Monday, October 02, 2006
Birding Heaven on the Eastern Shore
Last week was a new vacation adventure spent birding and staying in an RV at Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Kiptopeke is at the southern tip of the Delmarva peninsula on Chesapeake Bay, and is the jump off point for migrating birds to cross the Bay on their way south. The Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory sponsors a bird banding station and hawk watch at the park and we participated in many birding activities we would never have experienced otherwise. Nearby is the Eastern Shore NWR and a few hours up the road is Chincoteague NWR. I also got to put my new telescopic camera lens to the test, and am quite pleased with it overall. Especially when I found that I DO NOT have to put it on a tripod all the time to get good pictures! The banding station uses mist nets hung at a low level and primarily catches small birds, including many warblers. This was great for me, since I have trouble seeing small warblers in the trees at all, let alone finding them in binoculars or a camera lens. After the birds were removed from the netting, Jethro Runco identified them, then ran through a series of measurements which were recorded and will be sent for correlation with other banding stations around the country. Jethro's blog gives a daily update with photos of the birds found. Each bird has its wings and tail measured. Then he blows their feathers around the wishbone to see how much fat has accumulated to help the bird during migration. Some water drops on the back of the head help to determine the skull's ossification, and thus the age of the bird. Then the bird is slipped into a tube to be weighed. Many we saw weighed less than half an ounce. Jethro says they mostly get young birds who haven't made the trip before. They fly east, then when they see the Atlantic Ocean turn south to avoid flying off the end of the world. Kiptopeke is a chance to rest and chow down before making the trip across the Bay. Weather determines how many birds will be banded on a given day. If it's stormy or windy, they all hide until it clears up again. We talked to birders of all ages, including this young fellow who was delighted to hold his first wild bird. Actually, Dick and I were also entranced to hold a small warm creature that weighed next to nothing before returning it to the wild. One older woman was apparently involved in the original banding effort. She cradled a small warbler, and when turned on its back, it lay quietly until she moved her hand around enough that it could tell which way was up and fly away. How can you not squash those little bitty things in your hands, I asked. The space between your index and middle finger is big enough to confine them. The bigger problem is letting them escape before you are ready. I'll have more stories and photos to share soon.