Urban visitors

  This post was written by Mike Bush, a grad student in the aquatic ecology lab (http://faculty.fiu.edu/~trexlerj/) at FIU and an avid natural historian.
Male hooded warbler
               In this post we’re going to move away from the Everglades proper and move to its borders, which in this case means the highly urbanized Miami/Ft Lauderdale megalopolis that lies immediately to the east of all that wild space.
Even in areas of high human density, wildlife can still be found everywhere. Most of you probably have had a raccoon snoop through your garbage or have a highly diverse mix of smaller creeping beasts that live underneath your shed. We can also be visited by wildlife that is just passing through the area, say, on their way to Brazil or to Hudson Bay. A bird banding station is just the place to see such ephemeral critters.
Orb weaver eating an anole. Awesome.
                I spent this last Fall devoting my Saturdays and a couple of other random days to helping out the National Audubon Society (http://www.tropicalaudubon.org/) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (http://myfwc.com/) operate their bird banding station out at the tip of beautiful Key Biscayne.  The station lies on the point of an island just a little east of downtown Miami, making it an ideal spot to capture birds that are flying south along the Atlantic coast to their winter homes.  A few dozen mist nets (nets that are 25’ or 50’ long and 8’ tall with a fine mesh) are placed in different locations in some preserved areas during fall migration. These nets are checked every twenty minutes and if a bird is tangled up in the mesh, it is carefully removed and brought back to the station. From here every bird has a metallic band placed around its leg that has a unique identification number. Life history details of the birds are also recorded, included sex, juvenile or adult, and condition of animal. Birds are then set free to continue on their long journey, or not so long if they happen to be residents or are sticking around for a few days.
Male painted bunting
                The station is noted for its abundance of black-throated blue warblers, though many, many other species also frequent the area, including always-angry northern cardinal and the rapidly-defecating gray catbird. A number of very dedicated and helpful volunteers have kept this station running for several years now, and these data, in conjunction with other bird banding stations as well as Christmas bird counts, help give us a nation-wide view of bird abundance and movement patterns at a spatial scale that would just be too great for even a number of universities and agencies to accomplish. Furthermore, these data have been gathered for years, and in some cases, decades. Combining such information with changing land use patterns, population growth, and a changing climate can help us glean information on how different animals are responding to the presence of humans. Valuable data gathered at a low cost that gets the public involved. That is what science is all about. Also, please go to http://capefloridabandingstation.wordpress.com/ for some great information about the banding station.


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