize this is an unrealistic situation but it made me feel better about the situation).

Good morning!

Good morning!

We headed off to our first site. There was a bit of confusion and apparently we landed ourselves in a dark part of the refuge. Dun dun dun. It wasn’t really all that serious actually, we just happened to end up on a road that was hardly used and very very muddy. Our amazing driver quickly drove through the mess before we became stuck and had to push our way out. Mud flew everywhere! To our relief we successfully made it out of this predicament. The Mouse Mobile’s name was then changed to the Mighty Muddy Mouse Mobile. We finally arrived at our first site and unloaded our equipment. The sun was hiding behind the clouds and was not providing any warmth on this cold morning. Brrrr. I’m going to have to come better prepared next time. We stood in front of a mash and we looked and listened for American coots, pied-billed grebes, American bitterns, Virginia rails, and soras. We stood five minutes in the quiet and five minutes with calls of these birds playing on a boombox. I learned that day that these 5 marsh birds make the coolest and strangest noises.

THE Mighty Muddy Mouse Mobile. Mud even got on top of the car!

THE Mighty Muddy Mouse Mobile. Mud even got on top of the car!

By the end of our survey our data sheet had a single pied-billed grebe. All the volunteers reassured me that I began on a day with the most uneventful site. But it was alright, just being out there with them made me so happy. That morning was extremely exciting for me because I was finally able to see a female and male woodduck and we apparently startled two turkey vultures that nearly flew over our heads. They were much bigger than I ever expected them to be. It was an exciting bird morning. Now I really need to see an American bittern.

It was a challenge trying to get back in the car without getting muddy.

It was a challenge trying to get back in the car without getting muddy.

Liliana Calderon
lcalde4@illinois.edu
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