Notes from the Field: Cows, Snakes and Pollen – A Reflection on a Season of Field Monitoring

June 27, 2024
Notes from the Field: Cows, Snakes and Pollen – A Reflection on a Season of Field Monitoring

Notes from the Field: Cows, Snakes and Pollen

By James O'Brien

By mid-March, the season of measuring begins. The snow in the Ochocos is slowly melting away, providing a much-needed release of water into the streams below. This deluge of cold water signals the warmer months ahead and heralds the arrival of the eagerly anticipated irrigation season. The instream flows are fast and high, turning standing in the stream into a balancing contest, somewhat eased by occasionally leaning on the measuring instrument. The monitoring sites are serene, as if the world has not yet fully awoken from its winter slumber. Nearby, cattle move around the fields and sometimes even come to say hello, their calm energy matching the tranquil scene as they too prepare for the impending calving season. During this time, the distant clucks and purrs of wild turkeys can be heard as they begin their mating rituals.

From April through May, each site visit brings its unique surprise. You may spend the day under cloudy and rainy skies, feeling as though summer is still far off. Or you may find yourself sweating under clear blue skies, having dressed too warmly in anticipation of icy waters that no longer freeze your toes while you collect data. The water in the streams typically retains a cold winter bite, and the flows remain strong, promising abundance to the aquatic species that inhabit these streams and to the parched fields eager to yield a robust harvest. As time passes, subtle signs of longer days ahead become noticeable. Birds begin to serenade you from the canopies, green sweeps over the landscape, smaller buzzing creatures zoom past as you attempt to measure steadily, and the annual branding rituals at nearby ranches are in full swing.

By late May, the days are consistently warmer, and the fields around you burst with life. Almost overnight, all the critters have emerged to enjoy the season. Your stuffy nose and itchy eyes confirm that nature is in full bloom, promising the long-awaited arrival of summer.

Into June, the sun beats down as you wipe sweat from your brow. You find yourself sharing the stream with a garter snake, both of you seeking respite from the midday heat. As the earth warms, so do the stream waters, and you sense the measuring days are drawing to a close. The diminishing instream flows make measuring increasingly challenging, emphasizing the critical need to restore flows in a stream that is vital to so many. Despite the sun's heat, the incessant bugs, and the caution needed to avoid stepping on a reticent venomous snake, enjoying a sandwich on the tailgate at lunchtime becomes a cherished moment.

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An aerial view of a body of water.