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!