Alberta, Canada born-and-raised, Kerrap Nisbet is a young, professional wildlife biologist that’s been tagging snakes near major hibernaculars. Having developed a profound passion for ducks pursuant to volunteer banding activities, she explains how her recent duck hunting introductions brought her full circle as a biologist and, importantly, as a human being. How and why did she pursue a career in wildlife biology and how’d she find renewed life purpose handling ducks? How’d duck hunting complete Kerra’s circle, why is it important to her to understand both sides of the coin? What was her first duck hunting experience like, what compelled her to go, what areas will she try to improve? How’d it influence her career and personal life? What advice does she have for dads, and for women considering a wildlife career or hunting? Kerra is an amazing person, the kind of people that waterfowl hunting and management truly needs, living proof that when one comes to a fork in the road, they should definitely take it!
The Duck Banding Instagram Queen
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. The North American tour has been winding through Alberta and what an incredible, incredible, incredible week we’ve had. Joining me today is the amazing Kerrap Nisbet of Alberta. And for those of you that don’t know her, she’s a girl that’s on Instagram with all the duck banding projects going on, is that about right?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. That’s me.
Ramsey Russell: What was it like growing up in Alberta? Because you know, here we are in, early in the fall, still in the 70s and 80s back home and snow. Big old fat snowdrops and it’s early yet for winter.
Kerrap Nisbet: First snow of the year.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, but not the last.
Kerrap Nisbet: Definitely not the last, it’s only going to get worse.
Ramsey Russell: What was it like growing up in Alberta?
Kerrap Nisbet: Well, I can’t really compare it to anything else, I only know growing up in Alberta, but it was good in the winter time, all you do is your outdoor activities, sledding, skating, trying to stay warm, sometimes staying inside and cuddling under a blanket. But no, it was good.
Ramsey Russell: Where did you grow up?
Kerrap Nisbet: I grew up in Edmonton, which is central-ish Alberta, north of Calgary where we are now. But yeah, I grew up sort of east of Edmonton, kind of moved a little bit throughout my childhood, but Edmonton mostly and then Sherwood Park as well.
Getting a Start in the Outdoor World
So I say ice fishing is the one outdoor activity that you can kind of get into and enjoy.
Ramsey Russell: What was your earliest exposure the outdoor world? Did you grow up hunting and fishing?
Kerrap Nisbet: I did not grow up hunting. My dad fished a little bit, few ice fishing trips here and there, but definitely wasn’t an every weekend type adventure or anything like that. But growing up, I was shipped off to my aunt’s hobby farm, so I spent lots of time with the chickens, the horses, the cattle that she had on there. So I got a lot of exposure on the farmland, so that was really awesome growing up.
Ramsey Russell: Ice fishing?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. Ice fishing.
Ramsey Russell: That’s something I’m just – no offense to anybody listening that love it – I don’t understand an ice fishing. Because back home, really and truly, you know, when it gets about 40-50 degrees and biting, it’s time to go fishing, but I don’t, I just can’t conceive of sitting or standing on a frozen lake, looking at a hole in the ground. But you are into that stuff.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. Well when you are stuck inside with cabin fever all winter, you got to find something to do. So I say ice fishing is the one outdoor activity that you can kind of get into and enjoy.
Ramsey Russell: You still do a lot of that?
Kerrap Nisbet: Oh yeah, yeah, I love ice fishing.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me the process. How does somebody leave a warm, comfortable house and go out into a horrible winter area, and set up, and actually catch fish?
Kerrap Nisbet: Well, you got to make sure you are bundled, you got to make sure you got your nice under-layers and everything, warm socks. Usually you would have a really nice ice fishing tent. Some people have some really nice trailers that you can rent and they’re heated, they’ve got electricity, but that’s not how I have rolled in the past. I have just got a simple ice fishing tent. You auger your hole out, get your seats all set up. I have got some space heaters that you put in your cabin with you and yeah, you just sit there and hope for the best.
Ramsey Russell: How do you know where on lake to go auger out a hole?
Kerrap Nisbet: It generally depends what species you are after. So the depth and kind of where the lake is going to have a little more deeper spots. I have had some friends have scanners as well, so that kind of helps you determine where good hole is going to be and see where the fish are.
Ramsey Russell: How thick is the ice? Can you drive your truck on that?
Kerrap Nisbet: That’s dependent on the time of year. So if you are going out early winter, it’s going to be pretty thin. So I would probably suggest not driving your truck on the ice. But as that ice thickens through into January or February, it’s a little bit more safe but definitely check your ice thickness before you do that. There’s been lots of pictures on Facebook that come up with people’s vehicles in the ice in the water and I would not want to be in that situation if it was me.
Ramsey Russell: I’m kind of like a duck in that regard. I love Canada. I was so glad after two years to get back up here and it was just, wow, I can’t explain it. I missed it. I love Canada but at some point of time I want to be like a duck and dive along the south.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, me too.
Ramsey Russell: Into warmer temperatures. If you weren’t into hunting and fishing, and you got a little outdoor exposure, what did you do? What did Kerrap do as a young person? If you didn’t hunt and fish with your dad or whatever like that? What did you do?
Kerrap Nisbet: I ice fished. I took piano lessons, I was a pretty studious student, I guess you would say, hanging out with friends, just doing girly stuff, going to the mall, listening to music. I don’t know. I also worked, I started working when I was 14, so once I started working, it kind of took away from —
Ramsey Russell: Regular retail work?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, my first job was working at a gas station, I was a cashier and then from there I started working at a trucking company for a few years.
The Environmental Consulting Career Path
So it’s just like you have this amazing being that can do all these things and we’re just trying to understand it from our human perspective and our human experience.
Ramsey Russell: How did you go from working at a cashier in high school to doing what you do now, which is environmental consulting, and duck banding, and stuff like that? I know it was a path and you know to get there, but how did you do that?
Kerrap Nisbet: Well, I started working at that trucking company and I kind of always been in the oil and gas industry, my family has been in the trucking industry, so it just kind of made sense for me to be in that sector as well. But as I kind of progressed in those roles, I was finding myself a little bored and just itching for some new knowledge. I love to learn. So I just felt like business school was a good fit. It was something I was good at, I was good at my job. It was relatively interesting. I don’t know if it would be called a passion project per se but, so from there I went to business school. And after my first couple years I was doing really well, my grades were, we’re pretty good, but I just wasn’t feeling very passionate about what I was learning. I kind of was feeling like I couldn’t imagine sitting in an office for the rest of my life. And just from that point on I seeked some volunteer opportunities that would kind of let me go into different areas that I had already known. I was passionate about such as wildlife and stuff like that. So I started volunteering at the Edmonton Valley Zoo and after my first shift I completely switched gears, got out of my business degree, exited with a business diploma and went into my Bachelor of Science from there.
Ramsey Russell: What did you do at the Edmonton Zoo? I mean, what did you do at the zoo?
Kerrap Nisbet: So I was a zookeeper assistant. And on my first shift I got to work with the lemurs and the red pandas and it was just – it was absolutely amazing. I didn’t think that it was something I was smart enough to do or had the brains for it. But going from the zoo and then knowing that I was going to be sitting in an office crunching numbers? Like absolutely not. It made no sense. So I made that switch and made it happen.
Ramsey Russell: A lot of people don’t understand. At least I did not when I got into wildlife and forestry. It is a technical field.
Kerrap Nisbet: It is.
Ramsey Russell: I mean it’s not just nature and butterflies. I mean it’s numbers.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. For sure.
Ramsey Russell: And it was challenging for me. And the sciences, and the physics, and the math, and it was the chemistry. It was a very challenging field.
Kerrap Nisbet: Physics kicked my butt.
Ramsey Russell: Mine too. So you worked at the zoo and then got into – what was your degree?
Kerrap Nisbet: Bachelor of Science and Biological Sciences.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And that appeared as wildlife. And what did you think you wanted to do at that age?
Kerrap Nisbet: The age I went for my degree or prior to that?
Ramsey Russell: When you said I’m getting into wildlife.
Kerrap Nisbet: I didn’t really have a path per se. I just knew that business was not going to be something that made me happy. So the title of a biologist sounded really cool at the time though I didn’t really know what that was going to entail per se, so.
Ramsey Russell: You just went into it and just figure it out?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Mr. Ryan. My buddy, Mr. Ryan Mann had been acting as associate dean at Mississippi State University, and I may have told this before. And he asked me one day, he said, how many people were in your wildlife program way back when? I said, oh about 50 or 60. And he said, how many is it now? He goes 350, that’s one university, 350 people. And he said, well how many do you think hunted and fished? I said all of them. Well I call hook and bullet biologists. I mean, you know, we all hunted and fished and grew up in it and just couldn’t get enough of it and figured we’d make a career. And one thing I learned way back when in school was the guys that stood up and introduce themselves as I like to hunt and fish. As I got into forestry and wildlife, they probably fell out along the way because it really ain’t necessarily hunting fishing career. But he told me that only about 90% – and he said 90 plus percent of that 350 students at Mississippi State at one school. And I think this reflects a general trend in wildlife science today, 90 some odd percent of them neither hunted nor fish, they just didn’t hunt growing up. And so that’s kind of your case here. You went and worked with panda bears, and lemurs, and the zoo, and these cute and cuddly animals. I mean did you walk around with the lemur kind of his tail wrapped around you?
Kerrap Nisbet: We got to feed them and kind of, we do target training so they would have to touch a little plastic piece on their perch there. So they would target their little plastic piece and then they get a piece of food and their little hands would grab the food out of your hand and they have very felt soft finger pads. It’s, oh my God, it was amazing. But yeah, I know, what you mean because —
Ramsey Russell: And that’s what got you into the wild life?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: How would you articulate that kind of love for wildlife? Would it be kind of like a little girl loved her kitty cat?
Kerrap Nisbet: I would say it, I would say so yeah. It’s hard to explain, we’re just we’re so different from animals, right? I can’t communicate with an animal. It’s a different communication. You really have to look at behavior and how they’re interacting with you, and we’ll never fully understand the perspective of an animal. So it’s just like you have this amazing being that can do all these things and we’re just trying to understand it from our human perspective and our human experience. It’s just amazing to get to be a part of and be involved with those species that many people wouldn’t get to have their hands on. So working at the zoo, how many people can say they’ve gotten to feed a red panda or feed a lemur? It’s really cool experience and I definitely I feel very grateful from those experiences that I have gotten to have, and it’s definitely led me on my path that I’m on now.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I asked because it’s like you came from one direction handling wildlife, and just having this affinity for nature and wildlife, like nature channel type wildlife. Versus a lot of people I went to college with, myself included it, you know, knee high to their granddad, and was raising the dog across the field to pick up a dove, and get their hands on it, and grow up in a duck blind. And we shot the animals, we ate the animals, but we love the animals, and you know it led to a career in wildlife conservation, wildlife management. The interesting thing is when I was in college, the definition of conservation was wise use, not preservation, which is put it on the shelf and forget about it and just look at it. Wise use. And a lot of the same way that pine trees are managed maximum yield for the longest time. And wildlife is kind of like that too. And at least that’s how I might take on. That’s why I wanted to ask you that. Well, where did you go from wildlife to ducks? Because if I hadn’t learned one thing from you the last four days, you love ducks. Looking at your Instagram page, this woman love ducks.
A Curiosity About Ducks
And once I got into the survey and learning about all the species that actually existed and were across our landscape, it just, I got sucked in. I wanted to learn everything about them. I wanted to know all the tiny details, everything.
Kerrap Nisbet: I sure do.
Ramsey Russell: Love ducks. Sometimes maybe like kitty cat. But you love, you like waterfowl, you’ve got this thing just real pull towards waterfowl. What’s that about, Kerrap?
Kerrap Nisbet: It’s a little unexplainable. It’s hard to answer that question. Prior to my first duck banding job that I had, I always kind of thought I would work with those cute cuddly animals. So whether that would be foxes, or skunks, or even something at the Edmonton Valley Zoo that I had worked with previously, just those cute cuddly things. I never really had much of an interest for birds honestly, and I feel kind of bad saying that now considering where I’m at my career. But yeah, I just never really had an interest in birds. I thought they were kind of weird, like, whatever. So my first duck banding job, we were doing our duck surveys, and prior to that I honestly thought that mallards were the only ducks we had, and I know that sounds really silly, but green heads, that’s the typical duck that everyone knows exists, and that’s kind of where it ends. And yeah, that’s how it was for me anyways. I didn’t realize there were so many species. And once I got into the survey and learning about all the species that actually existed and were across our landscape, it just, I got sucked in. I wanted to learn everything about them. I wanted to know all the tiny details, everything. And then when we finally got into our banding season, and I got to hold my first northern pintail. It, the game just completely changed for me. I’m now holding this thing that I have been learning about for the past few months, and I can’t explain it, it’s just something clicked and I’m like, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Ramsey Russell: Your first duck is northern pintail.
Kerrap Nisbet: Northern pintail was the first duck I have ever held.
Ramsey Russell: How many different species? And after that first banding job, the pintail, something clicked, and I want to band more ducks. I want to touch them. I want to hold them.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yep.
Ramsey Russell: I have worked on banding sites. There’s nothing just like super sexy about the little teal, they’re so docile, they’re so small.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah.
How to Band Ducks
Each day we show up and there’s birds in there, we grab them, put them in our catch cage, band them, and then bait again for the next day.
Ramsey Russell: When you’re moving up into pintails, and mallards, and geese, or when you go down to Louisiana with mama duck, start working with the black bellied whistling ducks. They are like little pterodactyls, you know with their claws and stuff, and it ain’t cute and cuddly. I mean, they are scratchy and wing flapping, and the wing bones hit you on the wrist bone and make you want to wring their neck. I mean it’s work. I mean it’s like dirty work, hands on banding. Tell everybody, I mean how did you all band ducks? I know you have got some different experiences. How do you band duck?
Kerrap Nisbet: Initially in our banding season we have sites that would usually be reused throughout the season. So prior to when we’d be ready to set up traps, we’ be baiting those sites and just kind of seeing how the birds are behaving, if they’re going to hit those baiting sites or if they’re just not interested, maybe they’re not in the area anymore. And once we kind of see consistency and they’re hitting those baiting sites, then we put up a trap and as we go through the trapping we’re still baiting every day. Each day we show up and there’s birds in there, we grab them, put them in our catch cage, band them, and then bait again for the next day. So that’s an endeavor, that’s basically a month and a half long straight. There’s no days off. If that trap’s set up, you’ve got to go check that trap because you don’t want birds being in there for longer than 24 hours at a time.
Ramsey Russell: And you have to have float in there.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, there’s a float in there. We put a little bit of bait on the float too so that they don’t have to get in the water if they don’t want to cause there’s been some days that were pretty bad weather conditions. Just absolute rain pouring, and you know, you get to the trap and the birds are sopping wet. I know they’re called waterfowl and you would think that they’re waterproof, but sometimes they do get a little soppy.
Ramsey Russell: It makes them vulnerable. They have to be able to dry, and all that feathers, and all that mess.
Kerrap Nisbet: And with them being in the trap for up to 24 hours, you know, it kind of doesn’t give them a reprieve from that water. So we got to be checking out every day and sometimes it sucks when you are freezing cold, you’ve got that chill to the bone type thing going on, and you know, you just got to power through it and just be so thankful that you get to work with these animals.
Ramsey Russell: Born and raised in the south, we got a phenomenon called gumbo mud, real heavy clay, really clay. And it’ll pull that. The great thing about that is a lot of times when you get water on it, two or three feet of water, it firms up. Not all the time because you are getting some of the rocks with a lot of siltation. It’s pretty mucky, but just good old, heavy clay. It’s easy to walk in. I worked up here in Canada. I was telling you, over around the Quill Lakes one time, that’s when I learned some of you all ponds up here are pretty dang bottomless.
Kerrap Nisbet: Oh yeah. You got sucked up.
Ramsey Russell: It was nothing easy about walking out to them duck traps, let alone carrying 50 blue wings or something back in a box. And then they are all diving. There were some species still that are great. I love blue winged teal.
Kerrap Nisbet: They are so easy to band.
Ramsey Russell: Some of those species just dive, and you know, come on, get out of the trap. You know gadwalls were the worst. The hand gadwalls, young gadwalls, just like you never like to guide them out. And then once they get hooked on that bait, you let them go and they go right back in the trap.
Kerrap Nisbet: Oh yeah.
Ramsey Russell: You got to go back out there and get them out again. It’s hard work.
Kerrap Nisbet: It can be.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it’s not like, it’s not like a lot of jobs, not like, you know sitting in a deer stand and glassing for bands or making observations. It’s hands-on, practical work, but you like it.
Kerrap Nisbet: I love it. Yeah, of course. You know on Instagram it looks like it’s all fun and games, and I’m posting the best part of me holding a duck. But yeah, sometimes I come out of there, my arms look like I have been in a cat fight. I’m bleeding because I cut myself on the wire traps but it’s all worth it. I get to be a part of some really cool conservation programs. I get to be part of something that’s really impacting future populations. And it just makes me feel like I’m making a difference and that’s really fulfilling to me. So it’s all worth it in the end.
Ramsey Russell: I think that’s very well said. In my former career doing a lot of reforestation and stuff like that, I was telling you, you know, I can’t explain how satisfying it is to drive by an area and look at these 20 year, old 30 year old trees that went from soybeans field to a bottomland hardwood forest that will be in that resource forever. You made a change.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, exactly. You got to be a part of that.
Ramsey Russell: And I got to be a part of that. It’s some rewarding about that. It is hard to articulate. Other than the duck what other activities do you do in your environmental consulting? You are an environmental consultant?
What do Environmental Consultants Do?
A pipeline was put in and we are on site to be the resource specialist for them putting all of that land kind of back to what it was pre-construction.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. Environmental consultant —
Ramsey Russell: I know what you are going to do this week, if the weather cooperates. Talk about that part of your career. Duck banding is a real fun part, and I know you are working towards a future career that’s more waterfowl-oriented but you are also doing some pretty heavy lifting, doing some other stuff. I mean making a big change. What do you do as an environmental consultant?
Kerrap Nisbet: So right now, it’s kind of project dependent, but the project that I’m on now, we are in a post-construction monitoring phase. A pipeline was put in and we are on site to be the resource specialist for them putting all of that land kind of back to what it was pre-construction. So that entails lots of nest sweeps. We’re monitoring all those migratory birds that —
Ramsey Russell: What is the nest sweep?
Kerrap Nisbet: A nest sweep is when we kind of, we’re going ahead of construction to just make sure that we’re finding any nests that are currently in use or if there’s some fledglings that are still in the nest. We just want to make sure that construction isn’t going to impact their behavior or their future success and reproductivity. So yeah, we’re just trying to be ahead of the game, so that construction isn’t impacting anything negatively. We’ve also had some toad sites, so we’re monitoring for some amphibians, we’ve got hibernaculas near the pipeline, and hibernaculas are little snake den sites where they go back in the winter for their breeding and their hibernation.
Ramsey Russell: How does hibernacula work now? It’s like a communal thing. Like, in a given geography, how big an area does that hibernacula service?
Kerrap Nisbet: It can service quite a lot actually.
Ramsey Russell: From a mile, from two miles, 5 miles, I mean.
Kerrap Nisbet: I can’t give you a number. It’s dependent on the species because some species will migrate a little bit further from the hibernacula than others. So I don’t have a from number to give you.
Ramsey Russell: Do multiple species use the same hibernacula?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yes. Yeah. So the hibernacula that we’ve been working on, there can be hog noses in there, garter snakes, prairie rattlesnakes, they all kind of commune into the same area. It gives them more heat and you know, power in numbers, right? So there can be thousands of snakes in this hibernacula. So if you don’t like snakes don’t find a hibernacula.
Ramsey Russell: That reminds me of John Wayne movie where that girl fell off in that cave and there is all them snakes. That must be what she did, fall off in the hibernacula.
Kerrap Nisbet: That’s exactly what she did.
Finding Hibernaculas and Tagging Snakes
Then our scanner will tell us this number and that number is associated with that snake in our database.
Ramsey Russell: Oh my gosh. How do you catch all the snakes or do you just somehow scan them? What do you do?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. So we have snake tongs. So we’ll pick up the snakes with our snake tongs.
Ramsey Russell: You reach around up in there until you find one.
Kerrap Nisbet: You have to be careful because the prairie rattlesnakes are venomous. So if you are a bit, you need to go to the hospital and get antivenom so that you don’t die. The other species are not as much of a concern but obviously you know you still have to be safe and protect yourself from bites because it’s not going to be comfortable to be bit by anything. So we’ve got our snake tongs and we put them in buckets and just process them as we go through them. And that entails tubing them. So we put them in a big plastic tube so that we can see their tail end, and we put a pit tag in their tail end near their tail tip.
Ramsey Russell: You tag name. You band snake.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, sort of. It’s more of an internal thing. It goes in subcutaneously underneath their scales. So we put that in there and then we’ve got a little scanner. It’s almost the same as when you go to the vet. They scan your dog for their little —
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, microchip.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly what it’s like. Then our scanner will tell us this number and that number is associated with that snake in our database. And it’s a good data point for us.
Ramsey Russell: I didn’t expect to run down the snake trail like I’m doing. But how do you even find hibernacula? I mean what did you just go out and walk around, you see a hole in the ground. So there is a snake in there. I mean how does this work?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, that’s a good question. So prior to the pipeline being put in, probably want to say 10 or more years ago, there was a huge wildlife survey that was done prior to construction just so that the company who put in the pipeline was very well aware of what areas of the landscape they were impacting. So a bunch of biologists went through, they would find hawk nests, hibernaculas, stowed areas, snake areas, and anything of interest that the pipeline would need to be aware of for pre-construction, post-construction, during construction. So that stuff was already done prior to my company coming in and being the resource specialists. But that’s done on any construction site prior to, so. I haven’t been involved in finding a higher vernacular myself, but I think it’s a pretty tough thing to have to find because they’re sneaky, they want to be hidden, right?
Ramsey Russell: Are you pulling them out of that hibernacula? Are you waiting for them to come out?
Kerrap Nisbet: A little bit of both. Behaviorally if it’s warm out, they want to soak up that sunshine, they want to get the warmth. So sometimes they’re out and about. And at this time too, in the fall, they’re slowly migrating back to their hibernacula. So that makes it either easier or harder for us depending on where they’re at in their migration.
Ramsey Russell: You park your truck and I’m walking towards this hibernacula, I’m assuming it’s GPS, how close to it, you start really watching where you step and there’s snakes everywhere.
Kerrap Nisbet: You need to be careful at all times. You definitely don’t want to be —
Ramsey Russell: Do you wear like snake leggings?
Kerrap Nisbet: We should be wearing gators. Some people wear rubber boots. I just have my like ankle high steel toes and I’m comfortable with that. But depending on your comfort level, you can wear appropriate PPE.
Ramsey Russell: I know a lot of people listening probably wearing snake chaps.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, if you want to wear snake chaps, go for it.
Ramsey Russell: How big do prairie rattlers get? I have been up here a long time and for some reason I just never crossed my mind in the Great White North that there’s venomous snakes crawling around. Not that I got a problem with them, I’m from Mississippi, I’m just saying it never crossed my mind that there’s venomous snakes crawling around up in this.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, well they can be over a meter long. I’m not sure what that is in —
Ramsey Russell: 3 and half feet?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. So they can get pretty lengthy and they can get quite thick in size as well. Yeah, I don’t know, I think it’s really cool. I know some people could be really feel really off put by seeing a snake that big, but it’s also really cool to be like, oh my God, look at that big snake because usually we’re used to seeing the little juveniles that are a lot smaller, but I don’t know, I think it’s really cool.
Ramsey Russell: Wow, so that’s what you do when you are not banding ducks, you are catching snakes.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, well that’s one part of my job.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t see you kissing and cuddling up on them,
Kerrap Nisbet: Nope, I’m not putting my face anywhere near them.
Working as a Woman in a Male Dominated Field
You know, it’s fun to see people’s faces when they see that it’s two girls handling these snakes and stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Kerrap, what is it, like, I have never asked this of woman, but what is it like working in a field that’s, I’m assuming, dominated “a man’s world” What is it like working in that area?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, well in my field, I have found that there’s a lot of women in there, so it’s kind of nice to find solace and you know, other women biologists, and it’s great to have that support system. But with my job currently we’re working on construction sites and that is male dominated for sure. So sometimes you just got to show your confidence, be really educating and just you got to show your dominance a little, garner that respect from your audience. And it’s really cool to have some of the construction guys come up and ask questions about the snakes, and oftentimes the guys are a little, they’re a little scared by the snakes, I’m not going to lie. And then here we are, you know, two chicks holding snakes, taking them. You know, it’s fun to see people’s faces when they see that it’s two girls handling these snakes and stuff. But yeah, you just, you know, it’s all about education. I think that’s the biggest piece. And it’s really important to me to educate, whether that be male or female. I’m not going to treat you any differently. And I also want the same back, don’t treat me any differently just because I’m a girl.
Ramsey Russell: Do you feel any ceilings? Because this ain’t the 1970’s, this is the modern era. Women proliferate throughout all the fields to work. So I’m just curious.
Kerrap Nisbet: I think it’s getting better. I think the ceiling is still there. It might just be a little higher than it has been in previous times. I think we’re always going to have to kind of, you know, prove ourselves and show that we can do just as much work as a man can. And you know, I don’t know, there’s people have different perspectives to, right? So it just kind of depends on the generation. Yeah, you just have to hold yourself to the best standard, be the best person you can be, come to work with a good attitude, do the best job you can, and that’s all you can really ask for.
Ramsey Russell: You didn’t grow up hunting and fishing. You got a degree in wildlife. You are the snake lady when you ain’t the band lady. And that really blows my mind. And we have been together three or four days we haven’t had this conversation about snakes. I had no idea. So I knew I was coming to Canada on this tour, you know, go a mile, you might as well go two miles, you go this far, you go a little bit further. And I have been talking to some folks about hunting in Alberta, and you and I have been talking, and you put together a hunt. And just so happen to put it together with Jake and Spencer who I knew also in social media, just blows my mind how social media makes it such a small world.
Kerrap Nisbet: Totally.
Ramsey Russell: And they introduced me, we hunted with Roger who also, I mean, I could not believe we had that conversation at the tailgate. How many people we knew and circles we run in. And the whole time I’m thinking so this is the Canadian I have been hearing about. And he has heard about me through some different circles. And the whole time we’re putting this trip together. All right, I’ll come by Calgary, will go up and see Jake, we’ll do these hunts, and all the stuff. You never told me. You never say it. I have never duck hunted.
Taking a Novice on Her First Hunt
After being in wildlife, do you have any feelings at all when you walked up on that deer?
Kerrap Nisbet: No, I didn’t.
Ramsey Russell: I was talking to Jake and Spencer, like we just all assumed that you duck hunted. I mean maybe that you weren’t like a crazy avid jungle woman duck hunter but that you duck hunted. We had no idea that that we were fixing to take you on your first duck hunt. But you had hunted some before then.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, just some big game hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Have you ever killed an animal?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, I have killed a dove.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Kerrap Nisbet: But its deer hunting and duck hunting. They’re completely different ball games. I couldn’t believe it. So much more fast paced than what I’m used to, in the best way though.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you killed a dove and some people have a quandary about that big brown eyed animal sitting out there, you know, warm and fuzzy. Did you have any feelings like that? After being in wildlife, do you have any feelings at all when you walked up on that deer?
Kerrap Nisbet: If I would have seen a fawn or something associated with that dove then maybe that would have changed, you know, taking that shot. But hunting is hunting. And you know, I have read papers that, you know, don’t really say that there’s much of an impact on hunting female versus male. So just having that knowledge, I felt a little bit better about that, that decision. But yeah, again, if she would have had a fawn, I definitely wouldn’t have taken that shot. That would have just made me feel sick.
How Does a Conservationist View Hunting?
And if there was no hunting, there was no hunting money coming in, I wouldn’t be banding ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Delta Waterfowl’s, Joel Bryce was telling me about a program that he’s in charge of, and they go to these universities, with some cooperative assistance and everything else. But they go to these universities and they put on this seminar to students, going back to that 90%, they don’t have that hook and bullet background. And they introduce them to duck hunting, they get somebody like myself or some other mentor to take them out and duck hunt with them. And he was telling me that sometimes the college student just doesn’t want to touch a firearm, doesn’t feel comfortable, has some whatever, just is not going to touch it. But they go through this program anyway. I just remember him telling me that the reason, it’s different hunting ducks than a mammal for a young person or a person that never pulled the trigger and taken a life of an animal. Of course, they’ve eaten goddamn chicken nuggets for their whole life. You know, somebody’s taking a life. But they’ve never pulled the trigger and killed an animal – that it might be a little more less traumatic than walking up on a deer that’s still pawing, you know, and hitting them, just walk up on a bird. That’s why I asked that question. You know, because me duck hunting is just, it is a lot different. We go out there that morning and the bird threw a curve ball, we shot some geese, you didn’t shoot that first pass, and it come in too quick you said.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Then we go out duck hunting and you shoot some duck. You got your first mallard.
Kerrap Nisbet: I got my first mallard.
Ramsey Russell: You got you first pintail.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me all you are experiencing in wildlife and zoos growing up, banding. Being in Canada where you look out any window in Canada and there’s waterfowl somewhere on the pond or in the sky, especially this time of year, was there anything different? The perspective’s different? What did you feel? What did you see when you were laying in the blind that morning?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. So my perspective on that is that as a biologist in conservation, I want to make sure that I’m coming into my situations into my career with the best perspective and that’s going to be looking at all angles, not just the angle of, okay, here’s this bird, we need to protect it at all costs. It cannot be killed, it cannot be anything, it can’t be hunted. Like I look at some people and they’re so against hunting and I just, I can’t understand why. If you are in biology and you are within conservation, it’s such an important piece to be looking at both sides of things. And if there was no hunting, there was no hunting money coming in, I wouldn’t be banding ducks. So it was really important to me to kind of get that opposite perspective and being able to sit in a blind and hunt and get my first duck. It’s just I get to see the full cycle of conservation now. I have seen the birds banded. I have been the first human to have any contact with that bird. That bird has now left my hands and then potentially, you know, we didn’t get any bands this weekend. But if we would have gotten abandoned bird, it’s like that’s the second time that that bird has had any human contact, and I just think that that’s such a special thing to be a part of. Getting to hunt with you, and Spencer, and Jake, it just really closed that circle for me. And I’m really happy that I have gotten to have the perspective now from a hunter because my respect for you guys has increased tremendously. And I’m just really glad I got to have that experience.
Ramsey Russell: We didn’t get any bands.
Kerrap Nisbet: No, we did not.
Ramsey Russell: But that first mallard you shot, that green head.
Kerrap Nisbet: It might as well been banded with how happy I was.
Ramsey Russell: And when Charles was bringing it in and it was one of the situations that had a feather stuck to its foot and you yelled band.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And we were all like, do we shoot that duck? What we’re doing, letting her shoot that duck? And then when she gave it to me I realized just a feather and like —
Kerrap Nisbet: I almost, yeah, yeah. That was the crazy moment. But yeah, no, even just getting my first bird, it doesn’t matter if it was banded or not, that was just an amazing experience.
Ramsey Russell: The first time I say this as someone that had never hunted before, he’d never set up decoys before. We drive a trailer out in the field, and you just get marching instructions like a lady that works in the field, you needed no incentive. You just start slinging decoys, brushing blinds, it looks like you’ve done it your whole life. You know what I’m saying? You just pitched right in. You were one of the guys putting stuff up. We hear some birds coming, we’re getting the layout spread. What was it like? But it is different for the first time, but all your experiences, how the birds reacted, that experience of being where the birds wanted to be. Was that, you know, it’s different when you look out there, you see a bird flying out here across this parking lot. What was it like is compared to that? I feel like it’s probably your first time to have experienced that.
Kerrap Nisbet: It was my first experience with that. But just lying in the blind and looking up in the sky, I didn’t really have any expectations for how the birds were going to behave. But just watching them do their little tornado and taking the first pass, taking their second pass, we had a few singles and doubles come in and actually land beside our blinds, like hearing their wings flap right beside you. It was just, I have no words.
Ramsey Russell: Now I say that you are immersed in.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. It’s crazy like you are a part of that and you are in your blind, a part of that landscape, like the birds don’t know that you are there and it was just, it was incredible. You are, you are a part of conservation. You are literally in the middle of it. And I just think that that was a really, really cool moment. And I was, yeah, I have no words. I’m like blubbering right now. It’s just, it was incredible.
Ramsey Russell: First day we shot, you know, a dozen and a half duck that responded to the calls and decoys and cupped up, and wanted to be where you were. And then the next day was a real show with the snows and the specks.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. That was crazy.
Ramsey Russell: What was it like looking up and being under? I mean, how would you tell a coworker that doesn’t hunt? You know, y’all are out there looking for snakes in hibernacula and see a flock of snow geese go over it. Okay, there’s some snow geese. How would you describe being under what we experienced during those snow goose hunts? Because you know, like from where we were, especially yesterday afternoon, Kerrap, you know, you could have reached up and grabbed those geese right above your head that you were right under.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. You are just, you are so immersed in the behavior of the birds and listening to them call and respond to the e-caller. It’s incredible. I honestly don’t know how I would explain it to a coworker. I’d probably just show them some of the videos that I got to take because it’s just words can’t really describe seeing that and just being a part of that experience. It’s just, yeah, it’s great. I want to bring all of my friends hunting if they’ll let me take them.
Ramsey Russell: We were impressed. You beat up on yourself a little bit about missing because I never miss.
Kerrap Nisbet: No, you never missed.
Ramsey Russell: Never. Nobody. Nobody listening ever misses a bird. We all miss. But we were impressed that you connected on so many shots. I mean you connected on birds and this was your 1st, 2nd, 3rd hunt. And how did it feel? Like, how did it feel? It’s been so long since I killed my first duck. How did it feel knowing you shot that bird?
Kerrap Nisbet: I was really proud of myself. I probably could have shed a single tear, you know, just being so excited and there have been so much build up to this trip. And I had done some skeet shooting prior to kind of prepare myself and the skeet shooting didn’t go as great as I had planned or hoped. But you know, I still went out there and tried. But just knowing that I connected with a few birds and just, you know, I did that, I took that shot and I hit that bird. It’s just, I’m really proud of myself and it’s just a really cool feeling to know that I got to be a part of something like that with you guys.
Ramsey Russell: Yesterday afternoon, this big flock of snows just sorted themselves. It was all Judys. And they did just, what dumb juvenile geese did. They got downwind and just come in. And we called a shot. And I shot one boom, one boom. And by my third shot, I just knocked his tail feathers out. And about that time somebody cold cocked him. It was you. The look on your face when I turned around said how, I mean you were smiling five feet outside your face.
Kerrap Nisbet: I was pretty excited.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, no, that was incredible. And like I knew I took that shot like there was no other shot that I had heard. So I knew that that was me and it was pretty incredible.
Ramsey Russell: I noticed you posted some pictures upon on your social media and someone asked you said, I thought you just tagged birds, I didn’t know you killed them.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What would you say to somebody like that?
Kerrap Nisbet: Well, yeah, for sure. If there was no hunters and there was no money coming in from hunting licenses, tags, the Migratory Waterfowl Stamp, there would be no money for banding programs. The banding would be essentially useless because that data is captured when the birds are dispatched and that is when —
Ramsey Russell: And it is all about band recovery.
Kerrap Nisbet: Exactly, if no birds are being hunted, those bands are just going out into the abyss and may never be returned or recorded again. So it’s both sides need to function with each other. You don’t have banding, you don’t have hunting, then there’s just, it’s a moot point, we’re not going to be doing anything with the waterfowl populations or monitoring of that. We have our waterfowl surveys but they haven’t been happening for the last couple of years because of Covid. So at least we have those bands to kind of fall back on for data points. So it’s pretty important and hunting is just as important as the conservation side of things.
Ramsey Russell: You kind of run this full circle.
Kerrap Nisbet: Totally.
Ramsey Russell: You got interested in duck, you started banding duck, you love banding ducks and you are just tossing them out into wild blue yonder, and these beautiful ducks banded, but now you are on the other, you are on the receiving end, you know you don’t pitch the fastball now you are on the receiving end of it.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah.
How Might Hunting Influence Careers & Personal Lives?
Like we were talking about earlier, policymakers, my generation, you mentioned the 90% of us that aren’t hunting and aren’t fishing, you don’t want people in those positions that don’t understand the full circle of things.
Ramsey Russell: And so you are a part of it. How do you think? How how might hunting have influenced your future career and your personal life, Kerrap? I mean because, first off we were all tickled to be there and be a part, I was honored to be there when someone like yourself on first hunt. I was just proud to be there. But how will hunting influence, I mean how did it change? What could it change, what would it do for you career-wise and personal-wise?
Kerrap Nisbet: I think it just allows me to have a more open perspective now. Like we were talking about earlier, policymakers, my generation, you mentioned the 90% of us that aren’t hunting and aren’t fishing, you don’t want people in those positions that don’t understand the full circle of things. I think being able to hunt, be active, and fishing, you need to have that perspective, there’s two sides to everything. That money is coming from hunters. We need to respect hunters just as much as, you know, the granolas who are trying to protect and save everything. Every piece is important. And I think you need to have a very open view and understand kind of those perspectives I guess.
Ramsey Russell: It’s just like that Delta Waterfowl program I was talking about. I mean, some of these kids are going to shake out, they’re going to be policy makers. And to me personally it’s not important that they be hunters but that they understand the role of hunting in conservation and management. And you’ve seen that all. How do you think? I know you’ve already made plans to go back up later in the year with the boys.
Kerrap Nisbet: I would love to.
Ramsey Russell: And get a little more involved with it. What great mentors you are going to have with Jake and Roger? It’s going to be awesome. Do you see yourself evolving into more of a participant now? I mean do you see hunting being a bigger part of your life.
Kerrap Nisbet: Oh for sure. I had such a great time. I just want to learn all the things now. Like I mentioned before when I find something, I like, I want to learn everything about it and I want to be the best at it. So it’s time to sharpen my shooting skills, and I want to learn more about, you know, how to set up your decoys, your strategies for hunting, and just learn about the behavior of the birds from a new perspective now because I know from a biological standpoint how to get my birds and my traps and all of that stuff, but I don’t know —
Ramsey Russell: I never thought about – you made that connection. You know, you hunt them, you catch them. Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of the same kind of thing. It’s kind of hunting.
Kerrap Nisbet: It is in a way, obviously, you know, we’re not going to be baiting to get our birds with us in the decoys, but yeah, it is similar for sure. It’s just looking at it from a different way now.
Ramsey Russell: What advice would you give any dads listening about getting your daughters involved?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, don’t treat your daughters any differently. We’re not fragile little china dolls. We can get just as dirty, we can do just as much as your little boys can. Yeah, don’t treat us differently. We want to want to be a part of that, take us fishing, take us hunting. Show us the guns. You know, we do not need to be playing with Barbie dolls all the time.
Ramsey Russell: You know, I always thought until I had kids. I always thought, you know, boys needed daddies, and girls needed mamas, but that really in the truth really is almost really vice versa to an age.
Kerrap Nisbet: I think so. Because you need that balance.
Ramsey Russell: They all really need daddies.
Kerrap Nisbet: For sure.
Ramsey Russell: And I think it’s very important to get young women out. And I a lot of times feel remiss that that I may be treated my own daughter a little too much like a china doll instead of just a rough and tough boy. I’d go out, take the boys, and just throw them in the back of the boat, let’s go.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, totally.
Ramsey Russell: It’s hard to know how to handle some little girls. You know, I don’t want to get a dirty or whatever like that. You are saying, throw them back in the truck.
Kerrap Nisbet: Just do it.
Ramsey Russell: They need it, don’t they?
Kerrap Nisbet: I think so. And it’s so valuable too.
How to Become a Woman with a Wildlife Career
Just get involved in as many different activities, different areas of biology, or environmental, whatever it is that you are hoping to get into, volunteer.
Ramsey Russell: What advice would you give women that might be interested in pursuing a career in wildlife?
Kerrap Nisbet: Start volunteering. I’m going to stick to that till I die. Volunteering is so valuable and so important. And it’s going to give you more perspective in what areas you are more interested in or maybe what areas you are not so interested in. Just get involved in as many different activities, different areas of biology, or environmental, whatever it is that you are hoping to get into, volunteer. And just find that confidence and self-esteem in yourself to know that you are just as valuable as a man. You know, you can do it too. You are just as great. You just got to find that within yourself and believe in yourself.
Ramsey Russell: What are some of the volunteer activities you have done? I know you have done a lot.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah, so I volunteered with Ducks Unlimited. I volunteered at the Edmonton Zoo. I’m currently on a wildlife rehabilitation Board of Directors.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. So I found many different areas to kind of dabble in just to get different experience and many different sectors and areas of the industry.
Ramsey Russell: So you recently went down to California.
Kerrap Nisbet: I did go to California. That is a good volunteer experience.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me about that.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. So I went down with Brian Huber and the California Waterfowl crew and got to do some rocket banding with them. It was really, really amazing.
Ramsey Russell: How did that contrast with swimming traps?
Kerrap Nisbet: So swimming traps, you know, you are kind of guaranteed to get ducks every day. But with those rocket traps you are really, you know, you are at the mercy of weather and those birds’ behavior. So the seven days that I was there, I think we shot off one net. And that was due to weather. So you know, patience is very key with rocket netting.
Ramsey Russell: Remember seeing a picture of you in San Francisco doing something like I thought you banded duck.
Kerrap Nisbet: No. The wind kind of ruined plans with that. But you know that’s just the way it is.
Ramsey Russell: But you did get to band some birds.
Kerrap Nisbet: I did. I got to band my first white front which is pretty amazing. And my first spoonie as well, we don’t really get spoonies in our traps. So it was great.
Ramsey Russell: The world needs more banded spoonies.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: No doubt about it.
Kerrap Nisbet: Are you going to shoot them?
What Advice Would You Give Women About Hunting?
It’s a little scary, it’s intimidating, you don’t know what you are doing. So advice-wise, I think I would have liked to reach out to, you know, to some women groups.
Ramsey Russell: Only if I can. I promise you that. And what advice would you give women about hunting? I mean, Kerrap, what held you back so long? You had this interesting wildlife. What impediments, what held you back from going hunting? Because you obviously, if the last three or four days was any indication, man, you loved it. You loved every minute of it. You were the first in the truck. The first to pluck ducks. I mean you just put the decoys out, you were tireless, and you always smiled. You wanted people to wear the perpetual smile. What would you tell? I’m asking, what held you back from hunting? And what would you tell young women that probably need to go hunting? What advice would you give them to encourage them to do this?
Kerrap Nisbet: Well, the reason I didn’t get into it earlier was probably because my family wasn’t too big into hunting. That just wasn’t really a thing in my family. So that probably was a big factor but also it’s a little intimidating. You know, guns are a little scary. You are always told as like a little kid don’t touch the guns, don’t look at the guns. And in Canada, especially it’s a little more restrictive than it is in the States. So that was a big thing. I only started getting into hunting when I was dating a guy who was into hunting, so that was kind of my first introduction. But you know, as a female, it’s like if you don’t grow up with it, it’s kind of hard to get into that area. It’s a little scary, it’s intimidating, you don’t know what you are doing. So advice-wise, I think I would have liked to reach out to, you know, to some women groups. There are some women groups in Alberta that are hunting and fishing and doing those sort of things. There’s outdoor camps that are for women only. And looking back, I wish I would have maybe gotten involved in those camps, but I also didn’t really know they existed until I got into the industry. So it’s kind of a catch 22, you need to be aware of what’s going on, but also you don’t know what you don’t know. So I think that’s kind of a
Ramsey Russell: Void.
Kerrap Nisbet: For sure. And I think that’s something that we need to think of as people in the industry. We need to create awareness and get more hunters, that hunter recruitment is going to be really important in the next few years as you know, people start to age and are out of the industry. So just getting awareness, and me as a woman, I want to get more women involved as well. So I think that that’s going to be something that’s on my shoulders that I want to take on and build awareness, and get some women recruitment into hunting and fishing.
Ramsey Russell: Why would women be – would you have felt more comfortable with a bunch of women out there hunting? I mean, were we intimidating?
Kerrap Nisbet: I don’t think so. I think, you know, my personality, I can fit in with the guys, but perhaps there are some other women and personalities that may not have jived with that. So I think from my perspective, no, and it would have been fine women group or men group. But for some other women that may not be the case. So women- only hunts could be a really good option for people if they do feel intimidated. Could be more supportive for them. But I think either way it would have been a great experience for me and I’m really happy that I got to go with you guys.
Ramsey Russell: We enjoyed it. It was extremely rewarding.
Kerrap Nisbet: It was fantastic.
Ambitions in the Future of Wildlife
I just want to learn, I want to touch more nets. I want to band more ducks.
Ramsey Russell: What does the future hold for Kerrap Nisbet? What are your ambitions in wildlife?
Kerrap Nisbet: Well, I’m really interested in a Master’s program. So right now, I’m kind of on the hunt and in talks with a few potential supervisors. I just, like I mentioned earlier, I want to learn as much as I can and soak up as much information as I can about waterfowl. And I don’t really know exactly what that’s going to entail. I don’t really have any specifics or any box kind of restricting me. I just want to learn, I want to touch more nets. I want to band more ducks. Really interested in those GPS transmitters. I think that’s really cool research that’s being done and I want to get involved. So I am just, you know, I’m looking —
Ramsey Russell: Back to school.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yeah. Back to school. Get some research.
Ramsey Russell: More field work.
Kerrap Nisbet: Yes. You bet.
Ramsey Russell: More ducks.
Kerrap Nisbet: Perhaps that’s me going to the States or staying in Canada, I don’t really know. But the doors are open.
Ramsey Russell: And you willing to travel. You said that.
Kerrap Nisbet: Of course. Yeah. You bet you. So yeah, we will see what the future holds. But that’s kind of where I’m aiming.
Ramsey Russell: Kerrap, I have enjoyed it. Thank you very much. Thank you very much for being my tour guide in Alberta.
Kerrap Nisbet: Thanks for coming and visiting us.
Ramsey Russell: I greatly enjoyed it. And folks, y’all have been listening to the amazing Kerrap Nisbet here in Alberta. Check her out on Instagram @KerraNisbet. I don’t know how many there are on Instagram but she is the one holding the duck. And even she swapped her picture, she’ll be holding a duck. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere. See you next time.