By Vanessa and Olivia Merritt (Young Naturalists)
On Saturday, June 1st, John Gerwin took some members of various NC Audubon chapters, as well as a few Young Naturalists from Wake Audubon, to bird band at Prairie Ridge Ecostation. It was about 7:30am, because birds are most active in the early morning. Earlier that morning, many nets had been set up and opened by Keith Jensen, a research technician with the Museum of Natural Sciences. The nets are like volleyball nets, with very small holes and made of fine material. Two groups went out to check the nets, in different areas, during the morning hours. Olivia and I, as well as the other Young Naturalists went with John so that he could teach us how to take the birds out of the nets. Since it was windy, the birds could see the nets more easily than usual, and we only got a few birds on the last net we checked that first round. We got a few goldfinches, and two juvenile starlings. The first step to get birds out of the net is the feet. One male goldfinch didn’t struggle, but it was difficult to get the fine strings untangled with the claws. This starling’s feet were very strong, but once getting the hind claw free, the grip loosened. Next is the tail, wings, and head. Each case varies, but the tail and head are usually the easiest to get free. The wings are harder, because if the bird struggles, the wing’s individual feathers get more tangled. After the bird is out of the net, he/she is put into a cloth bag to be taken to the banding station.
Juvenile Starling caught in the net
John Gerwin showing the young naturalists how to untangle the bird’s feet
Female goldfinch being taken out of the net. She was already banded; that’s important because we can see how she has changed since the last time she was caught. Recaptures are vital, because scientists can find out more information pertaining to the species.
At the banding station, more goes on than just the banding. We have to weigh, measure wing length, check body fat, brood patch (bird may be breeding), cloacal protuberance (to check the breeding status), age, sex, and molt.
A male goldfinch’s wing being measured by Olivia Merritt. To measure the true length, we do not spread the wing open, but instead gently place the slightly open wing on the ruler without any pressure.
A female goldfinch being inspected, while the scribe in the back writes down the bird’s band number, weight, sex, etc.
A male goldfinch being banded.
A male goldfinch being checked for molt and fat on the stomach (we blow through a straw to part the feathers).
Juvenile bluebird actually getting weighed.
An orchard oriole having its wing measured.
The orchard oriole getting weighed.
A huge Comet Darner dragonfly that was caught in the net (we didn’t have small enough bands to band it, though!).
This was a wonderful experience for both young naturalists and Audubon members. Everyone was so nice, and we had a lot of fun!
Going to the Uwharrie Mountains was a really interesting time for me. I learned how to identify toads and insects that I had never heard of before. The best part was when we were at the river trying to catch the salamanders. I thought it was really funny when the stag beetle pinched one of the campers fingers! I was not expecting to find him in the bathroom!
I had an amazing time at the Uwharrie Mountains. I learned so much and was actually able to see up close willy worms, cricket frogs, baby toads, the toebiter, a hog-nose snake, scarlet tanager, crayfish, salamanders, and all sorts of mushrooms. The Uhwarrie Mountains has been the best trip so far this summer.
By Brandt (Wake Audubon Young Naturalist since 2010)
Participation in the Young Naturalists Club’s outings has given me some of the best adventures of my life. Take the last excursion, for example. We went on an over-night trip to explore and camp in the Uwharrie National Forest, an ancient and almost mystical place in the center of our state. Mr. Gerwin and Mr. Sean were our intrepid leaders. Their knowledge about every living thing we encountered was amazing. My favorite discovery on the trail was the purple coral fungus, clavaria zollingeri:
Isn’t it cool? I read that it grows in coniferous areas all across Canada and southward in mountain areas. So that’s why we found it in the Uwharrie’s.
At a stream on our first hike, Lily, The Fearless, and Sean showed me proper crayfish holding technique. It was the first time I ever held a crayfish. Mr. (or Mrs.?) Crayfish was a good size for a beginner – not big enough to pinch hard:
Camping was fun. We enjoyed roasted marshmallows over the campfire. One of my marshmallows turned into a chemistry experiment as it reduced itself to a black mass of carbon – I guess I toasted it a little TOO long. We were all tired out from the day, but it was hard to get to sleep because some of the neighbors were pretty noisy until late at night. Around 5 am we had a surprise visitor. A whip-poor-will flew right into our campsite and landed on the picnic bench! He gave a rousing serenade before flying off again. He must have received word that we were all disappointed about not hearing any Nightjars during the YNC Nightjar Survey at Jordan Lake. He made up for that!
On Day 2 of our trip, we visited the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness area. That’s a nice unspoiled area; a place where you can escape the crazy, noisy, hustle and bustle of modern life. We saw a great specimen of a Hognose Snake:
Even in these mountains, it was getting hot and sticky by the end of the trail. We all felt like Roger, the guide dog puppy, and wanted to cool off in the stream:
The one thing I would have liked to have missed on the trip were the chiggers. I’m still itching! The whole idea that a mite too small to see can unleash enzymes that turn parts of me into its personal protein smoothie is just gross. Dealing with the leftovers of its stylostome “straw” in one’s skin is maddening, to say the least. Next time, I’ll be ready with more bug defenses.
I’m looking forward to the next YNC outing to Grandfather Mountain. I love the Boone area. See you there!
(The Wake Audubon Young Naturalist Club offers youth ages 12-18 opportunities to explore nature together. Monthly outings include environmental service projects, local bird walks and full-day adventures from the mountains to the coast.)
by Angie DeLozier
Birding with my niece, on The Point of the Outer Banks many years ago, she gave me some advice that has resulted in many pleasant discoveries while birding. “When you look at a flock of gulls, terns or whatever, don’t forget to look over their legs, you might spot a stranger.”
This year I had the pleasure of attending a weekend 15th birthday party for the oldest grand daughter of one of my sisters in Puerto Rico. We spent the weekend in a beach house in the town of Aguada on the West Coast. One morning, some decided to go snorkeling, so we all headed north of town and found a lovely cove which was well attended by people, vendors and Magnificent Frigate Birds.
While enjoying the sun, surf and birding, I noticed a group of pelicans following a very tanned man wearing a wide straw hat and carrying a small bag of treats, which he would give one or another of these pelicans on their return from following his whistles and hand signals to fly out to different perches around the cove.
As they got closer to where I was sitting, I remembered my niece’s advice and began scanning the legs of this group of 12 to 16 pelicans. To my surprise, I could see some blue specks within the tan ones, so I continued t0 focus until they were close enough for me to see there were actually two Blue Footed Booby birds in the group!
I had never seen anyone feeding/rewarding pelicans on a beach and never imagined you could do it to a Booby bird. Now what we did realize was that the pelicans would follow the commands of this man, but the Booby birds did not and still got rewarded! They finally passed our area and continued to the end of the cove. We left with a sense of satisfaction and feelings of wonder and awe.
So, if you are up for an enjoyable experience, and are in Puerto Rico anytime, make time to drive over there to experience this delightful circus show during the months of wintertime. The Magnificent Frigate Birds were so low you did not need binoculars to watch and we assumed that this man must do this often enough that he has a large following in the bird world.