A Different Type of Fieldwork: Attending the 2022 Raptor Research Foundation Conference

For a newcomer to the world of wildlife telemetry, interacting with raptor researchers at their annual conference allowed me an ideal primer/initiation experience/crash course in this very singular world.

So it was that I found myself in Fort Lauderdale from October 4-8, 2022 for the 2022 Raptor Research Foundation conference (still kind of in awe that I was able to count myself as a CTT team member!), working alongside colleagues David La Puma, Jess Formento, and Mike Lanzone at the Cellular Tracking Technologies booth. As one of the featured sponsors of this year’s RRF, we enjoyed a well-appointed space just outside the meeting rooms in which our clients, friends, and potential new clients presented scientific research about birds of prey.

Sales Specialist Jess Formento points a potential client toward our Inquiry QR Code. 

About that. I quickly learned that the rest of the team not only knew many of the attendees from working with them on telemetry projects, but also could elegantly and immediately engage them on their research: the species they study; how their SensorStations were faring; potential reasons why birds weren’t checking in; to change or not to change a duty cycle; the various ways to mount a backpack harness . . . . even as I felt out of my depth, I somehow felt at ease. I like to think it was simply the result of the overall positive energy generated by professionals connecting with one another about research and conservation. It didn’t hurt that Mike and David happen to be professionally affiliated with, if not friends with, the majority of attendees–which also happens to distinguish CTT from our competitors. 

There was a lot to learn, and it was all pretty awesome. Here are some of my favorite takeaways.

 Connecting with Hawk Ridge friends.


There’s No Substitute for Attending In-person Events

In previous iterations of my career, I attended and worked at my fair share of birding-adjacent special events. So I felt pretty comfortable at CTT’s booth, enjoying the enthusiasm folks shared about our display and how our devices could help them with data collections. Obviously the majority of our visitors worked in raptor research in some capacity, but we also talked with curious hotel guests who wanted to know more about our company. 

 Besides booth time, I also sat in on some research presentations by our various clients: Joan Morrison’s Caracara symposium; Vincent Slabe’s lead poisoning talk; Natasha Murphy’s discussion of ospreys nesting on power infrastructure; and an overview of threats to U.S. Snail Kites by Ken Meyer, to name a few.

It’s hard to argue against the importance of in-person interactions with our clients at professional gatherings like this. It’s always good to connect names to faces and absorb information firsthand. For me, though, engaging with this segment of researchers about their shared commitment to and passion for conservation fused the myriad telemetry specs constantly being discussed with what really matters: how to protect birds; it always comes back to conservation.

Raptor Researchers are Fun Humans

I gotta face facts. I am officially past that point in my life where my ability to hear adequately in crowded rooms is ideal. (I blame live music, which is mostly a great thing, unless you obstinately refuse to wear earplugs.) That said, I bravely made my way into the Evening Icebreaker that officially kicked off the social part of the conference, hoping I could a) hear and, just as instrumentally, b) understand the small talk I encountered. The results were mixed; it was loud in there and I was a rookie in this realm. However, I enjoyed myself thoroughly, as it was immediately apparent that raptor researchers–this segment of them, at least—are welcoming and quite chatty.  

Queen of Nodes Lauren Deaner with Jess.

Earlier this year I got my lifer Burrowing Owl, not far from the conference venue, in fact; during a May trip, I ventured to Brian Piccolo Sports Park to do so. Little did I know then that in a mere six months, I’d be hobnobbing with Lauren Deaner of Flatwoods Consulting Group, learning about her extensive ecological work with burrowing owls in central Florida. (Lauren also happens to have an extensive network of CTT Nodes, and Jess crowned her Queen of Nodes during a small semi-public table-side ceremony.)

 Of special note on this evening: Gil Radcliffe falconry discussion with our group, as me, Jess, and David heard her discussing having gone hunting with her “Finnish dog” who escaped, and how it was later found by some colleagues, several feet off the ground in a tree, with its transmitter on the ground below. We later had a good laugh with Gil when we admitted what we thought we were hearing, and she clarified that it was her “Finnish GOS(hawk)” she uses for falconry, and clearing airport runways of birds that might pose risks for airplane collisions. Gil’s hearty laughter at our mis-hear underscored the welcoming and good-humored nature of raptor researchers, and Gil in particular.

Jess enjoys a light moment with Tyler Michels during his poster presentation.

Fieldwork is Complicated 

I alluded to this already, but WOW are there just a host of things that can work against these intrepid researchers (to say nothing of what faces their even-more-intrepid avian subjects). I must’ve been privy to easily a few dozen conversations in which David and Mike helped our clients solve or troubleshoot issues that arise commonly for researchers, like the best method for fitting subjects with units, how to interpret a gap in data, and what is the ideal product for a particular study. Clearly their experience in the field is invaluable for answering these questions. 

 That being said, I am ready to get my hands dirty and get in the field myself. Whether I visit a SensorStation or watch a bird or a mammal get tagged–bring it on! Ooookay, who wants to take me into the field with them? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller...)


  Kelly discusses the FlickerCL with a booth visitor.

CTT’s Products are Freaking Sweet

Working for CTT means pivoting and flexing pretty much daily, as we are constantly innovating and responding to what is needed and what is possible in wildlife telemetry. When my colleagues highlighted our newest product,  the FlickerCL, to our  booth’s visitors, they were gobsmacked. These ultra-lightweight (read: 3-4.5 g) units ping cell towers throughout the course of a bird's migratory journey. That this movement is trackable via a custom smartphone app, eliminating the need for a data plan, left quite an impression with folks–especially ones researching smaller raptors. 

One of the first cellular units EVER to be outfitted on a Sharp-shinned Hawk, the FlickerCL.

Coffee: It’s what’s for breakfast (and lunch and dinner).

In relocating to Cape May, New Jersey, to become part of the CTT team, I knew I’d chosen wisely when I learned that both Mike and David roast their own freaking coffee beans. Jess and I may not put in the blood, sweat, and tears required to roast coffee beans, but by no means are we going to turn up our noses at amazing coffee. 

The upshot of this is we all love good coffee, while the potential pain point is we are pretty spoiled by our refined java palettes. When you’re working 14-, 15-, 16 hour days? At special events? Coffee is VITAL. And I like to think we did a nice job mitigating the not-roasted-by-CTT-employees venue coffee with an occasional high falutin pick-me-up from a local coffee shop. 

Me love coffee <said in voice of Cookie Monster, naturally>.

In just a few weeks, this same bunch of CTT’ers will be in Spokane, Washington-bound for The Wildlife Society’s annual conference. Please contact us if you will be presenting a talk or a poster, and we will make a point to attend your session!