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To make an end is to make a beginning

June 10, 2013

Well, folks, I did it. Granted, somewhat behind my original schedule, but nonetheless I’ve made it. Despite our currently Californian (?) weather, I blitzed it over the weekend and got the last robin measured up on Saturday afternoon. I even had a cup of caffinated coffee to celebrate, taking it out onto the front grass to make even more of it. There you go. No more looking at spectrograms, except in my dreams (yes, I do dream about them). No more straining to get the measurements exact. No more cursing the perfect song interrupted by another bird. It’s only taken me two years. But I have them. Nine species. Approx 20 individuals per species. Not to mention all the attrition it took to get those 180+ birds, 180+ playback experiments, all the ‘useless’ recordings hibernating for me to, maybe, oneday, find a use for them. Months in the field. Months of dawnrising. Months of sleepdeprived driving the country. Months of joy, actually, hunting for my prey, getting so close to them, getting to know them. As Niko Tinbergen (from Curious Naturalists) said (about digger-wasps, all things, so the transference is not specific to creatures of our own, or more closely related, class – in the taxonomic sense): “they were transformed into personal acquaintances, whose lives … became affairs of personal interest and concern to me”.

Then, now just over, months and months of getting to know the songs so well, I see their patterns in my dreams, hear their sound whenever I let my mind wander. Assessing, counting, measuring, calculating, checking, verifying. Excel sheets mutating, expanding, proliferating, such multitudes and variety, they’re almost as overwhelming as a full-on dawn chorus.

However, now I have to make the leap fully into the abstract. Now I have to fire all engines ahead with my statistical analysis. I must leave the personal, the animate, the individuals, long and far behind and delve into the patterns of numbers that their songs have made. As one of my supervisors would say, now the fun really starts. I’ve made a good headway into the preliminary statistical analysis already, and there are some interesting things emerging. And it’s fun, and exciting, and a totally different way of losing yourself to that of being in the field. A different kind of forest to find my way through. This too demands work, but also patience. Waiting to see. Who knows what will emerge into the clearing.

“..  make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from.”

(TS Eliot. Little Gidding).


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  1. Congratulations! I had no idea you had collected so many different birds within each species! That had to be a huge job! I really wish I knew more about how this all got started. It strikes me as a very unusual, particular study, and I’d love to know the inspiration that started it all. Maybe way down the line when you complete your work you can go back and tell us about the very beginning, when you first thought about this study. I’m happy to hear your enthusiasm for moving into the new statistical phase of your work. That sounds a bit grueling, but I do know the fun of doing research and seeing what emerges from all the work you’ve already compiled. I am really fascinated! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the congrats Debra, much appreciated. And the next stage is going to be fun of a very different sort, I’m sure

  3. Hi there, I love your blog and have nominated you for a Sunshine award. If you would like to follow through, please go to my post sunshine
    and follow the instructions, all the best, Roberta

  4. Good luck, just keep going – it Will come together 🙂 I nominated your blog for a sunshine award – if you would like to participate please follow to the post ‘Sunshine’ at then follow instructions and finally nominate ten more blogs. All the best, Roberta 🙂

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