Friday, May 30, 2014

BWIAB - A highlight. Banding demo at BSBO

I am finally getting around to posting memories from The Biggest Week in American Birding (BWIAB).

We always take home SO many memories and photographs from  BWIAB, it is almost overwhelming to try to write about them! Yes, we took some decent pics of the migrants (both birds and people) that drop in at the Magee Marsh Boardwalk (a future post). We saw wonderful birds and met many wonderful birders and have many stories to tell. But the BWIAB is about far more than the Boardwalk. Geez, just look at the BWIAB Guidebook (hard copies free in most local establishments during the week itself, but it was also available online) to see all of the scheduled happenings.

But sometimes it is just serendipity that establishes permanent unexpected memories.

This happened on our last morning driving out to Magee Marsh. We had been wanting to stop by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) during our trip, but the parking lot was always full. On this drive-by, I saw a car pulling out. Super! In we went!

What we had not expected was that we were just in time for the bird- banding demo (it was in the schedule, but I did not plan for it...).

Off to one side of the parking lot by the Optics Alley tent, there was a woman presenting birds and a story to a small enthralled crowd. The crowd grew as the demo progressed.

Julie Shieldcastle discusses a White-crowned Sparrow

Close-up of White-crowned Sparrow
Here is a link to my cell phone video of guide Kelly McKinney (yellow hat) and Delaney Hayes showing a couple of freshly-banded birds being to a totally fascinated crowd: 

Cool!!! Great timing!!! Immediately we knew why we were supposed to be there! We probably learned more from the time (hour? hour and a half? - who knows! ...time just "flew by") we were there than from any similar period during BWIAB. It so great to have great stories from great teachers! With living visual aids to boot!

I noticed that the banding itself was happening at a picnic table to the rear of the presentation. I approached and took a few pics with my telephoto. Honestly I missed the first sign that said do not approach. There was another sign nearer to the table that I saw and I kept a respectable distance. Joe Komorowski was banding birds at the table. 

Joe Komorowski at BSBO banding station
Yes, this is important! I note that I was using a telephoto, so only "intruded"optically!
I want to point out now that to become a bird-bander requires certification. Because I have spoken with banders in the past, I know it is not an easy certification to obtain! I am not sure how many banders are certified in the US, but know there are not very many.

The way it worked for the demo was that birds were collected from mist nets set up in an opening somewhere out back in a clearing in the woods, and brought to Joe in special bags to receive their bands. Clips were used to safely hang the bags on the ladder until Joe could get to each one.

Joe with net retrieval experts Dan Meyers, Barb Meyers and Delaney Hayes
Dan hangs a bag on the ladder
... And the bags were all hung on the ladder with care,
in hopes that Joe would soon be there ...
I must mention I loved the tackle box you can see in the pics. As a fisherman, I have always loved the organization a tackle box brings to my brightly colored objects. In fishing, it contains lures and other tackle like split-shots, split-rings, pliers, and an assortment of other goodies. Here I see that a bird-bander's tackle box is not so different. Brightly colored objects (color-coded pliers) and rings (bands) of various sizes. I did not approach to see what other goodies might lurk within, but love the analogy! As a side note, it is worth mentioning that in many countries (like England), banding is called "ringing".

So what of the wooden box? On demo days, I think it is used as temporary housing for banded birds that will be shown to the class.

Birdie apartments
And the "black book"? I really did not think about it then, but a couple weeks later encountered Allen Chartier banding birds in Michigan. I watched as Allen consulted scatter point graphs in his black book to try to determine the species of a flycatcher formerly known as "Traills" but now split into two distinct species. The book is The Identification Guide to North American Birds: Part 1 and Part 2 by Peter Pyle. The USGS Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) uses this as a standard and notes: "...(these) are landmark volumes, and with few exceptions are to be considered the final word on what the BBL/BBO will accept from banders to be incorporated into the main database."

A bander's "black book"  with a clip with bands on top
Geez! I am SO glad that we "regular birders" have several options for much smaller field guides with great pics to use as we go about birding!!! But it is really interesting to see how serious professional ornithologists and banders need to be in order to have useful standardized data. Applause to those who qualify to do this!

You can also see a clip with one size of bird bands on top of the book. Each bander carries several sizes of bands to accommodate different sizes of birds. They want the band to fit loosely like a loose bracelet, and not tightly like a watch.

So what happens to a de-bagged bird in hand?

First it is weighed. Joe is using a funnel. This restricts the bird and not only stops it from wiggling, but also prevents any harm. The funnel and cup in which it is placed are "tared out" (meaning that first the scale is set to zero with both of these empty). The bird is placed in the funnel and weighed. Its weight is recorded.

Joe weighs a bird
Bird is carefully removed for the next step
Now that the bird is weighed, the band is prepared
The band is applied and its number recorded.
Now the bird has a personal "name" (even tho it is a number).
On future encounters everyone will know where this bird was first banded
Then the bird is measured


Recording - everything "according to Pyle"
(get my pun?)
Finally the bird is autographed?
(Just kidding! Here Joe is evaluating and recording more characteristics!)
After the birds were banded, Julie and her volunteers would take over to share a possibly a once-in-a-lifetime avian encounter with everyone. For many people, the encounter was seeing the birds far closer that ever and having a chance to take great pics. You can see everyone was "involved"!

Julie presents a bird "up close and personal"
Kelly McKinne shows a bird to the crowd
Kelly presents a Magnolia Warbler
The Magnolia might make the news!
Kristina Smith from a local paper shoots a bird
I could tell that my lovely wife Judy was really enjoying the show!
 And it was so great to see kids involved!

Delaney Hayes records the moment.
Delaney was helping with the banding but took a photo op for herself

Geez! Look at the future of birding! Binocs, two cams, and a steady hand!
Love the intensity!
Young birders indeed! With the tools to support their passion!
It really amazed me to see some kids so well optically equipped. Power to the parents who support them!

But here fighting through my "lens envy", I note that it is really the support that matters! Kids (and adults) do not need "big glass" to be birders. Yes, you need a good pair of binoculars. And, yes, a camera will help capture the moment! But a camera can range from a cell phone to a "point-and-shoot" with more resolution. And, studying the bird and sketching it is even better! It causes you to study more intensely and record an infinite number of images in your mind that a point-in-time-pic never would. I have enjoyed many wonderful sketches that I have seen from "kid-birders" - and note, for example, that most famous birders like Kenn Kaufman and David Allen Sibley started this way. But many of us do not think we can do it. Yes, we can!

And yes, you will want a field guide. But beyond that, what you really need is interest! Parents: please support your kids' interests! And, note that birding and communing with Nature will also reduce your stress and lower your blood pressure far more than almost any other endeavor! Win, win!

And yes, we all need some positive feedback along the way! Kids can get it from their supportive parents, and obviously the kids in these pictures have support. But for adults or beginning birders at all levels, support is available to us as well! It was this support that made me a birder. I started by taking photos and then asked a question that changed my life: "What is this bird?" By chance a neighbor was looking at my pics and told me of the Michigan birder's mailing list (a "listserv") from University of Michigan administered by Bruce Bowman. I signed up. When I had a question, someone on the list always responded. Birders are great that way! Later I found a listserv for Ohio. You can probably find one in your part of the country.

Since that time many "groups" have sprung up on Facebook. For my area, I subscribe to Birding Michigan and Birding Ohio, but I am again sure you can find one local to you. Warning! Birding will (wonderfully) change your life!

(... oh, did I do a "ramble"? Well, it is one of my trademarks ... Anyway back to the banding day:)

Another nice thing about "kid birders".  Like "accomplished" birders, they love to share!
I have  a special place in my heart for those whom I affectionately call "kid birders". However they have arrived at fulfilling a passion of theirs, they are great resources for us all. I often think of the line "and a child will lead us". I am FB friends with a few. I see many posting on the listservs. And whenever in the filed, I have been delightfully amazed by their knowledge and sharing, and have learned so much from them! "You want to see it? Right here in my scope". "That's a whazzit bird - you can tell by ..." Indeed, teach me; lead me to being a better birder!

Another fun thing that happened at the bird banding was that I observed a pretty woman across the way - actually behind the "show" for most of the time. The audience had grown quite large by that time. She was wearing a badge with a "press" ribbon beneath. (I had a ribbon as a volunteer from being a blogger, so I notice these things ...).  She wandered over to my side for a better vantage point so she could get more pics.

The news coverage for the BWIAB is amazing! Not only local, but also national!  It is so wonderful to have newspaper, radio, and TV coverage to support birding! It sometimes amazes me that BWIAB get so much. Not only lots in the local papers, on local radio and TV, but also nationally. Yes that makes great sense locally because of the huge financial impact on the economy during migration. But also nationally? Indeed, birding is huge! Great - so great!

For example, it was fun to see Kim Kaufman on the local TV news as Judy and I  were eating dinner at Blackberry Corners near Magee Marsh. Kim (from BSBO) is the real "spark-plug" behind BWIAB and has done a great job in promoting it. Not only are birders very welcomed to the area, but many locals have become birders thru her efforts. So cool!

Anyway, I urged the news-lady to stand in front of me for better pics.  It was nice chatting with her! Her name is Kristina Smith and she works for the Port Clinton News Herald. She got some better pics from her new vantage point - and a few quotes from me (that was fun!) - then went off for her interview with the BSBO folks. And, yes, out of curiosity, I did look up her article. And, surprisingly (and wonderfully), she quoted me. Geez! My name in the paper! (Click on the highlighted phrase to see the article)

Here is another pic I took of Kristina when she was on the other side of the show. I later learned from Judy that the guy next to Kristina is the father of the "big lens girl". He is also very photogenic. Movie star? Not matter a whit - we were all just birders really enjoying the presentation!

I coined a new term (but have no idea how to best spell it): fashionaviisita! Needs hyphens! It is easier to pronounce than spell! Fashion-avi-ista. High fashion in the birder's world! My word is like fashionista with birds being central to the whole nomen. Pretty young woman. It was so nice to see a young news reporter interested in the world of Nature and birds in particular! I hope she continues to have the opportunity to report important events like BWIAB! I really enjoyed our chat and learning of her interest!

OK. I think I started off by mentioning that this event was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime event for some people? Check this out!

Wow! I think I am holding a bird!
Fly birdie!
(You can see the bird just above her head on the left)
Pure joy from the experience!!!
That young girl's face says it all!

Yes, me too! That is how I feel about this whole encounter! There are SO many during The Biggest Week in American Birding!

I rest my ramble ... Hope you liked!

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