On May 1st my Mom drove me to the McIntyre Marsh Bird Observatory so that I could volunteer there for the morning. I had never been there before, so I was really excited about going. The Observatory is right on the edge of the marsh, and the mist nets used for catching the birds were set up over the water in the marsh. Every fifteen minutes the banders at the observatory have to walk down the trails to check each mist net for birds. The mist nets can be totally invisible if there is no wind, and they are even more so if there is vegetation around them. They are very fine, thin nets that are held up by two poles stuck into the ground. The nets have loose pockets in them so that when a bird flies into the net, it will fall into the pocket and get stuck rather than bounce off. If the banders find a bird caught in the net, they untangle it and put the bird into a cloth bag done up with a draw-string. The birds feel safe in the bag and it helps them to calm down if they are stressed out. Then it is off to the banding table to put the band on the bird’s leg and collect information. The bands are metal, with codes engraved on them. No band has the same code. This is how you can tell individual birds apart if they are caught again. The bands are like an ankle bracelet; it is loose enough that it can easily slide up and down their leg, but not so loose that it slips off over their foot. After the birds are banded, they are released back into the wild. If you ever find a banded bird, report the band and the code on it at: http://www.reportband.gov/ . McIntyre Marsh Bird Observatory is one of the three bird observatories in the Yukon, the other two being the Teslin Lake Bird Observatory, and the Albert Creek Bird Observatory. If you would like to visit one of these observatories, or you have questions concerning them, contact Ben Schonewille at firstname.lastname@example.org . The purpose of these Bird Banding Observatories is to monitor and study the movements and populations of the birds. McIntyre Marsh Bird Observatory is a special observatory meant for public education, and receives many visitors every year.
The day that I was there it was very quiet with almost no activity. I just arrived at the banding table when two banders, Ben Schonewille and Nick Guenette arrived from a net run with a bag containing a Lincoln’s Sparrow which I was able to band. Nick Guenette is a 13 year-old Yukon birder, and comes to volunteer at McIntyre Marsh on the weekends. A third bander, Tami Grantham-Hamilton, was also volunteering at McIntyre Marsh that weekend. After the Lincoln’s Sparrow we didn’t catch anything else except for a pair of Common Redpolls that had been banded earlier on that day, which we released right away. There were quite a few birds around, such as Violet-green Swallows, Varied Thrush, Boreal Chickadees, Mallards, and Bald Eagles. The marsh looked like it would be a very good place for catching swallows, sparrows, warblers, and ducks to me. Ben told me that they had banded Green-winged Teals there before, which I think would be really cool bird to band!
When noon arrived it was time to close the nets. That was not the end of bird banding for the day however, because I was going along with Ben and his wife Ammanda to help out at a bird banding demonstration they were doing at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. I had been to the preserve once before, but I was very young and I don’t remember that trip. It was all new to me when I went with Ben and Ammanda. There were huge outdoor pens, each containing species of Yukon wildlife. There were Caribou, Deer, Moose, Bison, Muskox, Mountain Goats, Sheep, and even a pair of Arctic Fox. I was riding with Ammanda in her car, and she was following Ben’s car down the road in between the pens. Seemingly endless numbers of Ground Squirrels ran onto the road around and under Ben’s car. One was even brave enough (or stupid enough) to go right up to Ben’s car tire to sniff it as it was moving.
The banding demonstration was taking place near the back of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, beside a swamp and a moose pen. The friendly cow moose living there came right up to us on the other side of the fence and let us hand feed and pet her. Then she ambled off to rest in the shade of the trees further away. The nets Ben had set up beforehand were standing between the edge of a spruce stand and the edge of the swamp. It looked good for sparrows, and we were all hopeful. Chris Wilkinson, the preserve’s Program Manager came down to say hello after we had arrived. He had only been there a few minutes when he spotted a Wood Frog that was hopping past the banding table. I was thrilled! It was the second frog I had ever seen in the Yukon before. I managed to catch it, and Ben took a couple of pictures of it for me before I let it go.
The first group coming to see the bird banding demonstration arrived a bit later. So far, we had no luck in catching anything. After checking the nets a couple of times while the group was there and finding them empty, Ammanda and I decided to walk through the trees and try to flush any birds hiding there into the nets. Ammanda spotted an American Tree Sparrow foraging under a tree after a few minutes. We slowly walked towards it and tried to push it into the nets. We almost had it in the nets; it was only a few feet away from getting caught and banded, when it took flight and flew alongside the net and into the forest. Again and again we almost had it in the nets, and time and time again it would fly alongside the nets and escape into the trees. It was frustrating, but fun at the same time. We gave up when the first group left. About five minutes later, a second group arrived. This time we were lucky. Just as we were closing the nets at noon, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet got stuck in one of the mist nets. The second group was able to observe a bird being banded, take pictures, and then watch it being released. It was a good end to the demonstration.
After the demonstration, we drove around the wildlife preserve to look at all of the different species of animals they were keeping there. The herd of Bison was very impressive. They are so huge! On one of the stops Ben pointed out to Ammanda and I a bunch of Mountain Bluebirds flitting from tree to tree in one of the pens. Then we met up with Chris Wilkinson at the main building. Chris was going to give us a tour of the new rehabilitation building, and show us the two owls that they were currently rehabilitating. One of the owls was a little Boreal Owl. It was brought to the preserve with a broken wing, but is now almost ready for release. The second owl was a Short-eared Owl that also suffered from a broken wing. It had been brought in only a few days before by Ben who found it on the roadside. We came to the Boreal Owl first. It was being kept loose in a room lit by light from the window, and was sitting on a mattress leaned up against the far wall from the door. As I peaked through the slightly opened door it stared at me very intensely, and gave me a wink. I had never seen a Boreal Owl in the daylight before; this was the best look at one I had ever had!
We visited the Short-eared Owl next, which was being kept in the new rehabilitation building. It was being kept in a cage temporarily until its wing had healed enough. Chris let us into the room to look at it one at a time, and I was first. When I walked into the room its little ears were standing straight up, like it had been listening to us talk through the door. When it saw me enter the room it started hissing and clacking it’s beak, then it tried going into its aggressive display. It’s feathers fluffed up and it tried to unfold and turn it’s wings, but was unable to because of the cast it wore. Even so, it was very intimidating, and very impressive! I’m very grateful to Chris for taking us on that tour and showing us the owls. It was a day that I’ll never forget.