Birds of a Feather Flock Together

IMG_6080This weekend bird lovers from around the country and abroad came together for the 89th Western Bird Banding Association Annual Meeting. This year, the Humbolt Bay Bird Observatory (HHBO) hosted the three-day event in the beautiful beach dunes of the Humbolt Bay Wildlife Refuge in Arcata, CA. Early morning bird walks allowed attendees to explore such pristine dunes where several chickadees, bushtits, ban swallows, sanderlings, black-bellied plovers, and western and least sandpipers were observed.

Later in the day, several workshops were offered. I was able to practice adjusting and replacing songbird bands on dolls making me feel more comfortable about doing so in the field with real birds. A discussion on dealing with mist netting-related injuries such as wing strain, tarsus fracture, inter-tarsal joint dislocation, and heat/cold stress, were given at the first aid station. Another station had a demonstration on the proper way of removing raptors from nets and techniques for aging them, which I found helpful since a few sharp-shined hawks had been caught the previous week by the KBO team. There were also examples of geolocators, used for seeing migratory destinations and blooding techniques for parasite analysis. All of the workshops were interesting and engaging, allowing for open communication with some of the experts.

Band adjustment table

Band adjustment table

Raptor banding table

Raptor banding table

On the presentations aspect, several focused on the classification of age and molt patterns of specific birds. This is a topic often discussed among bird banders who seek for clarification and consensus. For this, I found Jarred Wolfe‘s talk very interesting, who came up with a new system on the classification of age that is based on molt cycles and not the calendar year as it is currently used in North America. His system, the WRP (Wolfe- Ryder-Pyle), applies for birds that lack breeding seasonality or breed across January 1st such as in the southern hemisphere. This system has gained popularity and it is now used in many countries in South America. It was especially useful that one of the presentations focused on taking listeners through the step-by-step theory and application of this system.

Wolfe made quiet the impression not only by coining a new model but also by his additional studies in the Neotropic and Equatorial Guinea. He studied bird community structure, survival, and population growth in second-growth and forest fragmentations in Brazil. He aimed at reconsidering the ecological value of regenerating forests and found that forest fragments adjacent to second growth were more diverse than similar-sized fragments lacking adjacent second growth. Additionally, he found that these more diverse larger fragments were able to sustain bird communities similar to continuous primary forests. Now, his newest project involves pioneering avian research and conservation in Equatorial Guinea. This is a country where few ornithologists have gone and where development has skyrocketed due to oil discoveries. Wolfe plans on making his second trip to the country in the coming year, where him and his team will continue to search and understand the birds living in the primitive forests before they development takes over.

The WBBA meeting was definitely a success with bird banders sharing their passion and work with others in the community. I feel exhilarated by the workshop presenters and lecture speakers such as Jarred Wolfe who are making cutting-edge research in remote locations of the world. There is indeed a lot of work to do and many future career possibilities in bird banding. Meetings like WBBA are essential and I cannot wait to see what next year’s conference has to offer.

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