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Bird Banding & Farewells at Las Tangaras

July 1, 2018

For our last weeks at Reserva Las Tangaras, we were not just stewards, but also assistants on the Life Net Nature bird banding project. For many years now, Life Net Nature has organized groups of volunteers to conduct avian surveys through mist netting and bird banding at the Reserve. This data set is primarily used for long-term monitoring of avian species abundance and avian species communities within several different categories of habitat that the reserve provides to wildlife.

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Working a bird banding project, you learn that there is a very specific and important protocol one must follow. You need to know which knots to tie to your net poles, how to string a net without getting it tangled, how to open the net each morning, how to start extracting a bird from the net, how to hold a bird safely, and what to look for when inspecting the bird. This kind of hands-on wildlife field research required a certain amount of hand-eye coordination and finesse that is different from a lot of other research we have done. You pick it up fast though, and on this project, we had the pleasure to work with a relatively small, but great team of banders who had a wide range of experiences from beginner to expert to everything in between. The work atmosphere was really conducive for learning, and both of us stewards took a lot away from this experience.

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For us, handling the birds that we had been watching through our binoculars for so long, transformed the way we perceived these creatures. Rather than seeing them magnified through our scopes, we were able to hold them in our hands, and from there we were able to study them much more closely. It was an intimate experience, we were instructed on the proper bird handling technique, called the “bander’s grip”, and while turning these birds over in our hands, we measured things like wing feather length, tail feather length, culmen length, and tarsus length. We would also blow their feathers apart and do a full body inspection, looking closely at their cloaca, brood patch, furculum fat, and ectoparasite load (hoping all the while not to stimulate any projectile bird doppings). Through this project, we got glimpses into the lives of the birds of Las Tangaras, that were otherwise obscured and hidden from us by many layers of foliage and feathers.

One of the most stunning parts about this experience for us was that behind all those branches and leaves, and under all those layers of feathers, most of the birds in the forest are tiny little things. Pequeñitas! And for so many of these birds that call Las Tangaras home, while holding them, you are then able to see all the subtle details or dazzling patterns displayed on these small birds’ plumage. For us we realized that these small creatures are more beautiful than we ever could have understood from afar. We are so thankful that we had the opportunity work with these birds, to live in such a special place, and to share it with all of these extraordinary creatures. We will cherish these memories forever.

Gracias y Hasta Luego!

Dan y Bárbara


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