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.

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