“Wind coming from the north at 4 miles-per-hour”, Coffman uttered while standing in the parking lot at Miller Farm. Coffman added that any north wind may be advantageous for his work tonight. On this cool, mid-October evening, my wife and I met with Jim Coffman, birder, and bird-bander, to watch and participate in his fall routine of capturing and banding Northern Saw-Whet owls at Miller Farm.
Coffman has been banding birds since the 1980’s and banding Saw-Whets at Miller Farm since 2016, with varying degrees of success. According to Coffman, timing is everything when it comes to capturing the Saw-Whet. Coffman hopes to take advantage of the Saw-Whet’s fall migration when new birds pass through the area on their way to warmer climates for the winter. To date, Coffman estimated that he has banded around 50 Saw-Whets. Coffman’s best night of banding “netted” him seven Saw-Whets. Coffman added that he typically catches 2-3 Screech Owls per year. So far this year, Coffman has netted and banded two Saw-Whets in six attempts.
Our work began by deploying mist nets in the pine grove at the south end of Miller Farm. In the near dark, these mist nets are strung along on poles arranged in the main walkway of the pines. An electronic caller is used to attract the Saw-Whet to the pines, and the mist nets. Once the nets were set up and the caller was turned on, we departed the scene and returned to the Miller Farm garage and allowed the nets and caller to do their job.
We typically waited for a half-hour to forty-five minutes and then returned to the nets to look for any catches. During these waiting periods, we discussed various subjects and listened for coyotes and other night critters. Unfortunately, for this night, there were no Saw-Whets caught in the nets. At a little after ten o’clock, we called it a night and took down the nets. Coffman told us that his fellow bander, Tom Bartlett, was also trapping and banding Saw-Whets that night, on Kelly’s Island. Bartlett reported that he only trapped two Saw-Whet’s and Coffman suspected that Bartlett’s low success may be an indicator that the Saw-Whet’s migration may not be ongoing in earnest. After returning to the parking lot, we said our good-bye’s and left for home; only to barely miss colliding with an owl that was flying over the road. Go figure.