This article was originally published on June 11th, 2021 for Climbing.com
For Gavin Emmons and Alacia Welch to do their jobs, they have to be expert climbers, have extensive search-and-rescue training, be experts on endangered bird species and know how to do phlebotomies in the middle of the desert. Emmons and Welch are wildlife biologists at Pinnacles National Park, California, specializing in monitoring raptors like the California Condor, Prairie and Peregrine Falcons that nest in the park.
“Alacia and I often joke that the whole suite of skills that are needed for this job makes for a very specialized set. And you need to have quite high expertise,” says Emmons.
Emmons and Welch use their skills to perform “nest entries.” They climb or rappel to reach raptor nests, extract the nestlings (baby birds) and bring them to the ground for tagging, measuring and blood draws, then return the babies to the nest. The data they gather helps the park manage the birds.
One morning I met Emmons at 7 a.m. at the park to observe his work, which that day involved tagging nestlings, and taking measurements and collecting blood and feathers for genetic and pesticide research.
After a few minutes of walking, we veered off-trail. Emmons pointed out a whitewashed area of rock. Overhead, two adult Prairie Falcons circled, protecting their nest of three.
“It seems like there’s always some new location that some pair of [birds] finds,” Welch said. “The first thing to do is sleuthing out how do you approach the nest and what are your options as far as anchors go?”
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