Some initiatives work out ok, others exceed all expectations. The Bird-Banding and Molt Analysis course certainly went beyond everything the organizers had hoped for. About two years ago, Jared Wolfe and Gonçalo Ferraz started toying with the idea of organizing a bird-banding course at the BDFFP (Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, near Manaus, Brazil). The number of banders in the Manaus region had been increasing steadily and the knowledge about molt cycles of BDFFP birds had improved substantially thanks to Jared’s and Erik Johnson’s work between 2006 and 2010. It seemed like perfect timing for a course that offered both technical banding skills and a detailed review of molt biology - with an eye to aging and sexing local birds. Such a course would require a high instructor-to-student ratio and a well-balanced combination of basic training with in-depth analysis of molt cycles. We made it happen this year, on October 14-20, 2012, at Camp 41 of the BDFFP.
With the help of INPA, the Costa Rica Bird Observatories, and the US Klamath Bird Observatory we put together a stellar international team of four instructors with profound experience of neotropical bird study and banding training: Jared Wolfe (US), Erik Johnson (US), Pablo Elizondo (Costa Rica), and Andrés Henao (Colombia). The combined tally of birds banded by the four of them adds up to more than 50,000 animals. The instructor team was assisted by one field hand (Jairo Lopes) and three INPA graduate students (Francisco Diniz, Tatiana Straatmann, and Aída Rodrigues) who worked tirelessly cleaning trails, putting up nets, taking down nets, and extracting birds for students to process. One half of the students came from INPA’s graduate program and the other half came from all over Latin America including Aracajú, Cali, Belém, São Paulo, Arequipa, Macapá, Bogotá, João Pessoa, and Iquitos.
We banded every morning for five consecutive days of perfect weather, had lectures every afternoon, and were often greeted by a young Harpy Eagle that is being raised only hundreds of meters away from camp 41. In total, we banded 430 birds from 59 species, including three Myrmornis torquata, one Onychorhynchus coronatus, and one Laniocera hypopyrra - to mention just a few of the most exciting. A multiple-choice test at the end of the course confirmed that students actually understood fundamental concepts of molt and of the cycle system for aging tropical birds, confirming that it is possible to combine basic technical training with a detailed appreciation of molt. Perhaps the key achievement of the course was that students learned not just how to safely capture and process birds, but also to scientifically ‘read’ a bird’s plumage from an ecological and evolutionary point of view. Beyond this, we had an outstanding experience of international collaboration and all went home convinced that real science knows no national borders.