The main and most important operation for preparing for the conference (for me) was to conduct a series of mist netting trials over the course of three weeks prior to the big weekend (August 11th-14th). Howard is a master bird bander himself, and with many years of experience setting up mist nets and banding, he did a very well job of showing Nikki and I the ropes (or nets, if you will). The area chosen for the Conference netting zone was the Ogden Nature center located in Ogden, a fair sized town located 20 miles south of the refuge. Stage one was finding promising netting areas on the nature center grounds. 6 nets were set up initially, all hidden in the shade with areas next to bodies of water preferred, all off the main hiking trail.
Setting up mist nets is an art form within itself it turns out, with much care needing to be taken in order to insure the nets are set up and taken down without any tares or debris being acquired along the way. Howard has his own special technique which he taught us, and we used rebar and 10ft poles to suspend the nets between trees and shrubs. I was also in charge of operating the weed eater and branch clippers to clear out areas in which the nets were to be set up, a seemingly easy task made miserable given the mosquitoes and Utah mid day sun. The weeks following would be spent uprooting the poles and rebar to test out new areas if nets were unsuccessful, and shaving down more weeds and shrubs in the new chosen locations.
On days we wanted to test the mist nets, our crew (comprising of Howard, us SCA & YCC interns, and refuge rangers Katie and Jason) would leave the refuge at 5:30am in order to drive to the Ogden Nature Center and have the nets set up by 6:00am. Every half and hour or so, two teams would head out to check all the nets for caught specimens. If a bird happened to wander into our nets, Howard or Jason first showed us how to extract the birds slowly and safely, and then later allowed us to do it ourselves. Bird species caught included: Downy Woodpecker, Song Sparrow, lazuli Bunting, Black-Headed-Grosbeak, Black-capped Chickadee, and American Robin.
After a bird was untangled from the net, it was placed in a sack and brought to our temporary banding station set up in a clearing. A long process was then undertaken to band the bird, as well as take down a long list of measurements such as sex, weight, plumage states, ect. I was fortunate enough to get involved and handle/band birds myself, an extremely exciting experience. The most interesting part of the whole adventure for me was noticing just how extremely different birds can be both within and between species in terms of personalities. For example, the Song Sparrow was rather docile compared to the rambunctious and loud Chickadee.
Examining a caught specimen.
Keeping the YCC in line as we ground some poles
Our banding station