Since I’ve been thinking about eagles and Ohio quite a bit recently, I thought I’d share this excerpt from one of my thesis essays, titled “I Put My Faith In Birds.” Continue reading
Exciting news: one of my thesis essays, “Scattering Blue,” has been published on Entropy as part of their “The Birds” series! Continue reading
Again. Continue reading
Two of my pleasures, in one poem: reading and looking at birds. Oh man. Not sure I’d always choose birds over books, but on these beautiful fall days, when the sun is warm and the birds are migrating (and especially when I have the chance to get outside and band them), birds definitely win out. Though I do love to lose myself in the words of others, it’s hard to ignore the amazing poetry flying overhead and all around. Continue reading
Bird Banders in the News Again!
Last week we had a group from the Martin Meylin Middle School (which is located somewhere in Pennsylvania) visit the banding station. They were such a great group! They were very engaged, and asked great questions. Continue reading
A Few Things That Make Me Happy
A List In No Particular Order
savoring a cup of tea while wrapped in a blanket in front of the woodstove.
waking, realizing there is no real reason to be up yet, and staying in bed, eyes closed, half awake/half asleep, dreaming.
the smell of walking through a pine forest in the cool just after dawn.
the sound of woodpeckers tapping and hammering on branches.
getting sucked into a good book for hours, and only coming up for air when you desperately have to pee. Or eat.
having progressively logically ridiculous conversations, that are in turns creative, silly, and in a strange way logical.
Like planning our post-apocalyptic commune, or our skunk ape/NASA/unicorn conspiracy theory, or pretty much any time Meghan, Patrick, and I opened our mouths.
the smell of a rock wall, on the 2nd or 3rd pitch of a multi-pitch route.
singing along as loud as I please to a good song on the radio.
snuggling with my dog in my tiny bed
riding my mountain bike down Game Creek trail, where I discovered one of the meanings of the world “exultation.”
And here’s a video of what is probably a Ruffed Grouse on Game Creek. It’s a good thing I ride slow, otherwise I might have run it over. These birds could definitely use some street-smarts.
Look both ways before you cross RUGR!
I have no doubt that one day I will be an old black vulture, my face a mass of wrinkles and sparse hair. I will sun myself along the boardwalk, and stare down anyone who gets too close. My walk, ungainly, slow, will take me along. I will pick apart dead things, old things, the decaying bits of conversation no one else wants. Those will be left for me, to have my way with. I will stare death in the face and not blink, I will circle it, be drawn to it, draw life from it.
It is how we gather, all of us, drawn together to bring life from death. To consume death, and become stronger because of it.
You may have heard the Daft Punk song “Get Lucky.” If not, here’s a Youtube video:
I enjoy this song, and find it very catchy. I also enjoy those snazzy sequin suit jackets they’re all sporting. Classy. However, I think they got the lyrics wrong. It’s pretty good as-is, but there’s a better way. One involving birds (therefore of course it’s better— see Portlandia- Put A Bird On It).
Here are the original lyrics, as best as I can figure. There is some discrepancy between the different sources I consulted during a quick Google search. Pharrell needs to learn to enunciate properly, then we wouldn’t have this problem. And what’s with the hand in the pocket in the video? Get your hand out of your pants, it looks weird.
“Get Lucky” (original version)
Like the legend of the phoenix
All ends with beginnings
What keeps the planet spinning
The force from the beginning
We’ve come too far to give up who we are
So let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars
She’s up all night ’til the sun
I’m up all night to get some
She’s up all night for good fun
I’m up all night to get lucky
(repeat multiple times, changing the “I’m up all night…” to “We’re up all night…”)
The present has no ribbon (or possibly rhythm)
Your gift keeps on giving
What is this I’m feeling?
If you wanna leave I’m with it
(repeat the part about cups, then repeat the chorus a gazillion times. It’s a pretty simple song as far as lyrics go).
Phoenixes, cups, presents, ribbons, all well and good. But owls? Better.
The first time I heard this song I didn’t really listen to the words of the two verses, just the chorus: “She’s up all night to the sun/ I’m up all night to get some…” Obviously, I thought, they’re talking about owl banding. Why else would you stay “up all night til the sun” unless you were catching owls?
So I rewrote the lyrics. Someone had to.
I used saw-whets in this version, as they are the only owls I have experience banding (and therefore the only ones I have decent pictures of), but I’m sure we could easily modify for other species.
“Get Lucky” (saw-whet version)
We’re gonna catch some saw-whets
They’ll fly into our mist nets
And then we’re gonna band them
To study their population
They’ve flown so far to get to where they are
So let’s raise our nets and our poles to the stars
We’re up all night to the sun
We’re up all night to catch some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to catch saw-whets
Now hold your wing out lightly
I’ll shine my black light brightly*
What is this I’m seein?
Got my data, now you’re leavin’
(repeat bridge, which I am too lazy to type out again)
*biologists use UV light (a black light) to age saw-whets based on molt pattern (the way their feathers have grown, and how old they are). They do this by looking at the underside of their wings. Young birds will have pinkish-looking feathers, and older birds will have a combo of pinkish and whitish feathers. Check out the McGill Bird Observatory’s Northern Saw-whet Owl banding page for more information and pictures.
And here’s one more bad owl joke to send you on your way:
What do you call an owl with a sore throat?
A bird that doesn’t give a hoot!
All pictures were taken in 2011 while banding in Presque Isle State Park, Erie Pennsylvania.
Or, How to Catch a Bird in 6 Steps
***For those who don’t know what a mist net is, check out this informative, well-written, entertaining, engaging blog post: What Is A Mist Net?***
1. Get up early, as in before sunrise, and get yourself to your banding station. Nets need to be up and opened (able to catch birds) by about a half-hour after sunrise. Coffee is recommended.
2. Set up your net. This will involve two 10 ft metal poles (electrical conduit poles work nicely) and a mist net. Slide the pole through one set of the end loops on the net, stand up the pole, and then walk down the net lane feeding out your net. Once all the net is stretched out, slip a pole through the other end and set it up.
2.5 If needed, tie guidelines from nearby trees, or stakes in the ground, to help keep your poles upright.
3. Spread out the trammels*. Make sure they aren’t twisted. Use a stick to get them up high enough.
4. Take a good look and make sure everything is set up right, that the net isn’t bunched up or stuck together, or too loose and saggy, and then go on to set up the rest of the nets.
5. Once all the nets are set up, check them at least every half-hour to see if you have caught any birds. If you have, gently untangle them, place them in a bird bag, and take them back to the banding station for processing.
6. Processing will be explained in detail in a following blog post, but here’s the short speal:
Once back at the banding station, we take a bunch of measurements/observations: wing length (called wing chord), weight, age, sex, how fat they are (by looking at the hollow below their neck, one of the places birds will store fat for migration), molt (are they growing in any feathers?), and flight feather wear (how raggedy are their wing feathers).
It’s that simple!
Haha, just kidding. I wish.
Setting up mist nets extremely early in the morning is one of the few things that has the ability to make me instantly and irrationally angry. When the net is tangled, or your poles keep falling down before you can get them secured so the net falls on the ground and becomes a magnet for leaves and twigs you then must delicately remove, or when your stakes and ropes are missing, or when one of the trammels breaks… Let’s just say that I sometimes have the urge to chuck the net onto the ground, stomp on it until it’s dead, and then throw it in the river. And then punch a panda in the face. That’s how deep the rage can be.
It takes lots of practice to be able to safely and quickly remove birds from mist nets, and to process them efficiently and quickly. Note the emphasis on quickly– being caught in a mist net is stressful enough, so we try to get the birds back on their ways ASAP while being as careful as we can while handling them.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m currently in Canada banding birds, so if anyone’s interested you should stop by the Huntsman Marine Centre and check out our banding station. I welcome the company!
*refer to What Is A Mist Net?