Roll that number around in your mind for a moment as I tell you the story of one small bird.
Thursday, August 27, 2009:
The tiny bird flitted among the branches of a large spruce, climbing until he had reached the tip of the uppermost branch. From there, he surveyed his world. Up until now his “world” had consisted of the forest close to the tiny nest he had left just weeks ago. But his world was about to change. It was a clear night in the boreal forest of central Alaska, and something in the wind was speaking to this little bird; it was telling him that it was time to go. After thoroughly preening his flight feathers, he lofted himself up, up, up, into the star-filled darkness. And all alone, he began to fly…
Saturday, October 3rd, 2009:
As the sun began to spread its golden mantle across Northwest Ohio, the BSBO research team greeted the day from deep within the marsh at the Observatory’s Navarre Banding Station. The mist nets, 28 in all, were open and ready. Now, all they needed were birds. On the point count, Mark & Julie Shieldcastle could hear chip notes of warblers and soft call notes of Swainson’s Thrushes; each was duly noted. The good winds overnight had delivered birds into the marsh, and there was one bird out there—one tiny traveler from the far north—that was poised to become an astounding milestone.
The bird lingered in the shrubby dogwood branches with a hesitancy born not of experience, but of pure instinct. Experience was something he was still in process of acquiring, in spite of the fact that he had made several stops like this one since that night in August when he had lifted off from his spruce tree to embark on this journey into the unknown. His instincts had taken him on a southeasterly course, and had now delivered him into the Lake Erie Marshes. He was hungry. And food was here, just as his instincts had told him it would be. A short distance was all that lay between the safety of his dogwood fortress and a willow tree where a juicy caterpillar was making its way along a low branch. A short distance… But so much can happen in a brief space in time. Hunger finally overcame fear, and he pushed away from his little dogwood and immediately found himself cradled in the soft hammock of a BSBO mist net.
A few minutes later, he was back amid the dogwoods, actively searching for the food he would need to sustain himself for the rest of his journey: an astounding transoceanic adventure that would carry him to South America, perhaps all the way to southern Brazil. This feat alone makes every Blackpoll Warbler special. But this individual—“our” Blackpoll Warbler—was now sporting a practically weightless leg band marked 2560 59455. He was now an individual.
---He was also the 500,000th bird banded by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
Blackpoll Warbler Number: 2560 59455
On its own, it is an overwhelmingly impressive accomplishment to reach this banding research milestone. But it exceeds the limits of mere impressiveness and enters the realm of astounding when you consider the fact that every one of those birds was banded under one Master Banding Permit, a permit belonging to Mark Shieldcastle.
The name Mark Shieldcastle has become synonymous with bird migration in Ohio, and rightfully so. Mark’s knowledge and understanding of migration in the Lake Erie Marshes is unprecedented, and his accomplishments vast. ---But even superheroes need a sidekick. Mark’s wife Julie has been at his side since the beginning. As two of the five founding members of the Observatory, the Shieldcastle team has sacrificed much for BSBO, and for the cause of bird conservation. Mark and Julie embody the passion, dedication, and commitment that every successful nonprofit is built on. They have been assisted throughout the years by an amazing team of volunteers, and the significance of banding half-a-million birds is rivaled only by the incredible number of volunteer hours that have been given to this organization.
This milestone also reflects the tremendous volume of birds that pass through the Lake Erie Marshes during migration. These huge passages of birds bring huge numbers of birders, and these binoculared bystanders spend millions of dollars in the local communities while they are here enjoying “our” birds. Just ask one of BSBO’s Birds & Business Alliance members. The Alliance is not only helping to bring business to its members, it’s also helping to create awareness of the economic value of conserving habitat for migratory birds.
If you are reading this blog, then I have to believe that birds are important to you; that birds bring something meaningful to your life. I am writing this because that is precisely why we do-what-we-do at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. We do it for the birds, for the beauty and joy that they bring to our world.
We also do it for you.
It is an incredible feeling to share the Observatory’s work with every person we can reach. To see the joy on a child’s face when they see a Blue Jay, or a cardinal, or a goldfinch up close for the first time at one of our school programs. To see the most stoic adults transformed into children when they release a wild bird for the first time at the banding station. To see accountants, construction workers, nurses, truck drivers, musicians, grocery store clerks, and attorneys working side by side to help us help birds.
We want to continue to do our part to care for the precious resources that birds need to survive the incredible demands of migration. We want to continue to share the message about the joy that birds bring to our world. We need your help to do it.
---Thank you for reading our blog, and for sharing in this amazing adventure that we call "birding."