If you had to name one pollinator other than a honeybee, what would be your first guess? More bees? Well, you wouldn’t be wrong, nearly every species of bee pollinates flowers and food crops. But what about beetles? Certain birds? The winged night terrors we call bats? While there are no denying honeybees are crucial to our environment and provide us with an excellent service, the fact is, they are not native to North America.
You know the old phrase: Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over. Over the two years that I’ve now been in the San Luis Valley (SLV) of Colorado, I’ve heard a lot of stories that recall that phrase. Stories of family members who no longer speak due to disagreements irrigation strategies, landowners who’ve been shot by trespassers hoping to steal water under cover of night, ranchers on their fifth year of a water court case due to a neighbor dispute. This story, however, is not one of those.
I stop what I’m doing for a moment and look up to watch a pair of circling Red-tailed Hawks. They’re smugly indifferent to my work, but their presence makes it go a little faster all the same. With the Western Meadowlarks, Lark Buntings, and Cassin’s Sparrows as a soundtrack, it’s a simply beautiful day to be outside.
One of my favorite quotes by Aldo Leopold in his book, A Sand County Almanac. A classic read for any upcoming wildlife biologist, nature-lover, or outdoors person. This quote reminds me of the well-known saying “leave it better than you found it”. A saying that had been engrained in me ever since I was just a kid playing in the river behind my house. I am fortunate that I grew up as an “outdoor kid”.
The first time meeting a bull I thought there should be much more care taken. We parked the pick-up in the two-lane adjacent to the white mound napping and chewing his cud. He didn’t move or glace our way as we approached. I walked equal to the rancher; if he was going in, I was, too.
On Sunday, March 13th, I saw my first Mountain Bluebird of the year. He was coming off the south fence of the northwestern pasture. He launched, dipped, then propelled making it to the opposite side to watch me travel on, my car having done more to move him than the cows, or even the coyotes could manage.
From a young age, I felt a disconnect between our culture and nature. I was always curious about the natural world and wondered why anyone would want to study anything else. My father’s idealist view and respect for Indigenous people specifically inspired me. I longed to live more connected to the land, like the Indigenous people whose ways of life I had come to admire.
Another summer in the Northern Great Plains has come and gone, now fleeting as quickly as it arrived. With it, the many birds who travel thousands of miles to call these grasslands home during the breeding season have begun to make the long journey back to their wintering grounds. For the many ranchers and farmers of eastern Montana, the work is not done.
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies implements wintering grassland bird monitoring throughout the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico and the southern United States. The data we collecst inform Full Annual-Cycle conservation strategies of grassland bird species in decline. We train field crews in English and Spanish in order to implement consistent and high quality data collection across the international border. We highly value the expertise of our conservation partners in Mexico.and our have embraced the bilingual and multicultural component of our programs in the region.
Dogs aren’t new to me, but they almost seemed that way when I moved to the San Luis Valley and started working as a Private Lands Wildlife Biologist. I grew up in Chicago, IL and the dogs I knew were house pups – used to lazy mornings and an afternoon walk. So when I moved to the San Luis Valley and met a cattle dog that wanted nothing to do with me, I was surprised. But by spending time with local landowners and their dogs, I quickly learned the difference between the “pet” dogs I’d grown up with and the working dogs out here in the San Luis Valley – and much more. I’m a Private Lands Wildlife Biologist and I work with landowners, ranchers, and farmers to conserve wildlife habitat on their properties. Landowners are typically focused on making a living and carrying on generations-old traditions, while I am focused on creating and enhancing habitat for migratory and resident birds. These goals often go together, allowing us to develop and work on projects that both enhance landowner operations and benefit birds and other wildlife.