A Day in the Life of a Manomet Spring Bander

 

Every April, since 1969, Manomet has welcomed four or more banders at its headquarters—where they reside for nine weeks in “the dorm” located above the Banding Lab. Since the Banding Lab’s inception, approximately 373,000 land birds have had their data recorded.

 

The year’s banding team—Mattie, Grace, Sophie and Meghan—start their day at 5:20 AM, and that time gets earlier everyday as sunrise creeps towards 4 AM. Sophie is up first, around 5 AM, to make sure she has her coffee. Mattie, the Bander in Charge, doesn’t drink coffee, but she is up at 5:06 to get the ancient computer, which they use to collect the data, warming up for the day’s record taking. 

 

Our spring banding team and the ancient computer. From left to right: Sophie, Meghan, Grace, and Mattie.

 

Grace, who stopped consuming all caffeine in preparation for this job (think circadian rhythms), serves as the Banding Educator. She hits snooze on her alarm clock ‘til that last possible moment. Meghan just joined the staff as her spring semester at the University of Vermont recently ended.

 

They let me tag along for a couple of days to get a feel for what a day-in-the-life of a Manomet spring bander entails.

 

Each day they work a 12-hour shift and walk approximately 8 to 10 miles. They do two net runs every hour, banding an average of 60 birds a day.  “Work this job long enough and you’ll have legs of steel,” Grace mused. The pace has been described as relentless, as the data trumps all, and lunch is eaten around the activity level of the birds.

 

Worm-eating Warbler. Photo by Mattie Vandenboom.

 

Yesterday, Grace announced over our intercom system: “Come to the Banding Lab right now if you want to see a rare warbler!” I came running over, along with five other staff. There were two birds to see: the rarer, Worm-eating Warbler (who actually eats caterpillars), and a beautiful Yellow Warbler. Then there is the honor of releasing the birds.  

 

 

As someone who doesn’t get to regularly handle birds, it is absolutely thrilling when you do.  Just last week, I had the opportunity to release a Tufted Titmouse and a White-throated Sparrow.  I still felt electric with their energy the next day.

 

Today I went out on a net run with Mattie. She has been banding since she was a child. When asked what she likes about banding, she replied, “I like the surprise element.  Sometimes there aren’t any birds in the nets, and then sometimes you get to see a bird you’ve never seen before. Just this week I banded my first Cerulean Warbler.” There was only one bird in the nets on this run—a male Song Sparrow, who was already banded.

 

Cerulean Warbler. Photo by Grace Alloy-Relihan.

 

One explanation for the low number of birds in the nets was a wind from the north the night before, which creates a headwind for the birds on their spring migration paths. A southwest wind is preferable, providing a tailwind, blowing in Manomet’s direction. Mattie imagined a bird back-up in Delaware or New Jersey, waiting for a favorable breeze.

 

Yesterday, when I went out with Grace on the Cranberry Hill run, she explained, “The birds hit the mist net in a slack pocket, where it absorbs their momentum.” The nets are run in the same locations, with the same poles and netting set-up from the late 1960s.  Nothing has been changed for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the data.

 

That brings me back to the old computer, running a beloved program on DOS.  Remember DOS? The program that is used to record the nearly 50 years of data is so good that they don’t want to get rid of it.  Perhaps there’s a programmer out there interested in banding?

 

- Bridget Alexander