Banding a Dinosaur

“If I tell you to…run as fast as you can out to the net and hold the net around the bird until I get there!!  Well, first I’d better give you some background:  On May 5 we decided to end our “winter” mist net bird banding season.  The next morning we left for the WV Wildflower Pilgrimage at Blackwater Falls State Park, followed immediately by a birding trip to Magee Marsh along Lake Erie near Oak Harbor, OH and then on to the Ralph Bell Birding Extravaganza near Waynesburg, PA.  Between Pilgrimage and Magee Marsh, I banded five baby Eastern Bluebirds from one of the nest boxes on our property.  After these trips Jan and I had two and a half weeks off before our next major trip.  While we gardened and did other outdoor jobs, we watched about a dozen House Finches visit the last sunflower seeds remaining in some of our feeders.  For the past five years we have been studying the House Finches’ homing skills by banding and relocating birds to different locations and distances from our home.  I decided to put up a mist net to catch as many of the House Finches as I could.  Ten were trapped, banded and added to the study.  The next day I left the net up thinking, “I’ll be working nearby and can check the net regularly.  By day’s end the seeds will be eaten and, who knows, perhaps we’ll catch something interesting.”  With most of the House Finches gone, it was a slow banding day.  But just after lunch I looked out back towards the net and said to Jan, “If I tell you to…run as fast as you can out to the net and hold the net around the bird until I get there!!”  Out the back door I ran screaming like a banshee toward the bird on the other side of the fence.  The Pileated Woodpecker feeding on a nearby stump flew right into the net and was caught.

Pileated Woodpecker on the stump between the house and a mist net. (c) Jan Runyan

SIDEBAR:  The reason Jan had to run to the net was because she was dressed and ready to go; I, on the other hand, was in my underwear and bare feet.  Taking a bird like this out of a mist net can take a while and cause quite a commotion.  Even though our neighbors aren’t all that close, in the past a screaming woodpecker has brought a neighbor to the net to see what we were doing.  Net-tending in my skivvies probably wouldn’t make for good neighbor relations.  

Jan was fast and was able to gather the net around the large bird until I could arrive (dressed) and help extricate him.

(c) Jan Runyan

Bill with Pileated Woodpecker

That Velociraptor look (c) Bill Beatty

Jan’s feathered dinosaur (c) Bill Beatty

This was only the second Pileated Woodpecker I have ever banded and it was Jan’s first.  It took both of us to control the bird for the banding process and photos afterwards.  As we marveled at the bird Jan said, “Doesn’t it just remind you of a tiny dinosaur?”  The Pileated has a remarkably long neck compared to all our other woodpeckers.  The regal head and crest, constantly moving lengthy neck, long-clawed legs and piercing stare reminded me of a miniature, colorful Velociraptor of Jurassic Park fame.  Unlike the first one I had caught and banded which produced a constant series of sharp calls and screams, this bird was very quiet.  The ear protectors I had brought as I hurried to the net were soon removed.  Jan and I were in awe of this creature; studying every detail and taking many photos.  The only photo I didn’t take was a shot of its extended tongue.  Because of the Pileated’s persistently moving, long, powerful neck and head I thought it might injure the bird if I attempted to pull the tongue out to full length.

The Pileated’s long, stiff tail feathers (c) Bill Beatty

The Pileated’s long, sharp claws (c) Bill Beatty

Photos accomplished, it was time to release the “tiny dinosaur”.  Jan coached me on how to use the video feature of her camera to record the occasion, then she opened her hands. Our new friend flew high on the trunk of the nearest Black Locust tree.  The last we saw him, he was hopping his way around to the back side of the trunk.

Later that day, from the mature woodlands behind our house, we could hear the familiar “jungle” bird call of the male Pileated we banded.  Click for the call…

http://www.audubon.org/sites/default/files/PILWOO_2.shortcalls_GAle_1.mp3?uuid=55637eac9a144

Wildflower Appreciation

During the spring I often teach wildflower classes or lead field trips to some of West Virginia’s most remarkable spring wildflower locations; often in the mountainous counties.  My students are captivated by the trilliums, bluebells, wild geraniums, bloodroot, buttercups, fire pinks and other obvious dashes of bright color wowing us from the sea of green foliage.  After exhausting the identification and appreciation of these larger wildflowers I often take out my hand lens, find a previously unnoticed plant and show everyone its tiny, seemingly invisible flower.  It’s an entirely new world!  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

                             bishop's cap/miterwort (Mitella diphylla)                   bishop's cap/miterwort (Mitella diphylla)

                             Bishop’s Cap..normal view          Bishop’s Cap through a hand lens

 

deptforb pink (Dianthus armeria)              deptford pink (Dianthus armeria)

         Deptford Pink…normal view                       Deptford Pink…through a hand lens

These tiny flowers present a different perspective to looking at wildflowers.  They are the ones often trampled on the way to see the larger, more visible color creations.

            hiking boot trampling pale corydalis (Corydalis flavula) flower                       false mermaid weed flower (Floerkea proserpinacoides) and In God

Hiking boot and Yellow Corydalis                      False Mermaidweed and penny

 

Even at home, growing as weeds in our gardens, these tiny wildflowers make an appearance only to be pulled and composted for future use as nutrients and soil conditioners.  Even though their beauty is apparent to those familiar with using a hand lens, when they grow unwanted as weeds in a flower or vegetable garden, they can still be removed, but with a much greater appreciation.

ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)                                       ground-ivy mint (Glechoma hederacea)

Ground Ivy…normal view                              Ground Ivy through a hand lens

 

purple dead-nettle/purple henbit (Lamium purpureum)                                    purple dead-nettle or purple henbit (Lamium purpureum) mint

Dead Horse Nettle…normal view                  Dead Horse Nettle through a hand lens