To be totally honest, this week was poorly executed on my part. Sleep deprivation is a thing and really doesn't help. My final paper for Tropical Ecology and a Spanish presentation were all completed at last minute due to my shear lack of planing. But it was worth it, because this week the Institute worked with the US Fish and Wildlife service catching and banding migratory birds. And I got to help. Monday morning at 4:45 AM, I got up and out the door to be on time for the 5:30 AM start of the week long study. I was well-intentioned but, to be honest, I had forgotten to ask where we were meeting! I sat around at the institute for half an hour before running into the Institutes director who was also running the project. We headed up into the reserve behind the institute to join the rest of the group. The mist nets were already set up, fine swaths of netting with holes the size of silver dollars, woven of sturdy nylon threads. We checked the nets every half hour and gently, oh so gently, removed any birds we came across. We measured the birds wing length, weight, cranium density (to see if their skill was fully formed, it helps indicate maturity) and then clipped a tail feather to let us know if we had recaptured a bird. Now, when you release a bird there is none of this 'throw it into the air and watch it soar away' silliness, you simply point it away from the trees or anything else it could run into and open your hold on it. If you throw it and the bird isn't ready, you can seriously hurt it. Dropping like a stone to the ground feels bad to everyone.
We caught so many birds that week, well strictly speaking I was there for at most thirty captures but still. Hummingbirds aplenty, several ovenbirds which we happily banded, wrens and so many more. My least favorite to handle were the woodcreepers. They were actually some of the larger birds we were catching, closer to the size of your hand than the size of your palm. Their feathers are a russet red, the different species have variations in patterning but were near impossible to tell apart from a distance. Their tail feathers have shafts that extend past where the colored barbs end, allowing the birds to balance more easily on trees. They also have decidedly strong survival instincts that lead them to aggressively peck at the hands holding them and attempt to projectile defecate into peoples mouths (the first one we caught got within centimeters) or all over their cloths. Lots of fun to clean up, let me tell you. Now, my favorite bird that we caught was a chestnut caped brush finch because I loved the coloration of its feathers but the most beautiful bird we caught was undoubtedly a male long-tailed manakin. With his red head, blue belly, black everything else and two long streamers for a tail, the bird just really couldn't be beat. The females are a pale green with much shorter streamers, as are the immature males. We caught several of these but only one mature male. It also was the start of breeding season so the plumage was especially lovely. Manakins are actually fascinating birds, not only for their plumage. They perform a rather complicated mating ritual involving two males, who dance and sing what amounts to a duet for the attention of a single female. There is an alpha male and a beta male, the alpha being the one to primarily mate with the female but the beta will also do so, but more covertly. It is actually an excellent way of insuring greater diversity in the gene pool. Also, I learned to imitate their mating call and on several occasions got the manakins to call back to me!
I also had real life to deal with that week, more precisely classes. Which ended up being more excursions than true classes. One day we visited the family farm of one of my professors and hiked around in the forest above the cultivated land. We encountered a ficus in the middle of a field that, with the help of the twelve of us, we could barely encircle with our arms. It was absolutely magnificent and reminded me again of why the strangler figs are considered sacred. We then had a meditation session where I happily took in the voices of the forest and took the time to relax, which I sorely needed. We then headed down to the main farm house where our last surprise of the day awaited. My professors brother is known for rehabilitating animals and at that time had a baby sloth which he was keeping at his parents house. Fluffy, tiny and sleepy, we crowded around it with cameras extended and not as quiet as they probably should have been coos of joy. It was absolutely adorable. We ended up staying long into our lunch break and returning to the Institute in a rush of hungry students.
Our second excursion involved tech. GPS tech, which was all well and good but I ended up carrying a ridiculous looking antenna that had more in common with the Queen of England's scepter then your average car antenna. We then proceeded to hike a trail and take data points every so often to help us make an accurate map of the area. This wouldn't have been bad at all, the area was lovely and the three waddled bell bird was screeching his heart out tantalizingly close, but the path was steep. I mean really steep. Up and up and up we go where we stop I do not know kind of steep. It was exausting, I won't lie. Then we had to configure our data into maps on computer programs that hated me. Just me. I kill technology, not sure what it is, but what ever I touch dies a painful techy death.
My poor host family saw almost none of me that week, I ended up leaving before they even woke up and arriving home only to crash. Oops? Ah well, I got it all done. I will never regret taking that week to learn more about the birds.