Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Metro Beach Metropark - Fall Banding Report

The full report of the banding activies conducted at the banding station at Metro Beach Metropark, Macomb County, Michigan has been posted to my website.

Go to:

Scroll down to the "Fall 2009 Report" hyperlink to download a PDF of the report.

I have also updated the 2004 - Present page with the Fall 2009 data.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Allen's Hummingbird - A First for Ohio!

The excellent photo above (and some of those below) was taken by Bruce Glick on December 11, 2009. Remember to click on any photo you want to see larger. When Bruce told me about this bird, which had been coming since late September to the feeder of Mae Miller in southeastern Walnut Creek Township, Holmes County, Ohio, I had presumed it was an immature male Rufous Hummingbird as there have been more than 40 of them in Ohio over the past 30 years or so. I have been banding these birds in Ohio since 2001, and so I made my way through Amish country, probably seeing more buggies on this trip than on most, to her home in an area of Ohio known as "little Switzerland," not for the scenery but for the prevalence of Swiss immigrants in the area.

When my wife, Nancy, and I arrived just before 9 a.m., Mae excitedly told us that the bird was there right then, and indeed he was perched on the hook holding her hummingbird feeder. Soon, Bruce Glick and Ed Schlabach arrived, and after having a few more looks at this bird with a lot of rufous on the rump and tail, I was ready to set up my trap.

The feeder was fairly high up on a hook, and I had to be happy with putting my trap a couple feet lower so that I could easily and quickly get the bird out once it was trapped. It took about 15 minutes for him to figure out how to get in to the trap, and once he was in-hand, and indoors, I gave him a quick drink of sugar water which he greedily accepted. It was soon apparent that the reason he looked so rufous was that he had some adult-type tail feathers despite lacking a complete orange-red gorget of an adult.

This is a condition that I've never encountered before with immature male Rufous Hummingbirds, and when I spread out his tail feathers to examine them, I got a real surprise.

His tail did not look at all like what I was expecting for a Rufous Hummingbird, but was instead comprised of 8 tail feathers, of which 7 were very pointy and 1 that was very narrow with a white tip. The incomplete gorget and this one tail feather indicated that he was a hatch-year (immature) bird, while the adult male-type tail feathers clearly indicated he was male.

At this point, I was sure he was an Allen's Hummingbird, a species that had never been recorded in Ohio before! But, I had to prove it; in order to be accepted into the ornithological record the details of this bird would have to be thoroughly documented and accepted after review by the Ohio Bird Records Committee (a more thorough report than is provided here will be sent for their consideration).

I set about taking the necessary measurements, most of which involved the tail feathers (the scientific lingo for these feathers is rectrices, or the singular rectrix). The reference that hummingbird banders use to identify Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds was written by F. Gary Stiles in 1972. Mr. Stiles is probably best known for co-authoring A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica with Alexander Skutch in 1989. Over the years since 1972, his hummingbird ID criteria have proven to be extremely useful and accurate, and nobody has been able to improve upon them.

Both outer rectrices (designated r5 in the three photos below - click on the photos for a larger view) were very narrow and pointy. The width of the white-tipped immature r5 was measured as 1.81 mm. Stiles gives the range of this feather for immature male Rufous Hummingbirds as 2.7-3.6 mm and for immature male Allen's Hummingbird as 1.7-2.6 mm. Score one diagnostic point for Allen's! The width of the adult-type r5 was measured as 1.17 mm. The width of the adult-type r5 was measured as 1.17 mm. Stiles does not provide measurements for this feather for adult males, but another reference (McKenzie and Robbins 1999) does, with a sample size of 28 adult male Allen’s and 123 adult male Rufous. Their range for adult male r5 width for Rufous Hummingbirds is 2.35-2.93 mm and for Allen's Hummingbird as 1.50-1.90 mm. Score another diagnostic point for Allen's!

To be thorough, two other tail feathers needed to be assessed. The width of the central tail feather (usually designated as r1) is diagnostic between these two species. But the problem was that our bird only had 8 tail feathers, and it was difficult with the bird in-hand to figure out which ones were missing. The measurement of the innermost tail feathers on this bird was 5.84 mm, which is apparently too narrow for them to be the central ones for either species according to the expert opinion of my friend, Nancy Newfield. And the asymmetrical pattern of black on these feathers may provide additonal support that these feathers are really the second (r2) feathers. Another expert and friend, Bob Sargent, also feels that these innermost feathers are r2 and not r1. Among adult male Rufous Hummingbirds, this second rectrix (r2) is the most diagnostic of any tail feathers as it is very pinched in at the tip, and almost always also has a "notch" that is almost like a bit has been taken out of it. This is shown well in my photo below of an adult male Rufous Hummingbird banded a few years ago, also in Ohio.

But the Holmes County bird's second rectrix definitely did not have any such notch (compare this with the photos above), and so is a third diagnostic point in favor of it being an Allen's! Although the widths of both r5 tail feathers were diagnostic by themselves for Allen's, I wanted to be 100% sure of the situation with r1 and r2 on this bird, which required that I drive 228 miles back home and check this out more thoroughly. The resulting posting to the Ohio Birds chat group announcing the presence of this bird, and that the identification of the bird was "probable" when I left that morning, caused consternation among some in the Ohio birding community, but I'd rather take my time and be 100% sure than be quick but wrong.

After taking the bird outside to take most of the photos above to confirm plumage and feather shapes, I placed the bird in Mae's hand to release him. After sitting there for a few seconds, he blasted off into the backyard at full speed, uttering a sweet "chip chip" call. He was back at his feeder within 15 minutes, and continued to visit the feeder the remainder of the day. And I was finally able to enjoy the marvelous coffee cake that Mae had baked, and generously offered, to those of us involved in this amazing event!

As of this morning (December 15), Mae has had more than 350 people sign her guest book, and nearly everyone has had excellent and repeated views of his special bird.

Amazingly, another Allen's Hummingbird, an adult female, was banded by my friend Scott Weidensaul in the Amish Country of Pennsylvania only 290 miles due east, the day after I banded this one. Read the story of his adventures, many remarkably similar to mine, on his blog at:

I would like to thank Bruce Glick for bringing this bird to my attention, for getting me in touch with Mae, and for allowing me to use some of his photos here. I would also like to thank Mae Miller for allowing us to come to her home to band this very special bird, and for giving permission to post photos of her on my blog.

There are a number of misconceptions about the banding of these birds, and I'd like to address some of them here.

One point that is often raised is that there is no value in banding these birds just to identify them. I agree completely! And the Bird Banding Lab (BBL) agrees too. The BBL, run by the U.S. Geological Survey, does not give out permits to someone merely for the purpose of identifying birds. Applicants must have a valid research plan, as well as demonstrate an ability to safely band the birds, and have other scientists and banders vouch for their claims. When I work hard to distinguish Willow and Alder Flycatchers from each other in-hand, the identification is not my purpose, but instead is a necessary first step, which is the same with these hummingbirds. My research plan for hummingbirds includes studying the age and sex classes that occur in each region, as well as studying their molt patterns, which are not well known. None of this data may be of interest to the general public, but eventually finds its way into scientific papers that are published after sufficient data has been collected, and statistically sound conclusions can be made. The identification of these hummingbirds is the only piece of data that tends to interest the general birder, and of course provides valuable information to state records committees wishing to document the avifaunas of their states. But identification is one piece of data, it is never an end in itself.

Another point sometimes brought up is that there is little we can learn by banding "rare birds" that are "off course" or "lost". Other than the data provided by examining the bird in-hand, including its molt condition, weight, and fat deposits, it has become quite clear in recent years (at least to banders, if not to birders) that these western hummingbirds occur quite regularly in the east, especially Rufous Hummingbird. Nearly every eastern state has at least one Rufous Hummingbird every fall now; far too many birds for them to be simply lost. And for many years there has been a peripheral wintering population of Rufous (and other) Hummingbirds in the Gulf States, and banding studies are beginning to paint a picture that these "lost" birds in the east are actually on a regular migration route. One immature male Rufous Hummingbird banded in Zanesville, Ohio returned (and was recaptured) the following winter at the same home as an adult male, and the year after that an adult male (probably the same one) was seen briefly at the same home in October. Lost? I wish I could navigate that well!

Some say that these birds will never be refound again, so why bother? Well, out of 4500+ Ruby-throated Hummingbirds I have banded since 2000, two of them have been found away from their banding sites. But out of nearly 60 Rufous Hummingbirds I've handled, one was recaptured in Louisiana in January after departing Indiana the previous September, and four of them were already wearing bands! One Rufous captured in Ohio had been banded the winter before in Georgia, while another captured in Ohio had been banded previously in South Carolina! Another Rufous captured in Michigan had been banded the winter before in Louisiana and another Michigan bird had been banded the winter before in North Carolina. So much for never being found again!

There is much we still don't know about these amazing little birds. And I hope to continue doing my part to try to unravel their secrets.


McKenzie, P.M. and M.B. Robbins. 1999. Identification of adult male Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds, with specific comments on dorsal coloration. Western Birds 30: 86-93.

Stiles, F.G. 1972. Age and Sex Determination in Rufous and Allen Hummingbirds. The Condor 74: 25-32.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Metro Beach Fall 2009 banding summary

This week marks the transition from fall migration banding at Metro Beach to winter banding in my yard in Inkster, Wayne Co., Michigan where the photo of the Tufted Timouse above was taken. Here is a brief summary of the fall banding results. A full report with analysis and comparisons will be posted on-line at the Metro Beach Banding web page, hopefully before the end of the year!

A total of 1639 new birds of 71 species, plus 231 recaptures and 32 released unbanded, resulted in 1902 total captures for the fall, the second highest since 2004. The nets were open a total of 145 hours on 22 days (1765 net hours) between August 2 and October 31, 2009 with a capture rate of 107.7 birds per 100 net hours, again the second highest since 2004. A hatch-year female Black-throated Blue Warbler banded on September 25 was the 10,000th bird banded since 2004 (slightly more than 24,000 birds have been banded at Metro Beach from 1989 to the end of this fall season). Listed below are the species and totals banded for the season.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - 64
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 1
Downy Woodpecker - 10
Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker - 3
Olive-sided Flycatcher - 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee - 5
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - 10
Alder Flycatcher - 4
Willow Flycatcher - 8
"Traill's" Flycatcher - 11
Least Flycatcher - 22
Eastern Phoebe - 5
Blue-headed Vireo - 5
Warbling Vireo - 9
Philadelphia Vireo - 1
Red-eyed Vireo - 9
Blue Jay - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 12
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 1
Brown Creeper - 13
House Wren - 27
Winter Wren - 21
Marsh Wren - 5
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 64
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 64
Veery - 2
Gray-cheeked Thrush - 14
Swainson's Thrush - 53
Hermit Thrush - 109
Wood Thrush - 1
American Robin - 62
Gray Catbird - 29
Cedar Waxwing - 39
Tennessee Warbler - 7
Orange-crowned Warbler - 8
Nashville Warbler - 46
Northern Parula - 4
Yellow Warbler - 28
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 8
Magnolia Warbler - 32
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 40
Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler - 7
Black-throated Green Warbler - 3
Blackburnian Warbler - 1
(Western) Palm Warbler - 4
Bay-breasted Warbler - 2
Blackpoll Warbler - 6
Black-and-white Warbler - 4
American Redstart - 9
Ovenbird - 14
Northern Waterthrush - 10
Mourning Warbler - 10
Common Yellowthroat - 81
Wilson's Warbler - 26
Canada Warbler - 5
Northern Cardinal - 8
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - 2
Indigo Bunting - 2
Eastern Towhee - 1
American Tree Sparrow - 3
Fox Sparrow - 2
Song Sparrow - 141
Lincoln's Sparrow - 15
Swamp Sparrow - 114
White-throated Sparrow - 160
(Eastern) White-crowned Sparrow - 7
Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco - 9
Red-winged Blackbird - 17
Common Grackle - 3
Baltimore Oriole - 8
American Goldfinch - 107

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Metro Beach banding report - October 28 & 31, 2009

This is the final week of banding at Metro Beach for 2009. This is hard work, and serious research, but it is also fun and rewarding, so part of me is sad that fall banding is at an end for one more year. But another part of me is glad to see the month of October over and done with! As I write this on November 1st, it is a beautiful day with partly cloudy skies, temperatures in the 50s, and a very light breeze. It is the kind of day that would be perfect for banding, but which was all too rare in October.

We did band on two days this week, however, managing to dodge the weather sufficiently to band a few birds. On Wednesday, October 28, the rain that had been going on all night was almost finished when we arrived on-site at 6 a.m. and we decided to go with a "normal" setup and proceeded accordingly. This was a good decision as the rain completely stopped before we had the first (of 3) group of nets set up. I started the owl luring tape at the Swamp Nets and we continued with the setup. Saturday, October 31 was a different matter. Rain was predicted for most of the morning but in looking at the weather radar it appeared that we would not have any, and indeed that was the case as we arrived with no rain. The wind was another matter, however. The wind advisory set for today had been canceled, at least, but it was still windy and we had to set up differently. The Swamp Nets, along with owl luring tape, was set up first followed by the Field, Field Edge, and Willow nets. But when we got to the Upland area, it was clear that the blustery and gusty winds were going to prevent nets from working in this area, so only one of the four were set up here. The wind was marginal all day, billowing nets and filling them with leaves, and we closed early to allow volunteers to get home for Halloween. The owl lure did not catch any owls, but it was worth trying again; one of these years we'll succeed. Perhaps I'll have to think of a way to band owls overnight in the park (which is closed)?

Banding highlights from the 103 birds banded on Wednesday, October 28 included two first for the season though neither was the one I was expecting and hoping for. Eastern Towhee is always a nice bird to catch, as we don't catch them every year and usually just one per season. This one was a nice male, told by its black upperparts, and a hatch-year bird told by its brown eye instead of red.

Hatch-year male Eastern Towhee

Another species, a classic sign of winter, is the American Tree Sparrow. Last year we caught 5 of them on November 1, which was the first time this species had been captured in the fall here. Today, two of them were banded making this the official record early date for banding them here.

Hatch-year American Tree Sparrow

The central breast spot, the key field mark for this species, is not visible in this photo. But many birders are surprised to hear that a fair number of American Tree Sparrows do not have this marking. VARIATION is something that birders often forget to take into account, and it is the main reason that EXPERIENCE is so much more valuable than reading even the best field guides, or trolling the internet for (often mis-labeled) photos. Of course you get experience by going out and seeing birds as often as you can, and with others who are more experienced. It also points out that identifying birds by a single field mark can fail when that mark is absent! So, what other field marks are there? Check out the photo below, taken in November 2003 at a banding station in Canada, showing two similar sparrows, American Tree and Field.

American Tree (left) and Field Sparrows (at HBMO in 2003)

Note that there are several differences, when they are seen side-by-side. But which are good field marks? Note the pink bill on the Field Sparrow and the black-and-yellow bill on the Tree Sparrow. This is actually less variable than the breast spot, and a great thing to look for. Note also the plain face and complete white eyering on the Field Sparrow, and the distinct rufous eyeline (mainly behind the eye) in the Tree Sparrow. These are also good field marks. Studying this photo more closely will undoubtedly reveal more subtle differences.

A Dark-eyed Junco kept with the wintry theme of the day (bird-wise, not weather-wise), but the Eastern Phoebe reminded us that it was still fall migration after all, though this may be the latest one ever banded here.

Hatch-year Eastern Phoebe

Interesting birds observed but not banded included a single flyover Tundra Swan, two Great Horned Owls calling (no begging calls this morning), flyover American Pipits, an Orange-crowned Warbler, and at least 3 Fox Sparrows one of which sang back to Dave's iPod!

Banding highlights from the 21 birds banded on Saturday, October 31 included the first (2) Fox Sparrows of the season. Finally! Normally we band a couple of these before the middle of October, and often more after that. Their absence (in the field and in the nets) until today is puzzling.

Hatch-year Fox Sparrow

Another Dark-eyed Junco brought the season's total to 9, which is a record, while two more Winter Wrens brought the season's total to 21, just one short of last fall's record.

Hatch-year Winter Wren

And another American Tree Sparrow was a welcome capture. Three American Robins brought the season's total to 62, another record which was certainly due to the unusual number banded during September and October, which is not typical for this site. And a single Yellow-rumped Warbler brought some welcome color to this bleak day, and was the latest ever banded here.

Interesting birds observed but not banded included both a Tufted Titmouse and White-breasted Nuthatch, both fairly common in the park but infrequent visitors to the Swamp Woods/Marsh edge habitat of the banding area.

Many thanks to the volunteers who made banding on these two days possible with their flexible schedules to work around the annoying weather patterns this week: John Bieganowski, Kathleen Dougherty, Dave Lancaster, Tom Schlack, and Joan Tisdale.

Banding Data
WEDNESDAY, October 28, 2009
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 7:00
Time Open (E.S.T.): 5:45
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 12:45
Hours Open: 7.00
No. of Nets: 4.50-13.25
Net Hours: 86.375
Temperature (F): 50-61
Cloud Cover: 100-50%
Wind: NNW @ 3-5-10 mph
Barometer: 29.87-30.01
Precipitation: Light rain before open
No. Banded: 103 (plus 7 recaptured and 1 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 14
Capture Rate: 128.5 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers: John Bieganowski, Dave Lancaster, Tom Schlack

Eastern Phoebe - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 2 (plus 1 recaptured)
Winter Wren - 2 (plus 1 released unbanded)
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 3
Hermit Thrush - 4
American Robin - 6
Eastern Towhee - 1
American Tree Sparrow - 2
Song Sparrow - 23 (plus 2 recaptured)
Swamp Sparrow - 11 (plus 1 recaptured)
White-throated Sparrow - 13
Dark-eyed Junco - 1
American Goldfinch - 31 (plus 3 recaptured)

SATURDAY, October 31, 2009
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 7:04
Time Open (E.S.T.): 6:15
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 12:15
Hours Open: 6.00
No. of Nets: 4.50-10.25
Net Hours: 57.875
Temperature (F): 54-54
Cloud Cover: 100-50%
Wind: SW @ 10-12 (gusts to 20) mph
Barometer: 29.59-29.79
Precipitation: Trace
No. Banded: 21 (plus 2 recaptured)
No. of Species: 9
Capture Rate: 39.7 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers: Kathleen Dougherty, Joan Tisdale

Winter Wren - 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 10
American Robin - 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1
American Tree Sparrow - 1
Fox Sparrow - 2
[Song Sparrow - 1 recaptured]
Dark-eyed Junco - 1
American Goldfinch - 1 (plus 1 recaptured)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Belle Isle tree trip

Belle Isle is one of my favorite places to go birding, and I've promoted the value of this place in my book, A Birder's Guide to Michigan (now out of print), as well as in a recent Birders World article, Hotspots Near You, and have led many birding field trips for local Audubon chapters and conducted bird surveys here in 2005. But there's so much more to Belle Isle, and this blog entry will turn away from the birds for a moment to focus on some of the interesting plant life here, particularly the trees.

On Sunday, October 25, a field trip was scheduled for 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. by the Huron Valley Chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club, and co-sponsored by the Essex County Field Naturalists' Club, the Lakeplain Cluster of the Stewardship Network, and the Friends of Belle Isle (and possibly others). The purpose was to see some of the rare trees and shrubs on the island, and talk about ways to improve the habitat in broad ecological terms by removing invasives and enhancing the area's hydrology, and improving (or maintaining) the value to breeding and migratory birds. At least 50 people showed up (perhaps more than 60), much to our surprise!

The main leader of the trip (though several of us co-led) was Suzan Campbell, currently with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI), and formerly a naturalist at Belle Isle. After a brief orientation at the Nature Center, we stepped outside to have a look at one of the rare trees on Belle Isle, the Pumpkin Ash (Fraxinus profunda). This is a species of the Atlantic coastal plain from Virginia to Florida, and in the Mississippi River valley. It is found only in a few small areas in southern Michigan, which is at the northernmost point of its world range, and it is a Threatened species in the state. Sadly, it is also being attacked by the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis).

In the photo below, Suzan explains to the group (only a few of which are in the photo) the botanical history of the Pumpkin Ash and shows the identification features on a sapling that was planted here maybe 7-8 years ago.

Ash trees have compound leaves, and identification of the various species can be tricky. Pumpkin Ash can be identified by the larger spaces between the pairs of leaflets, giving the tree a more airy appearance than other ashes. This is seen well in the photo below.

We then drove around to the other end of the ~350 acre patch of old-growth swamp woods to a trail where we spent the rest of the afternoon. One of the first patches of Pumpkin Ash we came to was, sadly, a small grove that had all been recently killed by Emerald Ash Borers.

Upon closer inspection we were able to see the numerous, characteristically D-shaped exit holes where the adults emerged after feeding on the tree as larvae.

But we did see some Pumpkin Ashes that were still alive, or struggling to survive. The most interesting was the State Champion (largest in Michigan) individual that Nancy is touching below.

I married a tree-hugger, and I'm proud of her! She would have hugged this one except that there were a couple of Poison Ivy vines climbing the trunk.

The dark bunches in the photo below are the dried flowers from earlier in the year. This champion individual is a male tree. Some trees have separate male and female individuals, making cross-pollination a bit more challenging. Also, there seems to be a shortage of female Pumpkin Ash trees on Belle Isle; yet one more hurdle to their survival in Michigan.

Another ash, though not actually in the ash family, was the Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), which had beautiful yellow leaves hiding an abundance of sharp thorns.

We also enjoyed the fall color along the walk, and there were certainly several other species of oak, as well as the maples below.

Even the common Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans) in the photo below provided nice color, as well as an educational opportunity for many of the trip participants!

Unfortunately there were numerous invasive species seen, including at least two species of Asian honeysuckle (Lonicera maacki, Lonicera tatarica). One of the worst invasives in the state, though not as much a problem on Belle Isle, is the Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), which can get quite shrubby but here seems to stay mostly low and herbaceous.

A species I was hoping to see, as it was a "lifer" plant, was the Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpurea), also called Burning-bush in some references; a rare plant in Michigan and one of only two native species in this genus (others are escaped from cultivation). None of them had any leaves on them this time of year, but I doubt I'd be able to recognize it by those anyway as the leaves (a few of which were on the ground) looked a lot like ash tree leaves! Luckily, Suzan and some of the other trip leaders had gone around and put signs on them!

But once we got closer we saw the odd berries that are very distinctive, and beautiful.

Another rare tree in Michigan, found at Belle Isle, is the Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii). This oak is fairly common in the south, from Texas to Florida north to Missouri and Indiana.

It grows on the edges of swamps, and at Belle Isle it grows on hummocks in the swamp woods and is at the northernmost end of its world range. Identifying any tree can be tricky, and oaks are no different. The shape of the leaves put in field guides are often an "average", and on an actual tree the leaves at the bottom are often different from those at the top. In the two photos below, leaves from the bottom and near the top of the same Shumard Oak show these differences.

From one of the bridges over the stream and against the blue sky, we could see a very tall, stately Shumard Oak turning orange with the season. Suzan told us that it was the largest Shumard Oak on Belle Isle, and apparently a state champion as well.

So, of course we had to walk over to get close to, and touch this impressive tree. Many of the trees in this swamp woods on Belle Isle develop "buttressed" roots, which is a broadening of the trunk which allows them to gain a more firm footing in the wetlands (and clay soil here), much like trees in southern swamps do.

All of these trees can, of course, also be identified by their bark patterns by experts.

But we'll have to leave that lesson for another field trip, on another day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Metro Beach banding report - October 22, 2009

Once again a rainy week and a shortage of volunteers conspired to limit banding to one day this week instead of the two days in the protocol. In the 12 years from 1989-2000 banding was conducted twice a week, on weekends, during spring and fall migration. My current banding efforts, begun in 2004, attempts to use consistent methods as much as possible so that at the conclusion of ten years of banding (in 2014) statistically sound comparisons can be made.

This day was similar, weather-wise, to two weeks ago when a cold front passed through the area on the day of banding. The results were similar, with not many birds banded. An effort was made to audio-lure for owls (Northern Saw-whet and Eastern Screech-Owls) for about an hour before first light in the Upland Nets area, but without success.

Banding highlights for Thursday, October 22 included 7 more American Robins, adding to this fall's record numbers.

Hatch-year male American Robin

The real highlight of the day was the FIVE species of warbler! Two species are expected this late, two are generally mostly gone by now, and one was unexpected. The most expected warbler species, Orange-crowned, was not banded today!

A Nashville Warbler was one of the species that can occur this late into October with some regularity, so it wasn't too surprising that we caught one.

Hatch-year female Nashville Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler is the other species that occurs well into October, though this fall not many have been banded. The one captured today had a single white feather in the rear crown, visible in the photo below.

Hatch-year female Yellow-rumped Warbler

Blackpoll Warblers can also occur into mid-October with some regularity, but are starting to be fairly scarce by this date, so this one was a pleasant surprise.

Hatch-year male Blackpoll Warbler

Another late warbler is the Black-throated Blue Warbler, which like the Blackpoll can occur into late October in small numbers. The female banded today had a very small white spot at the base of the primaries, which could easily be overlooked in the field.

Hatch-year female Black-throated Blue Warbler

Some females can completely lack this field mark, which can cause confusion for some birders who might be relying on a single field mark to identify the species. But even lacking this distinctive mark, the female Black-throated Blue Warbler can be fairly easily identified by the pattern on her head. The close-up below shows that she has a distinctive dark cheek and especially dark in front of the eye, along with a short white "eyebrow" and a small white eye arc below the eye.

Hatch-year female Black-throated Blue Warbler

This pattern is most similar to the Yellow-rumped Warbler (compare with photo above), but the female Black-throated Blue is not streaked, shows no wing bars, and does not have a yellow rump. Also, if one looks closely, often a blue tinge can be detected on the wings and tail.

The biggest surprise of the day was a very late Ovenbird. Normally, this species is gone from southern Michigan by the first few days of October except for an occasional individal that has lingered in downtown Detroit into December!

Hatch-year female Ovenbird

If she looks fat in this photo, that's because she was! Very well prepared to continue her migration.

Interesting birds observed but not banded included an Eastern Screech-Owl that responded to the audio-lure when I was fiddling with it at lunch time. This bird must have been within 50-feet of us but it quickly stopped calling and we never laid eyes on it. Perhaps we'll catch it next week. A juvenile Great Horned Owl has been begging in the area north of where we park for more than a month now, and began its complaining just about first light, letting up before sunrise. A Chimney Swift flying over was a bit unexpected, and a little late. Two Eastern Phoebes, also drawn in by the owl audio-lure, were seen near the cars. A White-breasted Nuthatch was a little unusual as the normally stay near the nature center and don't visit the swamp woods often. At least 4 Winter Wrens were heard calling in the banding area but none were captured. An Orange-crowned Warbler was present briefly near the cars but avoided capture. And one species that should have been captured by now, but which has not really been noticed in the banding area yet this fall is Fox Sparrow. We only have one more week to catch one, which so far we've done annually.

An interesting insect flew out from beneath the feathers of one of the Hermit Thrushes banded today. It is a Hippoboscid fly, called "flat flies" by banders because they are very flattened which allows them to move around beneath the feathers of birds. They feed on the blood of birds and have not been known to bite humans. They are slightly smaller than a common house fly.

Hippoboscid Fly (Hippoboscidae)

Many thanks to John Bieganowski, Dave Lancaster, and Tom Schlack for once again volunteering to help band this week.

Banding Data
THURSDAY, October 22, 2009
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 6:53
Time Open (E.S.T.): 5:30
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 13:00
Hours Open: 7.50
No. of Nets: 4.00-13.25
Net Hours: 91.313
Temperature (F): 57-59
Cloud Cover: 100-50-100%
Wind: SSW @ 7-10 mph to NW @ 12-15 just before close
Barometer: 29.97-30.05
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 34 (plus 9 recaptured and 1 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 14
Capture Rate: 48.2 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers: John Bieganowski, Dave Lancaster, Tom Schlack

Downy Woodpecker - 3 (plus 1 recaptured)
Black-capped Chickadee - 1 (plus 1 recaptured)
Brown Creeper - 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 2
Hermit Thrush - 6 (plus 4 recaptured)
American Robin - 7 (plus 1 released unbanded)
Nashville Warbler - 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1
Blackpoll Warbler - 1
Ovenbird - 1
Song Sparrow - 4 (plus 3 recaptured)
White-throated Sparrow - 3
American Goldfinch - 2