How To Catch A Bird in A Mist Net

Or, How to Catch a Bird in 6 Steps

 

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Black-and-white Warbler (juvenile). St. Andrews, New Brunswick, September 2013.

***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.

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The spreading of the trammels. Much consideration goes into choosing just the right stick for this purpose. 

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).

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A mist net open and ready to catch birds.

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.

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I don’t care how cute you are. You’ve never set up a mist net, so you wouldn’t understand.

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!

 

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Blue-headed Vireo. St. Andrews, New Brunswick, September 2013.

*refer to What Is A Mist Net?

 

Happy Birding! 

Oh Canada.

Oh hey everyone, I’m in Canada right now. Might have forgotten to mention that… whoops. Anyway, here I am!

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Downtown St. Andrews. This is pretty much it, though there are a grocery store and a few more shops behind me. There are no traffic lights, and the main drag takes up about four blocks. It’s a very pleasant stroll along the waterfront.

I’m working as a bird bander for the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, which is in the town of St. Andrews, which is in the province of New Brunswick, which is right on the Bay of Fundy, and a softball throw from the Maine border (as my mother put it).

Here’s a map:

Google map of HMC

Check out the Huntsman Bird Banding site: St. Andrews Bird Banding Station

My border crossing was not quite as easy as it could have been, since apparently the paper I had explaining my purpose for coming to Canada didn’t pass muster (though it worked perfectly fine for the other bander who flew in from California, and has worked in the past.) But whatever. It was Sunday evening, they must have been bored and wanted something to do. And I really, really, really wanted to sit at the border for over an hour after driving for 8 hours that day on 4 hours of sleep. Really.

After making multiple phone calls to two different people at Huntsman, who tried to explain it all to the guards (and eventually emailed them a differently-worded letter to let me get through, with the promise that it would be printed out and delivered the next day on the proper Huntsman letterhead) I was permitted to pass Go– after I paid for the $150 work visa. I don’t have a problem with this, it does make sense, but I wish they would just be consistent. Apparently this happens every year– some of the banders have no problem, others have hoops to jump through (my hoops were on fire, and I was on a unicycle). It’s easier for everyone if you have one set of rules and stick to them– and if you inform people as to what those rules are. Just sayin.

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Ship mural on the side of a building in St. Andrews (if you couldn’t tell from the picture). The town is also sometimes called “St. Andrews by-the-Sea,” probably because of the proximity of the sea.

During our multiple extended waiting periods (seems like just about every 10 minutes or so I’d get called back up to the desk to answer a semi-pointless question), I chatted a bit with the guy processing my papers. First, I explained a bit about what bird banding was. All he seemed to care about was that we put bands on birds. Period. He didn’t want to hear the rest of my spiel, which was slightly disappointing. I like telling people about mist nets.

As he was perusing my passport, he asked, Oh, so were you working in all these other countries? Last year I spent a couple months traveling around in Asia, and I’ve been to a few places in Central and South America as well. I’m very proud of my collection of assorted visas and stamps.

No, I said, I was just traveling for fun. I had a friend who had a Fulbright to study lobster farming in Vietnam and went to go visit him, and then we traveled around a bit. Nepal was my favorite, trekking in the Himalayas was amazing.

Oh, well they’re not countries many people go to just for travel, he replied.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that one. Huh? I would think more people go there just to travel than to band birds. It did seem that all of the non-natives I met in Asia were there “just to travel” (other than that one weirdo studying lobsters), but what do I know, I’m just a lowly-paid field biologist.

He also mentioned at one point that if they couldn’t get everything figured out I might not be able to cross the border tonight, and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way back to Ohio. Again, not sure how to respond to that one. Because I probably wouldn’t have just spent the night in Maine and tried to get across the next day, but instead I would have turned around and driven the 15 hours back to Ohio then and there. Right.

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Passamaquoddy Bay, which I think rolls off the tongue quite nicely. According to Wikipedia, it was the site of a large flour smuggling operation that peaked in 1808. After American flour had its heyday, British manufactured goods and then gypsum from Nova Scotia were the smuggles of choice. (Not sure if that’s a proper way to refer to smuggled items, but it should be).

I also was a little confused as to why I wouldn’t be able to cross as a visitor instead, if the powers-that-be didn’t like my paperwork. I could have signed some paper or something that promised I wouldn’t work until I got the proper forms filled out. I mean, if you can’t get a work visa, can’t you still visit the country as a tourist? I didn’t want to bring that up unless I needed to as I figured it would just complicate matters.

Though it started to get slightly challenging (mostly as I was about ready to fall asleep even though the benches were extremely uncomfortable), I tried to be as pleasant and friendly as I could. They probably feel better about letting a slightly odd, chatty girl into their country than one who has been giving the death stare and monosyllabic answers for the past hour and looks like she’s ready to pass out either because she’s had no sleep or been doing recreational drugs.

But I made it, and this first week has been interesting so far. I’ve seen some old familiar eastern birds that I’ve missed during my time out West, though not very many of them. We have a total of 14 nets in 2 different sites, and John and I each run a site. Mine has 8 nets, his has 6. Today, total, we caught 9 birds: John caught 8 of them, which means I had 1. My busiest day so far has been 6. We have the nets open for 5 hours each day, depending on the weather. At least I’m getting a lot of reading done- I’ve already finished one book (Bonk, by Mary Roach. I highly recommend it, though it’s a bit awkward explaining to your boss when she asks “What book are you reading?”).

I still can’t get over the fact that there are no Tetons in the backyard. The ocean is okay I guess, but I’m definitely more of a mountain girl. You can’t climb on the ocean, though there are some cool birds.

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And in other breaking news….

Happy Birthday to my fabulous Mother Dearest!

I know I say this every year, but you’re the Best Mommy I’ve Ever Had 🙂

I love you Mom!

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Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, 2012.