Student - September 13, 2012

Catching birds in Switzerland

Who? Tim Heusschen, MSc student of Biology
What? Three-month internship at the University of Zurich (February - May 2012)
Where? With the Evolution Biology chair group on campus, and in the field

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'The field work was the best bit. I had to catch, ring and take blood from young white-throated dippers. We often spent entire days in the field from nine to five, and did several nests in a day. We caught the young birds in the nests and the parent birds with finely meshed nets. Catching the adult birds could certainly be difficult at times, as they are fast and smart.
My loveliest experience was when we found a nest underneath a railway bridge, six metres above a small river. One of the young, a fluffy little thing that couldn't fly yet, fell into the water when my supervisor was getting it out of the nest. I ran downstream like a madman, pulling off my jacket and sweater as I ran, and dived into the river to save it. We dried him off with a couple of tissues. A couple of weeks later, when I was back in the Netherlands, they saw him fly out of the nest.
The University of Zurich is huge, with loads of different programmes, but it's very nice. Researchers work together with the Swiss flora and fauna services, so there is enough to do for biologists or plant and animal scientists. My department was small and everyone interacted in a very relaxed way. There were plenty of people I could ask if I had questions. And there were frequent 'science lunches', where you could raise your problems and they would be discussed.
Switzerland is a beautiful country but, unfortunately, it is pretty expensive. I had a tremendous stroke of luck with my room. After a long search I ended up in the home of two ex-professors who thought what I was doing was very interesting. I paid 500 euros a month for the room, which was dirt cheap compared with other student rooms in Zurich. If you shop selectively at the supermarket, and have a public transport discount card and a grant, you can last quite a while, but 8 euros for a beer or 40 euros for an hour's train journey does hurt your purse.'

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