Tracking bluebird number 37

Allyson Jackson came by our offices Friday afternoon to be interviewed. Allyson is a grad student in biology, a member of a team investigating the health of bluebirds who are raised on golf courses. As a part of this continuing study, the researchers fit young, just ready to fly, bluebirds with transmitters. They want to see how many bluebirds survive, so they track the birds, using telemetry equipment, just like you see on the Discovery Channel.

Allyson Jackson

Allyson Jackson makes a GPS entry after marking the location of wily bluebird number 37.

The actual interview was conducted by Rachel Apostoles, a senior at Jamestown High who, has been shadowing me this month to learn what it’s like to be a real writer. (I don’t have the heart to tell her.) After Rachel was done with the interview, Allyson said that she had a fix on a bird near our office and was going out to try to track him down.

Of course Rachel and I tagged along. Allyson fetched her telemetry gear, which is characterized by that hand-held antenna that looks like it blew off a roof back in 1964. We crossed Jamestown Road, the telemetry unit beeping at intervals. Allyson explained that the stronger the beep, the nearer the bird. Number 37 was beeping away at what seemed to be at moderate strength.

Once we entered that area between McGlothlin-Street Hall, Washington and Barrett, Allyson looked a bit puzzled.

“I don’t like it when the birds get over here on this part of campus,” she said. “They’re hard to track; all the buildings mix up the signal.”

We advanced slowly down the slope, and Allyson made a left hand turn toward a big tree that I took for a cypress. “I think he’s in there,” she said. “Yeah. He’s in there.”

I had backed off to take a photo and saw, through the viewfinder, that blue-white-slate flash that I knew meant bluebird. I lowered the camera.

“Was that him?” I called.

“Yeah! He flew to another tree,” Allyson said.

Allyson entered a fix in her GPS unit to mark the location of number 37 and that was that. It was interesting, of course, but a bit of a letdown to have found the bird so quickly and actually have seen him. It was all over in 20 minutes and I walk farther from my parking space to my office than we walked to run number 37 to earth.

Categories: Academics, Faculty & Staff Blogs, Research

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