Sunday, April 25, 2010

Metro Beach banding report - April 23 & 24, 2010

On Monday, April 19, the Metroparks conducted a controlled burn to eliminate the Phragmites that had been treated with herbicide last fall. The South Marsh was burned, which included 2/3 of the banding area, but the North Marsh was not burned as the wind apparently shifted direction before that could be done. The burn was done on a rather late date, especially so given the early arrival of warm conditions this year. How it will affect bird populations in the area will be a major focus of this banding station from this point forward. The marsh was very dry as it has not rained in some time, so it is unclear whether the numerous calling Western Chorus Frogs and Eastern Toads from last week have simply quit calling due to drought, or were negatively affected by the burn. The number of birds banded so far this April is less than half the worst year previously, so it might be difficult to get an immediate impression of the effects of the burn, but longer term may prove interesting.

In the photo below, volunteer John Bieganowski is standing in the middle of the "field" area, where before last week he would have been invisible as all the blackened areas were covered with 10-foot tall Phragmites stems. This area is a transition zone from the swamp forest and the open marsh, usually wet in spring and dry in fall, with a variety of herbaceous plants interspersed with patches of dogwood. Four (of 13) nets are in this area, and the three Field Nets have been the most productive in the entire banding area in recent years. Birds were caught in these nets on both days this week.

Four other nets were affected, as the burn apparently crossed over to the north side of the maintenance road that runs through the banding area. There isn't any Phragmites in this area, so it appears this was not intentional. Birds were caught in these nets on both days this week. The photo below shows one of the Upland-U nets with adjacent burned areas.

Captures remained low this week, for unknown reasons, so at least the burn doesn't seem to have made it worse! Hermit Thrushes and White-throated Sparrows were seen foraging on the ash on the ground and at one point one of the thrushes captured an insect when it flipped over a bit of the ash.

Banding highlights of Friday, April 23 included the first Red-winged Blackbirds captured this spring. The first was a nice after second-year male. It takes two years for the males to attain the full red epaulets and all black plumage, and this particular male had been banded in 2009 as an after second-year then, making him at least three years old.

It has been my impression that the female Red-winged Blackbirds have been later this year, by perhaps 2-3 weeks, which may be the reason for so few captures so far this spring. Now that the marsh has been burned, including the cattails, it seems likely that there will be very few more caught this spring. This second-year female (older birds have more peach color on the throat) was the second Red-wing of the day.

Interesting birds observed but not banded included 6 Common Loons flying over, a Sora calling briefly north of the road, two Purple Martins, two Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and at least one Barn Swallow (plus the Tree Swallows that have been back for some time), only one Yellow-rumped Warbler, but a single singing Pine Warbler and two different singing Northern Waterthrushes which were quite early.

Banding highlights of Saturday, April 24 included the first, and probably last Winter Wren of the spring as few of these tiny birds are captured here in May.

Yesterday's small flock of White-throated Sparrows had increased to at least a dozen, with several singing early in the morning, and the first of the season banded being a nice white-striped individual (there are two color morphs, the other being tan-striped).

One of the most common birds banded at Metro Beach is the Swamp Sparrow. In fact, probably more of these are banded here than anywhere else in Michigan. Birders are often puzzled by sparrow identification, and this is not only due to the complex brown-striped plumage that many share, but also due to the individual variation. Most look for a sparrow in the marsh (rarely in true swamps) which has a solid rufous cap and an unstreaked breast, like the one in the photo below.

But more often than not (and almost never in spring), the Swamp Sparrow does not sport such a solid rufous cap. Individuals with rufous, brown, and black are very frequent, and generally the rule in fall. Individuals like the one in the photo below.

Birds with the solid rufous caps can be confused with other sparrows, including Chipping and American Tree Sparrows. And birds with less rufous caps can be confused with, well, just about anything. But there are other field marks to look for, including the grayish line over the eye (white in Chipping), and the gray collar visible on the second bird above (lacking in Tree). On the wings, the Swamp Sparrow (in spring) has a very distinct pattern to the greater secondary coverts. They've got a large black teardrop-shaped center with broad rufous edging. This is shown well in the photo below (you'll want to click on the photo to see it full-size). One might think that this variation is based on the age or sex of the bird but, so far, no such correlation has been demonstrated.

Song Sparrows have a similar pattern on these coverts, but instead of rufous, they're brown, and of course they have a boldly striped breast with a central breast spot. Some of this doesn't apply to birds in the fall, and especially juveniles, but I'll leave that discussion for another time! Interesting birds observed but not banded included an American Woodcock flushed from one of the small remnant unburned patches of Phragmites, flyover Bonaparte's Gulls and Forster's Terns, a briefly singing (and early) Warbling Vireo, similar swallows to yesterday, three Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, at least 4 Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a couple singing Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Thanks to the volunteers who made banding on these two days possible: Elaine Attridge, John Bieganowski, Chris Charlebois, Harry Lau, Rose Lau, Tessa Lau, Jennifer Munson, and Tom Schlack.

Banding Data
THURSDAY, April 23, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:39
Time Open (E.S.T.): 5:45
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 13:15
Hours Open: 7.50
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 92.375
Temperature (F): 36-59
Cloud Cover: 10-50%
Wind: NE-E @ 1-3-10 mph
Barometer: 30.03-30.06
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 19 (plus 13 recaptured and 1 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 7
Capture Rate: 35.7 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers: Elaine Attridge, John Bieganowski, Chris Charlebois, Jennifer Munson, Tom Schlack

Hermit Thrush - 2
[American Robin - 1 recaptured]
[Song Sparrow - 1 recaptured]
Swamp Sparrow - 2 (plus 1 recaptured)
[Northern Cardinal - 3 recaptured]
Red-winged Blackbird - 1 (plus 1 recaptured)
American Goldfinch - 14 (plus 6 recaptured and 1 released unbanded)

SATURDAY, April 24, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:38
Time Open (E.S.T.): 5:45
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 13:30
Hours Open: 6.25 (closed 9:30-11:00 during rain)
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 75.813
Temperature (F): 52-61
Cloud Cover: 100%
Wind: NE-E @ 5-7-10 mph
Barometer: 30.00-29.86
Precipitation: Light rain from 9:30-11:00
No. Banded: 12 (plus 5 recaptured)
No. of Species: 7
Capture Rate: 22.4 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers: Harry Lau, Rose Lau, Tessa Lau

[Black-capped Chickadee - 1 recaptured]
Winter Wren - 1
Hermit Thrush - 3
Song Sparrow - 2 (plus 3 recaptured)
Swamp Sparrow - 2
White-throated Sparrow - 1
American Goldfinch - 3 (plus 1 recaptured)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Metro Beach banding report - April 13 & 16, 2010

Where are all the birds? Two more days with very low numbers banded has me wondering. I suspect that the early, sustained warm trend since mid-March has allowed overwintering birds to return north earlier than normal, and possibly allow some early migrants like Fox Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, and Winter Wren, to overfly our area. Other birds that should be here are not much in evidence, including no Eastern Phoebes and fewer Song and Swamp Sparrows than I'd expect by now. But two species that I normally band in good numbers all during April have avoided the nets so far. Only two American Robins have been banded this spring, while I have not yet banded a single Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, or Brown-headed Cowbird. On April 11, 2009, I banded 79 birds, more than the total of all 5 days so far since April 3, 2010! A visit to the feeders at the nature center suggests that not many female Red-winged Blackbirds have arrived yet, as the ratio was about 10 to 1 males to females. So, possibly few are setting up territories in the marsh until more females arrive. I'm sure that the migration will improve in the coming weeks.

Banding highlights of Tuesday, April 13 include the first Dark-eyed Junco of the season which I suspect will be the last.

Two Hermit Thrushes were also welcome arrivals. Interesting birds observed but not banded included NINE Common Loons flying over in a generally northerly direction (all in breeding plumage), a single Great Egret, a calling American Woodcock, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Winter Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, a single Fox Sparrow on the drive out at the end of the day, and a single Rusty Blackbird. Butterflies observed included a Mourning Cloak and a Spring Azure.

Banding highlights of Friday, April 16 was the fact that we didn't get shut out entirely! The six birds banded today tied the worst day since 2004, but that previous day we only had the nets open for about 3 hours and took the nets down in high winds and thunderstorms. We didn't have any of those excuses today! Interesting birds observed but not banded included one Common Loon calling in flight, a female Northern Harrier, a calling Sandhill Crane that eventually flew off to the southwest, a briefly calling American Woodcock, a flyover Bonaparte's Gull, two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, four Yellow-rumped Warblers, and the first White-throated Sparrow in the banding area so far this spring. Butterflies observed included Mourning Cloak, Cabbage White, and Spring Azure. American Toads were calling all day along with Western Chorus Frogs and a single Leopard Frog. A sighting of a single Green Darner dragonfly was soon followed by TWO of them flying in tandem, mating.

Banding on these two days could not have been done without the help of the following volunteers: David Boon, Jean Gramlich, Gisela Lendle-King, Tom Schlack, and Rachelle Sterling.

Banding Data
TUESDAY, April 13, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:55
Time Open (E.S.T.): 6:00
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 13:00
Hours Open: 6.00 (closed from 9:00-10:00 due to rain)
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 73.500
Temperature (F): 46-63
Cloud Cover: 100-90%
Wind: ENE-SW @ 5-7-10 mph
Barometer: 30.52-30.53
Precipitation: Light rain from 8:30-10:00
No. Banded: 14 (plus 4 recaptured)
No. of Species: 7
Capture Rate: 24.3 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers: David Boon, Tom Schlack, Rachelle Sterling

Black-capped Chickadee - 1 (plus 1 recaptured)
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 2
Hermit Thrush - 2
Song Sparrow - 1 (plus 2 recaptured)
Swamp Sparrow - 2
Dark-eyed Junco - 1
American Goldfinch - 5 (plus 1 recaptured)

FRIDAY, April 16, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:50
Time Open (E.S.T.): 6:15
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 12:15 (closed early due to wind)
Hours Open: 6.00
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 72.500
Temperature (F): 64-68
Cloud Cover: 80-100-50%
Wind: SW-NW @ 7-10-15 mph
Barometer: 29.93-29.86
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 6 (plus 1 recaptured and 1 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 4
Capture Rate: 9.7 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers: Jean Gramlich, Gisela Lendle-King

Black-capped Chickadee - 1
[Song Sparrow - 1 recaptured]
Northern Cardinal - 1 (plus 1 released unbanded)
American Goldfinch - 4

Monday, April 12, 2010

Metro Beach banding report - April 9 & 10, 2010

Winter birds have almost completely moved out of the banding area now, but the early spring migrants are still relatively low in numbers, with the result that mainly resident birds were captured on these two days. The next week or two should see a notable influx of new birds.

Banding highlights on Friday, April 9 included two resident species that are generally fairly common, but are only rarely captured in the banding area. Not one, but two Tufted Titmice were captured; a male and female in the Upland Nets together on the same net run.

The other species that only rarely gets captured in the banding area habitat is House Finch, and two nice males were captured today.

Other banding highlights included 3 Brown Creepers, 1 Golden-crowned Kinglet, and 1 Hermit Thrush. Among the recaptures included a Song Sparrow originally banded in 2006. Interesting birds observed but not banded included a Common Loon in breeding plumage flying to the northeast, an American Woodcock calling before sunrise near the Field Nets, 1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, at least 3 singing Winter Wrens, 2 American Tree Sparrows, 1 Dark-eyed Junco, and a Rusty Blackbird.

Banding highlights on Saturday, April 10 were few, as only 10 birds were banded. A Golden-crowned Kinglet was welcome, as well as the 2 Swamp Sparrows. The first Northern Cardinals of the season were banded today. Recaptures included a Song Sparrow originally banded in 2005, and single American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, and Song Sparrow originally banded in 2007. Interesting birds observed but not banded included a Common Loon in breeding plumage flying to the northwest, an American Woodcock calling near the Field Nets, an Eastern Towhee singing before sunrise, and a single Dark-eyed Junco...perhaps the last of the season.

Many thanks to the volunteers who made banding possible on these two days: John Bieganowski, Chris Charlebois, Jacob Charlebois, Amanda Grimm, Lisa McArthur, Tom Schlack, and Joan Tisdale.

Banding Data
FRIDAY, April 9, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 6:02
Time Open (E.S.T.): 6:00
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 13:00
Hours Open: 7.00
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 86.750
Temperature (F): 36-45
Cloud Cover: 100-90%
Wind: WSW @ 7-10-12 mph
Barometer: 29.91-30.00
Precipitation: Intermittent light snow (!) in morning
No. Banded: 27 (plus 8 recaptured)
No. of Species: 9
Capture Rate: 40.3 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers: John Bieganowski, Chris Charlebois, Jacob Charlebois, Amanda Grimm, Tom Schlack

Black-capped Chickadee - 1 (plus 2 recaptured)
Tufted Titmouse - 2
Brown Creeper - 3
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 1
Hermit Thrush - 1
[American Robin - 1 recaptured]
Song Sparrow - 1 (plus 3 recaptured)
House Finch - 2
American Goldfinch - 16 (plus 2 recaptured)

SATURDAY, April 10, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 6:00
Time Open (E.S.T.): 6:00
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 12:15 (closed early due to wind)
Hours Open: 6.25
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 74.563
Temperature (F): 32-57
Cloud Cover: 0-20%
Wind: W-SE @ 0-3-15 mph
Barometer: 30.30-30.24
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 10 (plus 7 recaptured)
No. of Species: 7
Capture Rate: 22.8 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers: Lisa McArthur, Joan Tisdale
[Black-capped Chickadee - 1 recaptured]
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 1
American Robin - 1
[Song Sparrow - 3 recaptured]
Swamp Sparrow - 2
Northern Cardinal - 2
American Goldfinch - 4 (plus 3 recaptured)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Metro Beach Spring Banding Begins

On Saturday, April 3, four volunteers and I opened the banding station at Metro Beach for the 7th spring season since the project was re-instated in 2004. The expectations for this early in the season include lingering winter birds like American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos as well as some early migrants including American Goldfinches, Golden-crowned Kinglets and Brown Creepers. The warm weather of the past two weeks resulted in the warmest "opening day" we've ever year there was still ice in the swamp. It was also one of the least productive opening days in some time, with only 10 birds banded and 3 recaptured. My best guess is that the winter birds had departed on the warm weather, as not a single American Tree Sparrow was in the banding area, and only a couple juncos, while some of the early spring migrants had not yet arrived in numbers.

It took us a little over two hours to get the station set up, as we had to relocate the net lanes (not too hard) and there were a couple minor changes that I made to the setup. The Swamp Nets now consists of an enclosed "U" with two 18-meter nets and a 12-meter net, rather than the open "U" used before. The Willow East net was reduced from an 18-meter net to a 12-meter net, as that site is becoming even more open as the willows in that area seem to be dying off. A slightly different position was tried there, but it didn't look much better. The planned controlled burn of the entire marsh to control Phragmites has not yet occurred, and the weather does not look promising in the next week. This invasive control program will certainly be of great benefit to the health of the local ecosystem, but will affect long-term comparisons of banding data. But it will also provide a potential opportunity to closely monitor bird populations during and after such a burn. Studies have been done on the effects of burns in prairie habitats, but I am not aware of any studies monitoring bird populations after a Phragmites burn, so this could present an interesting an unique opportunity over the next 5 years.

Banding highlights for Saturday, April 3 included of course the first bird of the season, which happened to be a Black-capped Chickadee in the Field Nets. On the same net run was another chickadee that was banded already, and in checking it out later at home I found that it was banded in 2007.

Two Song Sparrows were also recaptured, one banded as a hatch-year in fall 2009 and one banded as an after second-year in fall 2007. The first Swamp Sparrow of the season was also captured, the first of many more to come. Metro Beach is probably the most productive banding site in Michigan for this species.

We did get a taste of early migrants, with a single Brown Creeper banded. I am always amazed to see the long, decurved bills of these birds, and also the fascinating eyelid shape (not round), which they share with the wrens.

And a small group of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the banding area provided us with three to band, two males and one female.

Interesting birds observed but not banded included several Tree Swallows circling over the marsh all day long, but never coming down low enough to check out the nest box by the Field Nets. But they will do that soon enough. A Winter Wren was heard singing off and on, and at least one Tufted Titmouse was in the banding area, where they are infrequently encountered. In the unconfirmed category, Harry saw a bird around the Field Nets that he said looked like a waterthrush. This early in the season, Louisiana Waterthrush would be more likely than Northern, but the bird was not captured nor re-sighted. Perhaps most interesting was the pair of Cooper's Hawks that are again working on the nest in the maple tree near the Willow East net. The smaller male is a streak-breasted second-year bird and the larger female is an adult of unknown age with rufous-barred underparts.

Over the winter, I received an interesting notice from the Bird Banding Lab. A Brown-headed Cowbird that was banded as a second-year female at Metro Beach last spring on June 6, 2009 was found dead near Clyde, Sandusky County, Ohio on October 10, 2009. This is 80 miles just about due south of Metro Beach, and is the second cowbird banded at Metro Beach encountered elsewhere (the first was banded in spring a couple years ago and found only two weeks later to the northwest in Saginaw County).

Thanks to Harry Lau, Rose Lau, Tessa Lau, and Tom Schlack for helping out today.

Banding Data

SATURDAY, April 4, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 6:12
Time Open (E.S.T.): 7:15
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 12:30
Hours Open: 5.25
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 61.313
Temperature (F): 50-63
Cloud Cover: 70-100%
Wind: SSE-SW @ 7-10-15 mph
Barometer: 29.82-29.71
Precipitation: Light rain during take-down
No. Banded: 10 (plus 3 recaptured)
No. of Species: 7
Capture Rate: 21.2 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers: Harry Lau, Rose Lau, Tessa Lau, Tom Schlack

Black-capped Chickadee - 3 (plus 1 recaptured)
Brown Creeper - 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 3
American Robin - 1
[Song Sparrow - 2 recaptured]
Swamp Sparrow - 1
American Goldfinch - 1