Duck, Duck, San Francisco: How a Simple Science Story Helped Me Travel Due-West for a Week

August is the month defined by not making sense. I was in the cool summer of freedom in Wyoming at the beginning, transferred to Pennsylvania for a humid week of deciduous forest, and ended up in West Virginia to attend to my student duties.

What a whirlwind.

West Virginia duckie visited the Grand Tetons this summer with me

My weeks in Pennsylvania, although a seemingly insignificant blip at first glance, were well-spent. Family bonding and fishing in familiar streams make me happy, and it was good, stable break despite the craziness of the summer.

The week I was home happened to coincide with the beginning of duck banding again. Last year, I assisted in banding wood ducks and mallards with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

As a refresher on the whys and hows of banding, feel free to check out last year’s blog post I wrote about banding ducks at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area here.

I had the opportunity to actually handle and band ducks this year, something I absolutely love to do.

A dream come true once again. Photo: Lauren Fenstermacher

Matthew McBride, a senior at SUNY-ESF in New York, was working with the PGC all summer, and I banded with him for the day. It was fun to work with a fellow up-and-coming wildlife biologist who has similar passions.

Lauren Fenstermacher, Middle Creek wildlife conservation education specialist, was an excellent leader and wonderful as always; she led the both of us. She stopped to point out milkweed, which is top-quality monarch butterfly habitat, and to point out birds other than ducks. I enjoyed seeing her again this year.

A monarch caterpillar enjoys a tasty treat.
This is a ring-necked pheasant, not a duck.

Last summer, when I had the chance to do this for the first time, I wrote a story about it for the Reading Eagle Sunday outdoors section. That piece was submitted as a science writing example for an application to be a student fellow at the World Conference of Science Journalists 2017 meeting in San Francisco, Calif.

Aaaand…I was accepted!

People took me seriously even with the Twitter handle there.

I am one of 22 to receive the fellowship out of a large pool of applicants, and I’m legitimately humbled and honored to have received it. Who thought reporting about ducks, something I love dearly, could get me a week to travel and network with others like me?

Lauren Fenstermacher handles a male wood duck.

Feel free to check out my and fellow other fellow’s profiles here.

The conference lasted Oct. 25 to Oct. 30, and all fellows were required to cover two stories. My experiences and stories will be linked in a future blog post, so check back soon.

One of the few actions shots where I don’t fall into the pond. Photo: Lauren Fenstermacher

Spoiler alert: my stories I covered were not about ducks. I know – boo.

On my way to retrieve my loves