PAUL SMITHS - For the second consecutive fall, master bander Mark Manske has been spending most evenings at the Paul Smith's College VIC banding saw-whet owls with the help of students.
Manske started Sept. 14 and so far has caught only eight owls this year. That low number was expected because saw-whet owls start migrating in October and the number of captures is anticipated to increase significally during this period.
The reason for starting early this year was to make sure their system was working properly before the migration gets under way. It also has given Manske time to get the word out about the station, so he could find volunteers to work with him. Many who help are Paul Smith's College students.
Saw-whet owls are tiny owls that generally weigh less than 100 grams.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Manske)
One of the main reasons for banding these owls is to track their migrations. Their patterns of travel are still mostly a mystery to scientists, said Manske who noted that this is the first saw-whet banding station in the Adirondacks.
The VIC station and others in North America are loosely connected through Project Owlnet, which collects information from banding stations. A map on the project's website shows that most of the stations are in the northeast but a few others are found in the south, west and across the northern U.S. into Canada.
Project Owlnet not only collects data and connects stations, but it provides banders with a standard protocol for netting owls.
Saw-whet owls are caught at night because they are nocturnal, and often feed on small rodents such as mice during the dark hours.
The birds generally live in coniferous forests in the northern U.S. and Canada and travel south for the winter. Scientific literature has suggested that some of the owls don't migrate.
Although the scientists want to learn more about saw-whet owls, their first priority is to ensure the owls come away unharmed. That's one of the reasons Manske checks the nets regularly and takes them down when not using them. Only having the birds in the net for a short period helps to reduce stress on the birds or other animals that have been caught.
When capturing the owls, Manske has the help of students or members of the public. For most of the evening, the group hangs out in a room inside the VIC. Every 30 minutes, three people walk about eight minutes into the woods where the nets are set up along a section of trail.
The owls are captured using roughly 40-foot long mist nets that are set up at sunset on dry evenings.
If the birders catch an animal other than a saw-whet, they release it. So far, some flying squirells and at least one bat have gotten tangled in the net, which is about 8 foot tall.
If the group catches a saw-whet, it is carefully placed in a bag and brought inside the VIC, where Manske measures its weight and size and then bands the animal and releases it. So far, the largest owl that Manske has captured was 98 grams. The smallest was 78. Saw-whets are the smallest northern owls.
After the information is recorded, it is sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, which is the agency that issued Manske his banding license.
Manske said that those interested in participating in the banding process should contact him in advance of the night they want to come out to the VIC. He can be reached at 521-7123 or 529-6331. Banding is expected to run into early November.