I think I’m getting the hang of it! The Blanca wetlands that is. If you have never been there, or never even heard of it (both of which are highly likely) then you cannot even begin to imagine the complex “road” system that is out there. This is a very general map of the wetlands, which is kept in the vehicle at all times in case of emergency.
As you can see, the routes from pond to pond basically have endless possibilities and tons of winding twists and turns. What you can’t see on the map is that some of these roads aren’t actually there. Or they have been eroded away and will lead you into a trench. Or they look like a new road that isn’t actually on the map. Or, as Anjelica and I found out last week, some will simply collapse beneath you as you attempt to take a shortcut over a dike that hasn’t been driven on since last summer. It is quite the challenge to learn your way around out there.
The hardest part for me to adjust to is that some of the ponds listed on the map do not currently have water in them. They are more or less vast areas nestled between two small rolling hills that are covered in bull rush or cat tails. I cannot explain how confusing it is to look at the map and try to find out where you are when the road you are on should actually be surrounded by three large lakes and you are standing among chamisa plants as far as the eye can see. It was a bit intimidating in the beginning!
After having spent a bit of time being trained on how to travel around this strange wetland it has become very clear why the general public is restricted to main roads. We have to worry not only about getting around, but which places we must avoid in order to not disturb nests, flush the birds out of a pond, or which way to go in order to sneak up on some Avocets that you need to observe. However, after 3 weeks of being allowed to be behind the wheel something miraculous has happened:
I chose my own route. For an entire day. And only got lost once.
I am learning the wetlands.
I won’t lie to you and say that I didn’t have my fair share of confused looks because I did not remember seeing that strange tree to the right of the trail or could have sworn that there was not a pond in this one particular area. But I spent 5 hours in the wetlands and Anjelica and I managed to complete our bird survey and still make it out alive! It is pretty exciting because now I am able to start looking at the details in the wetlands and appreciate the small changes that are coming about for the summer. Pond 114 has more shoreline by the week, which means it will be hosting more Snowy Plovers as the year goes on. Pond 148 is slightly coming down and the cattails should start emerging soon. Phalaropes are consistently floating on Pond 16. Tiny nuances that I feel like hardly anyone else knows are some of my favorite parts of the job. They mean I’m not only out in the field enough to notice these things, but I am retaining some of this highly pertinent information! Learning is occurring 🙂