Work stoppage: What’s a field biologist to do in a time of Covid 19?

In as few as four weeks from now, Savannah Sparrows will begin to return to Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, VT, where I have studied them for the last 18 summers. Bobolinks, molting right now somewhere in Argentina, will join them a few weeks later. However, all programing on Shelburne Farms is cancelled until at least May 1. What does that mean for our project? We have banded >9000 birds and found 3000 nests. We have exciting ongoing projects exploring migration, climate change, ageing, dispersal and more…. we have birds wearing tracking devices, where the data can only be accessed by recapturing those individuals. Careers are also in play too. Seven amazing undergraduate students are planning to spend their summer chasing these birds around.

We have gray squirrels wearing radio collars on campus. We have been continuously tracking cohorts of our furry neighbors for nearly ten years. Students will not be on campus for the foreseeable future, so data collection has effectively ended.

But all of these animals are doing what animals do best–be themselves. We are missing some of these moments, these data. But not all of them. Just now I watched a pair of Brown Creepers in my front yard, foraging. I noticed that they stayed within 20 feet of the ground. If I were not at home I would not have seen these yard mates. And a Sharp-shined Hawk hunted across the street. I do not know what this all means, but routines will return at some point. These routines may be similar, but gaps in the data will remain and stories will be untold. Or, stories will be at least different. Tell me your stories of data collection and wildlife.