For seven weeks, beginning with the first week in October, a group of enthusiastic scientists and volunteers gather deep into the restless woods of the Pennsylvania mountains from dusk until midnight. They forego the luxury of a heated building, warm bed and a full night's sleep in order to accomplish their primary objective- to catch the saw-whet owls.
|Ann, the bird bander for the night, retrieving the saw-whet from the bag so she can obtain her data.|
|Ann banding this owl|
By luring the saw-whets into nylon bird nets (this is done by using a recorded saw-whet's call that is amplified from speakers connected to an iPod located within a camouflaged ice-cooler) the scientists are able to place a numbered aluminum band around one of the saw-whet's feet. This band number is then recorded into a book containing further data about the particular bird that is caught- weight, age, wing span, eye color, fat, bill length, etc.
|keeping things straight|
|posing for the camera in the photographer's grip|
Ack!! That was my initial thought when I was asked ever nonchalantly by Scott, the master bander and top researcher on the project, if I'd ever removed an owl from the net. When I told him that no, I hadn't, he just looked at me and without a second's hesitation said,"Well, let's get started". The saw-whet wasn't tangled too badly in the net (sometimes they get wrapped up into two net pockets at a time) and with his help, I was able to remove the netting from the talons, wings and head. Scott was then quickly asked to administer his help in removing the other bird that was more badly tangled. As the five us stood around the little bird, wearing our head flashlights, watching Scott work, I couldn't help but think of the amount of patience and discomfort that comes from both the owl and the capturer in order to obtain the data.
The saw-whet usually just hangs motionless in the net, waiting to be freed. When she does make a sound, it sounds like someone cracking their knuckles (a sign of aggression) or she'll make a whimpering sound- a sign that she's hurt. Scientists and volunteers don't like to hear this one. No one wants a hurt bird.
We have two more nights with the owls before the year long wait to meet up with them again. I asked Mr. Reporter what he liked best about this experience and his response was (not surprisingly) releasing them from the nets. For me, this experience has been an adventure into the unknown. We didn't know anything about these little owls before we met them. And to be able to see them up close, handle them, and become acquainted with their little sounds; to learn from scientists and volunteers whose enthusiasm and love for the owls is contagious; well, it's like falling in love with a new pet. Only these pets don't belong to me. The experience does though. And it's one I'll never forget.
* You can adopt your very own saw-whet by going to this website. All of the proceeds further the funding of this project.