Saturday, May 13, 2023

A Favorite Pastime: Banding birds at the Crown Point Banding Station

White blooming hepatica.

[I’m] writing this from the Ticonderoga Library…a real nice library [that is] open Tuesday through Saturday. I’m at the Crown Point Banding Station for a couple weeks trying to catch migrating birds coming from the south to their homes in the north (and some right at and around the station itself.) We’ve had lots of visitors in the four days we have been open…both people and birds. We thought we might have missed the migrants with all the warm weather we had earlier in the year, but not so.

They had their own schedule and they are keeping to it. Just before I left home on Friday, May 5, I set the Potter traps as I had lots of birds around the feeders. As I was packing the truck, I caught a few more Evening Grosbeaks, Juncos, Song Sparrow, Common Grackle, and Black-Capped Chickadees. The trip over to Crown Point [was] like going through three time zones…or four. Starting out, the leaves around Eight Acre Wood were just coming out and it stayed that way almost to Newcomb.
Then we got in the [“it’s] still winter” zone with some snow along the road shoulders and not much showing with tree leaves. Then going down off the mountain on Blue Ridge Road, the green leaves appeared almost instantly. Passing [the] North River headed east toward Port Henry, it went into [a] “no leaf zone” again as I gained elevation, with some snow along the highway and around parking lots. I stopped to photograph Blue Ridge Falls, as I had never seen it that high before. Then I stopped at the Hammond Pond Trail Head Parking Lot. I had gone in that trail to fish a trout pond years ago, and right at the register box the forest floor was covered with white blooming hepatica.
Banding a bird at the Crown Point Banding Station.

Banding a Yellow-Shafted Flicker at the Crown Point Banding Station. Photo by Gary Lee.

[On] this day it was again in full bloom, with hundreds of plants all through the woods among the turkey scratchings. I got back years ago and got some seeds from these plants. I now have it in my flower garden, but only a few plants. Leaving that spot and coming down off the hill into Port Henry, it was a new world with the tree leaves out on everything and many of the flowering trees and shrubs all in bloom. At the banding site, the Hawthorn leaves were coming out. Some even had little green worms which attack the traveling migrants.
I got to Crown Point a little after noon and the tents and canopies were all put up by some very nice volunteers. I said, “This is a bird banding station, let’s get some nets up,” and it wasn’t long and we were in action. Many of the volunteers weren’t banders, but watched as we caught and banded some birds that were already onsite. Someone mentioned there were over 100 Blue Jays in the parking lot area when they came in the morning. It wasn’t long when they found our place and began hitting the nets and Potter traps. Many left after a few birds, but we caught Blue Jays up until dark with a total of 52 that day. We got a few White-Throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Robins, and Black-Capped Chickadees (some may have been moving through and others may even be on eggs already.)
That night I got my new mattress inflated and I was ready for bed after hot dogs for [a] quick supper. It was a cold night…nearly a frost, but not quite. The onsite crew of Ted Hicks and Tom Barber had the nets up before I got out of the tent the next morning. We caught a few birds, but it was slow. We all had time to catch up on what had happened in our lives in the past year. Gorgon Howard goes home nightly and washes out our holding bird bags and returns the next day with clean ones, which is a great help. [On] Saturday, [May 6] the fort had some special events as it was “Clean Up the Parks Day” in New York State. Many visitors and helpers came over to watch us band and some got to hold a bird. Many birds were flying over and around the station, and getting seen and heard (which we record for the two weeks while we are here.) We had steak for supper and [got] to bed early after watching a beautiful full moon.

Blue Ridge Falls. Photo by Gary Lee.

[There was a] beautiful sunrise the next morning. We were catching right away and had a couple groups who got the full history of the station and all the information about our birds. Most of them got to hold a bird, as the Jays were hitting the nets at that time. We did catch four Tufted Titmouse, which must be close to the record for our two weeks there in [past] years. The Ospreys [were] on the nest platform down front. One of our volunteers found one of the shells from an Osprey egg, so there must be babies in the nest.
Sunday, [May 7] was slow, with not many birds and lots of visitors. So, there were many stories told that day…some truthful and some not. It was a beautiful day and [I] even got in a nap. We did catch a pretty Palm Warbler as we were picking up that night, looking for better things to come yet. As I was laying in my bed, I could hear birds landing in the trees over the tent so I knew the next day might be exciting (and it was.) Those 200 Blue Jays decided we had some food they needed before they traveled north, and many of them dropped in.
We captured 72 that day and many more dropped in, hit the nets, and got back out before they were in hand. We had a few warblers hit the nets, [including] Yellow-Rumped, Black and White, and a few House Wrens, [and] both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. There was a Yellow-Shafted Flicker with some red feathers in the tail and wings in there somewhere. Black-Capped Chickadees started hitting the nets late in the day, which continued into this morning big time…but that will have to be another story next week. See ya.
Photo at top: White blooming hepatica. Photo by Gary Lee. 

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Gary lives with his wife, Karen, at Eight Acre Wood in Inlet where he was the Forest Ranger for 35 years, working in the Moose River Wild Forest Recreation Area and West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. Now retired, Gary works summers for the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, observing, catching and banding loons. The author of a column Daybreak to Twilight in local papers from 1986 to 2019, he now writes his Outdoor Adventures a weekly blog. In 2008, Gary coauthored a book with John M.C. “Mike” Peterson, "Adirondack Birding- 60 Great Places to Find Birds."

5 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Great report Gary! If you can, next week post a picture of a Potter trap in action. How are the ticks this year?

  2. Richard Reinhold says:

    I bet the birds didn’t think it was a fun time. I say God’s creatures have the right to be left alone unless there’s a good reason – a specific question related to bona fide scientific issue – that can’t be answered otherwise. No such question is identified in the text.

  3. Boreas says:

    Excerpt from USGS Bird Banding Laboratory

    II. A. Purposes and Justification for Banding Birds
    The basic purposes and justification for banding birds are that it provides certain data vital for scientific research into bird populations and for the conservation and management of those populations. While some of these data can be provided in other ways, banding typically remains the most cost-effective approach. Banding, recovery, recapture, and resighting data remain critical for the conservation and management of birds. Their use in the setting of annual species and bag limits for game birds provides an immediate and widely appreciated example. At the level of basic scientific knowledge, banding is also a valuable tool for obtaining information about avian populations, movements, behavior, etc., regardless of any immediate conservation or management value. Lastly, banding has legitimate and widespread educational values over and above its scientific value.
    It is not always appreciated, especially by governmental bodies and the public, exactly how valuable good banding data are, and the important uses to which they are routinely put. Examples include:
    1. Providing knowledge about movements of birds – e.g., establishing migration routes; finding links between breeding and wintering grounds; delineating separate populations; tracking range expansions and colonizations; measuring dispersal within populations; quantifying gene exchange among populations;
    2. Estimating demographic parameters and determining dynamics of bird populations – e.g., estimating annual production of young birds or age-dependent annual survival rates; building models of population dynamics for predicting extinction probabilities; separating population sources and sinks; comparing survival rates of experimental or rehabilitated birds to those of wild birds;
    3. Management of gamebirds – e.g., delimiting flyways; estimating harvest pressure for input to the establishment and modification of hunting regulations; measuring differential vulnerability to harvest and other risks by species, age, sex, and geographic location;
    4. Ecological research requiring individual recognition – e.g., estimating territory size, habitat selection, dominance hierarchies, molt patterns, or parasite burdens of individuals; examining importance of migrant stopover areas through individual stopover times and weight gains;
    5. Monitoring populations and individuals – e.g., monitoring Endangered or Threatened species; identifying populations declining from decreased reproductive output or from diminished recruitment; establishing population trends and validating other techniques of population monitoring;
    6. Educating the public about science and birds – e.g., teaching, in the hand, about birds, their movements, their plumage differences, and how molt proceeds; reinforcing stewardship responsibilities.
    It must be emphasized that the maximum value of banding data is realized only when: (a) accurate and standardized (or well-documented) data are taken; (b) these data are stored centrally and made readily available to analysts and researchers; and (c) the data are used, and the results published.”

    Perhaps someday we will know everything we need to know about migratory and non-migratory birds and banding will no longer be necessary. But with changing climate and habitat – both in breeding and wintering areas – banding is still an integral component of monitoring bird populations. Yes, the birds are disturbed/stressed during the capture, but realistically is this stress significantly worse than the climate changes, habitat destruction, and mortality we inflict on them daily? The more we understand their biology, migratory routes, and migratory status, the more we know about our OVERALL impact on avian populations and the more we can do to ameliorate our impacts.

  4. Susan Cooley says:

    I found this fascinating! Why haven’t I been involved as a volunteer or spectator in the past is what I asked myself….?? And I also know Ted Hicks too. I will look into this for next year. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed the migrants coming thru my yard and property while sitting on my porch in Saratoga Springs. Thank you for the inspirational article!

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