Bird banding has been going on in the Neawanna Creek watershed in Seaside for over a decade now. Led by local ecologist Mike Patterson, each spring birders have been capturing migrating birds using mist nets and carefully placing a small metal band around the bird’s leg before releasing them, all the while recording valuable information about the birds they encounter. The bird banding station started out next to the Seaside Mill Ponds, and recently moved to NCLC’s Stanley Marsh property at the north end of town, near the Necanicum estuary.
Banding birds can help scientists document how many birds are moving through the region each year by allowing individual birds to be identified and their movements recorded accurately. Banding also provides insight into how birds are using riparian areas-those buffers of native plants found along creeks, ponds and rivers.
“Sometimes we’ll re-capture the same bird four or five times in the same year as they hang out in a certain area, or we’ll capture the same bird in the same spot on the same day a year later,” Mike says. “There can be tremendous site fidelity among migratory birds.”
I once heard Neal Maine liken this site fidelity to a family driving down Interstate 5 to visit the family’s grandparents in Eugene. “And you always stop at the same gas station in Salem every year, and get a snack at the cafe next door.” Neal said. “That’s site fidelity.”
Remembering family road trips of my youth, I do recall one special cafe where we always stopped for lunch on our way to the beach, and the sadness we all experienced one year when we drove by only to find that it had been torn down. It’s strange to think of a specific crabapple tree along the Neawanna in the same manner as a roadside cafe, but to a migratory bird it seems to be much the same thing.
Most of the documented re-capture of birds that have been banded along the Neawanna happens as birds return to the same sites over and over again. In the past, when Mike received word of a banded bird being found some ways away from the banding station, it was always a dead bird, often ones killed by house cats.
“It’s hard to get information about the birds we band once they get out into more rural areas, especially down south of the US border” he says. “Someone would have to know what the band means, and understand not only how to report finding the bird, but who to report that information to. It just doesn’t seem to happen.”
Until now. Earlier this fall, Mike received an email from the Bird Banding Lab about a bird that had been caught and banded at Stanley Marsh near Seaside on April 29th, 2012. The bird was an Orange-crowned warbler, and it had been re-captured at the Rocky Point Bird Observatory on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in Canada on October 5th, 2012.
“It took a while for me to get details about the bird from the Bird Banding Lab,” Mike said with a wry smile. “They won’t release information about recaptures until you submit all your data for the year. I finally got it all in just around the end of the year, and the information was sent to me in early January.”
The bird banders will be back at Stanley Marsh later this year, welcoming back the thousands of birds that will be making their annual pit stop in Seaside on their way northward. “It would be pretty amazing to capture this same bird bird again,” Mike says thoughtfully, “but I’ll settle for finally getting to know where one of the birds we banded moved on to. That’s pretty cool.”