Warbler Heaven

By Kevin Kubik

Springtime is an amazing time for birdwatching and if you’re lucky enough to live near a favorite location of migrating birds then it’s that much better.  Sandy Hook, NJ which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area is one of those spots visited by so many species of migrating birds.  Recently, while birding there, we happened upon Professor Thomas Brown of the College of Staten Island, who was busy netting and banding birds in the back woods at the park.  Professor Brown has permits from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that allow him to net, band and release the birds.  He was nice enough to spend time to explain the entire operation, which was both educational and really cool.

A banded Magnolia Warbler (Photo courtesy Jan Green)

He showed us the nets which reminded me of huge volleyball nets – only they extended right to the ground.  These nets were placed even deeper into the wooded area.  Professor Brown and his students would remove the netted birds, transfer them to collapsible net cages and bring them back to a table where they would systematically catalog and band each bird.  Data recorded included species, age, weight, body fat and length.  The birds were then released.

There was an abundance of birds that day, but the species-of-the-day was warblers.  These birds, which were only 3 – 4 inches long were as varied as they were colorful.   One after another, warblers  were removed from the net cages and added to Professor Brown’s file.  We saw Magnolia Warblers, and Common Yellowthroat Warblers and Canadian Warblers and Northern Parula Warblers and American Redstarts.

A warbler gets weighed (Photo courtesy Jan Green)

In glancing at the professor’s log we noticed that many other warblers were caught and released, including Cape May Warblers and a Blackburnian Warbler which apparently was a prized catch.  Also caught and released that morning were a box turtle and a vole.

It’s amazing how quickly the species change during the migration season.  Each week there seems to be a completely different group of birds at the park.  All you need are binoculars and a little patience and an extraordinary world is available to you.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik serves as the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center.  He has worked as a chemist for the Region for more than 29 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.