Saturday, June 4, 2011

"They Love the Rhododendrums"

This morning in my garden, a pair of catbirds had a vicious dispute. I was a witness. Wearing nothing but my bathrobe and slippers, I had gone down to sit in my purple chair with a cup of coffee. The drama unfolding before me involved a cacophony of catbird calls and low aerial combat swoops over the fence and through the rungs of my purple ladder.

I told you all that to tell you this.

My life is wholly related. I am the personification of the world's most complex Venn diagram. Everything I do seems to have some connection to something or someone. As backyard gardener, I am a citizen scientist, trying mightily to understand a miniature ecosystem and my place in it. As Smithsonian writer and editor, I tell stories about the real scientists out there striving to understand our world and our place in it.

This morning, Venn diagram style, those worlds collided. I was out walking my dog and I ran into Smithsonian researcher Leah Culp. She was searching around in my neighbor's bushes. Wearing a Smithsonian Institution baseball cap, her long pony tail poked through the back and a pen was perched behind her ear.

Around her neck, her binoculars hung and she reminded me of guurl version of one of my favorite science adventurers, Roy Chapman Andrews. A pheasant feather in his cap and Mannlicher rifle at his side, Andrews was a dinosaur hunter who traveled to Outer Mongolia in the 1920s and discovered one of the first evidences of dinosaur eggs in their nest. Culp's body was a literal pegboard, sporting field equipment of every kind, a clip board, a tape measure, extra pencils and notepad. And her goal? The catbird. I'd met up with her earlier this week and she had told me about the team of bird watchers that are working all over the DC area for the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center observing the catbird as an indicator species for other songbirds. At work, I have a call out to Leah's boss Pete Marra to do an Around the Mall blog post on the work these researchers are doing.

I told Leah about the catbird drama in my garden earlier this morning and she readily diagnosed the situation as one of "shifting territories." Of course, I thought, it was clear the birds had had some disagreement. She followed me over to my garden to have a look and found in my rhododendrum the makings of a nest. "They love the rhododendrums," she told me. I certainly should have known that, the catbirds are constantly singing to me when I am working in my garden.

I gave Leah permission to come back to my garden and make observations. So you see everything is related. My home garden is now a field research project for a Smithsonian scientist. The Putterer

1 comment:

  1. Very cool. I have watched a male cardinal feed his female from the birdfeeder in my pear tree. Can't get enough of those two. They are here every spring.