This piece was written by Emy Guilbault, a PhD candidate in the School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences and NUPSA’s International Representative.


 

Hobbies. Well, before I start writing about it, I need – as a good scientist does (or it is just me?) – to start with a definition: “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.” That sounds exciting, but let’s focus, shall we?

For a long time, if you had asked me the question, I would have answered in a heartbeat that my true love was basketball. I have played for a long time and enjoy every minute, every intense run, every hard competition… but heart and body don’t always go well together, and my Achilles injury has made me sit on the side line for a good two months now. I’m not so sure it is a hobby anymore. Does thinking about it count?

In any case, everyone can have multiple hobbies. And to those postgrad students that think their PhD is their hobby – let me tell you, you are missing on some amazing things.

But let’s not get lost here. I am here to talk about hobbies, not lost love hobbies (hopefully not forever). Not an extremely time-consuming work hobby, but something you enjoy doing in your free time that makes you feel happy. But what is my hobby now? I have tried different activities, adult colouring (inspired by some recent NUPSA workshops) and others, but sometimes the thing you don’t think about or that is not obvious might be the good choice. There is one activity that I do enjoy – that I have done regularly, even if it is sometimes a couple of weeks apart.

Do you know what ‘banding’ is? Read that carefully, because with just one different letter you may start to judge me or see my whole monologue in a different sense. (Don’t judge: some people may like that too.) Anyway, I am talking about banding, bird banding.

I started this activity randomly back in France. Okay – not that randomly, because you don’t just happen to get a little bird in your hand and take its measurements and put a little piece of jewellery on him. (A band in English, but in French we call it a ring. Cute, right?) But I wanted to do some fieldwork, and so I started voluntary work at a banding station in Brittany.

Up close, you can truly enjoy their beauty, their colour, the span of their wings… and their nice little bites. They are wild creatures, after all. But my numb or injured fingers were never an issue when I could see them, deliver them from those nets and get a closer look. Safety warning: no creature was severely injured during those sessions. Every person was a trained professional.

Well… almost, but no bird was injured during any of my work that I know of. Not that they would come back to tell me anyway. But rest assured that no volunteer can do this job alone. You have to join a bander with a permit.

You may need some clarification to understand what I am talking about here. What is banding? Well it includes several different steps. I don’t know what it was about it that attracted me: waking up before the sun rose? Wearing some very fashionable hip waders? Getting into the water up to my belly to verify if our nets and trap got anything? I am pretty sure those were just extra. What I really like is having in my hands those small, beautiful creatures. To observe them up close is just so extraordinary.

Here are the steps:

  • You choose a good habitat condition (pond, forest) for the capture of some birds and set up some traps or nets.
  • You open the nets/traps and check regularly if any animals have been caught.
  • You carefully remove the bird from its trap.
  • You identify the species, attach a band to identify it and take some measurements of this little athlete: wing length, beak/head dimension, tail length, age, sex, etc.
  • You release it, and you may catch it again in couple of weeks, months or years! And even in another country if it is a migratory bird!

 

 

Obviously, you need a bit of patience to learn how to recognize different species. And ho boy, get ready: they change plumage from juveniles to adults, and you can see how their feathers change shape and develop amazing colours. Females and males can present different plumage – usually the male makes the effort of displaying an amazing plumage to attract the female. I don’t know if nature is telling us something there or not.

I know this hobby may come as a surprise, but everyone has different tastes and things they enjoy doing, even if it is isolating themselves in a forest to look at beautiful birds! I also have to say – damn, Australia, your birds are pretty incredible! Europe has birds of multiple colours, sizes and shapes, and I have banded flamingos, bearded reedlings, Eurasian wrynecks and bluethroats. (Yes, I am a bit of a bird nerd sometimes.) But this country has shown me another kind of diversity, and my new favourite is the variegated fairywren. It has this blue electric colour that you cannot keep your eyes off!

You do have to admit that, when they look at you, even the tiniest of birds has such captivating and spellbinding look.

I know we can enjoy many different hobbies, but for me it is hob-birds!

 

 

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