Not far from Mars Hill, NC, Big Bald Banding Station is located at 5390 feet above sea level on Little Bald Mountain, open vistas on all sides. The morning was cool as 14 of us walked the half mile up to where a lone volunteer bander had been working since dawn. The southern Appalachian Mountains serve as an important flyway for many neotropical songbirds as they migrate from breeding grounds in northern U.S. and Canada to their winter habitat in Central and South America. During September and October, volunteers of Southern Appalachian Raptor Research operate mist nets daily at Big Bald Banding Station. Captured birds are fitted with a U.S. Bird Banding Lab metal leg band, measured, assessed for health condition and then released unharmed. An average of ~2000 songbirds are captured, banded and safely released each autumn migration at Big Bald.
On this Sunday morning, the volunteer bander had set up the mist nets, and on a regular schedule, she had extracted, banded, documented, and released each bird that had flown into a filmy net.On this windy morning, when more leaves than birds were caught in the nets, that number during the time we were there was six. When we arrived, in her hand was a stunning yellow-bellied sapsucker.
Afterwards, we followed the bander to the nets and watched her carefully extract five more: an oven bird, a tufted titmouse, and three warblers (a bay breasted, a palm warbler, and a black-throated blue). We helped remove leaves from the nets and one of us volunteered to scribe data for her. Some of us, including me, got to hold a bird for the magic moment of release.
When the bay breasted warbler rested between my fingers, my other hand flat beneath it, I felt no weight at all. But when I opened my grip, and it took flight, I experienced the exquisite touch of its feathers brushing my hand. Life! Ephemeral, magnificent, fragile, and precious!
Through oak and poplar, wind
cracks the whip!
No human noise. Only
on top of the mountain,
blue jewel sky,
sweeps me clean.
c. Susa Silvermarie 2013