75 and feeling alive! Raptor banding update

You would think that after sitting all day in the blind looking at the sky and the periphery scanning for raptors, that when I come home in the afternoon that the last thing I would want to do is sit some more. Well, if you thought that, then you are wrong. Coming home and getting comfortable is the first thing I like to do. Whether you believe it or not, raptor trapping is quite exhaustive as you always have to be attentive and aware for hours on end. You never know when a raptor may suddenly show up. Also, just being outside for several hours is somehow draining, but in the best possible way, I assure you. Now, as I am sitting here now and am relaxed, let’s get all you fine folks caught up on what has happened this past week.

Despite losing two days to wind and snow, from the 19th to the 24th, we still were able to add 19 new birds to the season total. We did not add any new species, but we had quite the diversity, which included five different species (Merlin, Red-tailed hawk, Sharp-shinned hawk, American kestrel, and Northern Harrier.) The coolest captures included one of the few merlins, and the three, yes, count them three harriers! The merlin was exciting because it was a young female that hatched last summer in 2019. What was neat was that she was already starting to “molt” meaning, replacing old feathers with new ones, but this was only happening on her back, which created a mosaic of blue and brown. The brown being the juvenile feathers that are old, and that she has had since she hatched, and the blue being the new adult feathers. Hence why merlins are sometimes referred to as blue jacks for the nice blue coloration they show when they become adults.

As I mentioned earlier, we also managed three Northern Harriers, which is crazy! Even crazier, another one of the three was a striking adult male or as I and so many people love to call them “Gray Ghosts”. As I mentioned before, the adult male is seldom caught due to how elusive these birds are. Then today, we had the double whammy of capturing two adult females. Now I’m not sure why we are having such an excellent harrier season, but I’m ok with it. These birds are truly unique from their owl-like facial disc to their beautiful, buoyant flight, which almost appears effortless. Add to that their bright lemon-yellow eyes, and ladies and gentlemen, you have a genuinely fantastic raptor. Now, it should be noted that every raptor species we capture is unique and beautiful in their way, and getting to work with any species is fantastic.

The upcoming weekend and next few days ahead look to be ideal not only for migration but also for banding. BUT… if I’ve learned anything from living in Northern Michigan over the past few years, it is to take what the weather people say with a grain of salt as it is more than likely going to change. My optimism always overrides this, and I hope for the best. Let me tell you that being positive while banding raptors is key to being successful. I can’t explain it, but you will just have to trust me on this. As always, I will do my best to keep you all updated as migration ramps up! Until next time as always stay classy.

Nick Alioto

Spring 2020 Raptor Trapping Totals:

5  NOHA (Northern Harrier)

5   MERL (Merlin)

2   AMKE (American Kestrel)

1   NOGO (Northern Goshawk)

1   COHA (Cooper’s Hawk)

28 SSHA (Sharp-shinned Hawk)

30 RTHA (Red-Tailed Hawk)

2   RSHA (Red-shouldered Hawk)

1   RLHA (Rough-Legged Hawk)

Total Birds: 75

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