A Bird in the Hand

The past 12 days I have been busy working on a banding crew in the Dakotas. Normally our efforts would be put to use up in Canada but due to "you know what" we can't cross the border. This is my first year on a banding crew with the USFWS Division of Migratory Birds and I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far. The days are long but its the type of work where you don't realize it and the days fly by. It's a stretch to even call it "work". But that was my plan from about the age of 11 when I knew I wanted to be a wildlife biologist.

For the first week or so we spent most of our time building traps and scouting for catch sites. Since the entire crew is new to the area scouting for trap sites was probably tougher than it would have been. Our crew is led by Walt Rhodes a fellow wildlife biologist-pilot in my branch. Walt has tons of experience and is even 5 years older than me! The other member of our 3 person team is a relatively new wildlife biologist Stephanie Catino. Both Walt and I had lived a lifetime before Stephanie was even born, but she is impressive none the less and seems to be doing fine with two old guys. Walt and I talk a lot more than Stephanie... but we have a lot more stories to tell. She seems to be a good, quiet listener so it works out!

Along with our crew we are supplemented by a team at a nearby National Wildlife Refuge led by refuge biologist Mick Hanan. Mick and his team have been a great source of support. They help us find landowners so we can ask permission to trap on private lands in the crew area and much more. Mick's team is also managing several trap sites which is a great benefit as we geographically are covering a large area. Mick conducted a rocket net capture one morning this past week which netted 36 ducks so that was an exciting morning.

When we do catch ducks Walt has done an amazing job of teaching us everything from how to handle the birds, identify them, age them, sex them and perhaps most importantly properly band them. Putting a band on a duck is a surprisingly intricate process. If you watch someone securing a leg band on a bird it will look deceptively easy. But to do it properly is a multi-step process requiring just the right touch with the pliers... pressure, angle of pliers, and movement all come into play. I am grateful Walt is a master at this and is patient with Stephanie and I as we work towards becoming competent duck banders.

So far we have banded about 80 ducks. Including blue winged teal, wood ducks, pintails and mallards. In our crew area teal abound but we are doing our best to get a good species mix in our traps and under our nets. To say I am enjoying all of this is an understatement! I could do this year round, but we will have to shut down our operations before the hunting seasons kicks in the third week of September. And due to low duck numbers in our crew area we may even finish sooner than normal. I know our time here will continue to fly by (no pun intended) but I am going to love every minute of it!

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