When we pulled in to the field station near the big town of Irbit, we discovered what is the probably the closest thing on the planet to scientist summer camp. Nick and Victor led us to a brand-new log cabin, containing a kitchen, dining area, and room for us to stay in. The room was decorated with stuffed roe deer heads, antlers, a wasp nest, and blown up photos of local wildlife, and had windows overlooking a pond. There was a table with plates of candies, dried fruit, and nuts. The dining room table was set for tea and had baskets of pastries, bread and jam, and more candies. Awesome.
After it was clear we could get big sample sizes by working at the dairy, we spent some time catching birds in villages as well, to both diversify our sample and get good song recordings, since it’s often easier to record one bird sitting on a wire than 10 flying around in a barn. One of the simultaneously fun and frustrating things about working on barn swallows is that they live around people, and this means you often have a peanut gallery watching on while you try to catch them. And Russians, it turns out, love their barn swallows. We were surprised to find that when we knocked on doors and asked if people had lastichka nests, they not only knew what we were talking about, but could give us whole histories of swallow families at their houses- where the nests had been the year before, how many chicks they had, that one time their cat ate the birds, etc. One particularly enthusiastic man with gold teeth and lovely garden gave us a long genealogy of his swallows, and quoted us a Russian proverb about how barn swallows are indicators of a happy family. He nervously allowed us to catch the pair nesting in his shed, which we processed as fast as we could under his watchful eye. We saw him again the next day, and he happily updated us: the birds were back with their nest and appeared none the worse for the wear.
Stay tuned for Yekaterinburg: Part 2