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Friday, June 3, 2011

Conservation Field Camp 2011: Mist netting Part II

Let me provide a little more details about mist netting. All of the photos that include me were taken by Erin Lord, one of the wildlife technicians hired for the class (Thanks Erin!).

Bander removes bird from net
(5/11, Photo by Erin Lord)
I use nets that are 10 meters long and have a fairly fine mesh to catch smaller birds. The net is constructed of nylon and can be nearly invisible to the naked eye when there is vegetation in the background. This is important as birds have tremendous visual acuity. There are support lines that run along the net called trammel lines. The netting that runs from one parallel trammel line to the next is wider than it needs to be so that some slack is created. This is the "bag" that the bird is captured in.  That's me on the left with my back to the camera. Banders always wear old clothes since birds often defecate in the hand. Mist netters have to additionally eschew buttons, zippers and anything else that can easily tangle in the nets. As I mention in a previous post the purpose of the mist netting is merely for demonstration and I rarely catch more than a few birds in the hour or so I conduct the lesson. This year was notable for some very colorful captures.
Chestnut-sided warbler in mist net
(5/11, South Bristol NY)
On Monday, I captured this male chestnut-sided warbler. The weather had cleared just enough to set out the nets and within minutes I had my first catch of the day. I just love the lemon cap! The birds often look to be caught worse than they really are. I often have a gaggle of students watching me extract a bird, so there is a little extra pressure to do it quickly. But I always remember that the health of the bird comes first.

Removing bird from mist net
(5/11, Photo by Erin Lord)

Some general principals for removing birds from a net: Keep the legs parallel to prevent injury. Never move a wing in a way that the bird wouldn't. Be careful when tugging so as not to strain the bird. Students always want to help, but having them hold the net actually makes it harder for me to remove the bird since I have a hard time telling when I am pulling on the bird too much.

Occasionally, a bird is so tangled that I have to cut the net. In those cases, I make as few cuts as possible. Partly to save the net, but mostly to avoid removing a bird while retaining strands of netting around it. Imagine cutting a bird from a net but leaving a "vest" of netting on it to abraid its skin for the rest of its life.

Chestnut-sided warbler in the hand
(5/11, Photo by Erin Lord)
Once I have the bird out of the net, I can better inspect it for overall condition. Here I am holding him in the "photographer's grip". I have his legs parallel between my first two fingers with my knuckles towards the bird and I use my thumb to hold the legs in place. A firm grip prevents the bird from slipping and sliding and perhaps straining his legs.

In this grip, I watch for signs of stress. These include a drooping head, closed eyes (or eye), panting or other listless behavior. A rookie mistake is to assume that a quiet bird is good while a squawking bird is bad. In fact, the opposite is often the case. But his guy looks bright and alert....

Banding a female American redstart
(5/11 Photo by Erin Lord)
For some reason, I cannot find the photo of me banding the chestnut-sided warbler, so we will settle for this photo of the other warbler I caught that day: a female American redstart. I can tell this is a female because she is brownish with yellow patches. A male is black with orange patches (hence the nickname "pocket oriole" for this small bird). I am holding her in what is called the bander's grip. The first two fingers now go gently around the neck and are held just tight enough so the head cannot slip through. A bird's head is much wider than the neck so this is a safe way to hold one while allowing it to breathe. Fun fact: If you enlarge the photo, you can see that I am placing the band below the bird's ankle. Most people think of that part of the leg as the shin, but a bird actually walks on its toes. Think about it. Knees bend in the opposite direction as the ankle, so it is actually a "foot band" although we all call it a "leg band" :)

Bander and conservation students
(5/11, Photo by Erin Lord)
Once I have the bird properly banded, I take it around for the students to see up close and personal. In this photo, I am showing the bird to Jen, one of my favorite students (even though she is a Yankees fan). I love to watch how excited people get around live wild birds and I never forget how privledged I am to be able to introduce them to something so special.

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