Fancy Meeting You Here
I’ve been here before. In 2003, twenty-one years old, fresh out of university and having just completed my first field season of fieldwork (I spent the summer working on a Northern flicker project) I came here, to Mackenzie Nature Observatory, as a volunteer for 3 weeks in September. I knew very little about banding (I had banded some flicker nestlings) and nothing about mist-netting.
By the first day, I was hooked. We started at dawn, opened the twelve 12-metre nets, and checked them every half-hour for six hours. Who knew what we would find? At the time I wasn’t a very experienced birder, so many of the birds were life birds (birds I saw for the first time), including the beautiful American redstart, a type of warbler. We extracted the birds from the nets, brought them back to the banding lab, processed them, and let them go.*
By the end of my volunteer period here, I had learned how to extract and banded 15 birds. The bander-in-charge (BIC) was twenty-four and I decided that I wanted to be a BIC by the time I was 24.
The next fall I spent 2 months as a volunteer at Thunder Cape Bird Observatory, near Thunder Bay, Ontario. I hoped that I would get to band at least 200 birds. By the end I had banded just short of 2000 birds. Then fall 2005 I spent 6 weeks volunteering at Last Mountain Bird Observatory, near Last Mountain Lake in Saskatchewan, and gained even more experience. One particularly memorable (and hectic!) day we captured and banded 402 birds! (The next year I took a break from volunteering at migration monitoring stations, and volunteered on a Satin bowerbird behaviour project in Australia instead.)
In 2007 I returned here, not as a volunteer, but as the assistant bander. And on the bander-in-charge’s days off, I was now the BIC. I was 25, so I had missed my goal by a year, but that didn’t matter. The next spring I was hired as the BIC at Albert Creek Bird Observatory, near Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. I returned that fall, and then for the next two fall seasons.
And now I am back here. And guess what? So is this guy:
I banded this bird as a second year in 2007, meaning that he was hatched in 2006. At the time he was just growing in his black and orange feathers for the first time (females and young males are greenish-gray and yellow.) He has been recaptured multiple times every fall since, and he is now five years old– the same age as my niece! Every winter he flies down to his wintering grounds—perhaps Costa Rica, or Jamaica, or Venezuela, and then makes his way back up to northern British Columbia. I hope he makes many more return trips.
In other exciting news, I’ll be making a migration south, too! I’ve been accepted as a volunteer to band at the Costa Rican Bird Observatories for October-November! Maybe I’ll see him there.
*In a future post, I’ll take you through the banding process.
Have you been to Costa Rica? Any advice on where to go (I’ll have an extra week)/what to pack/etc?