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> Aug 2, Banding!
Leslie_Pierce
post Aug 4 2005, 04:16 AM
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Group: TREC Team
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August 2, 2005

I’m back out on the Ikpikpuk Delta! We had a little delay in getting here but it all worked out just fine. I ended up getting a helicopter ride out here after all. Larry Larrivee, who is the helicopter pilot that is flushing the snow geese into the pots, arrived early enough to make a run to Barrow to pick up people and gear. So, Brian and I in the helicopter and John Shook and Jeremy Maguire in the Cessna 185, piloted by Sandy Hamilton, arrived this evening to join Bob Ritchie and John Rose who had been shuttled out earlier today. Whew! More people will be ferried out tomorrow.

Here's the R44 helicopter I rode in and Larry the pilot:
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Here's Sandy loading his Cessna 185 and then leaving the FAA flight service at the Barrow airport.
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On our way out of town we spotted a fire on the tundra burning at both ends.
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We spotted some caribou and a group of snow geese, too.
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Here's the view from the small R44 helicopter.
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When we arrive at the site, the pot is set up and a few tents as well.
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Bob and John already had the “pot” set up for capturing the herded snow geese. The pot consists of a net about 4 ½ feet high staked out in a circle with a gate on one end about six feet wide. At the mouth of the gate are two “wings”, or black netting pointing outwards which is used as a funnel to direct the herded birds into the pot. The nets are staked down to the ground at very short intervals to make sure there are no places for the geese to get a foot or bill stuck or to escape.

Here's picture of the pot with our camp behind it. You can see the round pot with the "wings' going off towards the left of the picture. The opening is between the wings.
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Discussing the plan for herding and driving the geese to our pot.
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After we had our tents set up, it was time to herd snow geese! So, off went Larry, Bob, and the two John’s. They had seen a small flock of snow geese not too far to the west of our camp. Soon, we could see the geese waddling along in front of the helicopter in a cohesive group. Sandy and I went to sit behind a log on the south side of the pot, and Brian and Jeremy waited on the north side, near the tents. When the geese were near, the helicopter landed and the three biologists jumped out and walked towards the flock. As they got closer the rest of us came out of hiding and walked outwards from the wings of the pot, essentially surrounding the snow geese. We slowly continued walking them towards the pot, until they carefully entered the “funnel” and were begrudgingly forced into the pot! I was surprised how calm and smooth the operation was carried out. Once in the pot, the gate was closed and the geese were captured. They were not too happy and ran around a bit trying to get away from all of the humans. Snow geese typically stay far away from people. We never got close to them when we were here doing the vegetation work a few weeks ago.

Sandy and I wait behind a large log. How did this huge log get here on the tundra?
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Soon we can see the helicopter slowly driving the geese, and three people jump out of the helicopter to help walk them to the pot. The rest of us come from both sides to keep them going in the right direction.
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When the geese are in the pot, the gate is closed and they are captive.
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As we got things set up for the banding operation, the geese settled down somewhat. We had to set up another net enclosure that would be used to hold the geese that had already been banded. The flock needed to be kept together if possible and released all at once, so as to reduce the chances of splitting up family groups. Snow geese families migrate together back to the wintering grounds and then again north in the spring.

Here's the entire banding operation, with the pot on the right and the release pen on the left (the banders are sitting in the middle).
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We had three people banding the geese, Brian, Bob, and John Rose. John Shook was the geese wrangler, cutting a small group of geese from the large group to a smaller enclosure in the pot for easier handling. The rest of us took turns carrying geese to the banders or recording data. As we handed geese to the banders they turned them upside down on their laps, tail end sticking out. They looked first at the cloaca to see if it was a male or a female. If it was an adult female, they looked for a brood patch which is an area low on the bird’s abdomen where feathers and down were plucked for feathering her nest. Brood patches were often difficult to see this time of the year as feathers had grown in since nesting in June.

Our three bird banders,Brian, Bob, and John Rose, sitting in front of the release pen.
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The banders determined the sex of each bird by inverting its cloaca.
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If the bird already had a band it was called a recap (for recapture) and the band number was noted. If the bird was not banded, a new aluminum band was clamped onto the right leg. The band numbers are unique for each bird banded. So, if hunters find bands on birds they have taken or anyone find a band on a bird, there is a phone number listed on the band that should be called. The information for where and when the bird was found or taken will get back to the interested parties. We won’t know where the birds that were recaptured today are from until the numbers are checked in the database.

You can see the banders using a special pliers to clamp the bands onto the right legs of the birds.
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Brian ready with a band in his mouth.
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Other data were collected on many of the adult birds, such as tarsus length (the long bone above the “foot”), the culmen (the tip of the bill to the end between the eyes on the front of the bird’s head), and the weight. If a bird that we banded is recaptured at some time in the future, this data could be used for growth and physiology studies, for example.

Brian measures the tarsus of a bird.
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Here he weighs a gosling.
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After being banded, birds were released into the holding pen where they bunched tightly together, biting at the net, trying to find a way out. When we had finished with all of the birds, the nets were lowered on one side and the birds allowed to leave. The flock seemed wary at first, cautiously moving forward. They finally seemed to realize they were free and picked up their speed until they were waddling full throttle away from us!

Here Sandy removes the net and the birds are released.
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We processed 175 geese in this first banding operation. For the next three days we will try to do two or three drives per day. I was told that this was a small flock and most will be larger. So, it was nice to have a small one to get the hang of it!
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