Sunday, August 29, 2010

Metro Beach banding report - August 27-28, 2010

After last week's modest cold front, I had high hopes for good warbler movement this week, and of course reduced mosquito activity in the somewhat cooler temperatures. There was some success on both fronts, with fewer individual warblers than expected but with some interesting species, and fewer mosquitos although insects did provide some entertainment, which I'll cover at the end of this post. While pretty good numbers were banded these two days, more than half of them were American Goldfinches, so anyone hoping to see more goldfinch photo highlights should stop reading here to avoid disappointment.

Banding highlights from Friday, August 27 included two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and the first Red-eyed Vireo of the season, an after hatch year based on its brown eye, and sexed as female based on the short length of its wing.

Red-eyed Vireos have had an interesting banding history at Metro Beach. Between 1990-1999 a total of 20 was banded in spring (average 2.0 per spring), with a peak of 10 in the spring of 1996. Between 1989-1999 a total of 112 was banded in fall (average 10.2 per fall), with a peak of 22 in fall 1991. Since I restarted this project in 2004, I have banded a total of 22 Red-eyed Vireos here, all in fall, averaging only 4.4 per fall. I dno't necessarily think that they're less common than before, but certainly I'm catching fewer of them. The undergrowth has changed, and I think this is due to the increase in White-tailed Deer in the park. Up to 1999, deer were rather scarce, but since 2004, they've been quite common (I'd use the word nuisance, due to the damage they do to nets, vegetation, and other wildlife).

Eight species of warbler were banded today, including Nashville, Magnolia, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson's Warbler.

Hatch-year female Nashville Warbler

The first American Redstart of the season was banded, as well as the first Black-throated Blue Warblers.

Even hatch-year male Black-throated Blue Warblers, like the one above, are easy to identify as they closely resemble adults, usually showing a more mottled black-and-white throat. One of my favorite "quiz birds" to puzzle the banding volunteers with, as well as birders passing by, is the bird shown below.

Even fairly experienced birders can be fooled by a bird like this. The main field mark, due to variation between individuals, is pretty much absent. Now what!  All too often a dependency on a single well-defined field mark can let us down when it isn't there. This is a hatch-year female Black-throated Blue Warbler, which nearly lacks the white mark at the base of the primaries (like the male above has). But the facial pattern of this bird is fairly distinctive too. The rather dusky cheek, narrow white supercilium, and white arc below the eye, coupled with the pale yellow underparts, uniform greenish upperparts with no wing bars, should get you to the right ID.

Interesting birds observed but not banded today included a Belted Kingfisher flyover, a couple of Swainson's Thrushes giving their nocturnal flight calls from the woods away from the nets, and a beautiful adult male Canada Warbler.

Banding highlights from Saturday, August 28 included three Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and an Eastern Wood-Pewee, a species that is infrequently captured here.

Note that this individual can be aged by the relatively narrow whitish-buff wing bars, where a hatch-year bird will have much broader and richer buff, almost cinnamon, wing bars that it can retain well into the fall. Many younger birds, in my limited experience, can have an almost completely dark lower mandible, which might prompt reports of Western Wood-Pewee, a difficult ID even in-hand. I noted that this adult had a fairly extensive duskiness on the lower mandible too, perhaps more than many Eastern Wood-Pewees.

For those less interested in the esoteric ID points of pewees, the photo above provides an excellent view of the stiff rictal bristles characteristic of all Tyrant Flycatchers.

Another flycatcher captured today provided some interest. It was an Empidonax, but clearly a juvenile as it had a short tail. At this locale, Point Rosa Marsh at Metro Beach Metropark, Willow Flycatchers are annual breeders, but Alder Flycatchers do nest some years. This summer I did not detect any Alders here, and indeed there have been several Willow Flycatchers all around the Field Nets since the beginning of the fall banding season. I think that it is reasonable to say that this is a recently fledged Willow Flycatcher.

Something else about this flycatcher struck me as interesting. Though this is only the second juvenile Empidonax I've banded (the first was in August last year), it seemed to have a rather pale upper mandible as well as lower. Perhaps this is due to its young age?

The first Marsh Wren of the season (a hatch-year) was captured. As expected, it was nowhere near the cattail marsh where they nest, but in the "upland" woods across the road. In recent years, it has become clear that this species disperses into adjacent areas and habitats after breeding at this locale, suggesting that preservation of surrounding lands in addition to wetlands is important to the biology of Marsh Wrens.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are very infrequently banded at Metro Beach, and this hatch-year female was a surprise out in the Field Nets early in the morning.

Among the 9 species of warbler captured today (8 banded, Ovenbird was a recapture), the Yellow Warbler was possibly one of the last we'll see this season. But the hatch-year female Connecticut Warbler was definitely a highlight of the season, as this is only the fourth since 2004, all in fall (8 were banded from 1989-1999, 6 in fall).

Interesting birds observed today but not banded included two Common Nighthawks at dawn over the beach, Swainson's Thrushes again heard giving nocturnal flight calls from nearby woods, a Great Horned Owl giving begging calls before sunrise, and a Cape May Warbler sitting in the tree in the middle of the Field Nets...too bad it didn't go in.

It has also been an interesting summer, and early fall for insects, especially butterflies and dragonflies. A number of southern species have moved north including the very beautiful Buckeye butterfly, which was one of 13 butterfly species found in the banding area on these two days.

Another southern immigrant, much smaller but still beautiful, is the Fiery Skipper, which also delighted us out by the Field Nets.

Banding on these two days could not have been done without the capable help of the following volunteers: Melissa Brady, Mary Buchowski, Kevin Hannay, Dave Lancaster, Tom Schlack, and Jeff Silence. Thank you!

Banding Data
FRIDAY, August 27, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:51
Time Open (E.S.T.): 5:45
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 13:00
Hours Open: 7.25
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 87.813
Temperature (F): 53-77
Cloud Cover: 10-0%
Wind: WSW-SE @ 1-3-10 mph
Barometer: 29.85-29.82
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 72 (plus 7 recaptures and 3 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 16
Capture Rate: 93.4 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 10.0 hours, 6:00-16:00): Dave Lancaster, Tom Schlack.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - 2
"Traill's" Flycatcher - 1
Least Flycatcher - 1
Red-eyed Vireo - 1
House Wren - 3 (plus 1 recaptured)
Nashville Warbler - 1
Magnolia Warbler - 4
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 2
American Redstart - 1
Ovenbird - 2
Northern Waterthrush - 1
Common Yellowthroat - 5
Wilson's Warbler - 2
Song Sparrow - 6 (plus 2 recaptured and 1 released unbanded)
Northern Cardinal - 1
American Goldfinch - 39 (plus 4 recaptured and 2 released unbanded)
SATURDAY, August 28, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:52
Time Open (E.S.T.): 5:45
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 13:00
Hours Open: 7.25
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 89.063
Temperature (F): 63-84
Cloud Cover: 0%
Wind: SW-S @ 5-7-10 mph
Barometer: 29.86-29.87
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 50 (plus 12 recaptures)
No. of Species: 19
Capture Rate: 69.6 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 10.0 hours, 6:00-16:00): Melissa Brady, Mary Buchowski, Kevin Hannay, Jeff Silence.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - 3
Eastern Wood-Pewee - 1
Willow Flycatcher - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 1 (plus 1 recaptured)
House Wren - 1
Marsh Wren - 1
Nashville Warbler - 1
Yellow Warbler - 1
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 1
American Redstart - 1
[Ovenbird - 1 recaptured]
Northern Waterthrush - 3
Commnon Yellowthroat - 1
Song Sparrow - 2
Northern Cardinal - 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - 1
American Goldfinch - 28 (plus 10 recaptured)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Metro Beach banding report - August 18, 2010

The warblers have arrived! For many years, the date August 25th has been stuck in my mind as the first day around which the first significant influx of migrant warblers can be expected in southeastern Michigan. Well, this year it was August 18, as a weak cold front had moved through the state overnight and into the morning.

Banding highlights on Wednesday, August 18 included ten species of warbler, the most interesting including Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee, and Wilson's. Four Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and four Empidonax flycatchers (three "Traill's" and one Least) were additional highlights. The majority of the birds banded today were captured in the first two net runs, after which the nets had to be closed temporarily due to light rain (NOT predicted!). Once the nets were open again, the activity had subsided considerably.

Typically, the earliest Tennessee Warblers are adults that are in heavy molt. That was the case with today's adult male, which was showing lots of pinfeathers, symmetrical wing molt, and was missing his tail entirely.

Adults of many species are the first to migrate, and this was also the case with one of the two Mourning Warblers banded today, an adult male with his freshly molted body feathers and heavily gray-fringed black bib.

Magnolia Warblers are often among the earliest warblers to arrive in fall, but can also pass through into mid-October, which results in their being one of the most frequently banded warblers at this site.

Wilson's Warblers also arrive early, and can be confused with immature Yellow Warblers, but note the olive crown contrasting with the yellow eyebrow and lack of spots in the tail, all distinguishing characters for female Wilson's.

Chestnut-sided Warblers in juvenile/fall plumage are perhaps the most distinctive species that consistently confuses birders. At first glance, it appears fairly nondescript, but no other fall warbler has such a bright green crown and back, gray cheek with bold white eyering, and yellow wing bars.

Another early species, which is banded irregularly at Metro Beach, is the Blackburnian Warbler. It was surprising to come upon two of these in the Field Nets right next to each other. Not the habitat they've been caught in before here. It seems likely that a mixed species flock of warblers dropped into Point Rosa Marsh just before sunrise this morning.

The migration of Yellow Warblers is at or just past peak, but we are still catching small numbers of them. One unusual capture was this adult female with one primary feather completely yellow. Apparenly, when this feather needed to be grown in, the bird was not able to produce melanin for some reason. That's my best guess anyway.

In contrast to warblers that are peaking in migration, American Goldfinches are just finishing nesting and won't really begin to migrate for another two or three weeks. The juvenile below is perhaps the youngest goldfinch ever banded at Metro Beach, as it's small bill and short tail shows.

Another American Goldfinch, an adult male, was very interesting. It was a recapture, with a band on its left leg. I normally band on the right leg, so thought that perhaps it had some foot pox and I banded it on the other leg. Once home, I checked the number and came up empty. It was a foreign recapture! Querying other local banding sites got a match. He was banded in November 2007 by Julie Craves in her Dearborn yard as a hatch-year male, a distance of about 27 miles to the northeast.

Interesting birds observed but not banded today included three additional warbler species, Bay-breasted, Black-and-white, and American Redstart, as well as a calling Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Not heard since early spring, a begging call of a Great Horned Owl was heard at mid-day.

Banding could not have been done today without the able assistance of David Boon and Tom Schlack.

Banding Data
WEDNESDAY, August 18, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:42
Time Open (E.S.T.): 6:00
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 13:45 (closed from 8:15-10:15 due to light rain)
Hours Open: 5.75
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 67.938
Temperature (F): 65-79
Cloud Cover: 100-10%
Wind: SW @ 1-3-10 mph
Barometer: 29.78-29.73
Precipitation: Light rain from 8:15-10:15
No. Banded: 60 (plus 10 recaptures)
No. of Species: 19
Capture Rate: 103.0 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 10.0 hours, 6:00-16:00): David Boon, Tom Schlack.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - 4
Northern Flicker - 1
"Traill's" Flycatcher - 3
Least Flycatcher - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 4
[House Wren - 1 recaptured]
[American Robin - 1 recaptured]
Tennessee Warbler - 1
Yellow Warbler - 5 (plus 1 recaptured)
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 1
Magnolia Warbler - 5
Blackburnian Warbler - 2
Ovenbird - 1
Northern Waterthrush - 2
Mourning Warbler - 2
Wilson's Warbler - 2
Canada Warbler - 1
Song Sparrow - 5 (plus 3 recaptured)
American Goldfinch - 20 (plus 3 recaptured)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Metro Beach banding report - August 14, 2010

The first full week of the banding season resulted in only one day of banding, one day short of the hoped for protocol to allow comparisons with previous years' data. Hopefully, as the fall wears on, the heat and humidity will let up, and summer vacations of volunteers will be over, and we can get back to banding two days a week.

And it was hot and humid on the day we banded, Saturday August 14. Highlights included the first two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds of the season.

The hatch-year male above is showing two red gorget feathers. Contrary to popular belief, male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds do not gradually grow in more and more red throat feathers as they age. But instead, follow a molt schedule like all other birds. Some immature males have a few scattered red throat feathers in late summer or early fall, but the full red gorget is not grown in until they are ready to migrate northward from their Central American breeding grounds.

The first migrants of the fall were also banded today, including this nice hatch-year female Canada Warbler.

And later in the day, we caught a hatch-year Northern Waterthrush, which was very uncooperative for his portrait session.

Other than these highlights, mainly breeding residents were banded, including hatch-year individuals of American Robin, Common Yellowthroat, American Goldfinch, and Song Sparrow. The first Empidonax flycatcher of the season was banded, which keyed out as an Alder Flycatcher. The last Empid banded in early June also keyed out as Alder, which suggests the species may have bred in the area this summer. Of course, a recaptured Alder in breeding condition a couple years ago provided evidence the species does nest here, but it is not detected every year and Willow Flycatchers are probably more regular.

The recaptured adult male Common Yellowthroat turned out to be fairly interesting. Upon returning home and checking the database, it turned out that he'd been banded in May 2009 here at Metro Beach, but my notes indicated that I had a photo of him (below) taken because he had a tumor-like growth on his chin. Although no photo was taken of him this time (he was molting quite heavily), he clearly did not have that growth any more.

Interesting birds observed but not banded were few and far between. The flock of Cedar Waxwings perching in the lone dead ash tree at the center of the Field Nets never took the plunge, while Eastern Wood-Pewees and Great Crested Flycatchers called from the treetops, seeming to state emphatically that they will not be least not yet.

The overcast conditions later in the day were not very conducive to dragonfly activity, but nonetheless a few Lance-tipped Darners were active, including one unfortunate individual that got caught in the Upland Nets.

Many thanks to Mary Buchowski and Kathy McDonald for helping today. Banding could not have been done without you!

Banding Data
SATURDAY, August 14, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:38
Time Open (E.S.T.): 6:00
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 12:00 (closed early due to oppressive combination of heat and humidity)
Hours Open: 6.0
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 71.875
Temperature (F): 76-84
Cloud Cover: 20-100%
Wind: SE-SW @ 5-12-5 mph
Barometer: 29.56-29.54
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 20 (plus 2 recaptures and 2 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 9
Capture Rate: 33.4 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 9.0 hours, 6:00-15:00): Mary Buchowski, Kathy McDonald.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - 2 (plus 1 released unbanded)
Alder Flycatcher - 1
American Robin - 4
Yellow Warbler - 1
Northern Waterthrush - 1
Common Yellowthroat - 2 (plus 1 recaptured)
Canada Warbler - 1
Song Sparrow - 5 (plus 1 recaptured)
American Goldfinch - 3 (plus 1 released unbanded)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fall Banding at Metro Beach

On Saturday, August 7, a team of 5 volunteers and I worked hard in the morning to clear the net lanes for what will hopefully be a productive fall season of banding. Luckily it wasn't as hot and humid as it had been recently, and the mosquitos weren't too bad either. The nets were fully open for only a couple hours, and not many birds were caught. One surprise was a hatch-year Swamp Sparrow that became the first bird of the season by flying into the Field Nets while we were still getting them open!

The species most frequently captured today was Yellow Warbler, and these won't be in the marsh much longer as they are very early migrants. The hatch-year in the photo below is in very fresh plumage.

Interesting birds observed today, but not banded, included Caspian Tern, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Purple Martin (circling high overhead), Indigo Bunting, and Baltimore Oriole. Several of these are early migrants and won't be around much longer.

Many thanks to Thierry Lach, Jerry McHale, Aaron Potts, Tom Schlack, and Jeff Silence for doing the hard work that needed doing to get the banding area ready for the coming banding season.

Banding Data
SATURDAY, August 7, 2010
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:30
Time Open (E.S.T.): 8:45
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 12:00
Hours Open: 3.25
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 33.813
Temperature (F): 58-77
Cloud Cover: 10-40%
Wind: Calm-S @ 0-7-12 mph
Barometer: 29.69-29.68
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 7 (no recaptures)
No. of Species: 4
Capture Rate: 20.7 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 8.0 hours, 7:00-15:00): Thierry Lach, Jerry McHale, Aaron Potts, Tom Schlack, Jeff Silence.

American Robin - 1
Yellow Warbler - 4
Common Yellowthroat - 1
Swamp Sparrow - 1

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summery Hummery Summary

The end of July is by no means the end of summer, as we're still seeing adult female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds carrying eggs, are only starting to see the first hatch-year birds at our feeders (and in our traps), and the post-breeding, pre-migration molt of body feathers has not yet begun. But, this is a convenient time to summarize the hummingbird banding results from June and July.

July 31 was the culmination of a year of planning for the Fourth Annual Michigan Hummingbird Festival. Temperatures were mercifully cool this year, with the morning starting out in the 60s, but with rain in the forecast. As predicted, very light rain began falling as our 3-hour hummingbird banding demonstration was to begin at 8:00 a.m. As a result, we did not open our Russell Trap, which tends to be the most productive trap. Instead we began cautiously by setting up two G-traps and two Dawkins Traps, which are cage-like aparatuses with feeders inside, and can be quickly checked and birds taken out easily. Banding was done under a canopy as in previous years, while I was under a different tent, educating the public by showing them the banded hummingbirds up close and personal. The photo below shows part of the gardens at the River Lake Inn Restaurant, where the festival has been held since 2007, with hummingbirds coming to their many feeders.

Click here to view a 35-second video of the activity at these feeders (taken July 24, 2010).

Although the rain stopped by 9:00 a.m., so many birds were being caught that there really was no time to open the Russell Trap. The results of the festival banding was 62 banded and 5 returnees from previous years, all ably banded by Brenda Keith and retrieved by "runners", Rich Keith and Phyllis Barents, while Jo Ellen Van Galder kept up with the fast-paced action as data recorder. Probably more than 1000 people attended this event, and many of them got to release a banded hummingbird. More than 100 people donated to our annual "adopt-a-hummer" event, and they'll receive a certificate showing the band number of their adopted bird, with notifications to follow should any be recaptured.

The total number of hummingbirds banded during June and July, based on standards adopted in previous years, was a very good total of 467, with an additional 79 returnees from previous years. Additional highlights from July included banding at a new locale in extreme northwestern Hillsdale County, where 36 were banded in just 90 minutes. Mary Bird's excellent hummer haven near Battle Creek produced an additional 39 new hummers banded, plus 14 more returnees from previous years. Our annual program at Lake Hope State Park in scenic southeastern Ohio netted 25 banded plus 3 returnees from 2008, and two new locales in Oxford, Oakland County showed some promise for the future. Jim and Melissa Pappas's hummingbird sanctuary produced a good number of birds after a slow start in June, and all sites in Waterloo Township, Jackson County continue to be very productive.

Some years, I am priviledged to be able to band nestling hummingbirds in the nest. This year, no less than FIVE nests came to my attention, but due to scheduling and other conflicts (including unexpected fledging at one nest), I could only visit one, which happened to be at a locally well-known nature center at the Fernwood Botanical Gardens in Berrien County, southwest Michigan. The nest was about 7-feet over a well-traveled foot path on a long, flimsy branch of an oak tree. I had indicated that perhaps it would not be a good idea for "media" to be informed of this event, but nature center visitors, and campers in the park, were very welcome. Probably 50 visitors watched the process of two baby hummingbirds being banded, and safely returned to their nest. They successfully fledged 5 and 7 days later, at the age of 20 and 22 days.

The coming six weeks, early August through mid-September, should see a big increase in captures as more young fledge, and all Ruby-throats begin preparations for southward migration.