Field Observations

Although we were able to set up cameras at two of our field sites, the third site was not close enough to a space that had both a power source and a place for a monitor and backup system. For that reason, we divided up the days so that for about six days out of every week, one of us would arrive just before 7:00 AM armed with a folding chair, binoculars and a guidebook, a stack of data sheets, a stopwatch (or phone), bug deterring clothes, and snacks and caffeine. For two hours we would sit and alternate watching the control feeder and the sonic net feeder for one minute out of every ten, jotting down each bird’s visit on our tally sheets. We’d set up between the two feeders and give the birds time to adjust to our presence. Then we’d sit quietly and just watch. It was always beautiful so early in the morning, with the sun filtering through the leaves and the oppressive summer heat still sleeping. Unlike with the video cameras, we could observe the entire field site during these observations. While our main task was to write down feeder visits exactly like we did when collecting video data, it was a lot easier to comprehend the implications of that data when watching the whole scene. I could easily tell which feeder was more frequented (for example, in the original trials with the sonic net playing, the birds visited the control feeder much more frequently, emptying that feeder at a much faster rate). I could also see when individual birds would fly from one feeder to another. If a northern cardinal were feeding on the control feeder, a tufted titmouse might try to land there, be displaced by the aggressive cardinal, and then fly over to the sonic net feeder instead, in spite of the higher risk from the masking “pink” noise of the net.

One time while doing a field observation, I was startled by the “Who cooks for you” call of the barred owl, and looked up with my binoculars into a giant white oak to see a pair of owls calling to each other. Another time a great crested flycatcher descended from the canopy and perched on a branch less than twenty feet away; I got a good long look that I probably never would have gotten if I hadn’t been sitting so still for so long. The same thing happened with a blue gray gnatcatcher and a wood thrush, and once a mourning dove walked three feet in front of me as it foraged on the ground.