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

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