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The Joys of Being a Scribe

August 19, 2013

Beloved Birders! Some of you know that I’ve been volunteering at a bird banding research station in Tommy Thompson Park here in Toronto. I was there once a week to help with spring migration monitoring, and now fall season has started. Well, I’ll be honest with you — at this point my ability to “help” with migration monitoring is a bit of an exaggeration. I haven’t yet extracted a bird from a mist net or actually banded a bird, but in addition to observing extractions and going on regular net checks (ever 1/2 hour), I’ve become an expert scriber, which, to be honest, is a role I feel quite comfortable performing. For the record, the scriber (ME!) is the one who writes down the important (essential!) data about each bird as it’s banded: weight, sex, age, wing length, bander’s initials, band number, bird name and four-letter banding code, and any other miscellaneous information. I like to think of it as the perfect role for a writer: I observe, question, record, and compile. Very similar to the work that goes on at my desk every day.

After the birds are banded, I often get to let them go. At this point, I’m quite comfortable holding a bird in bander’s grip (basically holding the bird by placing its head between your index and middle finger; miraculously enough, the bird doesn’t struggle at all in this position even though it sometimes looks like the poor creature is gripped a little fiercely). Photographer’s grip (holding the bird’s legs securely to make it look like the bird’s ready for a photo session) still remains a challenge for me, but I’m getting there! What always stuns me is that when I let the bird go, it actually FLIES! ON ITS OWN! For some reason, I still find this truly miraculous.

Here’s a photo from Friday morning — and this pretty much explains why I keep coming back, week after week, no matter how early:

Belted Kingfisher. Photo by Charlotte English.

Belted Kingfishers at Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station. Photo by Charlotte England.

Here are the two glorious Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) “we” banded on Friday morning! Note the classic punk rock hairdos they sport so effortlessly, and the metallic sheen glistening on their plumage. I marvel at the raw confidence these Kingfishers exude: there’s no question — these birds know just how hot they are. Seeing them up close, and recording their data was a highlight of my summer!

But on the subject of helping: the banding station attracts some of the most knowledgeable and generous birders I’ve ever met. They entertain my naive questions and my myriad faux-pas with a smile and welcome me back week after week. My birding and ID skills have already improved immeasurably, and I so lucky to have the opportunity to learn from these devoted birders & researchers! Who knew that scribing could be such a serious thrill?

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