A Day in the Life of a GCSNA Resource Specialist

by Casey Cowan, Government Canyon Resource Specialist

It’s just before dawn and I am getting supplies together for my morning Golden-cheeked Warbler survey; GPS, iPad, Kestrel, water, gaiters, and most importantly, knife. Yup, they are all accounted for so I grab my backpack and head out the door. I cross through the picnic sites near the pavilion and hop over the fence to reach the Kallison property. Dawn is just breaking and the birds have started their chorus but the small, feisty Golden-cheek isn’t one of them. I continue down the service road until I reach the corner of the parcel I will be surveying; I enter weather conditions in the iPad then trade it for my knife from my bag. The survey starts just as I enter the woods and begin to push through the thick brush and branches.

The parcel is just over fifty acres and the parameters of the survey state you must spend at least one hour in each twenty-five acres so I slowly walk the path of least resistance while trying to keep a straight transect line. So far, the only sounds I hear are a few song birds, someone mowing their yard, and the shockingly loud firing at the National Shooting Complex. I continue, ducking and pushing through tree branches in search of the buzzy warbler sound. The morning slowly progresses and I stumble upon a large wallow that I can only assume a family of feral hogs has created. I accidently get a little too close to the edge and my boots sink in. Whoops. Just then I hear what I am there for, the sound of male Golden-cheeked Warbler singing his defensive song. I unstick my boots from the saturated mud and attempt to quietly get as close as possible to the warbler. I make it to him and take a GPS point, he flees and I follow to take another point, then again. Finally, he flees and stops singing so I regain my position along the transect and continue the survey.

As the survey draws to an end I hear what sounds like a juvenile hawk so I quietly try to investigate when suddenly an adult Coopers Hawk alights a branch just thirty yards from me. The hawk quickly decides I am not what it expected and little does he know I feel the same so we both flee. The bird continues to make the sound that originally drew me toward it so I check my back and make haste to get out of sight; if he only knew my knife was no defense against his talons. I check my watch and see that it is in fact time to call it quits so I make my way to the eastern boundary of the survey parcel; I take the weather again and enter all the data into the iPad. The hike back to my office affords some more bird watching and I spot my first Summer Tanager of the season. As I round the corner on the visitor center I contemplate what else we might encounter during the seven weeks left of these surveys.