Last Sunday I braved the snowy brick streets of Athens and journeyed out to Vinton County for a visit with bird watching expert, Robert Scott Placier. Bob Scott graciously invited me into his home to learn the art of banding (capturing birds, taking their measurements and setting them free!) and the glory and excitement of bird watching. Yes, I repeat, the excitement of bird watching.
As soon as I arrived at Bob Scott’s home I was directed around his house only to find a little Blue Jay in a metal cage, happily pecking at some frozen bird seed. To my surprise (shock and horror) Bob Scott grabbed the jay, dropped it into a mesh sack and walked into his home. Dodging 50-pound bags of seed and towering stacks of ornithology books, all while holding a struggling and petrified bird, Bob Scott led me to his kitchen table slash work space.
While banding the Blue Jay with an aluminum ring, I finally got over my initial shock and was able to ask him a few questions before our formal interview. While talking, I watched as he measured, weighed, blew on (to find fat deposits) and prodded at the bird before finally releasing it outside.
“Are Blue Jays common?” I asked. Holy dumb question, Batman! Of course Blue Jays are common. Shows how much I know about birds.
“Yes, they are very common, although last winter I didn’t have any. Last winter we had a total failure around here of the acorn crop and very few hickory nuts and they are really dependent on acorns in the winter as a food.”
I was then left thinking only of frozen birds. :’(
Before I left his home, Bob Scott would catch another Blue Jay (and yes, I watched again in shock) and record its information in a large notebook to later be entered into a database located in Laurel, Maryland. He explained to me how he would capture birds that had migrated from Louisiana and Canada, and his banded birds were all over the country. This man meant business.