Category Archives: Banding

Goals for 2012

I didn’t manage to accomplish all of my goals for 2011. So what? Here’s what I’m going to go for in 2012.

1. I plan on keeping another BIGBY list in 2012. My target for the year is 100 species.

2. I’d like to add some Florida specialties to my life list: Snail Kite, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and Burrowing Owl. And I’ve just got to finally see an American Oystercatcher in 2012!

3. Even though I failed to meet my goal to read / review / cycle out 20 books in 2011, I’d like to get back on track. I’m setting my goal here at 20 book reviews again, but I’m not going to worry too much about the “cycling out” part this year.

There are three big things I’ve been missing since moving to Florida, and I’d really like to get back into at least one of them:

4a. Handling birds of prey and volunteering with a wildlife rehabber.

4b. Volunteering at a bird banding station.

4c. Getting involved with a local bird club (Audubon).

5. I’ll be trying the Bird-a-Day challenge again, with a very modest goal: beat last year’s pathetic total of 23 birds.

Do you have birding goals for 2012? I know birders are going to be taking the eBird Challenge or the One-a-Day eBird Challenge, and others will work on getting their minimum 20 Bird RDA of each and every day. How about you? Let me know in the comments below.

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Results: Birding Goals for 2011

When I made my list of birding goals for 2011 back in December 2010, I had no idea that I would be moving from Illinois to Florida in the middle of the year. Even with that fairly major disruption, I didn’t really do too badly with my goals.

1. I wanted to get my life list in order. I expected this would take at least several weeks, but I went on an eBird binge and accomplished this goal before January was half over!

2. I wanted to read, review and cycle out at least 20 books. Here I failed rather miserably. I ended up reviewing just 11 books.

3. I wanted to improve my raptor handling skills, with a few specific tasks I wanted to accomplish: handle birds into and out of travel crates; handle a bird during flight training; and have one of my bird pals eat a meal while on my glove. Helping out with a few programs and the Raptor Internship at FCWR, I got to handle plenty of birds in and out of crates. I moved away before getting to work on the other two, but during my visit in November I gave Meepy a rat while she sat on my glove. She wasn’t overly interested so I proceeded to remove her equipment, both Meepy and the rat resting on my glove. After I got Meepy’s second jess removed, I offered the rat to her again. She was free to go but she took the rat and then she did something very cool, she snapped the rat’s spine! Of course the rat was already dead, but that was Meepy’s first action after taking the rat from me. I was wowed. She held onto the rat for a moment and I felt she was not going to eat it while still on my glove. I raised my arm and she flew to her perch with the rat in her beak. That was pretty awesome. I never got to work on flight training with any birds, so that is one I’ll have to save for the future.

L: Getting Spirit out; top R: putting PA away; bottom R: putting 0511 away

4. I also wanted to improve my bird banding skills. I was only able to help out at the Rollins Savanna MAPS station one day (plus a short training period), and I haven’t visited a banding station here in Florida yet. Another goal unfortunately unfulfilled, for now.

American Robin in my hand with 2011 Rollins banding team in background; photo by Janice Sweet

5. I wanted to keep a BIGBY list for the year, with a target of 75 species. I set that number when we were still in Illinois, of course. I met this target, and then some, with a total of 88 BIGBY species for 2011.

6. My 2011 Bird-a-Day list pooped out after 23 days. I hadn’t set a specific goal here, but this was pretty pathetic. In my defense, my life was really, really hectic those first weeks of the year.

7. Finally, and a bit tongue-in-cheek, I wanted to keep up with my blog reading. While I ended up adding a bunch of new Florida bird bloggers to my regular reading, I didn’t fall too far behind at any point in the year, and I’m happy with that.

Coming up: my birding and blog goals for 2012. Did you have any goals for 2011? How did you do?

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2011 Goals: Mid-year Update

At the end of last year, I came up with a short list of birding goals for 2011. Now that the year is about half over, and we have just relocated from northern Illinois to central Florida, I thought it was a good time to review how I’m doing so far.

I had seven things I was going to work on for the year. So how’s it going?

1. I wanted to get my life list in order. What I thought would take several days spread over a few weeks took just a couple of days. By January 10th I had entered my old checklists into eBird and even came up with some of my milestone birds. I’ve since added a couple more: ABA #250 was Greater White-fronted Goose and World #550 was Eurasian Tree Sparrow*. I’m now at 263 ABA birds and 559 world birds.

2. I wanted to review and cycle out (get rid of) at least 20 books. With eight reviews published for the year so far and three ready to go, I’m just barely on track with the reviewing part. I’m not exactly sure where I stand on the getting-rid-of part, but I suspect not good based on the number of moving boxes labeled Amy’s bird books.

3. I wanted to improve my raptor handling skills by performing a few new tasks, including handling birds in and out of travel crates, handling a bird during flight training, and having a bird eat a meal while on my glove. (That last one is more about getting into a comfortable relationship with a bird rather than a handling skill.) I was only able to do the first skill here, multiple times and with a lot of success. Yay! Although the opportunity to try the other two tasks didn’t come up, I was able to improve my handling skills a lot by helping out with the FCWR 2011 Raptor Internship as an informal assistant instructor.

4. I wanted to improve my bird banding skills by performing a few specific tasks while volunteering with the MAPS banding station at Rollins Savanna this summer. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend more than the training session we had at the end of May and the first session in early June, so this goal will go unfulfilled… for now.

5. I vowed to keep a BIGBY list for 2011. That’s been a bust so far, although with little effort I reached 60 species out of my goal of 75. I just didn’t make time for local birding. I’ve updated the list with a few new Florida yard and neighborhood birds. We have a couple of nice parks within biking distance from our new place that I hope to visit often… as soon as I acquire a bike here.

6. I attempted the Bird-a-Day Challenge 2011, pitifully going bust on January 23rd.

7. Finally, I hoped to keep up with my bird blog reading. I’m doing okay with that. *cough*

*I’m sure I saw these in Europe but I never actually recorded it on a checklist until the Illinois birds.

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Goals for 2011

So all of my 2010 birding goals were not exactly met. So what? That’s not going to stop me from making goals for 2011!

In 2011 I shall update my eBird checklists to include ALL of MY OWN sightings – in other words, get my life list in order!

Again with the books! In 2011 I shall read, review AND cycle out at least 20 books (not necessarily the same 20). I reviewed 15 titles in 2010. I have a couple of book reviews waiting in the wings already, plus a couple of ringers (in the form of novelty books) to review.

One thing that was totally not on my goal list last year was anything to do with raptor handling or bird banding, two things I got involved with during 2010. I have some goals in mind for both of these, but a lot depends on opportunities that come up with the groups I volunteer with, which I don’t have much control over. But I would like to try and increase my skills in both. So the following goals are more like nice-to-haves.

In 2011 I would like to improve my raptor handing skills by performing the following tasks: handle birds into and out of travel crates; handle a bird during flight training; and have one of my bird pals eat a meal while on my glove.

In 2011 I would like to improve my bird banding skills. I helped out at a small MAPS station here in Lake County last summer and I hope to do so again this summer. I was happy to have the chance to learn from a relatively large group of experienced volunteers and banders. I hope to get some more hands-on experience this year, by safely removing at least five birds from a mist net (last year I only completely removed one bird!) and by banding at least 25 birds (last year I banded ~20). I would also like to attend a training session at the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory in the spring, but given the distance, that might be tough (if it’s even offered).

I’ve got to have at least a couple of actual birding goals on this list, right? So I’m going to keep a BIGBY list in 2011. I hope to reach 75 species on my 2011 BIGBY list.

I am going to take the Bird-a-Day Challenge 2011. I’ll be lucky to make it two weeks into January, but it should be fun to try.

Finally, a blog-related goal. In 2011 I shall not fall over a month behind in blog reading. I can’t believe I missed Blog for the Gulf! ๐Ÿ™

What are your bird-related goals for 2011?

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Learning from blogging bird banders

This post is really about a specific niche of bird blogs, but I couldn’t pass up commenting on the bird blog news that has been boggling my mind in the past few weeks.

Seriously, I picked a lousy month to fall behind in my blog reading! October has been an exciting month for bird blogs, to put it mildly. In late September, the Nature Blog Network asked the community for input on expanding the network, and in early October they introduced two new team bloggers. More big changes are on the way. Big recent changes at the ABA include the announcement of a new president on October 4, and a new, multi-authored ABA Blog. On October 18th, the three regular bloggers at 10,000 Birds announced the addition of several beat writers to the team. On October 20th, the multi-authored officially launched. And then, yesterday, the “mega-blog” North American Birding officially launched, although contributors have been posting for a few weeks already.

With all of these new superblogs added to my reading list, I may never catch up. Back to the subject at hand — for this post I wanted to highlight some more neat bird banding blogs that I’ve been following in my quest to learn more about the technicalities of banding birds. Science learns a lot about birds from banding schemes, as mentioned in my last post (which obviously doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface). And I have been learning a lot about birds, and the ins and outs of banding, by following bloggers who band. These are some of the banding-themed blogs that I’ve been following for a while.

The WPBO Owls blog primarily covers Saw-whet Owl banding at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. They’ve had a good season this fall.

Net Results is a blog from banders at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. In addition to banding birds, they are running a study on the preferred seeds of certain bird species. Pretty neat reading.

Minnesota Birdnerd bands birds near Apple Valley, Minnesota. This blogger also frequently posts radar images showing bird migrations. Very cool.

Faab’s Sightings. Faab is a young birder who rings birds in the Netherlands. It’s neat to see the Dutch perspective on bird ringing – and they get some pretty great birds, too.

Rob’s Idaho Perspective. Rob is a masters biology student, and banding songbirds and raptors is part of his field work.

BSBO Bander’s Blog is from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in northwestern Ohio. This is a banding station I’ve been lucky enough to visit as a spectator a couple of times. I love this blog because it shows lots of closeups of birds and points out unusual field marks and identification techniques. The blogger also challenges readers with quiz birds.

Alder or Willow Flycatcher
Alder or Willow Flycatcher, Black Swamp Bird Observatory, May 2010

If you search Google for “bird observatory” blog, you’ll find many results (unfortunately, not all of the listed blogs are active). Do you follow any bird banding blogs? Please let me know your favorites in the comments!

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What we learn from bird banding

Last summer I had the opportunity to volunteer at a (temporary) banding station at Rollins Savanna, a preserve in the Lake County Forest Preserve District. The banding station followed the MAPS protocol, which basically means we were doing a breeding bird survey. We went out approximately every ten days during the summer months. The data will be analyzed over time to look at how the habitat is being used by breeding birds, like this Cedar Waxwing we banded on June 20th.

I was able to join the team at Rollins Savanna after attending a forest preserve banding demonstration in 2009 and talking the MAPS group during their 2009 season. I wanted to learn more about birds and more about the banding process. It was a great experience, I certainly learned a lot, but there is much more to learn. Now that the banding season is over, I’ve been reading more about how bird banding data benefits conservation science, and ultimately the birds themselves.

We learn about how birds age.

  • A Manx Shearwater that was first banded in 1953 as a four- to six-year-old adult may be the longest-lived wild bird. It was recaptured several times, the most recent being in 2003, meaning it was at least 54 years old.
  • The oldest known Little Penguin lived 21 years; the average lifespan of the Little Penguin is 5 years.
  • The average lifespan of the Whimbrel is about eleven years. Recently, a bird that had been ringed in Scotland in 1986 was recovered. The bird must be at least 24 years old, a new record for the species.

    We learn about bird migration.

  • A Common Tern banded in central Sweden was found dead five months later in New Zealand, more than 10,500 miles away.
  • A banded Barn Swallow made the journey from South Africa to the United Kingdom in just 27 days.
  • Arctic Terns have fantastically long migrations. A tern chick banded in eastern Britain in 1982 was recaptured in Australia three months later. The young bird had traveled over 14,000 miles over sea.

    Of course these extreme records are interesting, but a lot of data gleaned from bird banding is about averages and trends. Breeding success data helps land managers determine where habitat restoration or maintenance resources will best benefit the birds. Migration data helps scientists understand changes in bird populations and helps environmental groups working to help birds on both breeding and wintering grounds. If you’d like to learn more about bird banding and data collection, some excellent resources are listed below.

    Further reading:
    Bird Ringing for Science and Conservation (pdf)
    Fat Birder’s Banding & Ringing page
    North American Bird Banding Manual

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    Saw-whet Owl banding @ Sand Bluff

    Last Saturday night Arthur and I visited the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory in Durand, Illinois. The banding station is open each weekend during spring and fall migration, and they band a huge number of birds – up to 4,000 per year. The station has been in operation since 1967 and has always been run by a team of dedicated volunteers. Visitors are welcome to observe songbird banding activities, which takes place during the day. Our visit on Saturday night was to see a special, nocturnal bird: the Saw-whet Owl.

    Northern Saw-whet Owls are small owls that winter in our region (there have been a few records of breeding Saw-whets in Lake and Winnebago Counties). The birds are banded during migration, when they are lured into mist nets using recordings of Saw-whet Owl calls. The data gathered through banding helps us understand more about these tiny nocturnal owls.

    As in other bird banding work, data such as sex, age and condition are measured each time a Saw-whet Owl is captured and banded. Saw-whets can be sexed by comparing measurements like wing chord (the length of an extended, relaxed wing) and weight. Age can be determined by examining the plumage and molt pattern.

    The program began with Sand Bluff Master Bander and founder Lee Johnson telling us about the banding station and their work. Since no Saw-whet Owls were found during the first evening net-run, Lee took some time to show us a few of the songbirds that were still being processed at the end of the day. Here he’s showing a Hermit Thrush. Of the thrushes that migrate through the area, Hermits are usually the first to arrive in the spring and the last to fly through in the fall.

    Hermit Thrush with bander
    SBBO Master Bander Lee Johnson with a Hermit Thrush

    It was great to see these little birds, which included a Fox Sparrow and a fiesty Field Sparrow besides the Hermit Thrush. But it did come as a relief when a Saw-whet Owl was found in the nets on the second run of the evening. Notice the high-pitched tooting in the videos – that’s the recorded call of the Saw-whet.

    Saw-whet Owl in the net
    A Saw-whet Owl in the mist net

    Removing the owl from the mist net

    Putting the Saw-whet Owl into the mesh bag

    In all, three birds were captured in the nets during the evening. After an owl was removed from the net, it was brought back to the banding station building in a mesh bag. The bird remains in the bag during the banding process.

    Saw-whet Owl banding
    Banding a Saw-whet Owl

    The main reason for this is to protect the bander’s hands from these:

    Sharp and deadly to prey! Saw-whet Owl talons

    After banding, the bird is examined and measured, and the data is recorded. The wing feathers are even examined under a black light to help determine the bird’s age.

    Saw-whet Owl wing
    Examining the wings

    Saw-whet Owl wing
    Counting the feathers

    Measuring the tail bands
    Measuring the tail

    Fluorescent wing
    Viewing the plumage under black light; the uniform pink indicates a juvenile bird

    Saw-whet Owls are extremely docile in the hand, which adds to their already high cuteness factor. Did you notice how calm the bird was in the two video clips above? After data was taken on each bird, visitors were able to have a closer look. Here, Lee shows us the large ear opening of a Saw-whet Owl.

    Saw-whet Owl ear
    A Saw-whet Owl ear opening

    The birds also appear to enjoy having the backs of their heads stroked, as you can see in this short clip.

    A Saw-whet enjoys a pet

    Earlier in the evening, Lee had asked each visitor to introduce him/herself and tell the group his/her reason for visiting. As an introvert I admit I dread such moments, but I mentioned volunteering at the MAPS banding station at Rollins this summer. While the Sand Bluff volunteers were out on the third and final net-run of the night, Arthur and I remained behind and spoke with Lee about the MAPS work at Rollins and he told us quite a few fun banding anecdotes as we waited. It was really a treat to hear stories from someone with so much experience as a birder and bird bander.

    After the third bird of the evening was banded, the few of us that remained were able to hold the bird, if we wished.

    Saw-whet Owl & Amy

    The Sand Bluff Bird Observatory will have another Owl Night this Saturday, October 23rd. I highly recommend it!

    I took more photos during the evening besides the ones shared in this post; you can find them here: Amy’s Saw-whet Owl banding photos.

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    Posted in Banding, IATB, Illinois | 3 Comments

    August 5 banding notes

    The seventh MAPS banding session at Rollins Savanna this season took place on Thursday, August 5. This was the final session in the ‘regular’ MAPS season, although the team did run the station one additional day (when I was unable to attend – August 17).

    Bird awaits banding; photo by Janice Sweet.

    We had a bit of excitement in the form of several members of the press stopping by to observe us, interview a few of the banders and Lake County Forest Preserve personnel, and take lots of photos. Stories were published by the Pioneer Press (which also posted a very nice video) and Daily Herald.

    Photographer shoots juvenile and adult Common Grackles. Photo by Janice Sweet.

    The other non-bird issue of note that morning was the utter misery brought upon everyone from the mosquitoes. They were the worst I have ever seen them (I could have said that on each session; they got progressively worse as the season wore on, culminating in the total mosquito nightmare on August 5th), and were attacking us even while we stood in the normally relatively bug-free parking lot before we headed to the banding station. We all sprayed bug repellent on ourselves but it was of almost no use. The back of my legs were especially tasty (or not especially covered in bug spray) judging by the amount of welts found there later in the day. In fact, area mosquito populations exploded in early August and continue to abound locally.

    Although the nets were not particularly busy, we did have some firsts for the season, including a Yellow Warbler and a Warbling Vireo. I banded a juvenile Common Yellowthroat and an extremely cute juvenile American Robin. We also had juvenile Common Grackles and a couple of recaptures.

    Removing juvenile American Robin from bag. See the mosquito photobomb? Photo by Janice Sweet.

    Warbling Vireo
    Warbling Vireo poses for newspaper photog, photo by blogger

    Another first for the season was a Tennessee Warbler, an early migrant that breeds further north. The MAPS program is primarily for recording breeding bird data, so when the migrants start coming through again, the MAPS season is winding down.

    As it was the last session I would be attending, I brought a few small gifts for the banders and my fellow volunteers. I gave this iBand tote bag to our permit holder, Dr. Cynthia Trombino. Here’s a picture of the bag on the banding station table at the end of the day.

    iBand novelty bag
    iBand tote bag, photo by blogger. Find iBand merch including this bag here

    Finally, I geeked out a bit when someone found this deer skull along the mist net trail. Very cool!

    Deer Skull
    Deer skull found at Rollins Savanna, photo by blogger

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    Press, award, hiatus

    In just over two weeks, two events where I volunteered got some local press coverage. First, in July I handled at an owl program at a library in Lake Zurich. There were four of us there, with three handling. I had Pip the Barn Owl, who ended up being very photogenic, keeping his wings outspread much of the time. Lucky for me, I’m in half of the pictures. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The event didn’t generate a story, but the photos are posted on the Pioneer Press website.

    Then, last week, two local papers visited the banding station at Rollins Savanna. The Herald ran the story on their website the same day. The story is front (web) page news today on the Pioneer Press site. They even had a video of the team! There was a photo album as well, but the links are no longer available [as of March 2012 – ed].

    Late last month this blog was honored as a Top 50 Bird Blog by I’m humbled to find myself listed among so many top bloggers. Go check out the list: 2010 Top 50 Bird Blog Awards Winners. Nominations for the 2011 award can already be submitted. [OnlineSchools has discontinued their blog award program as of June 2012 – ed]

    Arthur and I are traveling to the Netherlands this month. We will be visiting with family and friends, taking a short break in Paris, taking care of some business, and marveling at how much has changed since we were last in Holland (September 2008 – how time flies!). Hopefully we’ll be able to squeeze some birding in, as well, but I have a feeling blogging will be difficult. I have a few posts scheduled to run while I’m away, so this blog won’t drop off the radar completely during this mini-hiatus. I’ll be back with minty fresh blog posts in a few weeks! Until then, dear readers, please enjoy these last days of summer!

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    July 22 banding notes

    The sixth MAPS banding session at Rollins Savanna this season took place on Thursday, July 22. It was a bit birdier than last time, with several Common Yellowthroats, a pair of House Wrens, the first Eastern Phoebe of the season, a couple of Song Sparrows, one Field Sparrow, and one American Robin. It was a good, solid, somewhat routine day of banding. Again the skies threatened rain all morning, but this time it actually did rain eventually. Fortunately, we were able to keep the nets open long enough for a full MAPS session, although most station volunteers did end up drenched from taking the nets down.

    Weighing a bird; photo by Janice Sweet

    A House Wren pauses before leaving the banding area; photo by Janice Sweet

    The seventh and final MAPS ‘regular season’ banding took place at Rollins Savanna on Thursday, August 5th.

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