Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An update on Ember

My last post described how we found the identity of the Peregrine Falcon hanging around at the Fairlane Plaza South building at Hubbard Drive and Southfield. From her unique combination of leg bands, we determined that this bird's name is Ember, a female Peregrine hatched in April 2010 in a nest box on a smokestack at the Louisville Gas and Electric (LG&E) Mill Creek Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River just south of Louisville, Kentucky.

I ended up hearing from Kate Heyden, an avian biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. She handles the Peregrine monitoring in the state, and was the person who banded Ember as a nestling!

Kate generously sent along these cool photos from Ember's "early days."

Here is Ember being banded on 5 May 2010. Photo courtesy
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Here she is with two of her siblings (I'm not sure which one of the three is her), along with the female parent on the right, about a week later at the nest site. Amazing how quickly they mature -- the chicks now have much of their white down replaced by adult-looking feathers. Photo courtesy Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

My last report of a sighting of Ember was on 8 December, but it's likely she is still around. I also had a report from someone else in the building that they believe they saw a bird with different colored bands, so another Peregrine may be present. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ember: Kentucky Peregrine moves to Dearborn

Peregrine Falcons have been seen regularly in Dearborn since 1991, and have been reported annually since 2000. Up until a few years ago, their regular haunts included the Ford Rouge Plant, the concrete channel of the Rouge River, and the Ford Test Track.

Since 2005, Peregrines have been most often seen in an area roughly bounded by Ford Road and Michigan Avenue, the Southfield Freeway and Mercury Drive (outlined in red on the map below, or in the vicinity of this marker).

This area has several appealing features, from the point of view of Peregrines. It has several of the sunflower/wildflower/crop fields planted by Ford, which attract a lot of birds, and it has a half-dozen tall buildings that are often favored by the falcons. One group in particular has been a hang-out for one and sometimes two Peregrines nearly every winter since 2005: Fairlane Plaza South (highlighted in yellow in the map above). It's the home of Ford Motor Land Development, the real estate subsidiary of Ford Motor Co. UM-Dearborn alum and former bird bander Tim Endlein first alerted me to these visitors, and has kept me posted ever since.

Getting a close look at a Peregrine is not easy. For example, the one that spent last winter in Dearborn on the Village Plaza building at Michigan and Outer Drive usually sat on a blind ledge, high up on the building. But the Fairlane Plaza birds often perch on the office window ledges. In 2007, I got this photo third-hand of an office-peeper:

One or possibly two Peregrines once again appeared in late summer at Fairlane Plaza, again sometimes seen on a window ledge.

These photos are frustrating, because the legs of the falcon are not readily visible. Many of the Peregrines in the region are banded with a unique combination of color bands that allow identification of individual birds. Beginning in the late 1970s, a large, cooperative effort to help this species recover from population declines due to DDT was launched. Hundreds of Peregrines were released in the Midwest, and the species is still intensively monitored. The Midwest Peregrine Society brings together many resources in the region.

After letting the Ford people know what to look for, and encouraging them to get a good photo of the legs of any Peregrine stopping by, I got this great shot:

The purple band is a standard U.S. Fish and Wildlife band which carries a nine-digit number. The band is purple to indicate this Peregrine was born in the wild. Since the etched band numbers are too hard to read from a distance, each bird gets a combination of color bands on the other leg with easily visible alpha-numeric codes. I was able to look up "black-over-red, 05 over H" in the Peregrine database.

Please meet Ember, a female Peregrine hatched in April 2010 in a nest box on a smokestack at the Louisville Gas and Electric (LG&E) Mill Creek Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River just south of Louisville, Kentucky! This location is about 320 miles away from Dearborn.

Ember is the offspring of one of only about a dozen pairs of nesting Peregrines in Kentucky. LG&E has Peregrine nesting sites at several of their facilities as part of their environmental initiative. The Mill Creek nest box was put up in 2006, and began being used the following year. Ember's mother was unbanded (as was the female each year at the site). Her father may be banded, but this is unconfirmed. Ember has three siblings: males named Volt and Dakota, and a female named Phoenix.

Ember left her nest on 19 May 2010. The photo above was taken in late July. Ford people have reported seeing her (and her bands) as recently as a week or so ago. As far as I have been able to determine so far, these are the first reports of the whereabouts of Ember since she left the nest site.

The Ford folks also think there has been another bird present at times. And since Ember is a youngster, she is obviously not the bird that wintered in previous years. I think everyone is motivated to get a good look at the legs of any falcon that visits at their windowsill now, and if we confirm any additional birds, I'll post an update.

Many thanks to Tim Endlein, Liz Saeger, and others at Ford; Mike O'Leary of the Dearborn Police Department; Chris Becher and Barb Baldinger, Peregrine monitors for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment; and all the others who regularly report Peregrine sightings to me. For more information on the local Peregrine program, please visit the updates on the Macomb Audubon Society page.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fall banding 2010 wrap up

I have summarized the fall 2010 banding season at the RRBO web site.

Click here for a detailed account of the season, including photos, a table, and some graphs. The page of our most commonly banded birds has also been updated. You can view overviews of previous banding seasons on this page.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bird-Friendly coffee piece on NPR

A bit of an aside on a topic that is important to me, and should be to all of us:

As I have mentioned here before, I am very involved in issues surrounding bird conservation and coffee growing. I was recently interviewed for a segment on Bird-Friendly coffee on Public Radio International's program "The World" which recently aired on over 300 NPR stations. You can read a transcript or hear the audio here. It runs about 5 minutes, and I'm on at the end.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if you are buying inexpensive, grocery-store coffee you are contributing to the destruction of bird habitat and the decline of migratory songbirds.

You can learn more at my web site Coffee & Conservation, starting with my user guide.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fall banding: Week #10 in review

Banding took place on five mornings this week, with several marred by the continued invasion of the banding area by deer. We banded 133 new birds of 24 species. The composition was decidedly autumnal: robins, sparrows, and kinglets dominated. An Orange-crowned Warbler and a lingering Blackpoll Warbler were the only warblers banded; Yellow-rumped Warblers remain conspicuously scarce.

There are many hundreds of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds in the area these days. Thousands are feasting on the sunflowers planted by Ford Motor Co. Large flocks, with a few Rusty Blackbirds mixed in, find their way to campus every day. They favor raiding the oak trees that are near, but not in, the banding area, so we usually don't catch too many. In fact, this was the first red-wing of the season:

This is an adult male. By next summer, the brown edging on his feathers will wear away, and he will have the jet black look we are more familiar with.

We have only banded about two dozen Brown Creepers since 1992. It is always a treat to get one of these delicate and sort of odd little birds.

We also don't band many White-breasted Nuthatches. In the fall, I'm twice as likely to catch a Red-breasted Nuthatch, even though we have few conifers and they tend to just pass through, than I am a White-breasted, although they are common residents.

Note the very gray cap contrasting with the darker nape, indicating this is a female.

We are still gathering good numbers of seed samples to determine dietary preferences of birds on fall migration. The composition is changing, with crabapples now showing up in samples as these fruits ripen. Earlier this season, I showed you that seeds are not the only thing we find that birds have consumed. This robin dropping contained a surprise. The dark seed is from Common Buckthorn, the light ones from Amur Honeysuckle. The other object is a jewelry clasp.

By this time of year, we usually spend quite a few mornings loitering around waiting for frost on the nets to melt, provided we have even been able to open them (they are rolled up when not in use, and can freeze shut). We had our first two frosty mornings of the season this week. It's hard to catch birds when the nets look like bed sheets.

The forecast is once again for mild weather, though, so we don't anticipate frost for the beginning of the week, although wind might be a problem. Somewhere, I have a photo of nets full of leaves....

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall banding: Week #9 in review

This week had great days, and very boring days, kind of strange for this time of year. Over five mornings we banded 103 new birds and had 22 recaps -- a higher proportion of recaptures than recent weeks, indicating birds are sticking around a bit. We've recaptured 5 kinglets (both species); typically we only recapture two a season of these wandering sprites.

Warblers are lingering, with four species banded this week: Black-throated Blue (below, putting us at nearly double our usual fall average), Nashville, Orange-crowned, and Common Yellowthroat.
We've only banded a few Yellow-rumped Warblers so far, and really haven't seen a large influx of them yet.

As is typical of this time of year, it's Sparrowpalooza time. Six species of sparrows were banded this week.Field Sparrow.

Fox Sparrow.

White-crowned Sparrow (with young, hatching-year birds like this dominating).

And Song, White-throated, and Dark-eyed Junco.

Hermit Thrushes seem to be around in typical numbers after last year's diminished season total of 27. We've had 30 so far. Due to improved collection techniques, we have obtained seed samples from about 57% of the Catharus thrushes we've handled this year, up from the previous three-year average of around 44%. Already our overall collection of seed samples has revealed different proportions of seed species in the droppings of bird compared to the past few years. Fruit crops can vary from year to year based on weather, pollinator availability, and perhaps "built-in" cycles. Our long-term study of these dynamics will help us understand which species of fruits are consistently important, and which are only used in the absence of others -- important data for habitat management.

And finally, we are preparing for our annual fundraising campaign. The University does not provide any funding for RRBO. It all comes from outside sources, with a large proportion coming from individual donors. If you aren't on our mailing list, please consider adding your name. You can also cut to the chase, and donate today!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

“Yellow” Palm Warblers

Palm Warblers (Dendroica palmarum) have two races — “Western” Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum palmarum) and “Eastern” or “Yellow” Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum hypochrysea).  The western race is found in Michigan, and The Birds of Michigan reports that the eastern race (which breeds from Quebec to northern New England) is “at best casual” in the state and gives one documented record, a bird banded in Kalamazoo in 1990.  The Rouge River Bird Observatory banded an eastern Palm Warbler on 1 Nov 2003 (which also represents a late date for Palm Warbler at this site).

This bird was a hatching-year (or juvenile) bird, based on the incomplete ossification of the skull.  It had no chestnut on the crown, and a fairly short wing, suggesting that it might be a young female.

Eastern Palm Warblers are very yellow in all plumages, while western birds are duller. The supercilium (eyebrow) is yellow, while in western birds the face is much browner, and the supercilium is buff-colored.  The entire breast and belly are yellow in eastern birds, with no contrast between the belly and the undertail coverts. Western Palm Warblers have buff bellies (which can be washed with yellow in fresh plumage) which always contrast with the brighter yellow undertail coverts.

Craves, J. A.  2003.  “Yellow” Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum hypochrysea) banded in Wayne Co. Michigan Birds and Natural History 10:99-100.

More “Yellow” Palm Warblers

Since this record, four more “Yellow” Palm Warblers have been recorded in Dearborn.
Two were sight records. One was along the channelized portion of the Rouge River on 5 Apr 2006, seen by Cathy Carroll; this is the earliest recorded spring arrival date for Palm Warbler in the city. The second was seen on a regular spring bird survey on campus,  29 Apr 2009, by Julie Craves.

Two more “Yellow” Palm Warblers have also been banded. The bird on the right was banded on 6 May 2008.  Note the bright yellow supercilium and the chestnut coloration of the breast streaks, and once again the uniform yellow coloration of the underparts. The shorter wing measurement of this bird could mean it was a female, although the crown patch was quite extensive which is more typical of a male. Thus, to be conservative, we left the bird sex as unknown.

On 9 October 2010, another “Yellow” Palm Warbler was banded (below). This was a hatching-year bird, as determined by the incomplete skull ossification. It had many chestnut-colored feathers in the crown over a broad area, although they were concealed, and a long wing measurement. This indicates the bird was a male. It was as bright or brighter than the 2003 bird, with some of the chest steaks also having a chestnut coloration.

For comparison, here is a typical fall “Western” Palm Warbler, of the form that is typically found migrating through Michigan:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fall banding: Week #8 in review

We banded all 7 days of week #8 (3-9 Oct), but several days were shortened by having to replace nets destroyed by deer. The deer herd on campus has gotten so large that we had to resort to surrounding the entire banding area in deer fencing several years ago. Due to budgetary constraints, we used relatively inexpensive plastic fencing which requires continual maintenance. Six got in earlier this week when a tree fell on the fence, causing considerable damage over several days.

Nonetheless, we banded 179 new birds of 30 species. Our best day was 5 Oct, when we handled a total of 63 birds. We breached our season high record for Blue Jays, which was set during our first season in 1992 with 19 birds. We're at 22 for the season now. Many banding stations east of us are having a banner year for kinglets, and it looks like we could be on track to break our own records as well, especially with Golden-crowned Kinglets.

This week was also the first strong showing of Hermit Thrushes. The most fecal samples I have obtained over the last three years for our dietary study was 41 from Swainson's, Gray-cheeked, and Hermit Thrushes combined. We're over that total already, with the bulk of Hermit Thrushes yet to come.

Speaking of thrushes, I recaptured a Gray-cheeked Thrush on 7 Oct that I originally banded on 1 Oct. It had a decent amount of fat upon first capture, and weighed 35.2 grams. When I recaptured it, it had piled on the fat and weighed 45.1 grams, an increase of 28% of its original mass in just six days. This is noteworthy, but not unusual for this species here. Gray-cheeked Over 25% of the Gray-cheeked Thrushes we've recaptured gained greater than 20% of their original mass, and about 10% of them gained more than 30%. This is especially interesting given that this species winters in northern South America. They have a long way to go, and it seems unusual for a bird to gain so much weight so early in their migration.

There were two highlight birds this week. First up was a young male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker banded on 4 Oct. This is only the fourth we've banded here since 1992. They are not uncommon here, but usually hang around above net-level.

The other bird was banded today (10 Oct) -- a Palm Warbler of the eastern or "Yellow" race, which nests east of Ottawa and usually migrates east of the Appalachians. We banded one in 2003 (photos and more info on the RRBO web site) and 2008 and have two spring sight records.

Yellow Palm Warblers, in addition to being slightly larger than the western form that typically migrates through Michigan, have very yellow underparts, with little contrast among the throat, belly, and undertails coverts. Overall they are more washed with yellow, including a yellow supercilium.

Western Palm Warblers, especially in fall, are pretty dull. Here is one from earlier this month:

Even in spring plumage, western birds have brownish chest -- you can see how it contrasts with the throat and undertail coverts in this spring bird in Florida (photo by Len Blumin):

Today's bird was a young (hatch-year) bird that was as bright or brighter than the 2003 bird, which had a short wing measurement and no chestnut color in the crown, indicating it may have been a female. Today's bird had many concealed chestnut crown feathers over a large area and a longer wing, making it a male.

I've updated the Palm Warbler page at the RRBO web site with some new photos later in the week. We average about nine Palm Warblers a fall season, and we are a few bird over that total so far this year -- maybe we'll have a few more individuals to show the range of western Palm Warbler plumages in fall.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fall banding: Weeks 6 & 7 in review

The last two weeks were characterized by some odd weather. Week #6 (19-25 Sep) featured a return to summer, with very warm weather and substantial south winds, not so good for migration. Last week (26 Sep-2 Oct) began with more of the same, and ended up with an ubrupt change to more autumn-like conditions, although wind and rain were involved. Thus, five full and two partial banding days were lost to weather.

For the period, we had 189 birds of 35 species. The wide diversity of warblers typical of mid-September began to give way to the birds of fall: White-throated Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, more American Robins. Blue Jays are migrating right now, and we've been catching more of them. It's pretty easy to tell a young blue jay from an adult. As in quite a few species, there is a difference in the shape of the outer tail feathers. In young birds, the first set of tail feathers is usually more pointed:

In older birds, these feathers tend to be blunter:

In theory, this can help you age the bird. In practice, if a young bird loses its tail feathers, they will grow back with the adult form. So if a jay has adult-shaped feathers, you need to have at another characteristic to verify the age. The primary coverts (the feathers that cover the bases of the outer flight feathers) and adjacent alula of young jays are dullish blue-gray or brownish-blue:

In adults, they are brighter blue, and usually barred:

These photos aren't the greatest to illustrate this -- in a lot of jays the differences are pretty obvious, while these individuals were not the best examples.

We had nine recaptures of birds we previously banded. The highlight was the Indigo Bunting that turned out to be oldest Indigo Bunting ever reported recaptured by a bander in North America. There were four birds from last year (Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, Song Sparrow), and three from 2008 (Hairy Woodpecker, 2 Gray Catbirds), and a Northern Cardinal from 2005.

On Sunday, September 26 we hosted an informal bird program for a Detroit Audubon Society field trip. A nice group showed up, and they got to see a variety of species. Most of the warblers were banded after the group left, unfortunately! Birds banded were: Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Nashville Warbler (below), Magnolia Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Lincoln’s Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Northern Cardinal, and American Goldfinch.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Super senior P. cyanea

One of the most interesting birds banded this season was not an unusual species, but an unusually old bird. Most small songbirds do not make it through their first year -- they have about an 80% mortality rate. If they make it through their youth, many only live 2 or 3 years. Resident birds tend to live longer than migrant birds, and the farther a bird must migrate each year, the more hazards it faces, and the shorter the typical lifespan.

Indigo Buntings nest over much of the eastern U.S., and winter in the West Indies and Central America, and are therefore considered long-distance migrants. This male Indigo Bunting was first banded as a "second year" bird on 23 August 2003. Thus, it was hatched in the summer of 2002. We recaptured it in May 2006 and May 2007 when it was in breeding condition. This many round trips is pretty remarkable itself.

We caught him again this past week, on 29 Sept. Based on the way age calculations of recaptured birds are made, this makes this bird 8 years and 3 months old -- which happens to be a longevity record for this species in North America, according to the longevity records kept by the Bird Banding Lab. The previous record was an 8-year-old bunting in West Virginia -- a record that stood for the last 48 years.

You can take a look at some of the other birds we have recaptured years after their original banding on this page at the RRBO site. Note that on that page, the "age" indicated is the period that has elapsed between captures, not a calculated age.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fall banding: Week #5 in review

This past week things picked up nicely, bringing us what we expect at this point in migration, a nice diversity and good numbers of birds. We missed a day and a half to rain, but banded 183 new birds and handled 31 recaptures, one of which was a Gray Catbird first banded in 2005. There were 37 species, including 15 species of warblers. We are already at or above our fall season average for Black-throated Blue, Blackpoll, Magnolia, and Nashville Warblers, and American Redstart. The most special warbler of the week was this great young male Hooded Warbler. It is the third ever banded for RRBO, and only the second fall record for Dearborn.

We banded two other unusual birds this week. The first was this dark, heavily marked form of the Veery, matching descriptions of the Newfoundland race.

The other surprise was this European Goldfinch. RRBO has done a lot of research on this species. While not a first for Dearborn, it was interesting nonetheless. This individual was not a wild vagrant from Europe, but an escaped or released cage bird.

We banded four species of vireos this week: Warbling, Red-eyed (we're already at our fall average), Philadelphia, and Blue-headed. I think Warbling Vireos look angry, while Philadelphia Vireos, like the one below, look "cute."

Blue-headed Vireos are one of my favorite species. We don't catch a lot of them, and they are just so handsome.

Actually, photographing any vireo is a challenge. They are all fuss and squirm. My general rule is that I only take a few quick shots of any bird I handle. If I can't get a good one, my loss. I don't have a lot of great vireo portraits because they are so uncooperative, most pictures end up like the next two.

We've been getting a lot of great samples for our study of what fruits birds eat in the fall at our site. This is the fourth year I've collected droppings from Catharus thrushes. I often find (in addition to the seeds, pulp, and berry skins I'm looking for) small hard parts of insects. Most often it is sections of millipedes, parts of beetles, and, frequently, ant heads. I guess thrushes aren't particular about the type of Hymenoptera they eat -- this head of an Eastern Yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons) stared out at me from a sample provided by a Gray-cheeked Thrush.

Dana Wloch, one of my undergraduate research associates, is in charge of identifying and categorizing the samples from all other bird species. This is mostly robins and catbirds, but this week we've gotten samples from Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Red-eyed Vireos. Seems like yellowjackets are on the menu, as this head and a couple legs came from one of the vireos.

I've been asked how birds manage to eat bees and wasps without getting stung. Usually, they wipe the insect on a branch or the ground and get rid of the stinger. A more lengthy answer can be found in my February 2007 column in Birder's World magazine.

And another new bander has joined the team. Welcome to Sara Cole, a senior at Wayne State University. Here is Dana showing Sara how to age and sex her first bird, a Common Grackle.

It was a fun week. More birds coming up.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

“Newfoundland” Veery

On 13 September 2010, this Veery (Catharus fuscescens) was banded by the Rouge River Bird Observatory. It was so different-looking that the species identification was not readily apparent when it was pulled from the net. The bird was a young (hatching-year) bird based on plumage characteristics and, conclusively, a largely unossified skull 1.

The upperparts of the thrush were a rich, medium brown (the lack of a contrasting, rufous rump and tail, plus measurements and other plumage characteristics, eliminated Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus).

The grayish face without an eye ring quickly ruled out Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus,but had me briefly considering Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus), and some measurements between this species and Veery overlap. The sixth primary feather of Gray-cheeked Thrushes, however, is usually emarginated, while in Veery this feather is only slightly emarginated, as was the case with this bird. Nearly all measurements were a little too large for this bird to be a Bicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli). Neither of these two species is noted to have plumage with this warm coloration.

This left Veery. The color of the RRBO bird was not the bright, nearly orange, color that is typical of most eastern Veeries seen here in southeast Michigan, seen at right. This is the nominate subspecies, C. fuscescens fuscescens. See, for example, this photo from New Jersey.

There are up to six subspecies of Veery, although they are often combined into three groups. One is the nominate eastern C. fuscescens fuscescens which breeds in much of eastern Canada, through New England, south through much of the Appalachians. Another is the western C. fuscescens salicicolus, sometimes called the Willow Thrush. References describe the upperparts as being “dull, dark brown with a warm rufescent-olive tinge” 2, “dull, moderately dark brown with a reddish tinge” 3, and “slightly more olive-brown and on upperparts and only faintly tinged rufous comparied to nominate” 4. While descriptions also indicated that  has more distinct spots than the nominate race, the rich reddish color of the upperparts, without olive and evident even in the shade, did not seem to fit this western race.

Catharus fuscescens fuliginosus, or “Newfoundland Veery,” is a subspecies that nests in southwest Newfoundland, Magdalen Island and south-central Quebec, perhaps into northern Maine and southern Nova Scotia. The upperparts are described as “deep reddish brown,” “deep bright reddish brown,” and “slightly deeper or warm reddish-brown …than either nominate or salicicolus.” References also note the spots on this race are more distinct, with Clement (2000) specifying “sharply defined reddish-brown, arrowhead-shaped spots (larger than on nominate) extensively across breast.” The distinctness and shape of the spots is especially evident in the RRBO in the photo at left.

Our bird, then, seems to fit the description of a “Newfoundland Veery.” Some breeding populations in the southern Appalachians (considered by some as C. fuscescens pulichorum) also have upperparts similar to fuliginosus, as do some other western and Great Plains subspecies often lumped with salicicolus, but overall more plumage characteristics of the RRBO bird seem to coincide with fuliginosus than other races. Most authors note that there is variability among individuals and some that appear to be “intermediate forms” so we can’t be 100% sure of the provenance of this bird, only that the plumage corresponds to the Newfoundland race.

Finally, we can’t rule out a hybrid. Kent McFarland of the Vermont Center for Ecosystem Studies and member of the International Bicknell’s Thrush Conservation Group told me he had once banded a Bicknell’s x Veery hybrid. Very intriguing, but not possible to determine without a feather or tissue sample, and someone able to do DNA work.

Veery is the least-common of the Catharus thrushes banded at RRBO, and it was a real treat to catch this one.

Martin Reid has an interesting page of Catharus thrushes, including some variations on Veeries.

  1. The upper part of the skull of fledgling birds is single-layered. As the bird matures, a second layer develops, and “struts” of supporting bone develop between the two layers. This is known as ossification or pneumatization, and can be viewed through the thin skin of the head if the feathers are wetted and parted. The pattern and rate of ossification varies among species. 
  2. Bevier, Louis R., Alan F. Poole and William Moskoff. 2005. Veery (Catharus fuscescens), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: 
  3. Pyle P. 1997. Identification guide to North American birds – part 1. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, CA, USA. 
  4. Clement, P. 2000. Thrushes. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fall banding: Weeks 3 & 4 in review

Weeks 3 and 4 (August 29 to September 10) were nothing much to write home about. We banded 117 new birds and handled 27 recaptures of 23 species. Looking back on the first month, it seems to be shaping up to be an above-average season for House Wrens, Red-eyed Vireos, and American Redstarts.

How can anybody get tired of seeing an adult male redstart?

In the fall, you see many more female-plumaged redstarts than these gorgeous males. Some are adult females, many are young birds, both males and females. Male American Redstarts do not get their bold black-and-orange plumage until their second full molt (for birds born this year, that will take place next fall). Still, young male redstarts are often a little more orange than yellow and can sometimes be differentiated from the even duller females. The young male below was especially bright.

Although it's a little hard to see in the photo above, the uppertail coverts are also quite dark and they contrast with the grayer-colored back. The orange patches at the base of the wings

Meanwhile, in the young probable-female below, the patches are dull yellow, and so are the patches on the tail.

The tail-fanning is a characteristic behavior of this species, earning it the name "candelita," or "little flame" in some Latin American countries where it spends the winter.

Speaking of tails, Palm Warblers are beginning to come through.

Tail-pumping is a very distinctive trait of this species. They do not, however, do this in the hand.

And let's welcome our first new bander of the fall 2010 season, Carmen Volante. Carmen is a senior here at UM-D and is shown here on the left with one of our veteran banders Andy Dettling, and Dana Wloch, the undergraduate research associate in her second year of looking at robin and catbird diets.

The middle week in September coming up is often our best week for diversity of birds, especially warblers. We'll see what we come up with!