College Town, Week Six Pics (and a quick recap of April)

May Day is a weird holiday--how many other calendar days are marked both by socialists and Celts?--but I have to say it's especially welcome this year because it signals the end of April, and this year April has been living up to its name: The Cruelest Month.

The worst event was the death of my sister-in-law, Linda Dalton, who succumbed to the cancer she'd been fighting for several years. She'd been married to Kelly's brother for almost 29 years, and our family is both smaller and sadder without her.

But that wasn't bad enough, apparently. April kept on coming. Kelly's nephew Frank not only lost his stepmother, but had his house damaged and his car totaled by the tornadoes that hit Raleigh. Her brother Mark's dog died. And then, just to make things complete, our son Dixon was attacked by a cat on campus--one of the feral cats that periodically takes up residence there, sometimes because the golfers feed them. Our doctor noted that cats often lick their paws, so even though it wasn't a bite, she recommended a series of rabies shots.

The good news is that I was taking a few days to visit the family, so I was home to get Dixon to the health department for his shots, but the precision of their scheduling meant that he and I had to stay home to get him inoculated while Kelly traveled to North Carolina for Linda's funeral. Kelly's brother Odell is a veterinarian, and he was therefore the last person on earth who would fault us for taking rabies vaccines seriously, but we still felt bad about not being there.

But once Kelly got home, it was time for me to return to Ithaca. I have now crossed Pennsylvania three times using three different routes, and I'm not prepared to recommend any of them. Every piece of highway in the Keystone State is apparently being replaced, and highways delays are inevitable no matter which way you go. I spent just under eight hours traveling the 400 miles from home, then jumped up the next morning to meet my Spring Field Ornithology group for our 2.5-hour trip to the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory on Lake Ontario. And there I said goodbye to April in a very pleasant way, getting great looks from the hawk platform at migrating Rough-legged and Broad-winged Hawks.

The highlight of the trip, however, was the visit to the BBBO's banding station, a donation-funded operation that captures, bands, records data about, and releases birds. We arrived just before 9:30, after the peak of the early-morning banding was over, but there was still plenty to see:

100_4156.JPGA BBBO volunteer removes one of close to a dozen Black-capped Chickadees that were caught in the station's mist nets. (You can see another high above her.) Diurnal migrators won't attempt to cross a gigantic body of water like Lake Ontario--there are no rising thermal currents in the air above it--so they gather on the near shore and work their way around bit by bit. This makes Braddock Bay a great spot to see (and get data from) them.


100_4153.JPGHere you can see just how thin the mesh of the mist nets is; it's barely detectable when you put your hand against it, but it's more than strong enough to hold a songbird. (The heaviest chickadee we saw measured was just over 12 grams--about as heavy as twelve raisins.) Once the birds are rescued from the nets, they're tucked into the cloth bags you can see clipped to this volunteer's waist and transported quickly to the banding station.


100_4142.JPGCornell ornithologist Dr. David Bonter is one of several banders at the BBBO. He examines each bird for useful data, including wing length, leg length, age, sex, and weight. Fat content is measured by blowing on the bird's belly to expose the color of its skin--yellow skin means there's fat below. Here he's showing us the amount of wear on the wing and tail feathers--an indication of how old this chickadee is.


100_4172.JPGHere Dr. Bonter consults "The Bander's Bible," better known as Peter Pyle's Identification Guide to North American Birds, looking for information to help nail down the age of the bemused Wood Thrush he's holding.


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SFO student Ruth Giovanitti takes a female Yellow-rumped Warbler from Dr. Bonter in preparation for its release. The BBBO keeps a strict schedule in order to ensure that no bird is in the net for more than fifteen minutes, and that it's released within a half-hour of its being bagged. Usually the bander will simply let the bird fly out the open window of the birding station, but SFO students were allowed to hold and free the birds.


100_4192.JPGGroup leader Dave Nicosia took the camera to snap this pic of me holding a Black-capped Chickadee--a nearly weightless creature. Birds will often peck and claw, and we saw several (including a Gray Catbird and a female Cardinal) who actively called and flapped and tried to escape the banders' clutches. This chickadee, however, seemed resigned to his fate--or maybe, just maybe, he realized he was being held by someone with his best interests at heart. Still, when I opened my hands, he was instantly gone into the thicket, chattering up a storm.

We returned to Ithaca with daylight still plentiful, so on the way home I swung by Stuart Park and logged both a Warbling Vireo (a difficult treetop identification) and a Palm Warbler (a ridiculously easy landed-thirty-feet-in-front-of-me ID). And then it was time to total up the activity of the past two days and calculate the necessary amount of sleep I needed for full recovery. It turned out to be eleven hours.

Happy May, everybody. Let's hope this month will be peaceful and happy and beautiful, like this picture of Ian and Dixon wandering the shore of Robinson Lake.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on May 1, 2011 4:17 PM.

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