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

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