Friday was awesome. The rest of the week was pretty normal, work-wise, also including a good bit of data-entry, but Thursday and Friday contained much excitement. Our supervisor came back up the mountain (injured from his vacation) to help with a school group, much like the one in December. These were high schoolers from Puna (I believe), and some had even been here before!
On Thursday, the students got a talk about the refuge and a tour, planted their personal plants, and met those of us that would be working with them. On Friday, they got to go on their bird tour and check out the mist-netting, just like last time. This time, however, the day was beautiful: partly cloudy, but not raining, relatively warm, and the birds were out and singing. We put the nets out, and even as we were doing that, we caught our first bird! A great omen for a good day of mist netting. Unfortunately, the first bird we caught was a Japanese Bush Warbler, an alien species, and the first individual of that species that they had caught on the refuge. After that, though, we only caught three more aliens (one Japanese White Eye and two Red-billed Leothrix) out of the 20 or so birds we caught. Lots of I’iwis, a few Amakihi, and two Apapane (one adult and one juvenile).
The best part of the experience, though, was that I (and the other refugees) got to try passerine handling, extricating, measuring, and banding for the first time! So exciting, and really really good for a resume. [The real challenge with getting into bird work is that, like with a lot of jobs now, everyone is requiring experience to get even the most basic jobs. Unfortunately, there really isn’t anyway to get the experience without these jobs that you need experience to get. A very vicious cycle…] Now, I have a little bit of experience, so I have a (little bit of a) chance at getting such jobs in the future! And working with the birds is a lot of fun, so it is definitely something I am interested in trying to do. Unfortunately, I forgot to pack my camera, so I didn’t get any pictures… However, karma being what it is, it is probably best that I did forget it, otherwise we wouldn’t have caught so many birds! Right?
So, what we did with the birds:
When the bird hits the mist net, it falls into a pocket and gets tangled up in it, feet, wings, head, and all. Usually, the tangle isn’t terrible, but sometimes (like with the first three birds I tried to get out) weird things happen. The first I’iwi I tried to untangle had gotten its tongue, which has a barb on it, tangled in the net. This required extra care so as not to rip out or injure the tongue. The next two birds (a Japanese White Eye and another I’iwi) were “double shed”, which means that a second pocket got caught with the bird and the pocket it fell into, making it very complicated to untangle. The fourth bird, a Red-Billed Leothrix, though, was kind to me, and I was able to untangle it all by myself (which was good because I checked the net by myself on a hunch!). Untangled, we put the birds, carefully, in a small cloth bag with a draw string, and tie it closed to transport them back to the banding/measuring station.
At the station, the birds get banded first. Today we were just putting metal bands on with 9-number codes to identify individuals. The crew also uses plastic color bands for re-sighting, but we weren’t doing that today. Banded, we check the cloacal pouch, brood patch, fat, feet, feathers, wings, and tail to assess how healthy the bird is and at what point in its life cycle (or Phenophase!) it is currently. We measure the bill length and width, wing length, tail length, and tarsus length, then finally mass it in a tube or film canister (so they don’t fly away). Sometimes, we also check the birds’ skulls to try to figure out how old they are, but the banders are still working on that technique. Before we let the bird go, we feed it a little bit of Nectone (sugar water, basically), sometimes photograph it, especially if it is an interesting bird, and then send it on its way.
It was a lot of skills to learn – holding the bird correctly (delicate, but firm), using the tools accurately, and untangling the birds -, but it was fun and challenging. Plus, the people we were working with are very kind and made the whole experience very beneficial. I cannot thank them enough for that or for just allowing us to help out.
It was a great day for the school kids, too. They got to see birds up close this time, we had a few I’iwis in hand when they showed up, got to see birds in nets, release birds themselves, and even listen to a bird’s heartbeat and breath! Some of them showed really great interest and will hopefully get an opportunity to come back up in the future as someone making this a better place.
After this weekend, one of the refugees will be leaving Hawai’i for an indefinite period of time. Going home to find a job. Its not me, yet, but we have had/are having a couple potluck “celebrations” to wish her on her way. It is definitely fun to see people come together over good food, to share what we love to make. I wish her well and hope that she can find very enjoyable and rewarding employment in the near future (and that she’ll be able to make it back to Hawai’i in the future, obviously).