Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Bird In Hand

I consider myself a biologist of creepy-crawlies.  I'm an amphibians-reptiles-insects kind of biologist, with pretty good plant skills.  Birds and I have never really spent a great deal of time together.  I'm not a morning person.  The great thing about working with "cold-blooded" organisms like amphibians, reptiles, and insects, is that they don't get up before the sun does because they need a while to warm up.  With insects and reptiles you can easily start your day at 10am and not really miss anything, the best time for amphibians starts at dusk, and plants are there all the time and will adjust to your schedule (so nice of them, don't you think?).  In the birding world, your day is ending around 10am.  This scheduling conflict has left an enormous gap in my skill set.

Carefully extracting a Black and White Warbler from the mist  net
This spring I decided it was about time to fill in that gap.  Lately my alarm has been going off at 3:30am.  That's right folks - the middle of the night.  This used to be about the time I would be going to bed, not getting up.  So I drag myself out of bed (usually not until 3:45), and get myself down to the Innes Point Bird Observatory for 4:50am.  Every spring, bird observatories across the country (and the world) put up mist nets to catch birds as they pass through during their migration.  They extract the birds from the nets, measure them, weigh them, put a band on their leg, and send them on their way.  The data they collect is used to study population trends, among other things.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler in "photographer's grip"
As an intern at the IPBO, I am learning how to correctly handle birds and extract them from the nets.  Along the way I'm learning how to identify the various birds that we encounter, and I'm trying to learn to identify their songs.  So far I've managed to figure out some of the sparrow songs, but I'm finding the "birding by ear" bit to be pretty tricky.  There are so many birds that I never even knew existed!  For example, I've seen 9 different species of warbler so far, none of which I'd ever seen before.

Oh-so-cute Yellow warbler.  This wee guy weighs about as much as a loonie.
While we're out checking the nets we sometimes encounter other non-avian wildlife, like this adorable BABY PORCUPINE!  About the size of small canteloupe, this little ball of puff was just hanging out near one of the nets.  He was sitting so still I nearly missed him!  I'll bet under all that puff he's only about the size of a chipmunk.  

OMG Porcupine baby!!
You can follow all of my sightings on my Project Noah page!  If you're not already familiar with Project Noah then you should definitely check it out - it's like social networking for nature lovers!  It's a place for you to share all of your nature spottings with fellow nature enthusiasts, earn patches, join missions, and get help identifying things you're not quite sure of.  They have a mobile app for Android and iPhone so you can post your spottings on the fly, or check out what other people have spotted in your area!

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