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)

1 comment:

Laurent said...

I love the side-to-side pictures of the 2 sparrows . So cool for us beginners to be able to work on their difference!