March 19th – Balancing Covid-19 and Banding

The first American Robin seen at Ruthven this year – leucistic? or just aged? -NRF

The World is in a pandemic panic but my hunch is that birds really won’t give a fig and will soon be on their way north. Many have already started! Many have already arrived (I heard my first Killdeer today)!

Marg and I just returned from an 18-day cruise out of San Diego to Hawaii and back – a little R & R before the rigours of the (25th!) Spring banding season. This pandemic has unfolded so quickly that when we set out we weren’t particularly concerned but by the time we were approaching San Diego we were afraid that either the ship would be quarantined (although there were NO cases on board) or that our flight home would be cancelled or both. What a relief to land early this morning in Toronto!! Canada….you gotta love it.

So here’s the plan for Spring migration monitoring at Ruthven. Please note that this plan is subject to change at short notice in response to what happens around us.

I am self-quarantining for 14 days and intend to be back on April 3rd. Ruthven is closed to (most) of the public until at least April 6th. However, Nancy is going to get the nets up before the 1st with the help of Michael Berry (education co-ordinator) and Nancy van Sas (head honcho). She will start banding on April 1st with a limited number of helpers. We hope to band daily.

Now here’s the tricky part: in order to start migration monitoring AND keep everyone safe while doing so we need to insist on “social distancing”. Therefore we will only admit a few/couple of volunteers a day to help. The “drop in” mentality that we have encouraged over the years – quite successfully – will have to be put on hold until we get the green light that the virus is on the run. This was a hard decision for us to make but it’s the only one that will achieve the two goals above.

What is especially important is that we be able to generate the data necessary to do trend analyses on migrants. For our site, this analysis is based on two things: daily banding numbers and census counts. These are fairly consistent from one day to the next. Banding hours have become pretty consistent from one year to the next and the census, if done correctly, is consistent. [We are going to insist this year that the census last between 60 & 90 minutes and that there are no deviations from the “census route”. If you want to check out the Fox Den Trail (and PLEASE go for it!) do it separately and include birds seen there as observations. The reason that observational data is not used is that there is simply too much variability – if we have 12 good birders spotting birds one day, they will very likely see more birds/species than if we have just 2 or 3.]

So we will start out going with “bare bones” person power – a few people to handle the banding and someone to do the census (and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get a good census done!). You will need to let either Nancy or I know ahead of time if you’re interested in helping out and what days you have available and what you might prefer to do – banding or census (or both). We will involve a reduced number of you and set up a schedule so we and you will know what’s going on.

We also are going to suggest that your time in the banding lab be limited to processing birds; otherwise you should be outside. We will have hand sanitizer readily available and will encourage you to use it often.

Sadly (VERY sadly to my mind), the sharing of baked goods, snacks, etc. will not be encouraged. I find that the wonderful baking that finds its way to the lab on a regular basis has greatly helped foster the pleasant, friendly atmosphere that we have come to expect and enjoy. But passing food around could mean passing the virus around…. (The only bright side to this is that I might be able to drop some of the extra weight I accrued on the cruise.)

So please bear with us. We will get back to normal as soon as we can.

To help us develop a schedule, you can contact either myself or Nancy. Initially I would ask you to use email as I’m reluctant to post our phone numbers in this forum. Ask for a cell # and after that we can text. OK?

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