Raptor Research REU, Days 2-4: Learning the Ropes

The past few days I participated in seminars designed to help us learn skills we will need in the field, such as driving a vehicle off-road, obtaining blood samples from live birds, and climbing trees to reach nests.  My favorite by far was the tree climbing seminar.  Biologists use well-studied and applied techniques and climbing gear to reach the necessary heights to count, age, and band nestlings.  I will be using this skill during my time in the field studying the Northern Goshawk.

Tree climbing for raptor researchers is a crucial skill needed to reach nests. To start, you need a tree climber’s helmet and some cool glasses for protection.
Here I am using the doubled rope technique to ascend. David Anderson, a biologist who works for the Peregrine Fund and an expert on tree climbing, is instructing me. To climb, I start by lifting my right foot, which is connected to the rope with a foot strap which only allows upward movement along the rope. Then I push off with my foot and slide the Blake’s Hitch up. (A Blake’s Hitch is a friction knot which allows easy movement upward, and downward movement when pressure is applied). Then I relax my body and repeat the movement. In doubled rope technique, about half of the height you gain initially is lost because when you relax your body, the rope you are holding onto slides across the branch on which it is anchored and raises the parallel rope strand.
The single rope technique (pictured here) is usually preferred over the doubled rope technique because it is more efficient.
Rob Miller, my mentor, watching me ascend.
Finally reached the target height!
Logan, my teammate for the climbing seminar, climbing with David.
Tree climbing has similarities to rock climbing, but there are critical differences between the techniques.  Unlike rock climbing, tree climbing relies on the rope for all movement into the tree.  Tree climbing does not include a belay system, and functions with one person.
Logan nearing the top!
2016 Raptor Research REU students with two of our climbing instructors.

There is something calming about being up in a tree.  It is quieter.  You feel sheltered, cradled almost, by the tree.  At the same time, there’s an element of danger.  You look down, and lose your breath.  You look up, and the sun is filtering through the leaves, and patches of sky are inviting you onward.  I can’t imagine what it will be like to reach a goshawk nest!!!

Every day I get more excited to get out into the field.  More to come!



3 thoughts on “Raptor Research REU, Days 2-4: Learning the Ropes

  1. I so love this! Waaay back in my day, we didn’t have blogs (I sure wish we did though!) OR offical tree-climbing training (I kinda had to just beg some people to teach me). Glad things are evolving! 😉 Can’t wait to hang out in the South Hills with you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kristin!! I’m having such a great time and I can’t wait to see you! Blogging is really helping me go over what Ive learned and collect my thoughts! Tree climbing was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to climb up to see nestlings.


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