Fellow volunteer, Barry, picked me up this morning and we made our way to Cattail Marsh in Beaumont. The forecast was for a nice warm day in the 60’s, but I’m sure glad I decided to wear a hoody under my insulated jacket. I just never really trust those weather guessers.
It turns out that Cattail Marsh is a series of ponds that are a part of the water treatment system for Beaumont. Most of this kind of bird banding is a waiting game. The rocket nets are set out in the predawn hours, and locations may be changed daily depending on the prevailing winds. Since dabbling ducks always take off into the wind, the rockets are set up so the birds fly into the net instead of away.
After setup, one person is left in this temporary blind to wait for the ducks to come in. When enough ducks are within the area covered by the net, the person in the blind ‘pulls the trigger’, the rockets blast off, and the net covers the birds. That’s the way it is supposed to work, but that doesn’t always happen.
The rest of us helpers just wait at the entrance to the ponds to hear the blast of the rockets. When that happens, we jump in our trucks and make our way to whatever net has gone off. After waiting on hour or so after our arrival, we heard that boom and were on our way. Well, one end of the net got hung up at take off, so only one of the twenty or so ducks in the trapping area was caught.
Then comes the arduous work of rolling up the net, and setting up the rockets again. The photo at the top of this post shows the guys beginning to carefully roll up the nets. This photo depicts the net carefully placed on the launch platform. Notice how many people it took for this careful preparation. That net is forty feet wide. Then the rockets are hooked on and armed,
In the meantime, Patrick, the refuge biologist, was laying (is it laying or lying?) down on one of the levies at a different location waiting for the right moment. He didn’t have one of those little blinds, so he had been just laying/lying out in the elements for hours. This haul was a little more productive. We get there as quickly as possible to get the birds out of the net.
That’s where Barry and I could finally be of some help. You may have noticed that most of the guys and gals out in the muck and mire could be our children or grandchildren. I’m thinking this is definitely a young persons calling. I know that I would probably do a face plant into the marsh after a few steps in that muddy bottom. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t wish I was one of them, but I’m afraid those days are over for me.
After working the hunter check station for several months, it was nice to see some live ducks up close and personal. Because of that miserable cold front that came in at the beginning of this week, capture numbers have been way down compared to other years. Last year, they captured and banded over 300 ducks in a week. So far this week, there have been less than 75 and there’s only two days to go.
Back at the banding site, everyone lined up to get a duck and take it through the different stations before releasing them. First up was getting the band put on after identifying species and sex. Barry had a male blue-winged teal that had to go through some extra steps. This species is being studied for virus infections, so besides the band, a blood sample, anal swab, and crop swab were taken.
My duck was a green-winged teal, so it got to skip the blood sample station. Of course the best part of the experience was being able to take the bird to the top of the dike to release it. I watched it take flight until it went beyond my vision. Safe travels north, my friend! Live long and prosper…
While I don’t think that I really contributed much in the way of help with this assignment, I really did enjoy myself. During the waiting times, I was able to talk to the young man doing the virus study. What a life he has. He lives in Alaska doing scientific wildlife work, and comes down to do this study for a few weeks each winter to escape his cabin fever up there. He married a woman from Brazil, and when they retire in the distant future, they will return to Brazil to run a coffee plantation.
I sure do meet some interesting people in this life…
Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later, Judy