Friday, September 23, 2011

Back to Big Bald Banding Station (Sept. 2011)

A morning on top of Big Bald, watching a crew band birds, is worth the trip every time. I am not one to do much. I’m inclined to watch and enjoy the company and observe the process. This is one of those rare things a person gets to do in their lives. Something like this ought to be on your bucket list.

Big Bald is on the Appalachian Trail. This section from Big Bald north is a favorite spot for hikers and day trippers. On the map, if you put your finger where Interstate 26, south from Johnson City, crosses the Tennessee/ North Carolina state lines, is right on the mark. The station is a couple of miles east on the map, north bound on the ground. On the AT, from Big Bald south, you cross under Interstate 26 and are headed towards the like of Max Patch and Warm Springs, N.C., but you're going the wrong way!

We (Joe McGuiness, Kim Stroud, Chris Stoehrel, and myself) joined Mark Hopey and his crew (part volunteer, part ornithology scientist) to band passerines. (We'd band anything we catch but passerines were the target group.) They were going to be at it for several days, partly as migration takes hold, while we helped out this one morning. With Tropical Storm Lee threatening to come up the west side of the Appalachians they might get rained out, too.

Banding birds is a science (as well as quite an experience) and you have to appreciate all the information gathered by banders and ornithologists over the years. For example, birds sometimes are sexed by wing length. Think of how many birds had to be examined to be sure that for a parameter of wing length you’ll know (with an acceptable high degree of reliability) the sex. There are multiple ways to determine age, or fat, or molt, depending upon the species. Somebody, somewhere, figured all this out and people like Joe and Mark can make use of this information in the field, a world away from the lab, and draw useful information in return. 

It is not a waste of time or effort to band thirty Tennessee warblers to only one Black and White warbler. That’s how data is collected.

In a sense, from research comes more research.