Buhler prepares to release a European roller bird after it has been tagged at the A Rocha France field centre. Photo Credit: François Tron

With scratches and scars still visible, Trinity Western University student Trish Buhler talks about manoeuvring in and around thistles, barbed wire fences, brambles and fields of tall grass while on a recent month-long travel study to the A Rocha field centre in Provence, France. A Rocha, which means "the rock" in Portuguese, is a non-profit, non-government Christian environmental conservation organization. While TWU offers travel studies throughout the year, this is the first time the university has partnered with A Rocha for a travel study.

Arriving at the centre in France on June 14, the 23-year-old, environmental studies student began work on the European roller bird study. Buhler describes the bird as "almost the size of a crow, brightly coloured with splashes of red and purple and turquoise." She explains that the presence of the roller indicates the health of the land since the bird eats large insects like grasshoppers and crickets that can only exist in sufficient numbers if the local farmers are not using pesticides.

A Rocha France is trying to encourage rollers to inhabit the area by persuading the local farmers to plant more of the tree hedges that the birds nest in. The field centre is counting the birds, which requires researchers to bike to all the current nesting sites in the area to make sure the birds are staying in the habitat. This month, that researcher was Buhler.

Buhler found herself biking up to 25 km each time she counted rollers and their nests. She says, "I had to do field visits to a four kilometre-squared area that had fourteen different roller nest sites. Each time, I would go in a different order, but we weren't counting haphazardly. We would watch the rollers fly to their nesting sites to find how many roller pairs there were in the area. As a result, we were able to get the correct number of roller pairs in that area."

Buhler's challenge was more than the distance she had to bike. She had to fight exhaustion, heat, dehydration, spiders, barbed wire and countless thorny plants. She laughs, "There were several mornings when I had to stop every few minutes to wipe spider webs off my face."

Another part of Buhler's research was to help tag the birds (banding, as it is called in France). But this is not a bird that takes kindly to being caught. Buhler says, "It was pretty scary to hold the rollers because they are actually pretty vicious. They have sharp beaks and you have to keep your hands tightly on the roller so it can't bite you."

After hours of biking in the fields and counting birds, Buhler would often dedicate her afternoons to compiling her data and entering her findings in the centre's computer. In order to fulfil the requirements for her class, Buhler also had to evaluate A Rocha's method of roller census.

Buhler was impressed with the scientific excellence of the centre, particularly that of François Tron, the centre's scientific expert. She says, "It was interesting to see how how A Rocha's study contributes to the national and international academic worlds. For example, François recently had an article published in Ornithos, a respected French ornithological [study of birds] journal."

With almost five weeks of field research under her belt, Buhler returned home to Langley with an increased passion for the environment, memories that will last a lifetime, and her field journal, which is a physical memento of her experience. She explains that the journal was required for her course, but has even greater lasting value. "I put all my observations of what I learned, what I saw and my feelings about each thing. I also tried to collect bits and pieces of my life there: some roller feathers that I found, some plants, and some gifts that I received."

Neither Buhler's relationships with A Rocha, nor the environment will be forgotten. As TWU's A Rocha student chapter president, Buhler has been invited to attend a retreat in Twin Cities, Minnesota for student environmental group leaders from across North America, and she hopes to continue building a career in environmental conservation upon graduation.

Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C. is an independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers undergraduate degrees in 40 major areas of study ranging from biotechnology, education, nursing, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include counseling psychology, business, theology and leadership, and offers interdisciplinary studies in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Biblical Studies, Biology and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.


Last Updated: 2008-08-26
Author: Jamie Hall