March 31st, 2008

Banding Hummers
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

The Lady Fisher has told you in her column that I have been banding hummingbirds. I've been a federally licensed bird bander for 44 years this June, and for the last few years I have been assisting another bander in southeastern Arizona band hummingbirds. It started out as a joint venture; my wife would record the information and I would trap the birds for my friend to band. Now that I am a solo act I continue to trap the birds, but others have to do the recording.

What does banding hummingbirds have to do with fly fishing? Well, in a word nothing and everything.

I was initially attracted to fly fishing for trout because it looked like fun. I continue to fish with flies because it requires a bit more knowledge and physical dexterity than baiting a hook or chucking a shiny piece of metal with some hooks attached. Fly fishing fits my personality.

Fly fishing requires attention to detail, and I like detail. When JC and I taught fly-fishing and fly tying classes we told our students that fly-fishing offered something for everyone. If you wanted to study entomology so that you knew the names of the bugs there was a place for you, but if you wanted to ignore the entomology and just go fishing you could do that too. Some people enjoy learning to make all kinds of casts and others just want to cast well enough to get the fly out to the fish. Well there's room for you too. However, even those only minimally concerned about the intricacies of the sport must give some attention to detail to make it work.

Capturing hummingbirds requires timing and quick reflexes, and fly casting requires similar physical attributes. Casting a tight loop, not dropping or hurrying your back cast all require timing if you hope to execute them properly. Well honed reflexes are necessary to insure that the hook is set at the proper time, that slack is picked up quickly after the fish is hooked, and that the angler can make the necessary adjustments by applying just the right amount of pressure that will allow the fish to be landed in an expeditious manner.

We band hummingbirds with very small metal bands that are sent to us in sheets like a piece of paper with numbers printed on it. The bands are cut from the sheet by hand, and each band is then formed by hand. Since the birds vary in size from very small to not quite so small the bands have to be trimmed to meet the needs of the various sized birds that we band.

Preparing the bands is like tying flies; very small flies. Too much material will over dress the pattern and make it inefficient, and a band that is too large will not properly fit on the tiny shank of the hummingbird's leg. You must choose the right size band for the individual bird, and you must choose the right size fly for a particular hatch. Placing the band on the bird requires a delicate touch, and tying and fishing small flies requires a similar dexterity.

Hummingbirds are tiny winged jewels, and what is more beautiful than a male Brook Trout or a bright silver steelhead fresh from the sea? I love to watch the hummingbirds feeding on wild flowers, and I love to watch a wild trout rising to sip a mayfly from the surface of a pool.

Banding hummingbirds has many similarities to fly fishing. Mostly it requires me to keep learning, and that is what I find so appealing about fly fishing. Each new season brings new challenges, each situation requires a slightly different approach, and each experience adds to the adventure of life that makes each day worth living.

By banding hummingbirds we hope to enhance our understanding of these tiny winged jewels, and by increasing our understanding we hope that we can help assure that they will continue to be around for future generations to enjoy. By writing about fly fishing and passing on the knowledge gained over the years I hope that I will help others find the enjoyment in the sport that has nourished my soul over these many years, and insure that future generations will have the opportunities that I have enjoyed to fish for wild fish in beautiful places. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

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