The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont is licensed to band songbirds. Several times each summer, they erect about a dozen or so mist nets at 6 a.m. and patrol them every 40 minutes until noon to retrieve, document, and band any catches. GSMIT staffer Josh Davis is in charge of the operation, and he has several summer interns from colleges around the country helping him. Tremont emailed the banding schedule to all students in their recent SANCP Birds class, and I eagerly took advantage of the overlap with my trip to the Smokies. Friends Pat Cox, Annette Ranger, and Susan Sweetser, all here for the DLIA Fern Foray Saturday, join the fun bright and early Wednesday morning on Tremont’s campus.
The nets are a fine, soft, black mesh designed to blend seamlessly into a shadowed forest. They are stretched vertically near water or along the forest edge to catch birds as they forage or seek shelter. Birds fly into the net and drop into one of four mesh pockets strung across the surface. Extracting them is a delicate maneuver requiring a firm but gentle touch to disentangle feet, wings, and beaks without harming the little birds. The nets mostly yield small songbirds, but a few weeks earlier, Tremont caught a Pileated Woodpecker. He was really ticked off and drew some staffer blood as payback for the inconvenience.
Each captured bird is placed in a small white muslin bag and carried back to the banding station. There it is positively identified and measured. Using several different techniques, including wing feather wear and skull formation, the bird’s age is determined whenever possible as is the gender. The leg is measured for appropriate band size, and a uniquely numbered tiny aluminum band is crimped around it. The band number, all bird condition notes, and the net capture location are carefully recorded according to protocol. When these tasks are finished, the little bird is carried out to the field, placed gently in an open palm, and released.
In addition to me and my friends, teachers taking a summer course at Tremont sit in at the beginning. A few park visitors show up too. We all get to witness, learn, and help with the banding. We catch several Louisiana Waterthrush, two Acadian Flycatchers, a male and female Northern Parula, Phoebe, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler, Goldfinch, Carolina Wren, and Chipping Sparrow. We also catch a hummingbird, but banding hummers requires a separate license. We simply admired the little guy and released it. The photos below provide a glimpse of our wonderful morning.