Sunday, November 1, 2015

Meet our banding crew!

by Karen Stubenvoll, HRBO board chair and banding station volunteer

Now that the season is winding down, we would like to introduce you to the team that has been working tirelessly in the background since August 15, banding raptors and providing data for ongoing research projects at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory.

First and foremost, our Banding Director, Frank Nicoletti:
 Frank first came to Duluth in 1991 as the hawk counter to study Northern Goshawk irruptive cycles. His hawk counting created an upward "blip" in the graphs of raptor totals, dubbed the "Nicoletti Effect", both for his skill & keen eyes at identifying hawks, and also for the increased hours & days of hawk counting. Frank moved here permanently in 1996, and eventually became our banding director in 2011. Frank is well-known in raptor circles for his expertise, and leads raptor ID field trips at Braddock Bay, New York. Frank also guides winter birding field trips in St Louis County MN  and Douglas County WI, and he volunteers for the Raptorthon (a fundraiser for the Hawk Migration Association of North America) every year.
It's difficult to pin him down on one favorite raptor. The Northern Hawk Owl is the "ultimate" raptor, in Frank's opinion, a very special bird, and in fact Frank travels to the bog areas of northern Minnesota in the wintertime to band Northern Hawk Owls. Another of his all-time favorite raptors is the Red-tailed Hawk, because each RTHA is different and uniquely beautiful.

Photo from the archives of Frank Nicoletti with Red-tailed Hawk (by Karen Stubenvoll)

Next, someone who is rarely seen in the daylight hours -- our owl bander, Ryan Steiner. Although it's his first year at Hawk Ridge, Ryan has been banding owls for several seasons, including with Scott Weidensaul at Hawk Mountain PA. He also has been involved with ornithological research projects in Borneo and Australia.
What's cool about owl banding: "Owls, but particularly the Northern Saw-whet Owl, are extremely charismatic and cute but are very rarely seen.  During peak migration, while banding owls I can see 50 to over a hundred owls in a night and get to hear all of their amazing calls that otherwise I would never get to hear.  The realization that there are over a hundred owls in such a small area really brings the world of these secretive birds in perspective.  It blows my mind that there can be so many owls on the landscape that I must be walking past every day without noticing!"

Ryan Steiner with Barred Owl (by Alex Lamoreaux)

Raptor bander Miranda Durbin is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife. She started as a volunteer with Hawk Ridge, then became a naturalist with Peregrine Watch, then a banding station volunteer, and now with her expertise, has gained a sub-permit and is running a banding station under Frank's supervision. She bands hawks, owls, & passerines, but is concentrating this season on diurnal raptors. She & her husband Joe also run a business,
What's cool about raptor banding: "I really enjoy the opportunity to see the birds up close.  Their eye colors and feather patterns are gorgeous and fascinating.  That's something you can't see from a distance.  I also enjoy watching them come in, seeing and learning the different methods each species takes when approaching." For instance, "watching an adult male shin come to a dead stop (with the help of the wind) when it got up to and saw the net, then fly around it."

Miranda Durbin with male Merlin (by Valerie Slocum)


This year we have had 2 banding station trainees, Alan Moss & Reed Turner. Requirements of being a trainee include "no raptor banding experience", and willingness to work hard & learn.  Both of them have been fantastic to have in the banding station, and made exponential progress in their skills:

Alan Moss is from the Florida panhandle, and is a graduate of Florida State University. He has done ornithological field work at various locales, including the Chiricahua Mountains of New Mexico. What cool about raptor banding: "Being able to see raptors stooping all day. It's something that you only rarely get to see when out birding."

Alan Moss with Northern Harrier (by Karen Stubenvoll)

Reed Turner of Minneapolis decided on a career change. He left sustainable agricultural, and is pursuing his passion, which is birds. In addition to his banding station duties, he helped out on the count platform with the big landbird migrations. He has been an avid birder for quite a few years & a volunteer with the Western Great Lakes Owl Monitoring Survey, and is looking forward to competing in next year's St Louis County Birdathon!
What's cool about raptor banding:"While a raptor banding station is primarily a research facility, you cannot ignore the sheer awesomeness of witnessing a hawk dive into the station. From the moment their eyes see the lures, set their wings and go into a stoop, it is quite the sight to behold. Even those birds that elude capture are amazing to watch, as they weave and dart around the station, avoiding nets at the last moment with seemingly impossible ease. Besides being a thrilling experience, banding allows for a detailed understanding of raptors that even the most powerful binoculars cannot offer. For example, by examining various sharp-shins in-hand, we can study their molt pattern and assign specific ages to the birds. I am continuously fascinated by the differences in feather wear, eye color and plumage between HY, SY and ASY sharpies, observations that would be near impossible by other means. Also, saw-whets are way cool little creatures."

Reed Turner with hatch year Broad-winged Hawk (by Karen Stubenvoll)

And last but not least, our volunteer raptor & passerine bander David Alexander! David works a regular job at Essentia Health as a radiologist, but when he can take vacation in the fall, he spends it at Paine Farm or Moose Valley banding station. He has been hooked on raptor banding since the Great Gray Owl irruption of 2003-2004, and also has taught passerine banding both at Hawk Ridge & at Braddock Bay in New York. In the wintertime, he drives through the bog areas of northern Minnesota to band Great Gray Owls and Northern Hawk Owls. We couldn't manage without you Dave!

David Alexander releasing Merlin at Moose Valley (by Amber Burnette)
Thanks to our banding team for a fantastic season!

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