This past weekend, RGS staff members were fortunate to attend the now annual Woodcock Banding Clinic at Pineridge Grouse Camp near Remer, Minnesota. I (RGS/AWS Regional Director Nick Larson) was joined by coworkers: Mark Fouts, director of member relations and outreach; Meadow Kouffeld-Hansen, regional wildlife biologist and Ted Dick, MN DNR forest game bird coordinator. We walked away from this weekend completely satisfied, excited about the future of woodcock banding as well as having an even greater appreciation for the unique and amazing bird that is the American woodcock.
The format for the weekend consisted of significant classroom time, which included presentations by experienced and certified woodcock banders Earl Johnson and Donna Dustin. Also included was a presentation by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and a habitat walk on Pineridge property with Kevin Sheppard of ABC. Other experienced banders present were Terry Petro, Tye Sonney and Jerry Forgit. Among them, they have cumulatively banded hundreds of woodcock and shared a constant stream of information, experiences and strategies for all of the future woodcock banders in attendance. Our afternoons consisted of breaking off into smaller groups to train and certify dogs, as well as search for woodcock broods to band. Experienced banders were paired with apprentice newcomers, and we took to the woods in the surrounding area.
Bird dogs play an important and unique role to this type of woodcock banding, specifically pointing dogs. For those not familiar with the process, a pointing dog is run in suspected nesting cover much like a hunting scenario. When the dog goes on point, the banders then move in, extremely carefully in order to first secure the dog by tying it to a tree on a short lead and then begin searching for birds on the ground. Once the dog is secure, banders must tread carefully as the woodcock hen and/or chicks are absolute masters of camouflage as any experienced woodcock hunter knows. Most of the banders time is spent standing perfectly still and scanning the ground until the tiny birds take form and appear on the ground below. Once all of the birds are accounted for and visually marked, the banders swiftly gather them up and gently place them in mesh bags on the ground for temporary holding. At this point, banders carefully and quickly record the necessary data, place bands on legs and return the birds to their natural cover. The dog is untied and led in the opposite direction as the banders leave the area and let the hen return to the brood.
The experience at Pineridge Grouse Camp last weekend was certainly one to remember. The group of people that came together to participate shared a unique interest and passion for the American woodcock. That was evident throughout the weekend in all presentations, conversations and activities. Many of the newcomers, were fortunate enough to find our first broods and band our first woodcock chicks under the supervision of certified banders. Being able to find a brood of woodcock in their native habitat with the help of a good bird dog and then subsequently handling and banding chicks before releasing them left a lasting impression. As experienced bander Tye Sonney told me, after banding your first bird, you’ll be smiling about it for days. The experience also left me with an interest and a motivation to get involved and be a part of the banding effort next spring.
The more birds successfully banded, the more bands will be returned and/or called-in upon harvest. This in turn increases the data points for researchers in the ongoing study of woodcock habitat and biology. If a bird dog and bander can help in that effort, you can bet we’re going to take the opportunity to get involved. If not for the simple pleasure and enjoyment of getting out in the spring woods, then certainly to support the conservation effort of the birds we love and treasure.
THANK YOU to Jerry Havel and Pineridge Grouse Camp for supporting this event and making it happen. All participants enjoyed first rate accommodations at Pineridge, and it would be tough to think of a better venue for this type of event. Also, a huge THANK YOU goes out to Earl Johnson and Donna Dustin for coordinating the event and providing the formal educational component of the clinic. Their extensive knowledge and experience with woodcock banding was impressive and rivaled only by their willingness and passion for sharing this information and passing it along to a new group of hopeful woodcock banders. Thank you to Kevin Sheppard and his crew from American Bird Conservancy for the time and information they shared as well as their continued efforts in the conservation of woodcock and other bird species. To everyone else involved, THANK YOU for making this a special weekend.
For more information on woodcock banding in the state of Minnesota, please contact: Donna Dustin, Woodcock Banding Coordinator; 218-849-2148; firstname.lastname@example.org