People Who Make A Difference: Mark Conway

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas - The Rio Grande Valley is home to one of the most accomplished citizen scientists in the nation. Richard Moore introduces us to master bird bander, Mark Conway.

Clapping vigorously as they trudge thru marsh at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, a handful of volunteers work to drive birds into a waiting mist net.
 
Reaching the net, volunteers quickly remove birds from their brief entanglement, place them safely in bags and deliver them to master bird bander Mark Conway.
 
Conway is a biology teacher at Harlingen South High School, but on weekends and holidays he has been diligently banding birds for the past 18 years. How many birds has he banded?
 
Mr. Conway said, "Over 13,000, along with over 2,000 recaptures of birds that I have banded previously."
 
By placing metal bands with numbers on the legs of captured birds, specially licensed researches then release the birds in hopes of capturing them again to learn more about their life histories from longevity to migration patterns. Conway has longevity records for five species, including a Long-billed thrasher at nine years and four months.
 
On this day he is focusing on rare Seaside sparrows that are a unique local subspecies, and he has a recapture.
 
"From January 6, 2016, and we caught it in exactly the same spot right out there."
 
Next up is a tiny Marsh wren that has migrated to the Rio Grande Valley to spend the winter, and it is also a recapture from last year.
 
"This little guy with this little tiny brain knew how to find that one spot from probably at least a 1,000 miles away.  And, I have no clue as to how they do it.  Some people think they use magnetic fields, some people think they use the stars. It could be a combination of both, but whatever it is, it is just fascinating." Added Conway.
 
Thanks to dedicated researches like Mark Conway, biologists are beginning to unravel the mysteries of bird migration.


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