Friday, May 16, 2008
A Red-Letter Day at Starr...
One thing I've sorely missed since moving out to California is regular bird banding at Metrobeach Metropark in Michigan. I assisted with the banding there as often as humanly possible, and learned vast amounts about bird identification, aging, and sexing. The only banding operation in Orange County is at Starr Ranch, and up to today I had been rather disappointed by it. It seemed that every time I went banding there we set a new record for least number of birds banded in a day. That changed today, much to my delight.
Today was the second MAPS (Monitering Avian Productivity and Survivorship) banding day of the season (I missed the first when I was in Texas). I jumped out of bed at four a.m., despite having gotten only five hours of sleep. As my dad and I walked out to the car, a couple migrating Swainson's Thrushes called as they winged north over our house. A good sign, I thought. Migrants were moving.
We bumped our way into Starr Ranch at 5:15 a.m. My dad dropped me off at the lab. The trees and ridges were still mostly concealed by gray dawn gloom. A couple Common Poorwills called nearby. Once we had all assembled, the other banders (Justin, Debbie, Barbara, Matt, Al, Janet, and Carol) and I loaded up into a couple four by fours and set out for the MAPS station. The station is located in a remote area two miles down a rocky "road" from the lab. Starr Ranch boasts some of Orange County's most gorgeous landscape - acres and acres of rugged terrain, free of traffic noise, congestion, and development that is so prevalent in Orange County.
We unfurled the nets as the grayness lifted. Our first bird of the day was a Swainson's Thrush (pictured above); they were all over the place. We banded at least fifteen of them, and I saw several unbanded ones in the banding area. Debbie, Justin, and I were checking some of the nets on the first net run when Justin's radio suddenly screeched:
"JU-crackle-crackle... Barbara-CRACKLE-crack...HAWk-SCREEEEECH-crackle net eleven-crackle-CRACKLE-snap"
Justin quickly took his leave to help while Debbie and I finished checking the nets. Sure enough, we had caught a gorgeous adult Cooper's Hawk. Unfortunately, we didn't have any bands large enough to put on it and had to release it unbanded.
We kept catching lots of birds, including more Swainson's Thrushes, Pacific-slope Flycatchers, and Oak Titmice. Migrants put in a good appearance, and we caught several species of warblers. We banded one brilliant Townsend's Warbler.
Even more excitement lay in wait for us. A couple Wilson's Warblers showed up in the nets, along with a Warbling Vireo. However, my favorite banded bird of the day was this MacGillivray's Warbler, one of two we banded. Surprisingly, these may be the first ones ever banded at Starr Ranch.
As the mercury on our portable thermometer rose, bird captures tapered off. We were forced to close a few nets exposed to the sun. Around 11:30 a.m. we closed up shop and headed out. We handled forty-nine birds, an excellent total for Starr Ranch. It was nice to handle birds again after a several-month long hiatus!