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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Migration and banding

My last day of volunteering to help the WCS-sponsored research project was uneventful. I mean, like, there were hardly any birds present. I really can't complain, as it was a great learning experience. It would have been a bit more interesting had the migrating songbirds thought to accommodate my schedule. A documentary crew and a photographer who I know from birding stopped by to shoot some footage. At one point I think that there were more humans in the woods than birds.

One bird that was banded was an Eastern Phoebe. Phoebe's are cute little birds that sound like a dog's squeaky toy when they exclaim in a high-pitched voice, "FEE-be". They are pretty common on migration. When the biologist was holding the bird I kept hearing a snapping sound. I eventually realized that it was the phoebe clacking its bill. Some species, such as owls, use bill-clacking during courtship. It is also used as a form of aggression towards other birds. In this case, I presume that it was stress related, as none of the individuals present were flycatchers or very attractive.

As I was getting ready to leave, one more bird came our way. It was a female Belted Kingfisher. During my brief time with the biologists this fall, she was the only bird that seemed to look larger in the hand, than in binoculars. Maybe it was because of her scary, dagger-like bill. Her feet were very fleshy and looked almost marsupial-like. Since they spend nearly all their time in or around water, I guess it's an adaptation that helps their grip on slippery perches.

Before I started helping the researchers, I was excited about the idea of taking close-up photographs of the birds. In the beginning, I did take some photos, but it wasn't very satisfying. It didn't feel right, almost like I was shooting images of an animal through the bars of a cage. When some people find out that I'm into birds, they assume that I have some pet birds at home. I think they miss the point, I would never have a caged bird.

Tomorrow I'm going to Hook Mountain, just north of the city, to a hawkwatch. I have a new birdcam that I'll be checking out and hope to have some good photos to post.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"


jnfr said...

Are the birders in your area concerned that bird populations are actually declining, or do you think the low migration this year was more of a fluke?

Pamela said...

In the summer here, the western wood pee wee's are all around the snake river. They make that little noise when they are catching flies. I am mesmerized by their erratic flight and their nests in the trees

Rob Jett said...

It doesn't appear that anyone thinks this season's sporadic migration is anything other than weather related.

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