Family Visit to the Bird Research Station on Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Saturday, October 6
Recommended for ages 8 and up
We gathered on Saturday, October 6th on a bright morning to attend the Club’s annual, autumn Bird Banding Demonstration at the field station on Plum Island. A station operates as a partnership between Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and the highly skilled staff and dedicated volunteers from the Joppa Flats Education Center.
As we waited for our group to gather at Parking Lot #1, we saw Great Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, White-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Northern Harrier, Canada Goose, Cedar Waxwing, European Starling, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Wilson’s Warbler, Field Sparrow, Merlin, Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
We headed toward the banding station and saw Dunlin and Semipalmated Sandpiper at the Salt Pannes. When we arrived at the station, we were warmly welcomed by Ben Flemer and his crew of highly-skilled volunteers. The Club’s secretary, Alison O’Hare, is a banding volunteer. Alison and Ben did a fabulous job of explaining the process and sharing the science. We learned how to identify, age and sex the birds. We learned about skull ossification codes and fat codes. The nets were active, and the extraction crew showed us their dexterity and gentle hands. We learned about the need for fat to fuel the long-range migration.
We had exceptional views of Lark Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-capped Chickadees, Golden crowned Kinglet, Blue-headed Vireo, White-throated Sparrow, Yellow-rumped [“Myrtle”] Warbler and Hermit Thrush. A Northern Flicker vocalized from the scrub.
Rare in the east, the large Lark Sparrow was a thrill to see. We studied its bold facial pattern. The wings tail were long, and the tail was white-rimmed.
The Yellow-rumped Warbler even in the bag smelled sweet. Ben discerned a maple syrup odor before the bird was out of the bag. Ben, a Vermonter, has a well trained nose for maple syrup. This arboreal Parulid will feed on pine pitch, sap and nectar along with berries. In coastal areas, this warbler savors the high-lipid, waxy bayberry. In winter, they consume berries from cedar and poison ivy as well as seeds.
These birds are known for their wide range of foraging strategies. The rump and tail showed three points of focus ~ a yellow rump, and white corners on the tail.
Our group was impressed by the birds’ sizes in the hand and their weights. The fine details of plumage, wing shape and length were appreciated by the group. We learned about mist nets, aluminum bands and the varied sizes, special pliers, data sheets and wing cord measurements. This educational experience afforded us the opportunity to understand the value of banding which allows scientists to understand migration and track individual birds.
Sue McGrath, President
Essex County Ornithological Club