Notes from our very first workshop participant

By Mark Bowman
Hello MRBO fans!  I am here for 19 days to improve some of my bird-banding-related skills and to gain some others.  We planned/defined my visit as a “flex bird-banding workshop” – when times are busy, I will do whatever I can to help, when slow, Dana or Ethan will mentor my banding skills.  My being here will help Dana to consider the possibility of offering a banding workshop for multiple attendees, sometime in the future.
   I am a member of a small, amateur banding team.  Most of us are members of the Tallgrass Prairie Audubon Society of Iowa, and we make considerable efforts to maintain bird habitat.  It is quite gratifying for us to monitor both the birds using our habitat both as a migration stop and those who breed there via banding.  We want to improve the scientific rigor of our activities, and have set the goal of establishing a MAPS site within the next few years.  My time spent observing MRBO professionals should benefit us in this regard.
Mark checks the fat reserves of a male Common Yellowthroat.
   Three things excite me about being here.  First and foremost, I am learning how professionals such as Dana and Ethan quickly gather several types of data on each bird, with minimal manipulation.  I am especially glad to learn to estimate fat and muscle content, as well as body and flight feather molt status.  I will also carry away from here Dana’s challenge to work as quickly as gentle handling will allow for each bird’s sake.
   Second, because the MRBO bands birds every day during spring migration, I have been able to observe the aging and sexing of a relatively large number of birds within a short time period.  My ability to spot the remnant feathers that identify second-year thrushes and wood warblers has been greatly enhanced.  At the same time, I have thrilled in the exquisite in-hand beauty of these and other bird species.
Dana has fun while Mark and MRBO intern
Daniel Cardoso are very serious!
   Lastly, it is quite a treat to work in Van Meter State Park.  The dawn chorus here during May is a delight to the ears, and one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.  What birder would not revel in the sound of wood thrushes singing in response to one another, blended with the cheery vocalizations of tufted titmice and the musical whistling of Baltimore orioles?  I have also been especially lucky to have Devin Couture nearby to identify bird vocalizations with which I am unfamiliar.  Dev is a student intern here who possesses a “good eye”, a “good ear”, and tremendous enthusiasm for birding.
   May has long been my favorite month on account of relatively mild weather, abundant wildflower blooms, and the presence of migrants such as rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, and common yellowthroats.  Since this May included the gracious company of MRBO personnel, the Van Meter surroundings, and the opportunity to improve my banding skills, it will long be remembered.  I anticipate that this experience will also inspire pleasant overnight dreams, for many years to come.

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