Wednesday, September 28, 2016

TCBO birdin'

American Pipit Anthus rubescens
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys (Gambel's)
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
Western Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus
Common Raven Corvus corax
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
A roiling band of Blue Jays Cyanocitta cristata
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis
Banded Herring Gull Larus argentatus  - Could this be the same bird banded at TCBO in 2006?!
  Here are a few of the birds that passed through the TCBO while I was there.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The TCBO routine

Pulling early platform watch (Michigan's Ile Royale at left)
Nick and Ollie holding down the 'form
Ollie's platform shenanigans
Blister in the sun
The elusive Thunder Ape
"Do you have bags?"
Nick and I in the N2B Grotto, watching the Nighthawk nets
Banding a Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
About to release a Black-throated Green Warbler Setophaga virens
Ollie extracting a Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
Nick giving Sharpie release tips to Maina 
Sharpie cans by a hawk net
The sacred binder
10:30 a.m. Elvis-wiches = vital
Entering banding data
  It's been a week since I left the TCBO, and I'm still waking up at 6:00 a.m. er're day, mumbling "Early nets," as I blink the confusion from my eyes. Early nets were followed a half hour later by the start of watch hours from the platform, which was never left unmanned until six hours later. Every half hour saw net rounds, which entailed going around (You going right or left?) a series of mist and hawk nets checking for/extracting/bagging birds, and finishing off with an HT (Heligoland trap) drive. The ground traps/jay trap were also checked every half hour. Extracted birds were processed at the lab, which meant IDing, banding, and taking biometrics (age, sex, fat, wing chord, weight, notes). If you weren't banding in the lab, you were scribing for the bander. Platform observers marked all birds down as either 'Obs' or 'Vis' - birds just observed at the site, versus birds seen visibly migrating (heading southish towards Pie Island or Ile Royale).
  When the watch ended in the afternoon, there was a rotating list of chores to attend to, which ranged from cooking dinner or doing dishes, to doing the log or entering banding data into the computer.  There was also the first week of endless weed-whacking, which shall never be mentioned again.  An afternoon nap was an important ritual, but not always possible. After the aforementioned downtime, dinner at 6:00 p.m. was followed by the checking/entering of the log by the group, which could take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on Ollie's desire to argue about vizzing eagles. The start and end of my TCBO sojourn were marked by additional nighttime net hours - nighthawks in August, and owls towards mid-September. These efforts were undertaken from 8:00 p.m.-past midnight sometimes, so those days were getting pretty long by the end.
  Anyway, that's my thumbnail sketch of the TCBO routine.  It was a helluvan experience.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Bear

American Black Bear Ursus americanus
American Black Bear Ursus americanus
American Black Bear Ursus americanus
American Black Bear Ursus americanus (or is it a floating Mickey Mouse hat?)
Paw prints appeared on our trails in the 30 minute intervals between net runs
A bear does indeed shit in the woods
Pie Island, piece of cake for a swimming bear
  We were briefed about the Black Bears that hang around the field station, and when we encountered our first, a sow and three cubs, we chased them off by banging on pots. My second meeting with bears came at much closer range. I was checking ground traps on the shore, so my head was down as I came around the bend by the remnants of the old lighthouse. There were three traps left to check - first trap: empty..second trap: empty...third tra...what the hell is that? About seven feet in front of me, a large dark form stood up. I was staring into the face of a large Black Bear that had just raised itself up on its haunches from behind a low berry bush. I froze. The bear was calmly chewing on a mouthful of berries, and it looked at me with a 'good doggy' look on its massive face. I backed up slowly, then turned the corner and skulked back up towards the platform, swiftly returning with noise-making reinforcements. While I never sensed any menace in the bear's behavior, that was about as close as I would  care to get to a wild bear, thanks.
  A few days later, a younger bear decided to swim to Pie Island, which is at least a dozen kilometres from our tip of the Sibley Peninsula. We watched it swim confidently to the island, which took over two hours, and as it got smaller on the horizon, it looked like a floating Mickey Mouse hat.

TCBO raptors

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus (juvenile)
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus (adult)
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterus
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
These are a few of my favourite wings...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Downtime at TCBO

Ollie the boffin bodging together a hand net - he owes me 1$
Ollie beating Nick at chess
David beating Nick at chess
Cribbage = worst game ever
Playing TCBO Pursuit
TCBO Pursuit board - I made it in four minutes, and it shows
Mille Bornes - everyone's favorite
Bimble Scrabble
Reading on the platform
Team reading
Message from the past
Hike up to the cliffs with Nick
Nick = Lake Superior's Little Mermaid
Fire filled with exploding rocks
Everyone's favourite pastime - napping
What to do with your free time after six hours of birding on the platform?  Birding from the tower, of course (Hare Island visible, and Thunder Bay on the horizon).
Sweet tape collection - we played the Dylan tape repeatedly
  The TCBO routine and chores took up most of the crew's time at the field station, and I'll get into that later. When we were off the clock and not napping, I'm happy to report that we weren't glued to our phones (no internet service except for a spotty signal up the tower), or watching TV (no TV there). The station has been around for 25 years, and our downtime was filled with an array of refreshingly old school pastimes that wouldn't have been out of place in the early 90s (I'm pretty sure I can remember the early 90s).
  Aside from the above distractions, there was skipping stones, prank battles, mandolin/singing jams, Indian arm wrestling, writing, drawing, charades, map-drawing contests, baking, and watching the odd movie on a laptop. We also engaged in such arcane pursuits as listening to entire albums, and talking to one another. It was awesome to unplug for a while. What am I doing now? Watching TV.