ROAD TRIP! Raptor banding in Iowa

by MRBO Educator Alie Mayes

Earlier this week Nic and I were lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Iowa to get more experience with banding Saw-whet Owlsand introduced to the process of hawk banding.  We first met up with MRBO’s Veronica Mecko, who is currently running a Saw-whet owl station near Maloy, IA. It was fairly windy when we opened nets that night, but luckily we were still able to catch an owl and Veronica walked Nic and I through the net extraction and banding process.
The next morning, we headed to Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, IA to meet up with Raptor Bander Jerry Toll to spend the day learning how he captures and bands hawks and the night getting more experience at his Saw-whet Owl station. We arrived at the hawk banding station at about 10 a.m. and Jerry walked us through the site, showing us the Bel-Chatri trap and the mist-nets (used to catch the smaller hawks). The four of us spent the better part of the next four hours huddled inside a shed, scanning the skies through the small open windows for hawks. The hawk count was low that day, and by two in the afternoon no one had shown any interest in our bait.
But then, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk flew from behind us and got caught in one of the mist nets! Jerry rushed out to extract the hawk from the net before it could rip through and get away. It was so amazing to see a Red-tailed Hawk in hand. Jerry walked us through the banding process and then asked Nic and I if one of us would like to let it go. You better believe I jumped at the opportunity, calling dibs before poor Nic had even heard the question!
Luckily for Nic (and my guilt), another Red-tailed was caught in the Bel-Chatri soon after. However, this hawk was already banded, making it only the second recapture in Hitchcock history, and the first Red-tailed Hawk recapture. Veronica walked us through the measurements and information needed for a recaptured hawk. Jerry was later able to determine from the band number that this hawk was banded at Hitchcock in 2009 as a hatch year bird. 
We stayed at the banding station for about another hour. During which time two Sharp-shinned Hawks went for the bait, one even briefly went into the mist-net, but unfortunately neither were successfully caught. Veronica, Nic, and I then left Jerry and visited the Hawk Watch Tower, which boasted a pretty view, a chilly breeze, and Clem, who was the hawk counter that day. And even though there were not many hawks going by at the time, Nic and I were able to add Greater White-fronted goose to our life list when a flock flew overhead.  
That night we opened the Saw-whet Owl station. We were lucky enough to catch one owl per net run. Both Nic and I were able to extract and process two owls apiece. Two of the owls were recaps (both from earlier this season), and two we banded. It was really great to be able to see four owls in the same night and have Veronica and Jerry there to guide us and answer questions. We stayed in a cabin at Hitchcock that night and in the morning Veronica, Nic, and I headed out to Desoto National Wildlife Refuge, where we spent a rainy morning birding before Nic and I headed back to Marshall, where we look forward to catching and banding more Saw-whet Owls this month.
A special thank you to Veronica Mecko and Jerry Toll for facilitating such a great experience for Nic and I. Your time, expertise, and patience was greatly appreciated. Thank you to Dana Ripper and Ethan Duke for funding our trip.  Also, thank you to Brian and Betsy of Maloy and the Hitchcock Nature Center for hosting us during our visit! 

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