The desert is one of the few places on earth that truly lives up to the romance surrounding it. It is a place of solitude, simplicity and above all else, space. And along with those romantic notions comes a tangible feeling of isolation. I spent the last four months living on the summit of Steens Mountain in southern Oregon, where I was stationed with one other biologist and assigned the task of monitoring the bird populations that breed in that desolate place.
We trapped several dozen birds in our study area and put plastic bands on their legs in a variety of color combinations, allowing us to identify them as specific individuals throughout the season. This enabled us to map their individual territories and monitor the nuances of their interactions with neighboring birds. We also watched for signs of nest making and parental feeding. We used these observations to locate and monitor the productivity of their nests--how many eggs were laid, how many hatched, the growth and potential death of the chicks, and so on.
Looking back on the experience, I realize that the lives of these small birds served to meet the same need for entertainment, inquiry and social stimulation that life in a city typically provides. Our neighbors communicated with us through the flashes of color strapped to their legs and the songs that echoed at sunrise. Their stories became our dramas. Our streets were worn by wings, hooves and boots alike.
- Adam Baz