Banding Coalition of the Americas: A new generation continues the Bob and Martha Sargent legacy
by Angela Minor
“In the fall of 2007, my father purchased tickets for a birding field trip to Fort Morgan Peninsula [on the Gulf Coast of Alabama],” said Emma Rhodes, co-founder of Banding Coalition of the Americas (BCA). “As part of our trip, we visited the public bird banding station operated by Bob and Martha Sargent,” founders of the renowned Hummer/Bird Study Group (HBSG).
“While there, Bob picked me out of the crowd and asked if I would like to release a bird. I was ecstatic! He carefully placed a yellow-rumped warbler in my hand, where it sat for a moment before flying away. After that,” she states, “I was hooked. Two years later [at age 14], I started training under the Sargent’s tutelage to become a bird bander.”
The sad passing of Bob Sargent in 2014 and subsequent dissolution of HBSG deepened the resolve of Rhodes, her fellow co-founder Kyle Shepard, and director-at-large Julia Elliott to carry on the critical avian research of this beloved couple. “All three of us started our journeys with HBSG and wanted to continue the work of our former mentors. We began BCA as a conservation effort to monitor bird populations and provide more training opportunities to the next generations of scientists and conservationists.
“We are all volunteers and do this out of passion for birds and scientific research,” Rhodes continued. “One of our goals is to achieve greater knowledge of bird migration connectivity by building better connections throughout the Americas, including Central and South America. By doing this, we can better understand birds’ full annual cycles (i.e., their breeding, nonbreeding and migratory ranges) and build [coalitions] to help migratory birds through research and conservation efforts. And,” she added, “this is how we came up with the name Banding Coalition of the Americas.”
BCA’s actions to accomplish their goals include public bird-banding events, scientific studies followed by publication, data management, social outreach, and more. “We also have plans to implement more advanced avian tracking techniques, such as RFID and radio telemetry tags. Then we can collect data more efficiently and obtain information that we cannot get from bands alone,” Rhodes said.
“Birds are indicator species,” she said. “They give us insight into the health of the ecosystems they inhabit. By conserving birds and their habitats, we not only ensure that future generations can enjoy them but that entire ecosystems are conserved, which are also important to human health and well-being.
“Bob would always talk about the need for habitat conservation and why the Fort Morgan State Historic Site property was critical for birds since their habitats have been quickly dwindling over the past several decades. He would tell us how the maritime scrub habitat was a haven for migrating birds that needed a place to rest before continuing their journey, whether heading south across the Gulf of Mexico to their wintering grounds or continuing north to their breeding grounds.
“The Sargents operated the Fort Morgan banding site for nearly 30 years. We think it is critical to continue their work, as well as determine how bird migration has shifted at this location. So, this October we will be hosting a public bird-banding event at the original site that HBSG once operated. It is a great opportunity to learn about birds and see migration occur. It is a free event (with a small entrance fee at the fort). People may also get an opportunity to release a bird,” she added with a smile.
“The Sargents taught me how to become the best bird bander, educator, and avian researcher that I can be. They changed my life and influenced my life trajectory. They showed me that you could take a person who knows nothing about bird conservation and turn them into an advocate for birds simply by giving them an opportunity to be up close and personal with banding. I watched as the Sargents’ work changed people’s lives for the better. They inspired me to become the person I am today, dedicated to continuing their good work.”
For more info on BCA and how to participate, visit www.bandingcoalition.org.
Fort Morgan Bird Banding Event
October 1 – October 7, 2021
State Highway 180, 23 miles west of Gulf Shores, AL
About the Author
Angela’s first avian adventure was a 1,000-mile road trip just to look at hummingbirds. She has lived, traveled, and birded across the continental U.S., Alaska, the Caribbean, and seven European countries over the past three decades.
She’s a contributing editor at Blue Ridge Country magazine; writes feature articles on travel and nature for national and regional print publications; serves as Field Editor with Birds & Blooms and is a “Park Watch” Beat Writer for 10,000 Birds; and authored numerous state park birding articles on birdwatchersdigest.com.
Angela currently birds across the country in a camper where she’s likely forgotten to pack an extra pair of shoes but always remembers her binoculars and old-school (paper) field guides and checklists.
About the Author
Out There With the Birds is the official blog of Bird Watcher's Digest, featuring engaging content, commentary, and creativity from some exciting new voices. New posts appear several times a week, so please check back often!