Recently, scientists have been taking to social media to share their stories of field work bloopers under the tag #fieldworkfail. Things like dropping fecal samples on themselves, falling sleep while waiting for a turtle to arrive, only to be woken up by the curious turtle crawling over them, or darting a zebra and having it pass out in a precarious position. Needless to say I have plenty of stories of my own so I thought I would share my top three favorite, or at least most memorable, field moments.
1) What’s crackin?
At one point during my first field season I found myself spending a week’s worth of my mornings in Seattle’s International District between the hours of 5 and 7am. Looking back, this was a bad idea. So much so that at one point a cab driver pulled over to ask what I was doing and urge me, for the sake of my safety, to leave immediately. But there were crows there and after months of time on the streets of Seattle I had developed an inflated sense of my safety and bad assery and decided to stick it out. On one of my last mornings at this particular site, a women who I had previously encountered pan handeling took a seat on the bench next to mine, and proceeded to pull out what was unmistakably a crack pipe. Unwilling to give up my data, I politely asked her to move but, much to my dismay, she didn’t seem very interested in listening. High on crack, she then proceeded to do cartwheels over my peanuts and dance pants-less around my field site. After a while she tuckered out and left me alone to do my work. Looking back, I’m not sure if this was more a #FieldworkFail or a #KaeliLifeDecisionFail but it’s certainly not a field experience I wish to relive!
2) Sorry kids
During some of our experiments looking at the funeral behaviors, we would have volunteers stand around holding dead crows. To protect their identity should the crows decide to hold a grudge, I had the volunteers wear rubber makes that covered their whole head. One of my best volunteers was a fellow UW student, a mountain of a man who had a proclivity for wearing black and camo. One of these field experiments was in Magnuson park which, if you live in Seattle, you know is one of our most curious parks. It’s got all the features of a park you might expect like a play ground, soccer fields, trails that wander through peaceful restoration areas, but it’s also got some more curious features. Old, WWII era airplane hangers, a block of abandoned school building and a few miscellaneous businesses just to name a few. So when selecting a field site I picked a spot that seemed far from the potentially curious glances of parents or kids coming to enjoy a day at the park and instead nestled against one of the many buildings which appeared to have no foot traffic. I was surprised then, when moments after starting our experiment a police car rolled up with its lights flashing. Turns out the building I thought was rarely used was actually a pediatric dental office and I had planted my 6’6”, black and camo clad, dead bird holding, creepy mask wearing volunteer right under the side window. Whoops!
3) Off with their heads!
During one of my preliminary field experiments we were looking at how crows respond to a mounted stuffed hawk. We didn’t want them to see it before it was in position, so we would cover the bird with a piece of mesh camo fabric until moments before we were ready when a volunteer would run over and pull the cloth off. Although the holes in the mesh were very small, as it turned out they were exactly the right size for the tip of the hawk’s bill to fit through. One fateful day, my volunteer got more than she bargained for when the hawk’s bill caught on the mesh and the head ripped right off along with the cloth. Unsure of what to do she balanced the head on the hawk’s shoulders and proceeded with the experiment. All was well until right at the end, when one of the aggressively diving crows actually hit the hawk and knocked the head to the ground. We’ll never know what was going through his or her mind at the achievement or what followed, but I like to imagine that on the block of 8th and Madison in downtown Seattle to this day juvie crows share in uncertain but excited whispers about the legend of the crow so powerful, it took the head of the a hawk in one fell swoop.