Back in September we added a new staff biologist to our team – Lee Bryant! She is not really new to IBP though; she has worked with us seasonally for the past couple of years. Lee has boundless energy and enthusiasm for bird study and we’re very excited about her new role with IBP. We asked Lee to field a few questions so we could get to know her better.
How did you get started with IBP and what is your new role here?
Lee doing fieldwork in Sequoia National Forest in 2021.
I started with IBP in 2021 as a backcountry point count technician in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks and couldn't believe someone was going to pay me to hike and bird! I fell in love with the Sierra Nevada and the project, and have enjoyed working closely with our Inventory and Monitoring park service partners on season logistics the past two years, as well as continuing to explore the breathtaking wilderness of the Sierra.
In my new role at IBP I’ll be leading a project that focuses on the response of birds to fire management in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. It’s a great opportunity to foster collaboration with park wildlife biologists as well as contribute to active management practices aimed at protecting iconic sequoia groves (the birdiest forests in the parks!) from the negative impacts of high severity wildfires.
When did you first become interested in birds?
The first time I remember looking at a bird and thinking 'what is it doing?' was around age 7 or 8. While walking to a friend's house, I noticed a small bird on the ground doing a funny thing with its wing and squawk-yelling at me. I started looking around where it came from and found a small rock nest with a few perfectly camouflaged eggs. I thought, 'what a silly bird, nesting in rocks on the ground!' At the time I was clueless, but now I know it was a Killdeer luring me away with the iconic broken wing display. I consider this the spark moment that got me into birds, but I didn't have a way to kindle that spark until college when I took a deep dive into ecology, conservation biology, environmental science, and ornithology.
What was your first “bird job”?
My first bird job was at The Institute for Tremont (a residential environmental education center) in Great Smoky Mountains National Park studying the impact of hemlock decline on Louisiana Waterthrush. My supervisor failed to tell me that nest searching for small songbirds requires waking up early, so I would casually head into the field around 8:30am and come back around 4:30pm wondering why I hadn't found any nests. Halfway through the season, my supervisor finally told me I should start nest searching before dawn. Despite the misunderstanding, I learned a tremendous amount from that job and ended up turning the project into my master's thesis.
What are your hobbies?
Lee snowshoeing in Colorado.
I double majored in Theatre and Environmental Studies in undergrad and have always loved performing. However, traveling around for bird gigs and going to grad school put theatre on the back burner for almost a decade. I got back into it while living in Flagstaff but ultimately birds have become the priority. I still adore performing when I get the chance, and as soon as I decide to live somewhere long enough I hope to jump back into it more seriously.
I love the outdoors generally and spend as much time as possible backpacking, hiking, running, biking, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, doing really anything that gets me outside and moving. I started climbing this fall and have loved jumping head first into the challenge of moving vertically. Occasionally I like to take it easy and home roast coffee, attempt to learn the ukulele, or get lost in a good book.
Do you have a nemesis bird?
Ruby-crowned Kinglet on a thorny vine.
For a few years I wasn't a big fan of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, though it wasn't the bird's fault. I had a job in the Florida panhandle that required resighting, territory mapping, and conducting foraging surveys on wintering color-banded kinglets in thick thorny vines and unburned scrub oak/live oak habitat. Kinglets are so tiny and practically disappeared in all the vegetation. Some days I found all my target birds, some days I completely struck out and got lost in the sea of scrub oak, overall it was a pretty frustrating job. For several years after, the chatter of a kinglet elicited an immediate negative response, but luckily those feelings have subsided and I love hearing them sing at the end of the season in the Sierra!
Where are you based now?
Currently I live in Fort Collins, Colorado, but I have pretty epiphytic roots and tend to move every 3 years or so. There are so many places to experience, I find it hard to stay anywhere too long!
Lee backpacking in Kings Canyon National Park in 2023.