Text and photos by BSBO Passerine Research Technician, Yvonne Thoma-Patton
There are so many wonderful things about Northwest Ohio. The unpredictable weather is not exactly one of those great things. You may notice a day or two during the season - maybe even three - without a daily update from the Navarre Marsh Banding Station. The last few days of April and the first days in May were a mixed bag of warm, cold, snow, and wind, with on and off rain showers.
Our station is required to adhere to USGS Bird Banding Laboratory permit guidelines (the federal administrators of the USA's banding program) and follow the North American Banding Council Banders Code of Ethics. The welfare of the birds should be the most important priority (USGS 2021). Banders should ensure the respect, safety, and welfare of birds and their populations, people, and the environment (NABC 2021). Strong wind, rain, snow, and extremely cold conditions prevent us from opening our station during foul weather. But while we may not process birds on inclement weather days, there are many other tasks we perform!
One team member may administer a point count at sunrise, even if we aren't banding. The point count is an inventory of the number of birds both seen and heard from six specified points within the station. The observer counts and logs the number and species of birds within a designated area for a 5-minute period. This standardized data collection method is performed every day we band too and gives an idea as to what species are passing through the area that we may not catch (hawks, ducks, flocks of Blue Jays, etc.).
Other team members perform maintenance duties like trimming near pathways and mist net lanes without disturbing the habitat. We reset and replace mist nets, address trip hazards, maintain boardwalks, and perform many other tasks that ensure the safety of the birds, volunteers, and the environment.
We also conduct weekly vegetation surveys. The survey involves repeated measurements of the same sample units, to assess changes in vegetation composition, structure, and condition over time. We look at vegetation density at our specified point count locations looking north, south, east, and west; using a ten-foot pole with black and white sections as the visibility index. We compare data weekly and yearly to figure out if climate change impacts foliage growth timing each season. Vegetation growth impedes our ability to observe birds both visibly and by sound, and therefore will have an impact on our point count surveys.
As much as we would like to post pictures of the amazing birds that make a pit stop in the Navarre Marsh unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge every day, some Ohio spring days just don’t allow it. There are always a team of staff, field technicians, and volunteers working behind the scenes to ensure this long-term study continues seamlessly.
And... there's always bird bag laundry.
Ryan Jacob, Ashli Gorbet, Mark Shieldcastle