Saturday, June 19, 2010

Let the games begin!

As my blog is titled "Michigan Hummingbird Guy" I sometimes get criticized for not posting about hummingbirds year-round. Unfortunately, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are in Michigan generally only for 6 months of the year, from May to October, so my many other interests take over at other times, or my songbird banding projects consume my blog-space. Hopefully, by the end of June, you'll be able to read a detailed songbird banding report from Metro Beach Metropark on my website here. We haven't been able to afford to travel much in recent years, so I don't have any timely tropical hummingbird topics to discuss in winter. I did band an Anna's Hummingbird in Indiana back in April, a first for the state, but it was released by a rehabber in a yard where the homeowners preferred not to have visitors (and where the bird was captured back in December 2009), and the bird only stayed one more day, so I didn't post anything about that interesting story (the record is still in review by the Indiana Bird Records Committee).

In years past, I tried to band hummingbirds during May, but was largely unsuccessful as my major banding sites are at private homes, and the birds just don't seem to settle down until about the second week in June here. So now, this past week, I started focusing on hummingbirds. It was a good start to the season, with 113 new hummingbirds banded on 4 days between June 8-18, at 6 homes. Plus, 32 hummingbirds banded in previous years were recaptured. A new trap design, the Dawkins Trap (I call it the D-trap for short), was easy and inexpensive to construct, and I've been trying it out so far with some success. The photo below shows one hummingbird inside and one outside the D-trap.

At my first site, in Salem Township, Washtenaw County, I banded 8 hummingbirds which was a pretty good start for this locale, where I banded for the first time in 2009. Next, I went to two sites near Milford, Oakland County, where I've been banding for some time. I managed to band 9 more here, plus recapture one that had been originally banded in 2009. On June 15, I went to two homes, each 1/4 mile apart, in Waterloo Township, Jackson County where I annually band good numbers. At the first home I banded 19, and at the second banded 25. This was the first good test of the D-trap, which worked much better at the second home than the first. Also, 16 hummingbirds banded in previous years were recaptured. This included the oldest hummingbird I've ever recaptured, a female that was banded as an adult on July 11, 2003 at the same home she was recaptured today, making her at least 8 years old! She's been recaptured every year since she was banded, except in 2009.

Also, the oldest male I've ever recaptured, was one banded on July 27, 2006 as an adult male at one of these two homes, but recaptured this day at the other. This makes him at least 5 years old.

On June 17 I went to another good hummingbird site, in Hamburg Township, Livingston County. There were probably fewer hummingbirds here than I'd ever seen, and I only managed to catch three new hummingbirds, plus three banded in previous years, including an adult female banded here in 2005. Other feeder activity, birds and squirrels, may have reduced the catch, though it was nice to band three orioles, two females and one male.

After second-year female Baltimore Oriole.

The male was particularly interesting, as he seemed to be starting his post-breeding (pre-basic) molt already, with the second and third primaries on both wings in exactly the same stage of regrowth. Although orioles are in Michigan for only a short time, this still seems a bit early for molt as they won't be migrating south until late August. If you look carefully, you can see these feathers growing in on the photo below.

After second-year male Baltimore Oriole.

On June 18, I met Rich and Brenda Keith at the site where we annually band the most hummingbirds (except for Rich and Brenda's own property!), a home on the southwest side of Battle Creek, Calhoun County. There were very good numbers present, and in only 2 1/4 hours, we had captured and banded 49 new hummingbirds, and recaptured 13 others returning from previous years. The ratio of males to females seemed more heavily skewed in favor of males than seemed normal, with 27 males (55%). Normally, the males seem to lose interest fairly quickly and often account for no more than 25-35% of the captures. This male bias extended to the recaptures from other years as well, with an amazing 6 of 13 having been banded originally as hatch-year males. Recaptures of hatch-years is generally rare in my experience, and females seem to survive better than males. It would appear that there was good survival of last year's hatch of males, though that impression could change later this season when we've banded a couple more times.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Metro Beach banding - spring summary

A more complete summary of banding this spring at Metro Beach Metropark will be posted on my website, but for now I provide some basic numbers.
Banding was conducted on 16 days between 3 April and 4 June, with nets open a total of 99.50 hours (1186.625 net hours). A total of 576 new birds of 61 species were banded, plus 188 recaptures (including 109 returnees from previous years) and 25 released unbanded, for a total of 789 captures and a capture rate of 66.5 birds per 100 net hours.

(Species in bold are unusual for this banding station or season)

Cooper's Hawk - 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - 6
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 1
Downy Woodpecker - 1
Northern Flicker - 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee - 1
Alder Flycatcher - 1
Willow Flycatcher - 3
"Traill's" Flycatcher - 2
Great Crested Flycatcher - 1
Warbling Vireo - 7
Blue Jay - 1
Tree Swallow - 13
Northern Rough-winged Swallow - 53
Barn Swallow - 19
Black-capped Chickadee - 9
Tufted Titmouse - 2
White-breasted Nuthatch - 1
Brown Creeper - 4
House Wren - 6
Winter Wren - 1
Marsh Wren - 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 7
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 1
Veery - 4
Swainson's Thrush - 16
Hermit Thrush - 10
Wood Thrush - 1
American Robin - 25
Gray Catbird - 15
Brown Thrasher - 1
European Starling - 4
Nashville Warbler - 2
Northern Parula - 1
Yellow Warbler - 26
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 3
Magnolia Warbler - 12
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 5
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 5
Palm Warbler - 1
Black-and-white Warbler - 1
American Redstart - 6
Ovenbird - 7
Northern Waterthrush - 4
Common Yellowthroat - 26
Wilson's Warbler - 5
Canada Warbler - 6
Northern Cardinal - 3
Field Sparrow - 1
Savannah Sparrow - 1
Song Sparrow - 9
Lincoln's Sparrow - 15
Swamp Sparrow - 40
White-throated Sparrow - 37
White-crowned Sparrow - 3
Dark-eyed Junco - 1
Red-winged Blackbird - 52
Common Grackle - 8
Brown-headed Cowbird - 10
Baltimore Oriole - 5
House Finch - 2
American Goldfinch - 58

The photo below, taken on June 9, 2010, shows how well the cattails have come back after the controlled burn in April in the south marsh. They're now about 4-feet tall. The Field Nets are around the base of the dead ash tree in the back center of the photo.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Metro Beach spring banding season finale - June 3 & 4, 2010

Songbird migration in southeastern Michigan often continues into the first week of June, with cuckoos, flycatchers, a few late warblers, and sometimes even thrushes being encountered. This year, apparently that didn't happen. We managed to get out on two days this last week with high hopes, but the captures were all of locally breeding species. Rain in the days before we went out ensured that conditions would be as wet and muddy at the end of the season as they'd been throughout. The two days were interesting nonetheless.

Banding highlights of Thursday, June 3 included a Red-bellied Woodpecker, an after second-year female that represents only the third banded here since 2004, and only the third ever since there are no previous records to 2004.

After second-year female Red-bellied Woodpecker

In addition to the interesting pattern of white on the wing in the photo below, if you look carefully you can see the three ages of primary coverts that suggest the bird's age; two very black fresh outer ones, several worn middle ones, and a couple less worn inner ones.

After second-year female Red-bellied Woodpecker

And in this extreme closeup, you can see the beautiful reddish eye that older woodpeckers of several species often show.

After second-year female Red-bellied Woodpecker

It was a good day to study the various plumages of Red-winged Blackbirds. It takes two years for males to attain the all-black body plumage with bright red epaulets edged with yellow. This makes it fairly easy to age these birds as after second-year.

After second-year male Red-winged Blackbird

Second-year male Red-wings show a variable amount of buffy streaking on the body plumage, and their epaulettes are usually more orange, with black spots mixed in.

Second-year male Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbirds can also be aged this precisely, though the characteristics to look for are more subtle. Second-year females are usually very starkly whitish and brown-streaked. Look especially on the throat and face, where they are typically quite white. The amount of reddish edging on the shoulder patch seems to be quite variable and not related to the age of the bird.

After second-year female Red-wings show a very subtle peach coloration on the throat and face that is very difficult to render in photos. Jerry McHale managed to capture this well and I appreciate his giving permission to post his photo here.

After second-year female Red-winged Blackbird

A real highlight of these two days was once again catching an "old timer", a female Red-winged Blackbird that was banded in 2005 as an after second-year, which makes her an after seventh year now; that means she's at least 8 years old! She's a little bit battle scarred, but showing a brood patch so still producing young.

After seventh-year female Red-winged Blackbird

Interesting birds observed but not banded included 72 Canada Geese migrating northward, undoubtedly undergoing a molt migration, and the pair of Cooper's Hawks which were still sitting on their new nest.

Banding highlights of Friday, June 4 included an Eastern Wood-Pewee, which usually eludes me in the spring as they stay up high in the trees. Note the rather grayish overall coloration of the upperparts, as well as the almost complete lack of an eyering, and the narrow whitish wing bars.

Empidonax flycatchers are a favorite of mine, precisely because they are a challenge. Most challenging are Willow and Alder Flycatchers, which more often than not cannot be separated even after taking numerous measurements. Willow is probably the most common nesting species at Metro Beach, but some years there are Alders as well, and both seem to use the shrubby wetlands on the edges of Point Rosa Marsh. Least Flycatchers formerly summered in the park but don't seem to much anymore. The Willow Flycatcher below was very accomodating in that it gave a diagnostic "whit" call note after release. Alder gives a richer "pip" call.

Common Grackles are sometimes a little challenging to age, but sometimes the second-year birds retain a fair amount of non-iridescent underpart feathering into the spring. The female in the photo below (she had a very conspicuous brood patch), also had delayed development of her eye color, which was not yet bright yellow as it should be by now. Hatch-year grackles have brown eyes, at least for a few weeks after leaving the nest.

Interesting birds observed but not banded included a Black-billed Cuckoo heard calling, and a single Ruby-throated Hummingbird observed briefly.

Banding could not have been done on these two days without the help of the following volunteers: John Bieganowski, Dave Lancaster, Jerry McHale, Aaron Potts, and Tom Schlack

Banding Data
THURSDAY, June 3, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 4:57
Time Open (E.S.T.): 5:45
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 11:15 (closed early due to rain)
Hours Open: 6.00
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 65.875
Temperature (F): 62-75
Cloud Cover: 80-100-95%
Wind: SW-W @ 0-5-10 mph
Barometer: 29.77-29.82-29.79
Precipitation: Trace before 11:00, then rain forced early closure
No. Banded: 15 (plus 17 recaptured and 2 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 14
Capture Rate: 51.6 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 8.5 hours, 6:00-14:30): Dave Lancaster, Aaron Potts, Tom Schlack

Red-bellied Woodpecker - 1
[Downy Woodpecker - 1 recaptured]
[Willow Flycatcher - 1 recaptured]
"Traill's" Flycatcher - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 1
American Robin - 1 (plus 3 recaptured)
[Gray Catbird - 1 recaptured]
European Starling - 1
Yellow Warbler - 2 (plus 3 recaptured)
[Common Yellowthroat - 1 recaptured]
[Northern Cardinal - 1 recaptured]
Red-winged Blackbird - 6 (plus 2 recaptured)
Common Grackle - 2 (plus 1 recaptured and 2 released unbanded)
[Brown-headed Cowbird - 2 recaptured]
[Baltimore Oriole - 1 recaptured]

FRIDAY, June 4, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 4:57
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): 59-73
Cloud Cover: 40-100%
Wind: NE-S-ESE @ 1-3-10 mph
Barometer: 29.92-29.86
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 28 (plus 10 recaptured and 1 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 11
Capture Rate: 45.0 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 10 hours, 6:00-16:00): John Bieganowski, Jerry McHale

Eastern Wood-Pewee - 1
Alder Flycatcher - 1
Willow Flycatcher - 1
American Robin - 2 (plus 2 recaptured)
Gray Catbird - 1 (plus 1 recaptured)
Yellow Warbler - 2 (plus 2 recaptured)
[Song Sparrow - 1 recaptured]
Swamp Sparrow - 1
Red-winged Blackbird - 16 (plus 3 recaptured and 1 released unbanded)
Common Grackle - 2 (plus 1 recaptured)
Brown-headed Cowbird - 1