Precedented bycatch

After I made such a fuss about catching a sapsucker and a hummingbird early in the season, of course, we caught another sapsucker and another hummingbird. These guys are no longer quite so unprecedented—although they were novel species for me—but they are still awesome.

Male Williamson’s Sapsucker

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Jerk juncos

Although the last month has brought nests, chicks, and all the excitement they entail, it has also seen increasingly frustrating field work. In the beginning of the field season, we caught between two and five juncos every day; now we’re down to two, one, or none.

Some of them simply don’t respond to our playback at all. Locations that we know have juncos—because we’ve seen them, darnit, we’ve banded them—appear junco-less, our Radio Shack speaker spewing junco calls with no response. Other juncos respond half-heartedly, distractedly. They sing for a minute, then resume foraging. Or, as I watched GAEL do recently, they sing back softly while preening their feathers.

GAEL ignoring us. Photo by M. LaBarbera.

We spend a lot less time handling birds now, and a lot more time muttering, “Jerk juncos.”

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Junco-induced bipolarity

So far this season we’ve caught at least one bird every day. Most days we catch two or three; our best days have been our three five-junco days. This season is going really well.

Yet, at least every other day I find myself thinking, “This is it—the beginning of the juncos’ ceasing to respond to us, the moment where we lose our mist netting mojo.” It’s amazing how crushing it can be to go hours not catching a bird. Never mind how many you caught yesterday—this is the turning point, the day it all stopped working.

Then you catch a junco, finally, and everything is great!

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