Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 5)

Broome - Pt 2: The cannon netting experience

In Broome we were based at the Broome Bird Observatory and were part of a team that varied in size from 8 to 14 individuals. We had 4 days of cannon netting, the goal being to get breeding plumage from 20 Godwits, 20 Red Knots and 20 Great Knots. We would rise between 5.30 - 6.00am to go set the net just above the tide line, in the relative cool of the morning.Once set we would hide at a base camp or behind some camouflage to wait for the incoming tide to push the birds closer to the net.

When the numbers looked about right within the catching range then BANG, off went the cannons and we all raced to the net to make sure birds were out of the water, safe within the net and covered with shade clothe so we could transfer them to holding cages. The intensity of these moments is unrivalled. Chris, the leader was clear- don't use your initiative, just do what I say - his voice was the only voice we heard.

One of the research team, Massey vet Janelle Ward, was measuring stress levels of the birds and was collecting blood samples within the first 20 minutes of capture and again later after handling. I was able to assist intially with her extractions before moving into the plumage work with Phil.

It was hot intense stuff and the pressure was always on to process birds within a 4 hour timeframe. When the size of the catch on the second day was 180 birds, this meant everyone was physically pushed to be giving their most and by the end of that day the heat and pressure was taking its toll and concentrating on the simplest tasks took the most incredible effort. Still, it was amazing how we could bounce back after a cool beer at the end of the day.

Our temporary shelter for processing on the beach

This Godwit shows a flag DJA and lovely breeding plumage. Measurements were also taken on bill length, weight, wing length and so on, before birds were released back into the wild. It was always nice to see the birds fly off, usually without any problems, sometimes with a bit of a walk before taking off to the skies. In about 3 weeks or so these amazing birds will be winging there way north towards their breeding grounds.

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