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.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fall 2011: Weeks 3 and 4

As you might imagine, banding has been largely at a standstill. Week 3 was very hot, limiting banding to only a couple of hours in the morning. Week 4 so far has been -- and looks to be -- completely rained out. A low pressure system (the remnants of tropical depression Lee) has been stalled just to our east, unable to move as Hurricane/Tropical Storm Katia moves up the Atlantic. Not much we can do but wait out the weather. Here are a few birds we banded when the conditions cooperated.

American Redstarts are quite numerous this fall. Most are young birds. Some young males and females can't be told apart. Male redstarts look a lot like females for an entire year. However, a few have more boldly colored orange patches on the sides, which you can just make out in this photo.

Wilson's Warblers are also common early migrants here. The young females show barely any trace of the dark black cap of males.

Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are a personal favorite of mine. It is really hard to capture their true lemony-olive color, but this photo comes close. Notice that their heads look too big for their bodies -- this can be a good field mark, especially when combined with the color.

I did take a look at the previous RRBO data and compared it to our August data to see if my hunch that birds seemed to have nested a little later, based on molt patterns, was correct. I mentioned this in my previous post. I examined all hatching-year birds banded in August 1992-2010. About 13% of those birds had not yet started their first post-juvenile molt. For August 2011, it was 26%. So it does seem that a lot of the juvenile birds we caught in August were a week or so younger than in previous years.

We hope to be able to resume banding over the weekend.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fall 2011 banding: week 2

Another very quiet week, with not many migrants around. A higher percentage of the young resident birds that I'm banding have not yet started or are just beginning their post-juvenile molt than I usually see this time of year. This is the replacement of their juvenile plumage into their first winter adult plumage. It's usually in full swing right now. Same with the molt of adults, who typically molt all of their feathers after they are done nesting. The adults I've banded have just started this process.

The extent of this molt this year tells me that these species -- cardinals, catbirds, robins, and Song Sparrows mostly -- were a little later in fledging than usual. It could be that the big flood in May caused some birds to lose their first nest, and pushed breeding back a couple weeks. Or, good conditions this summer (warm, good amount of rainfall, lots of bugs) could mean some species attempted a third nesting.

I have heard and seen adult birds still tending their newly-fledged young. Here is a brand-new youngster I captured this week. Can you guess the species?

While it seems a little lost and forlorn, I found one of the parents in a nearby net. Although both sexes of this species look alike, they can sometimes be distinguished in the hand. The incubating parent (in most songbirds, just the female) develops a bare area on her belly called a brood patch. The area loses feathering and becomes vascularized in order to facilitate the transfer of heat from her body to the eggs and chicks. I was able to tell that this was the female parent of the chick above.

It's a Chipping Sparrow, a common nester here on campus.

Another frequent nester is the Baltimore Oriole. Because they migrate so early in the season, I sometimes don't catch any in the fall. I had three in one net this week, including this adult male. Orioles are pretty sassy. This one seemed astonished, and a little indignant.

Over the weekend, we had some north winds which brought in some migrants that were observed on our survey on Sunday. This week may bring a small uptick in captures if the migrants stick around, but the forecast is for more southerly winds and hot temperatures toward the end of the week. That could slow things down, but we'll see!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fall banding 2011 begins

RRBO began the 2011 fall banding season on 12 August. The first week was a "soft" opening, when we put up only a portion of the nets each day, make adjustments, and handle all the young fledglings in the area with some extra TLC. We were also taking some extra time to prepare for a special project, which I'll write about in a future post.

Not too many migrants were present. We caught a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher on 15 August, which was an early date for a fall migrant in Dearborn. A Chestnut-sided Warbler captured on 17 August was the only other passage migrant netted this period. I like the inquisitive look it has.

What we did have was a lot of mosquitoes. This is the worst year for mosquitoes I can remember. In fact, so many come inside with me that they are as bad inside the banding room as many typical years outside.

The coolest bird we caught was not uncommon -- a male Northern Cardinal. But it was a bird we had banded on 19 April 2001 as a second-year bird. Thus, he is now over 11 years old, the oldest cardinal we have recaptured and the second oldest bird we have ever recaptured. While 11 years falls short of the record listed at the Bird Banding Lab web site of over 15 years, it was still good to see him. Over the years he has been recaptured 21 times, but the last time was in 2009.

This is our fifth year of studying the diets of fall migrant birds on campus. We're off to a good start with our sampling of seeds in the poop of various birds. These are all from robins and catbirds.

Just about every species of fruit that is currently ripe has showed up in the samples: grape, pokeweed, glossy buckthorn, dogwood, cherry, and nightshade.

Speaking of robins, three of the six robins we've caught so far have weighed less than 60 grams and have been fairly emaciated. By comparison, only six robins out of over 3500 previously banded here have weighed less than 60 grams, and the average weight for robins is about 78 grams. Generally, I only see birds like this when they are on death's door, and often after they have been exposed to lawn chemicals. I don't have an explanation for the lean condition of these birds, but we'll be monitoring future captures carefully.

Finally, it looks like it may be a very good year, the first in some time, for chickadees. Over the decade between 1992-2002, the resident chickadee population on campus was on the decline. Last fall, there was a large movement of chickadees in eastern North America. It was notable here, and I wrote about it after our last Winter Bird Population Survey season. Clearly, many chickadees chose to stay and nest here, as they were evident on our spring survey as well. We've already banded nine, which is our average over the past nine years. Our high was 52 in 2002. As you might imagine, they are quite the little fussbudgets. I'm happy that their numbers are rebounding, but not so sure I want to band a record number of them.

A Black-capped Chickadee was the first bird banded by RRBO during our inaugural fall season in August 1992. That's right -- this is RRBO's 20th fall banding season. Stay tuned for anniversary-year news.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dearborn Goldfinch in Ontario

RRBO recently received notice that one of the 2500+ American Goldfinches banded here on campus was recovered elsewhere. Only about 1% of small songbirds banded are found away from the place they were banded, so a report of this kind is always interesting. Usually, birds are not found far away, and usually they are dead. This report indicated that the goldfinch in question, a hatching-year male we banded here on 19 October 2010, was captured and released by another bander north of Guelph, Ontario (about 175 miles from Dearborn, as the goldfinch flies) on 10 May 2011.This has happened only a few times for RRBO: a Yellow-rumped Warbler caught in Tallahassee, FL, a White-throated Sparrow on Ontario's Bruce Peninsula, and a Northern Waterthrush in Wisconsin. What made this American Goldfinch capture even more special was that it was captured by Antonio Salvadori.

Toni has been banding for nearly as long as I have been alive, founded the Guelph Banders Group, and bands at three locations. One is at his home in Guelph; another a property in Ermosa, just outside of Guelph; and at Colwyn Farm, northeast of Guelph near the town of Fergus. But here's the kicker. In 2008, Toni captured and released a Blue Jay banded in the east Dearborn yard of RRBO's Julie Craves and Darrin O'Brien. He caught the jay at his Ermosa, Ontario location. It's hard to imagine the odds of this occurring. I might expect that Black Swamp Bird Observatory would capture some of our birds, or vice versa, given their volume and location on the north shore of Lake Erie about 50 miles nearly due south of RRBO. So far, this hasn't happened. You can read more about other out-of-state recoveries of RRBO's birds on our recoveries page, and about Toni's banding history in this PDF from the Guelph Field Naturalists newsletter. Cross posted at the RRBO web site.