Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall banding 2011: week 5

Well, things can sure change in a hurry. After probably the dullest first month in 20 years of fall banding came two of the busiest days in RRBO's history. The same stalled low pressure system that was responsible for days of rain and/or wind eased up just enough on Friday, Sep 9 to let us open our nets. Birds that had been pushed west by the weather systems in the prior days were all over the place. We caught 127 birds on Friday morning, and nearly all of them were warblers. It was raining at sunrise on Saturday, but stopped for two hours which allowed us to open nets. It was clear things were still hopping. We closed when it rained, and re-opened again. Although we were not open as long as Friday, we caught 134 birds, again mostly warblers.

Twenty were RTHU, which we released unbanded. Subtracting those and recaptures, 216 were new birds. Thanks to Darrin O'Brien and Dana Wloch, two of my most experienced banders, we worked out a system where birds were fully processed -- measured, aged, sexed, and weighed -- in less than two minutes and we were never away from the nets for more than 40 minutes.

In the fall, Bay-breasted Warblers usually don't show
much bay color on the flanks. This one has a hint.
The big story for the week has been Bay-breasted Warblers. Our fall average is just two, and our previous fall season high number is five. We have already banded 26 and seen many others. Tennessee Warblers are more numerous west of here in fall, but we've exceeded our fall average of nine with 11 so so far. These two species (along with Cape May Warbler), are generally thought of as "spruce budworm" warblers, since their populations can be tied with outbreaks of this insect on their nesting grounds.

Black-throated Green Warbler

When there are large pushes of birds due to weather systems, it's hard to attribute inflated numbers to actual increases in populations, but a few other species have more numerous than usual this season overall (not just on the two big days). Blackpoll Warblers are much more common; our fall mean is 23, and we've banded 43 so far. Our current total of ten Black-throated Green Warblers is well above our fall mean of two and high of six. We've netted and released 52 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Since they are not marked some may be repeats, but it isn't too unusual to catch three to five in one net. However, the most we've netted in the past was 50, and we usually get them into October.

Things tapered off after those two big days and have more or less returned to normal. I hope to have a post up about one of our special projects within the next week or so.

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