Bird banding at the Ocean View

Thu, 08/19/2021 - 5:30pm

Kim Gaffett of The Nature Conservancy led a multi-generational group of bird lovers in her bird banding program at the Ocean View
property Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. “We had two-and-half years old all the way up to grandparents in their 70s,” Gaffett said.
She has been catching, banding, and releasing birds at the Ocean View property for 20 years. This summer, due to Covid restrictions, her groups are limited to 20 participants who signed up in advance. She had a bonus session on Wednesday morning to give more people the opportunity to participate, and will have informal “drop-in” sessions on Tuesday mornings moving forward. Participants can hold the birds, listen to their heartbeats, and help with the banding. And perhaps most importantly, the participants get to spend some time with one of Block Island’s foremost nature experts. Gaffett said: “No matter the age of the person, we can make the program fit their level.”
This is most certainly true, as people come back for this program year after year as they grow up. One young volunteer from Maryland, who vacations with his family on Block Island every August, has been coming to the bird banding program with Gaffett since he was 11. He is now preparing for college. Austin Morin, who has been working with TNC this summer, says it is because Gaffett is so knowledgeable about all aspects of Block Island, whether it is plants, animals, history, or art. Gaffett graciously credits others with her wealth of knowledge, and will quickly steer the conversation back to what’s important: the natural world.

She points out the importance of bird monitoring for tracking changes in bird populations. The National Audubon Society reported in
2019 that North America had lost one fourth of its bird populations since 1970, “primarily as a result of human activities.” This represents a loss of three billion North American birds, according to the NAS. As a licensed bird bander, Gaffett has provided valuable data from Block Island on bird populations.
Additionally, bird monitoring helps track species movement and relocation due to climate change. “For instance, we are seeing Carolina wrens on the island now, which we never used to see,” Morin said, describing Block Island as an important stopover spot
for migratory birds. In addition to moving northward, migrations are “starting at different times as the climate changes,” he said.

In addition to the birds seen on Wednesday morning, Gaffett and the participants also encountered a Block Island meadow vole, a
unique sub-species of vole. Gaffett said that these voles have been separated from the mainland population for so long that they have evolved some unique characteristics. Gaffett planned to keep the vole until the following Friday, when he will be featured as the live subject of her Art and Nature program, before being released back into the wild.
Gaffett will be banding birds on Tuesday mornings at 7:30 a.m. at the Ocean View, and welcomes visitors of all ages. Drop in and see
the scientists at work; you are sure to learn and see all sorts of fun things.