Saturday, May 21, 2011

Back to Black (I mean...Blogging)

Hey family and friends! So this post is a bit delayed and unannounced, but after a lot of hemming and hawing, I decided to blog again and share with you my experiences in Wyoming this summer. I think the original title of my blog ("Welcome to Moose Country") has been a bit off the last two years, as I don't think there was any chance of seeing a moose on Assateague Island -- but I think it rings true yet again for this summer.

Swainson's hawk
turbine galore

So, for those that don't know, I just graduated from the University of Florida (whoopee!) and left the sunshine state the first week of May. I am working as a field technician for a masters student at the University of Wyoming - Anika Mahoney. Anika's project is looking at the impacts of wind energy development (i.e. turbines) on grassland bird species. So essentially, I am working under massive wind turbines every day of the week.

American Avocet

Here are some interesting turbine tidbits:

-each turbine is about 70 m, or 230 feet tall

-each blade of the turbine is 140 feet long (a single turbine has 3 blades total)

-the speed at which each blade travels is 120 mph

-each blade can change the angle at which it faces the wind, and changes according to wind direction

-the entire head of the turbine can swivel according to wind direction

When I went to my safety training (mandatory if you are to set foot onto a wind farm site), I learned some more cool facts about wind turbines:

-when it snows or sleets, the blades can become iced over. Since the majority of the time the blades continue to turn as long as there's wind, there's always the possibility that literal chunks of ice can be thrown thousands of feet. The site supervisor at the Seven Mile Wind Farm site we're working at told us that a wind turbine in Texas had thrown a single, massive chunk of ice over 600 m into the kitchen window of a rather unfortunate neighboring house. Fortunately, nobody was harmed.

-an unlucky worker at the Seven Mile site had regrettably parked his work truck facing WITH the wind. When he proceeded to open his car door, he, along with the car door, were ripped off the truck and traveled a good 200 feet. Again, nobody was harmed (but apparently the worker was a tad embarassed).

In addition to our safety training, we were told to wear protective equipment whenever we were present at the site. This entails wearing hard hats, safety goggles, steel-toed boots, and fluorescent vests. We are the hardest-core bird crew badasses I've ever seen.

So, for the first two weeks, I've been the only field tech -- but a second tech, Jon, came yesterday. We're hoping this week to really get cracking on all of the bird surveys, although we are still waiting for the third (and last) field tech, Brian to come the last day of May.

These past two weeks Anika and I have already been doing bird surveys, but have been interrupted by snow several times. Snow is all fun and games to play in - but not so much when you're dealing with 230-foot behemoths that could throw 80-pound chunks of ice at a whim. Additionally, it's not good to disturb the birds when conditions are less than ideal - especially with incubating mommas trying to keep their babies (i.e. eggs) warm.

As this is merely an introductory post, I will now shower you with pretty snow photos:

On Thursday, Anika and I hiked the trail near our cabin. Apparently this is a trail that is often used by hunters to find big game (e.g., elk, pronghorn, and moose). The trail, in some parts, is probably covered in over 4-8 feet of snow - so it will look completely different after snowmelt.

There's me (below) and Anika (above), reveling in the winter wonderland that is our backyard.

MOOSE!!! See? This place IS moose country. This momma was with her young'in (not pictured) just behind our cabin.

I love all the fir and spruce trees here.

Anyway, that's all for now! At the cabin, I don't have cell service or internet, so hopefully I will be able to update every other weekend or so, when I'm back into civilization. Miss you all and hope you are enjoying a summer! It still seems like winter here!