Matthias Bieber says the thrill of being in close contact with birds never gets old.
Bieber, one of two licensed bird banders working at the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory, was on duty for their open house last Sunday.
“It’s definitely a life-changing experience. It’s something I really value and treasure,” said Bieber. “Some birds we have banded hundreds of and it’s always a really special experience to hold a bird.”
The annual open house is an outreach by the Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance to educate the public on what goes on at the station and the need for monitoring migrating birds. This year, an estimated 105 people turned out to tour the mist nets, the wetland and the bird banding trailer.
“We are at this site because there is historical data. In order to know about the declines in bird populations, you need that historical data,” said biologist Sharon Mansiere, an OSCA director. “We have some bird populations that have 50 per cent declines from this dataset across Canada.”
The Vaseux Lake site is part of a network of Canadian Migration Monitoring Stations.
“It is a great place for birds to stop and get food. It’s a rich habitat with all the insects, coming into this watery world here,” said Mansiere.
It’s not the only banding station in the Okanagan.
“Jason (Bieber) and I, we started our own banding project in Summerland, we have two stations there that we do in the summertime. It’s kind of a different project, it monitors the breeding populations through the breeding season. We’ve been doing that for two years now.
“It’s developed from like a hobby and something that I was really interested in to now its something I get paid to do, which is amazing. I was spending money to do it when I started.”
Besides banding the birds in the first place, the goal is to recapture them whether they were banded locally or at another location.
“That can tell us the bird’s migration route, where it was banded originally, how long it took to travel,” said Bieber. So far this year, they’ve banded 1819 birds of 61 species and recaptured 505 birds of 27 species.
Probably the most complicated part of bird banding is getting them out of the net and knowing how to handle them, Bieber explained.
Bieber said the handling is fairly low impact on the birds and they have procedures to minimize the stress for the birds.
“We try to minimize the handling process as much as we can. The banding process only takes 30 seconds to a minute … then we release it,” said Bieber. “The banding itself isn’t very complicated. But processing the bird — figuring out the bird’s age and the sex, for all the different species — there is a ton of information there. There is a lot to learn, so that takes years of practice and studying.”
Mansiere said they would love to find funding to expand the operation at Vaseux Lake and cover the spring migration as well.
“It is really nice to capture the migrations in the spring as well as the fall. The other thing that we have for this station, as our vision, is to go back to having owl banding at night.”
OSCA currently doesn’t have funding to have someone run the owl banding, but with a community partner, they could reintroduce it.
“It is very common at these stations to have owl banding and it brings people in, in a different way,” said Mansiere.
Coming to see these small birds being banded, she said, is awesome. But the addition of a saw-whet owl banding program would open up the conversations about other aspects of the Vaseux Lake habitat, like the moths that are also around at night.
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News