The Cape May Raptor Banding Project: The Ultimate Monster Canning & Cuddling Facility, Part One

Monster In A Can
Monster In A Can

You probably deserve an explanation as to why there is a Raptor upside down in a tin can in the above photo, much like you did when there was a Peregrine Falcon in my freezer. First of all, you’ll be both delighted and confused to learn that the monster in the can is very much alive. Secondly, I need to be brief as I am currently drafting several important Scientific Study Proposals, including such gems as “Are Kestrel Really As Cute As We Think They Are” and “Which Raptors Like It Best When I Pet Them.”  I’m in a rush to finish these as I just returned from a thrill-of-a-lifetime visit with the Cape May Raptor Banding Project where I learned that they accept proposals for studies that could benefit from participating in their important research. Acceptance would mean a chance to return to Cape May and relive one of the greatest days of my young life;  a day spent canning & cuddling adorable ‘lil monsters in the name of science with hero, comedian, educator extraordinaire, Raptor-holic, and all around great-guy, the “PM”, Paul Napier.

"PM" Paul Napier canning a Coopers Hawk. While Paul is informally considered the "President" of the Project, PM doesn't stand for "Prime Minister". It stands for "Puppet Master".
“PM” Paul Napier sticking that Cooper’s Hawk in a can. While Paul is the “El Presidente” of the Raptor Banding Project, PM doesn’t stand for “Prime Minister” as you might be assuming. It stands for “Puppet Master”. More on that later. Paul has been volunteering for the Cape May Raptor Banding Project since the ’80s, but since the Cape May Raptor Banding Project has collectively banded, recorded, and cuddled over 140,000 Raptors over 40-plus years, he still humbly calls himself a “novice”
"PM" Paul Napier of the Cape May Raptor Banding Project, clearly petting that Coopers Hawk.
“PM” Paul Napier of the Cape May Raptor Banding Project, clearly petting that Cooper’s Hawk.
I kan haz cuddlez???!11???
“Privacy pleaz. Iz kuddle time wif the PM.”

While thousands of tourists flock to the Cape May Hawk Watch platform during migration each fall to crowd themselves and (probably, accidentally) double and triple count tiny black specks of migrating raptors way far up in the sky, just down the road, hidden away in a beautiful marsh, the Cape May Raptor Banding Project is quietly catching & canning, recording & banding, and quickly cuddling the migrating Raptors, all up-close and personal.

The Cape May Raptor Banding Project is over 40 years old now and has banded an astounding 140,000 Raptors. They are formally established as a non-profit 501-C, but are basically a small bunch of dedicated, volunteer, and totally crazy raptor-holics who each sign up to man, for a week or two each Fall, one of the Project’s four blinds hidden around Cape May. Its like a crazy timeshare for the Raptor Obsessed.

I would trade a month in a Palm Springs mansion for a few days in this beauty on the Jersey Shore.
Kathy Clark mistakes me for a Bald Eagle from The Blind: I would trade a month in a Palm Springs mansion for a few hours in this beautiful “timeshare” on the Jersey Shore.
View From The Blind: Northern Harrier, comin' in hot!
Blind With A View: Northern Harrier, comin’ in hot!

Without a mansion in Palm Springs to trade, how did we, Dear Reader, come to find ourselves in this dream Timeshare? It was all thanks to a very lucky email exchange with Kathy Clark, the legendary Zoologist for the State of New Jersey, A.K.A., “The Great Mother Of All Cool Things You Can’t Shoot With A Gun In New Jersey”:

3:54 PM Kathy Clark Wrote:

We had another (good) encounter with one of the flowerpot gang:  58/AM (male) was recaptured at Cape May on 10/4, and reported to be in excellent health.  Always good to hear.

3:55 PM Northside Jim Wrote:

“recaptured”????? How do you capture a PEFA?????!!!11???

4:01 PM Kathy Clark Wrote:

You would have to leave the Island to find out.

4:10PM Northside Jim wrote:

OK. I have left the Island. Now tell me where to go to capture my PEFA

It turned out we had to wait a week, which gave me plenty of time to wonder continually about how exactly one goes about capturing a PEFA (Peregrine Falcon), or any other Raptor for that matter, until we finally met yesterday in the pre-dawn hours near Cape May. As it turns out, catching Raptors it is all about human cunning, skill, and technology. While much of it is indeed quite complicated, you should be able to get your head around it if you have ever gone fishing or watched the various trapping mechanics employed on Looney Toons.

Acme Raptor Trap. Clothespins, wire, and twisty ties. Use your very best Elmer Fudd impersonation to say aloud, "Wee-wa hunting Waptaw!"
Acme Raptor Trap. Clothespins, wire, and twisty ties. Use your very best Elmer Fudd impersonation to say aloud, “Wee-wa hunting Waptaw!”
PM Paul readying a Raptor Trap. The set up is basically a cozy blind overlooking a gorgeous marsh, with a small Garden Of Traps in the front yard. There are a variety of traps in different sizes throughout the garden, all consisting of nets, lures, and triggers.
PM Paul readying the largest trap just before dawn. The set up is basically a cozy blind overlooking a gorgeous marsh, with a small Garden Of Traps in the front yard. There are a variety of traps in different sizes throughout the garden, all consisting of nets, lures, and triggers.
A spring loaded trap is prepped.
A spring loaded net and tripper is prepped.
The Booby Trapped Garden
The Booby Trapped Garden
You need to be very careful where you stepped, as all the traps are wired through the Garden, back to the Blind. Much like in Walking On Eggshells with Allison Anholt, I think I sprung about 6 traps taking these photos, despite the repeated warnings from the PM.
You need to be very careful where you step, as all the traps are wired with cables through the Garden back to the Blind. Much like in Walking On Eggshells with Allison Anholt, I think I sprung about 6 traps taking these photos, despite the repeated warnings from the PM.
The Puppet Master. Paul Napier controls the lures and traps from inside the Blind. The lures take a variety of forms and looking much like old socks lying in the garden when dormant, and surprisingly like flailing Pigeons when Puppetmaster Paul hanks the string.
The Puppet Master. Paul Napier controls the lures and traps from inside the Blind. The lures take a variety of forms and, looking much like old socks lying in the garden when dormant, look surprisingly like tasty, flailing Pigeons when Puppetmaster Paul yanks the string.

With everything prepped and ready-to-go in the garden, it is time to sit still in the blind, to wait, and watch the beautiful world outside in the marsh. But hold on… what’s that… ????

... it's heading right for us!
It’s a Bald Eagle! … and it’s heading right for us!111!!!

Me: Hey, I think that’s a Bald Eagle comin’ in hot. Please yank those strings Mr. Puppet Master!

Paul: It is still too far off to be lured in, and is heading out towards the Bay. Let’s be patient and see if he turns towards us.

Me: Yeah, well… I don’t know about all that… but just keep yoinking on those strings anyway! Woo hoo!

So what happens next? Do we capture the Bald Eagle? Does anyone have a can big enough for it? Does it like it when I pet it?????

Stay tuned for Part Two of The Cape May Raptor Banding Project: The Ultimate Monster Canning & Cuddling Facility to find out.

UPDATE: Part Two has been posted. Click here to read Part Two.