This week’s Dispatch comes from guest blogger Haley Kenyon, who offers a valuable bit of insight gained during her field season studying warblers in British Columbia. For more about Haley, see her bio at the end of the post.
Today I’m going to tell you about something that is very important. It may even be the key to a successful field season, but no one seems to talk about it. Yes, to have a successful field season you need to be organized, you need to be prepared to test your mental and physical strength, you need to be ready to embrace challenges, you need to have contingency plans, you need to be able to “go with the flow,” and you need to be ready to accept that some things you try just will not work, etc. A lot of time and effort (not to mention blood, sweat and tears) go into all of this preparation, but I would argue that not enough consideration goes into one very important piece of field season prep: how carefully do you think about your choice of field season theme song?
While it may seem trivial at first, who’s to say that your field season theme song choice can’t be your key to success?
During the field season for my master’s degree, I worked in northeastern British Columbia recording and catching birds in a warbler hybrid zone. After my generous lab mates came up and showed us the ropes, my awesome field assistant and I were on our own catching birds and recording them. To be honest, it was a little overwhelming. We had some really awesome days (we developed a scoring system by which we could describe how well our day went: one bird = not the best day, two birds = fine day, three birds = OK day, four birds = good day, five birds = very good day, six birds = great day!). We also had some not-so-great days during which we drove for hours and found no birds, got stranded at our campsites and drenched in heavy rain, or had to give up on birds that we were working on because of friendly grizzly bears nearby (notice that we deliberately left no room for bad days on our scale).
We were lucky enough to have a huge assortment of music available to us, from which we ended up choosing our theme song for the season: Tubthumping by Chumbawumba. It may seem like an unconventional choice, but driving out of our various campsites every morning listening to the lyrics, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down,” was a pretty great way to start off the day in good spirits – even if we were getting out of bed at 3 a.m..
When anything bad happened during the day, we played our song again and it gave us enough silly energy to carry on. One day we drove 300 km in an afternoon, intending to record a specific population of birds the next day…and found none. You’d better believe that we listened to Tubthumping several times as a result, mentally preparing ourselves to have a super successful morning the next day to make up for it.
But we also played our song to celebrate when good things happened (“We’ll be singing… when we’re winning…”). One day when working in the centre of the hybrid zone, we made high-quality recordings of nine birds and caught them all (off-the-charts!). We listened to Tubthumping as we searched for a new place to camp that night – what a way to celebrate!
So as you’re getting ready for your next field season, don’t forget to put a bit of time into choosing an awesome song to get you through. Who knows? It might just be the key to success! (But maybe also put a lot of time into preparing other things, too…)
Haley Kenyon completed her MSc degree at the University of British Columbia (and made sure to thank Chumbawumba in the Acknowledgements section of her thesis). She is currently a PhD candidate in the Biology Department at Queen’s University. Her research focuses on the role that signal divergence plays in speciation in birds.