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Nature Reserve & Biological Station

  • Caroline and Chiara

How was yesterday's mistnetting?

The original plan this morning was to open mistnets and band birds behind the station house. But we woke up with rain at 5.30 am and I had to postpone the field work for the week after the Easter weekend. As the rain continued throughout this morning I had to plan some other activity with the interns for today. After typing in the data from yesterday’s bird banding into the Excel sheet, I asked my interns Caroline and Chiara to write something about our bird banding yesterday in order to submit a blog post.

As their view of things differs a bit they actually wrote two separate blog posts. So here they are!

Post by Caroline G.

Caroline is a master student at Faculté des sciences agronomiques de Gembloux, Université de Liège, Belgium and studies management of forests and natural spaces.

During my conservation internship at Un poco del Chocó, I had the chance to participate in the mistnetting project of Nicole and... It was a very nice experience ! For the first time in my life, I could touch, observe... and band birds ! But pay attention! Working with mistnets is like doing sport ! You have to wake up early the morning and be ready at 6:00am ! When we arrive on the site chosen by Nicole, we open the nets quickly and then we wait... We wait for an half hour. In the meantime, we tell stories about our life, the mistnetting, etc. and we sincerely hope that a lot of birds will be caught in the nets. Then, we go and check the nets. It is ... magic ... or not! Depending on the daily activity of the birds, but also on the banding site, we always catch a different number of birds. But when we catch birds it is really fantastic! To begin, we have to take the birds out of the net... It is not really easy... But Nicole has the hand for that! "Extracting a bird from a mistnet is a matter of common sense and logic!" (citation from the Banding Manual). Hmmm….hmmmm. To continue, Nicole puts the bird in a bag and then we bring it back to the banding place: a place where we can analyze the birds without disturbing the bird activity near the nets. At this time, Nicole becomes a nurse for the birds... or maybe a tyrant? :-) She takes a lot of measurements on the birds, blows on the wings, the body etc... but actually the first thing to do is to put a band/ring on the bird! There are different sizes of metal rings with individual numbers and also different color rings... In fact, a real shop of rings! The measurements are noted and after that bird is released and a new life WITH a ring begins for it!

Nicole measuring the tarsus length of a Bicolored Antbird

The most interesting thing about mistnetting are the recaptures. A previously banded bird could be caught again in the nets and then Nicole can see changes in the animal. With enough recapture data in the future it is possible to estimate the rate of survival, recruitment, reproduction etc. of the different bird species ! Muy interesante !!

So, during my internship, I learned to hold a bird in my hand and how to handle it... without letting it go (and without killing it ;-) ). They are so soft and very light! I also learned to observe wing molt and feather wear and to recognize the presence of parasites, for example. Furthermore I learned to identify the bird species with a bird guide book and I banded a few birds! A lot of learning in a little time: perfect ... even with so many mosquitos !

Caroline banding a Bicolored Antbird

I saw a lot of different and very interesting bird species; even a beautiful Barred Forest-Falcon ! Wow! But my favourite was a tiny bird called Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant !

A Barred Forest-falcon caught in the net

Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant

I am just delighted by my mistnetting experience, thanks to Nicole to be so patient and so pro on the discipline of mistnetting ! And thanks to the other guys who lived this experience with me, Chiara and Sebastian !

Post by our intern Chiara B.

Chiara just finished high school and is staying at the reserve for a total of five months.

Yesterday’s mistnetting was not such a big deal for me in the first place, as I have done it with Nicole very often in the past weeks and so I think that I have a little bit of experience with it.

So we started the day early and it was the big question if this day would be better than the last, because you never know how many birds you will catch.

But it was a good spot, right behind Nicole´s and Wilo´s house and so we had a day full of work and little adventures.

The first adventure just started at 7am, when we checked the nets for the first time.

It was really a big surprise when I saw a raptor hanging in the net. We never had a Barred Forest-Falcon before!

To have such a big bird in the net and see it right in the eyes is a moment full of adrenalin. While Nicole took out her gloves to take out the falcon, I extracted two smaller birds, an Andean Solitaire and a female Club-winged Manakin.

It took not that long to get the falcon out of the net, because it was so big (and big birds don’t get tangled that much) and a few minutes later we sat all together at our workplace in the woods.

Nicole, Caroline, Sebastian and I were very excited because of the big bird, but after we banded it, unfortunately it escaped. Nicole is not used to work with gloves and when she wanted to take measurements the falcon slipped out of her hands.

Bad luck for us, but that happens even to the best and it´s better to let the bird go than to hurt it.

male Club-winged Manakin

But we had a lot of other very good catches yesterday, like a male Club-winged Manakin for instance. This bird is very interesting, because it does not call with his voice.

A few of its wing feathers are thicker and stronger than normal and if it rubs them at each other it makes a very high sound. So not just another “lame” bird, how a few people would say.

Well, this bird is very easy to handle, but every bird is different in the net.

Some birds fly into the net and stay in there very calm, they don´t move a lot and so it´s easier so get them out. They don´t bite, they don´t flap with their wings, these are the birds which you always want.

But of course there are also other birds and they are the worst beast you can imagine.

We sometimes have the problem that we have to get birds out of the net which are screaming and flapping with their wings all the time and sometimes it´s hard to stay calm if you have to work with them. And some of them get extremely tangled.

Because of that I´m really not amused when I see an Olive-striped Flycatcher in the net.

Then it´s always like: "oh no, not one of these again!"

Because they are the worst things in the net that you can get.

Sometimes I wonder what birds are thinking when they are in the net; the Olive-striped Flycatcher must be a bird with a character like a scared chicken. When they get caught in the net they start to spin like a little disco ball and then it´s sometimes impossible to get them out of the net without cutting a few mashes.

That is always bad, because I know how hard it is to repair the net afterwards.

But there are more bad birds like that, like my new enemy from yesterday:

The Ochre-breasted Tanager.

At first I thought: "Oh, that is a pretty big bird, that won´t be a problem to extract it."

So I started to take it out of the net and the first thing I thought when it bit me was "holy shit!"

Maybe they look very nice but a few birds are stronger than they look and you can´t get around it that they will bite or scratch you.

Chiara's new enemy: the Ochre-breasted Tanager

Later Nicole had the same problem, when she had to ring that bird.

It was really not fun and I can imagine how she felt, when this bird attacked her again and again.

But so this day was a really good one and it was totally worth it to get up that early in the morning.

So, it wasn´t the last time that we did the mistnetting and I´m very much looking forward to do it again!

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