I and the Bird

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

#4 Upstate New York, Summer 05

I have had a lot of good jobs over the course of my working life. When I was 15 I worked as a Narc for Maine's Attorney General's office. Accompanied by an off-duty police officer, a driver and another kid, I would drive all over southern Maine and stop at stores and try to buy cigarettes. If they asked for ID, I would say I didn't have any and leave. If they sold to me we would fine them. We weren't exactly on the SWAT team or anything, but, to a 15 year old, pulling up to a store and getting out of the car with our game-faces on made me feel like Baretta.
There were others, too. I worked for a couple summers at Mother's Mountain, a small company in Maine that made mustard, jam and hot sauce. I worked at a legendary Maine country store, Town Landing Market. I spent a summer as one of the few male staff members at an all-girls summer camp. The best job by far, though, was this past summer when I worked as a wildlife photographer for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
I learned about the job from an all-campus email and was so excited that I showed up a day early for the interview. Somehow I managed to smooth over that fact and charmed them into giving me the job. This is what I did every day: got in a sweet old pickup truck, drove to a state forest in one of three counties in central New York (Broome, Chenango and Madison), walked around the forest all day long taking pictures of whatever animals and plants I find and, back at the station, edit the pictures and write about the forest for use on informational kiosks.
For someone just getting into birding, this was an amazing opportunity. It was essentially paid-birdwatching. The forests were teeming with ovenbirds, common yellowthroats, chickadees, hawks, tanagers, owls, harriers, and sparrows, as well as turtles, snakes, porcupine, deer and black bear. I felt like Marty Stouffer from Wild America every single day.

The only disappointments of the summer, bird-wise, was that I missed out on red crossbills in New Michigan state forest (Pharsalia, NY) and Goshawks. I went to a certain place in New Michigan every day for 7 days after crossbills had been reported there, and only once caught a fleeing glance of what were probably crossbills. Goshawks, on the other hand, should have been a sure bet. They bred in many of the forests I went to and were legendary for vigorously defending their nests, swooping down and actually drawing blood from some of the foresters at my station. I brought a hard hat when I went to areas where Goshawks nested, but, alas, never saw one.
Highlights included my first tanagers at Cat Hollow SF, mourning warblers in Sherburne, blue-winged and blackburnian warblers in Otselic and a noontime barred own in Madison. If you're ever birding in one of these counties, look for my kiosks, they'll be up sometime this spring.
I tell my kids that the best job I ever had was as a garbage truck driver in Gulf Breeze, Florida in the late 70's. It paid $3.50 an hour and all you could eat. Sorry. Had to post it.
Dave, fashionable uniforms? The foul-smelling wind in your hair? What's not to love?
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