Taking the Long View: An inside look at the goings-on at the longest running avian ecology field station west of the Mississippi.

UC Davis Banding Internship Experience, September 2022

This blog post was written by Point Blue’s Palomarin banding interns Maggie Bourda and Cameron Tescher with help from Mark Dettling, Banding Supervisor.

Palomarin – UC Davis Internship:

Hi! Our names are Cameron Tescher and Maggie Bourda, and we are currently bird banding interns at Point Blue’s Palomarin Field Station and are both Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology students at UC Davis. The banding internship is similar to the banding apprenticeship, though it lasts for 9 weeks instead of 5-7 months. We get trained on the skills of bird banding as well as learn about the conservation science behind the work at Palomarin. This opportunity was made possible by the Lloyd W. Swift Endowment Fund and the department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at UC Davis, which supports wildlife students by funding opportunities that will advance their career goals. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with Point Blue and be able to gain banding experience which will contribute to our future careers in wildlife conservation.

From Maggie Bourda:

When I arrived at Palo, I had little knowledge about birds or fieldwork. I didn’t know any songs or calls, nothing about molts, and very few species. In fact, within an hour of my arrival here, one of the apprentices asked me, “If you haven’t had any experience with birds, why did you choose this internship?” The answer was that I wanted to learn! Jumping into a field position totally blind was very intimidating at first, especially when all of my coworkers had been birding or doing fieldwork for years. However, my lack of experience made it very easy to see how much I was growing, since I knew that I was coming from knowing almost nothing about birds.

As the weeks went by, I gradually learned more and more bird songs and learned to identify many species by seeing them in the hand. One of my favorite things I have been learning is the behaviors of different bird species. For instance, Bewick’s Wrens, when in hand, will often puff up their feathers to make themselves look bigger and scarier, but to a bander, the Bewick’s Wren just looks even more adorable. Meanwhile, Wrentits (a favorite species here at Palo), make an angry “churring” sound when released back into their territories after banding. Song Sparrows are feisty and often try to bite your fingers and flap their wings during extractions.

Despite my initial lack of knowledge, in my final couple of weeks here, I have been able to become a backup bird bander. This means that I have more independence and often check mist nets and extract birds on my own. Going from knowing almost nothing about birds to having so much independence in just two months has given me more confidence in myself and my future career in wildlife conservation.

Maggie Bourda with a Bewick’s Wren. Photo taken by Naomi Burns.


From Cameron Tescher:

When living, birding, and banding at Palomarin, one thing that intrigued me was the bird diversity here. Coming from Davis, with its mix of inland agriculture and oak woodlands, to the coastal scrub, live oak, and Douglas fir forests of Palomarin, there is quite a change in bird diversity. Being here from July to September, it was interesting noting the numbers of birds and where I usually see or hear them. First of all, I am really amazed by which birds choose which vegetation and where birds are seen or caught. For example, there are a couple mist nets near coyote brush and poison oaks that are known to capture Wrentits, a bird often found in coastal scrub. However, in many of the nets deep in the Douglas fir forests, we get birds such as Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Also, while doing area searches (a type of bird survey that covers a specific plot) around the nets, there would often be a Pygmy Nuthatch, a bird that associates with the Douglas firs, that I would hear in the forest but not in the coastal scrub. The opposite case is with California Scrub-Jays, a bird we rarely catch but often see and hear, which we more often see in the coastal scrub and not in the forests.

Another thing worth noting is the different species in Davis versus Palomarin. I will focus on comparing Palomarin with Putah Creek Riparian Reserve in Davis since that is a spot many people like to bird. Unlike Palomarin, where live oak and Douglas fir forests and coastal scrub are the dominant habitats, Putah Creek has valley oak woodlands, cottonwood and willow riparian, and large agricultural fields. In Putah Creek, there are a large number of White-breasted Nuthatches, Oak Titmice, and Yellow-billed Magpies while at Palomarin, they are very rare or do not occur. However, at Palomarin, there is a large number of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Hairy Woodpeckers, and Steller’s Jays which are very rare or do not occur along Putah Creek. Some summer breeders like Bullock’s Orioles and Ash-throated Flycatchers breed in large numbers along Putah Creek while they are very uncommon migrants in Palomarin (I’ve only seen two Bullock’s Orioles and no Ash-throated Flycatchers here). At Palomarin, birds like Wilson’s Warblers and Olive-sided Flycatchers breed but are only seen along Putah Creek as migrants. There are also birds like Pine Siskin, Purple Finches, and Red-breasted Nuthatches that breed at Palomarin, but are only irruptive along Putah Creek in winter.

Lastly, I was interested in learning how the environment at Palomarin has changed and impacted certain species. Years ago, it used to be much more coastal scrub with very few trees. However, with the lack of disturbance, Douglas firs and other larger trees have encroached through much of the area leading to less coastal scrub and more forests currently. This did change the species diversity, for example species like White-crowned Sparrow and California Towhees used to be much more common as they thrive in coastal scrub. Now there are very few left and we rarely see, hear, or band them here. Also, it makes me wonder if species like Golden-crowned Kinglets and Red-breasted Nuthatches, forest birds we often see, hear, and band, didn’t occur much in Palomarin until recently during the encroachment. It is really interesting to learn about how over time, species diversity changes along with the changes in habitat.

Cameron Tescher with a California Scrub-Jay. Photo taken by Larissa Babicz.


Point Blue interns, apprentices, and staff at our Palomarin Field Station share these blog posts in an effort to further engage the public in our science. We are grateful to our partners at the Point Reyes National Seashore and to our surrounding Bolinas and West Marin County community for their support of our work.

Our Palomarin Field Station is open to the public by appointment only.  Consider visiting us!  Learn how on our contact & visit us web page.