Thursday, April 14, 2011

Metro Beach banding report - April 3-13, 2011

Every spring I try to get the bird banding station at Metro Beach Metropark, Macomb County, Michigan open on at least one day in the first week of April. My hope is always to band some of the last lingering winter birds like American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos, while also trying to catch the beginning of them migrations of some early migrants like Eastern Phoebe, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, and Fox Sparrow. But the first week of April in southeastern Michigan can be tricky. Sometimes, winter is still hanging on, though most years there is no ice remaining in the swamp woods. How did we fare on opening day, and two subsequent banding days this spring? Read on.

Since we're likely to be doing some clearing of net lanes (though not as much as in fall), start time for opening day in spring is typically 8 a.m. Here is a photo of the happy first-day crew on Sunday, April 3.

Left to right: Mary Buchowski, Sarah Matuszak, Mike Matuszak.

It was Sarah and Mike's first time out. Their day turned into somewhat of an initiation. The mud and water was not as bad as it has been virtually every spring since 2004, though there was still plenty of both. It wasn't as difficult to get around and this might be due to the Phragmites having been removed and possibly allowing a better flow of water through the area. Out at the Field Nets, we pushed a Glossy Buckthorn, which had been cut down last November by park staff (thanks Todd!) out of the net lanes. But another net lane had a much larger tree down in the the middle of it.

Tree fallen across Willow (west) net lane.

Lacking a chainsaw or even a decent hand saw, I decided that we'd move the net to another spot about 10 yards away. Sadly, the tree that fell often provided a good perch for warblers and other songbirds in the fall. At the Upland-U nets, I noticed a log that had fallen perhaps 3 years ago with very fresh woodpecker diggings near it on the ground. The holes, as can be seen in the photo below, were oval in shape and were about 6-inches long by 3-inches wide.

Log with woodpecker diggings.

This is very characteristic of Pileated Woodpecker, which had never been recorded in the park before one was seen flying west along the beach in fall 2010. This raises the exciting possibility that this large woodpecker is still in the area (the diggings looked VERY fresh), and perhaps I'll have a chance to band my first-ever Pileated Woodpecker this year. The nets went up pretty much without any problems, and we managed a few hours of banding, resulting in a pretty good total of 19 birds banded. The weather prediction was for rain to move in during late afternoon and the evening, but by about 1:30 p.m. (EDT) the sky suddenly didn't look so friendly any more, so I decided to close up, with the rain starting lightly as we were doing so. We got the nets all closed, with no birds caught, and prepared to take them all down. But winter decided to return and over the next hour or so the rain got heavier, turned to sleet, then freezing rain, the wind came up and it began to snow! This is the first time we've taken the banding station down in snow! The new recruits survived, and have indicated that they will be back. Mother Nature loves to initiate new banding volunteers! Conditions on Saturday, April 9 and Wednesday, April 13, were much more spring-like.

Highlights of birds banded on Sunday, April 3 included five American Tree Sparrows (the spring season record is 8). So, one of the main goals of opening this early was met.

American Tree Sparrow (AHY-U).

Another highlight was a White-breasted Nuthatch already wearing a band, caught in the new Willow (west) net location, proving its worth right away. Nuthatches aren't rare in the park, but we don't often see them back in the swamp woods/marsh transition zone where the banding station is located, so don't band very many. And this one being banded was from a previous year (2010 it turned out), the first "returnee" of this species we've had.

White-breasted Nuthatch (AHY-M) originally banded 8 September 2010 as HY-M

Interesting birds observed but not banded included a flyovers of Killdeer, Horned Lark, and Tree Swallow, along with single Brown Creeper and Winter Wren in the woods, and a few Golden-crowned Kinglets and Rusty Blackbirds.

Highlights of birds banded on Saturday, April 9 included three Eastern Phoebes, a very good number for one day.

Eastern Phoebe (AHY-U)

Among the singing Winter Wrens in the area, one managed to find its way into the nets.

Winter Wren (AHY-U)

The number of kinglets, especially the early migrating Golden-crowned, present in spring is much smaller than in fall, so it was a pleasant surprise to band a dozen of them today.

Golden-crowned Kinglet (AHY-M)

A bigger surprise was the continued capture and banding of American Tree Sparrows, with the 12 banded today bringing the season total to 17, shattering the previous spring record of 8.

American Tree Sparrow (AHY-U)

Fox Sparrows are always nice to see up close, and an early migrant, so the four banded today was definitely a highlight.

Fox Sparrow (AHY-U)

A single White-throated Sparrow was the earliest ever banded here. The fact that it was already banded was exciting too. It turns out that it had been banded as a HY-F on the last day of banding last fall at Metro Beach, so almost certainly had spent the winter here. This is the first different-season recapture of a White-throated Sparrow at Metro Beach. Like the over-wintering birds banded in my yard in Inkster, Wayne County, this sparrow was in heavy body molt. The main migration of White-throated Sparrows won't begin in earnest for another couple weeks.

White-throated Sparrow (SY-F) originally banded 3 November 2010

A surprise late in the day was a Rusty Blackbird. This species is difficult to catch, as they spend much time in the treetops and, when they descend to the ground are mainly in open areas of swamp where they flip over leaves to search for invertebrate prey. This is not the kind of area that conceals a mist net very well. So, this is only the fourth Rusty Blackbird banded here since 2004, and only the tenth since 1989 (all in spring). It can be sexed as female based on the all-gray plumage with very little iridescence.

Rusty Blackbird (SY-F)

Rusty Blackbird (SY-F)

Interesting birds observed today but not banded included a Sandhill Crane that circled over the marsh calling for a couple minutes, a winnowing Wilson's Snipe, two displaying American Woodcock, and a single early Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Highlights of birds banded on Wednesday, April 13 included a good total of 7 Brown Creepers and the season's first Hermit Thrush.

Hermit Thrush (AHY-U)

The four Swamp Sparrows banded today added to the two banded on the 9th, and included birds with nice solid chestnut caps, a character not related to age or sex.

Swamp Sparrow (AHY-U)

Two more American Tree Sparrows brought the season's total to 19, and two more Fox Sparrows added to the four banded on April 9th. A single Dark-eyed Junco was another winter species that is hoped for in early April.

Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco (SY-F)

Interesting birds observed but not banded included four flyover Common Loons, the season's first Sora, and once again Wilson's Snipe and American Woodcock before sunrise. The number of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the area increased to five, and swallows were more in evidence with a single Purple Martin and a couple Barn Swallows. A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher called from near the Swamp Nets but never came down low enough to be caught, and an Eastern Towhee called briefly near the Willow Nets.

Banding on these three days could not have been done without the help of willing and capable volunteers, including Mary Buchowski, John Bieganowski, Sarah Matuszak, Mike Matuszak, and Tom Schlack.

Banding Data
SUNDAY, April 3, 2011
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 6:13
Time Open (E.S.T.): 8:45
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 13:00
Hours Open: 4.75
No. of Nets: 4.25-13.25
Net Hours: 54.688
Temperature (F): 34-42-39
Cloud Cover: 40-100%
Wind: SE @ 3-15 mph
Barometer: 29.73-29.66
Precipitation: Rain/Snow at close
No. Banded: 19 (plus 3 recaptures)
No. of Species: 8
Capture Rate: 40.2 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 7.5 hours, 8:00-15:30): Mary Buchowski, Mike Matuszak, Sarah Matuszak.

Black-capped Chickadee - 2 (plus 1 recaptured)
[White-breasted Nuthatch - 1 recaptured]
American Robin - 4
American Tree Sparrow - 5
[Song Sparrow - 1 recaptured]
Northern Cardinal - 1
Red-winged Blackbird - 4
American Goldfinch - 3

SATURDAY, April 9, 2011
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 6:03
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: 85.750
Temperature (F): 36-50
Cloud Cover: 80-20-100%
Wind: Calm-SE @ 0-3-5 mph
Barometer: 30.12-30.07
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 65 (plus 7 recaptures)
No. of Species: 12
Capture Rate: 84.0 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 10.0 hours, 6:00-16:00): Mary Buchowski, Tom Schlack.

Eastern Phoebe - 3
Brown Creeper - 4
Winter Wren - 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 12
American Tree Sparrow - 12
Fox Sparrow - 4
Song Sparrow - 8 (plus 5 recaptured)
Swamp Sparrow - 2
[White-throated Sparrow - 1 recaptured]
Red-winged Blackbird - 2
American Goldfinch - 16

WEDNESDAY, April 13, 2011
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:56
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: 85.750
Temperature (F): 36-64
Cloud Cover: 20-10%
Wind: N @ 3-5 mph
Barometer: 30.08-30.05
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 34 (plus 8 recaptures and 1 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 13
Capture Rate: 49.0 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 10.0 hours, 6:00-16:00): John Bieganowski, Tom Schlack.

Downy Woodpecker - 2 (plus 1 recaptured)
[Eastern Phoebe - 1 recaptured]
Brown Creeper - 7
Winter Wren - 1
Hermit Thrush - 1
American Robin - 4 (plus 1 recaptured)
American Tree Sparrow - 2 (plus 1 recaptured)
Fox Sparrow - 2
Song Sparrow - 2 (plus 2 recaptured)
Swamp Sparrow - 4
Dark-eyed Junco - 1
Red-winged Blackbird - 4 (plus 1 released unbanded)
American Goldfinch - 4 (plus 2 recaptured)

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