Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Three and a half blissful and educating days banding raptors (or for you non-bio people, birds of prey). 
Cape May lighthouse
Cape May lighthouse
Beach + the Atlantic
Waves + impending storm
Cape May lighthouse
To be banded

The biggest trigger for this trip was [finally] getting to spend time with Miss Mandy since I haven’t seen her forever.  She works on San Clemente Island off the coast of San Diego, CA, which needless to say means I rarely see her [booooooo].   We’re pretty much soul mates after all [haha].  Its just the redhead, animal-outdoors-loving thing we have going on.
Kisses for the angry bird
Male Kestrel
Male Kestrel

The secondary trigger was that this trip would be a HUGE opportunity for me to add to my skill set as far as wildlife jobs are concerned.  To say I know how to correctly setup, trap, handle, band, etc. these large, majestic, yet dangerous birds is a huge plus for my future career (professional and educational) options.
Lookit the babyyyy
Release...or catch?
A bander's tools
Male Coop
Trick with a Sharpie
Kestrel tail
Merlin (*BOOM*)

Over the 3½ days I spent there I got to witness/aid in the capture and banding of 35 birds (2/6/10/17 respectively for each day).  The majority were Cooper’s hawks.  I did get to see all three falcons in hand (Peregrine, Kestrel, & Merlin) and two Accipiters (Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks).  A Northern Harrier came swooping in and around, but bumped one of the lines which spooked her out of “the kill”.  Sigh.  We saw several Buteos (red-tailed, red-shouldered, braod-winged [better known as the hyphenated named birds…jk]) but they didn’t take to any of the bait birds.  Also saw some bald eagles and a golden eagle fly over, but they were not impressed with our setup and decided not to indulge us with their presence.  Even though we would have cooed lavish praises at them and loved them dearly…as long as no talons or beaks were thrust through skin.
Shipwrecked sunset
Pebbly beach
Female Coop
Female Coop

I learned to do the following:
ID my east-coast flying raptors much better from a distance;
apply and remove protective vests from the lure birds (sparrows, starlings, and pigeons);
set up Dho-gaza and bow traps;
etiquette within a blind;
jargon for a bird HEADING this way (approaching the blind/lures) or COMING in (committed to hitting a lure);
size a bird’s leg for the appropriate sized band;
band birds;
weigh the birds and measure wing cord;
technique behind pulling lines to make the lure birds alert the raptors to their presence;
handle birds in many different holds;
release birds.
Pulling lines

I can honestly say I’ve got the “bug” to trap these birds now.  Nothing can describe how amazing it is watching them swoop in for “the kill”.  Its so thrilling.  The Peregrine we got was rather far off and made a quick 90º turn to his right and then took a few seconds to approach before he made his first dive at a lure.  He dove three times at two different lures.  You see those birds, the fastest in the world, dive and swoop on TV, in real life?!  103,857,332,034,867x better.  Seriously.  On his third dive – trying to sneak attack from behind the lure – he got tangled in the mist net.  Wham, bam, buddy.  Seriously, words can’t describe how amazing it was to have – in hand – the fastest animal in the world.  His feathers were SO stiff, too, to compensate for the high rates of speed he attains.  He also STUNK because he had been eating sea creatures.  Stinky, majestic bird.
Her 1st Peregrine!!!
Lookit the bayyybeeeee
Holding the fastest animal in the world
And release

Hearing about and even watching people like Mandy and Arthur pull the lines to the lure birds to attract raptors makes it seem easy, like any one could do it.  Pull line, lure bird goes up and flaps, raptor comes down, trap line is pulled, net descends and entraps raptor, the end.  NOT SO.  The skill and finesse trapper possess is incredible.  For instance, if you just pull the line steady, the bird rises steadily and acts like a football, not extending wings.  You’ve got to twitch it in a sense, and then you have to twitch it again as the bird ascends to “catch” the bird and allow him to easily rest his feet on the ground again.  If you just jerked the line up and called it good you would cause the bird to drop and break his keel (a bird’s sternum is keeled to help support the forces they experience while flying).   Not to mention each lure bird has two lines that aid in the height it can be “popped” and how far off center (away from the trap zone) the bird is.  You must center the lures prior to trapping any raptor – even as I try to explain it in words here, it still doesn’t do justice to the adept skill it takes to properly pull the lines.  Its seriously like magic, what they do.  

One of the bigger feet
Four Coops - Females in yellow, males in blue; and yes, Mandy and I double-fisted some Coopers.
Sharpie anger

All trapping and handling was done in complete seriousness with all concerns to the bird’s safety and well being.  But many verbal asides were made joshing numerous bird’s natures.  Take for instance this lovely little specimen:

Majestic, beautiful…little bitch.  Unlike the other birds featured above, this little snot can eat-on-the-wing aka bend over and bite the shit out of whatever is in her talons.  Which means, you guessed it, they can bend over and bite the shit out of your fingers.  She was mondo angry while these photos were being taken (as were basically all the birds – except the Peregrine, he was a complete gentlemen, albeit a little smelly) hence her open mouth as she showed me how fierce she was and how badly she wanted to bite my eyes out – not really, but then again…  She’d closed her mouth for a few shots, and then, on Mandy’s command to “smile!” we got the below photo:

Hil-ar-i-ous.  I love her.  And then, trying to get the infamous epic release shot, I told Mandy, “Okay, I’ll count down from three, ready?” “Ready.” “Three, two, *little bitch bites the shit out of my finger* aaarrrrggghhhh, aaaaaaggghhhaaacckkaaa * half-tosses, half-lets-go of snotty little bird*.”  But honestly, I couldn’t quit smiling/laughing at the audacity of that little bird.  I’m hundreds of times her size and she still wanted a piece of me – literally.  Love it.  (But seriously, I didn’t get hurt at all during the banding; one talon slightly into my pinky, but it didn’t really bleed; I was bit I don’t KNOW how many times – freaking lure birds.)
Little bitch butt in the middle of the frame

In addition to trapping, Mandy and I ate our hearts out at many places around Cape May.  Om, nom, nom.  We love food.  The last night we ended up at THE sketchiest place ever.   BUT, I must say, they did have pretty awesome scallops.  We ended up getting our food to go though.  Who cares if we offended them in the process.  It was a bit eerie. 
My special bird

All in all a GREAT few days.  So many laughs.  We are talking of trying to make this a yearly “girls trip” so we have an excuse to see each other.  Who cares that we’re waking up at 6a and working 10 hour days during it!  I say, I say!

Check out that eye color
Releasing...or prepping to jump and catch

P.S. I love pigeons, they are THE cutest things ever.  Love, love, love.  And they’re soldiers.  Seriously.

In a protective vest.
Yes, a little blood, but he's a SOLDIER!

1 comment:

  1. I DO declare, that was a fine blog post! Can't wait for next year! <3