Typically a 'day off' from canoeing, portaging, and pulling weeds doesn't begin at 3:30am. The thought of waking well before the light of day is to put it simply, absurd. Nevertheless, three members of the superior crew found themselves racing through darkened curves attempting to beat the sunrise. Their destination: bird banding. Shortly after 5am the groggy group of three joined forest service biologists and volunteers in setting up mist nets and a bird banding station. The forest service has conducted the bird banding near Isabella, Minnesota for the past four years. The purpose is to collect information regarding migration, bird health (age, feather condition, reproductive state, sex, weight), and species population. In order to acquire such an extensive list of information, birders and banders rely on mist nets (nylon mesh nets strung between two poles in varying habitats - riparian zones, dense forest vegetation, etc.) to capture specimens. After the information is acquired, a small aluminum band with an 8-9 digit serial number is applied to the leg. This number is recorded along with the other information and will then be sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory where the banding information is compiled.
The three superior crew members were split up with the more experienced birders and sent off to the 11 mist nets to collect any specimens. They quickly learned that removal of birds from the mist nets requires a peculiar set of detective skills. As one of the Forest Service Biologists put it, "You have to start with the butt." Since birds fly in headfirst, their removal requires a mix of dexterity and backwards puzzle solving to ensure a safe and stress-free removal. Some puzzles are more difficult than others, and each bird finds itself in a unique tangle. On a couple of occasions, the assistance of the head bander was required when Norma's experience and three pairs of glasses were insufficient for removing a real difficult snag.
Time flew as the the three dashed to the different nets, recorded banding information, and enjoyed Peg's freshly purchased "homemade" doughnut holes. By 11am the merry group had banded and recorded information of 50+ birds (northern parula, canada warbler, veery, oven bird, american redstart, and one of the favorites - cedar waxwing). After banding and recording the stats on the final oven bird, the three crew members helped take down the nets and banding station, said their thank yous and prepared to head back. Amazed by their hands on time with birds, overwhelmed with new knowledge, and stupefied by the fact that it wasn't quite noon, the three crew members returned to Ely for their second 'lunch' and some much needed coffee.