Sunday, April 22, 2012

Metro Beach banding station report - April 18, 2012

I was only able to muster enough volunteer help to band on one day this week instead of the two days of the protocol established since 1989. It was a pretty good day with spring arrivals of White-throated Sparrows most noticeable but with no Yellow-rumped Warblers in evidence and fewer Hermit Thrushes, unlike last week. The weather was perfect for banding. Thank you to the volunteers who helped on this day: John Bieganowski, Jean Gramlich, and Tom Schlack.

Highlights of the 60 birds banded on Wednesday, April 18 included only the second Mourning Dove banded here since 2004 (I band quite a few in my backyard in winter).

After hatch-year male Mourning Dove

In-hand, it is interesting to see the iridescence on the sides of the neck, as well as the green and blue eye ring and the pink corners of the mouth.

The first Tree Swallows of the spring were banded today too, though we often don't band very many. They are not yet building nests, but still fighting over cavities, so although this individual was brightly colored on the upperparts I was not able to determine the sex, as it was not showing the cloacal protuberance of a male nor a brood patch that a female would show.

After hatch-year Tree Swallow

This individual did have an interesting asymmetrical scattering of white feathers on its forehead, most prominent on its left side.

After hatch-year Tree Swallow

The second Tree Swallow of the day was easier to age, as it was almost entirely brown on the upperparts. These are second-year birds and I'm sure that some are misidentified early in the season as Northern Rough-winged or even Bank Swallows.

Second-year Tree Swallow

Some years we don't catch any Brown Thrashers at all, and in a good year only two or three, so one today was very much appreciated by all the volunteers present. It was also nice that it was more cooperative for photos than most.

After hatch-year Brown Thrasher

The bird of the day was obviously Swamp Sparrow, as they accounted for more than 1/3 of the birds banded. They are definitely our spring "mascot". There is a lot of variation in crown color and pattern, seemingly unrelated to the age or sex of the birds. Those showing nice solid and extensive rufous caps like the one below represent perhaps only about 25% of the population based on what we see here, despite what field guide illustrations show. We see very few hatch-year birds in fall with this much rufous, so there certainly is some age or seasonal correlation.

After hatch-year Swamp Sparrow

A surprise was this Field Sparrow, partly because only about 10 have been banded here since 2004 but also because it was caught in the "Upland" swamp woods nets not in the field or marsh. Note that American Tree Sparrows have bicolored black and yellow bills, while the Field Sparrow has a pink bill. There are of course several other plumage differences but the bill color is the easiest to look at first in the field (no pun intended).

After hatch-year Field Sparrow

Interesting birds observed but not banded included four flyover Common Loons, a flyover Solitary Sandpiper, a flyover Caspian Tern, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Banding Data
WEDNESDAY, April 18, 2012
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:47
Time Open (E.S.T.): 6:00
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 12:30
Hours Open: 6.50
No. of Nets: 4.50-13.50
Net Hours: 81.75
Temperature (F): 36-54
Cloud Cover: 10-20%
Wind: E-SE @ 5-7-10 mph
Barometer: 30.34-30.27
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 60 (plus 11 recaptured and 8 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 13
Capture Rate: 96.6 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 9.5 hours, 5:00-14:30): John Bieganowski, Jean Gramlich, and Tom Schlack.

Mourning Dove - 1
Tree Swallow - 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 1
Hermit Thrush - 1
American Robin - 3
Brown Thrasher - 1
Field Sparrow - 1
Song Sparrow - 1 (plus 2 recaptured)
Swamp Sparrow - 23 (plus 2 recaptured and 2 released unbanded)
White-throated Sparrow - 9
Red-winged Blackbird - 13 (plus 4 recaptured and 5 released unbanded)
Common Grackle - 1 (plus 1 released unbanded)
American Goldfinch - 3 (plus 3 recaptured)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring Bird Banding season kickoff

The 9th spring bird banding season at Lake St. Clair Metropark (formerly Metro Beach Metropark...I don't know how the Bird Banding Lab would react to my changing the name of such a long-standing station) began on Saturday April 7, and the first two days of banding were conducted on April 12 and April 14. The warm spring (and warm winter) seems to have urged some of the winter residents that we band early in the season, such as American Tree Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco, to head north early. Last year's very long and cold winter kept Tree Sparrows in the banding area until the end of April. But we did catch some of the other early species this week, including Fox Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Eastern Phoebe (doesn't usually nest in the park), and Winter Wren. The weather on the 7th was chilly in the morning to warmer than normal in the afternoon, on the 12th it was much the same and on the 14th it was chilly all day with intermittent light rain that forced a mid-morning closure and an early close.

A special thank you to the following volunteers who made banding on these three days possible: Chris Charlebois, Jacob Charlebois, Greg Gasser, Wayne Hoch, Jeremy Joswick, Ava Lau, Harry Lau, Rose Lau, Tom Schlack, Holly Vaughn, and Blanche Wicke.

Highlights of the 39 birds banded on Saturday, April 7 included the season's first, and possibly only Eastern Phoebe. They are almost never captured after about April 20 in the swamp woods/cattail marsh transition area where the banding station is located, so we are almost past their typical dates of occurence here in spring.

After hatch-year Eastern Phoebe

It was also nice to catch four Brown Creepers today. As the sole members of their family in North America (Certhiidae), they are always interesting to see in-hand. It is thought that they might be most closely related to wrens.

After hatch-year Brown Creeper

Last fall there was some discussion of the possibility of ageing Brown Creepers by the size of the spots at the tips of the primary coverts. So, I checked this out on a couple of the creepers caught today and found a couple different situations. One individual seemed to have small dots on all primary coverts, which all the confirmed hatch-year birds last fall were showing.

Second-year (?) Brown Creeper

Another individual had the outer three primary coverts with larger spots and the inner ones with small dots, which would appear to be what the banding manual (Pyle 1997) would call a "molt limit". It also appears that the outer three primaries are darker and perhaps newer.

Second year (?) Brown Creeper

In spring, we don't catch anywhere near as many Golden-crowned Kinglets as in fall. Partly this may be because they start migating back north before we start banding in early April. Also, there might be high winter mortality leaving fewer individuals to return to the breeding grounds.

After hatch-year male Golden-crowned Kinglet

European Starling is a very infrequent capture, and to be consistent with the protocols of the bander who preceded me (Ellie Cox, who passed away on March 29, 2012), I band them. As I've noted in this blog before, in spring the males can be told by the blue at the base of the lower mandible. Females are pink. No kidding!

After hatch-year male European Starling

The bird of the day was undoubtedly Red-winged Blackbird, with 15 banded, all of them second-year males. Over the years I have noticed some patterns, including that I catch males mainly in April and females mainly in May, and that second year males almost never show an enlarged cloacal protuberance that the after second year males do, so they probably only rarely get an opportunity to mate.

Second-year male Red-winged Blackbird

The first of many Swamp Sparrows to come were also banded today. This individual was the first bird of the day, and of the spring season, to be banded.

After hatch-year Swamp Sparrow

A single White-throated Sparrow was unusually early and may have been an over-wintering bird.

After hatch-year White-throated Sparrow

Recaptures are always of great interest. A female Downy Woodpecker was originally banded last year as a hatch-year.

Second-year female Downy Woodpecker

But this time I noticed something unusual about her tail feathers. A good secondary field mark for telling Downy from Hairy Woodpecker is that Downy usually has black spots on the white outer tail feathers. Usually. She does not.

Second-year female Downy Woodpecker

Several Song Sparrows were recaptured that were banded in previous years. The most interesting was one that was banded originally in 2007, and today's recapture made the 20th time he'd been caught since then.

After 6th year male Song Sparrow

Interesting birds observed but not banded included a flyover Great Egret (early), a calling Virginia Rail, a winnowing Wilson's Snipe, two singing Winter Wrens, an early Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and singles of Fox Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco.

Highlights of the 44 birds banded on Thursday, April 12 included a Tufted Titmouse, which is a fairly common bird most places but is only rarely captured here.

After hatch-year Tufted Titmouse

The first Hermit Thrushes of the season had only arrived a few days ago, so it was nice to catch them fairly early in the season.

Second-year Hermit Thrush

The number of Red-winged Blackbirds was even greater today, and included a couple of recaptures of after second-year birds.

After second-year male Red-winged Blackbird

And the first females of the season were banded today, including this nice after second-year female aged partly by her rich peach-colored throat.

After second-year female Red-winged Blackbird

The first of probably many Common Grackles was banded today. This one is a second-year female and is rather duller than most people expect for the species this time of year. It has retained much of its duller, non-iridescent underparts and females have smaller tails than males as well as smaller bills. I wouldn't be surprised if individuals like this are mistakenly identified at feeders as Rusty Blackbirds or even Brewer's Blackbirds.

Second-year female Common Grackle

An interesting recapture today included this Black-capped Chickadee that is at least 5 years old.

After 5th year Black-capped Chickadee

Interesting birds observed but not banded included single Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Barn Swallow among the many Tree Swallows, a single Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Winter Wren (one has been in the banding area all winter), and a Field Sparrow about half way between the Field Edge and Field Nets.

Highlights of the 35 birds banded on Saturday, April 14 included three firsts for the season. At least two Winter Wrens have been singing in the banding area for about a week, after one spent the winter, and one was captured today.

After hatch-year Winter Wren

Another new arrival in the banding area was Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and two males were banded today.

After hatch-year male Ruby-crowned Kinglet

There was clearly an influx of migrant White-throated Sparrows since the 12th which is earlier than normal, and four were banded today with several others in the area. And although they've been in the area for more than a week, today's first Fox Sparrow of the season was most welcome.

After hatch-year Fox Sparrow

Interesting birds observed but not banded included a calling Virginia Rail, a flyover Greater Yellowlegs, three winnowing Wilson's Snipe over the Field Nets before sunrise, 8 Yellow-rumped Warblers, two Dark-eyed Juncos, and three Rusty Blackbirds. Not a bad day for being mostly rained out.

Banding Data
SATURDAY, April 7, 2012
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 6:05
Time Open (E.S.T.): 7:15
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 13:15
Hours Open: 6.00
No. of Nets: 4.50-13.50
Net Hours: 71.50
Temperature (F): 30-57
Cloud Cover: 10-20%
Wind: W-SE @ 1-3-7 mph
Barometer: 30.36-30.28
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 39 (plus 6 recaptured)
No. of Species: 11
Capture Rate: 62.9 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 9.0 hours, 6:00-15:00): Wayne Hoch, Jeremy Joswick, Holly Vaughn, Blanche Wicke.

[Downy Woodpecker - 1 recaptured]
Eastern Phoebe - 1
Brown Creeper - 4
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 1
American Robin - 8
European Starling - 1
Song Sparrow - 3 (plus 5 recaptured)
Swamp Sparrow - 4
White-throated Sparrow - 1
Red-winged Blackbird - 15
Brown-headed Cowbird - 1

THURSDAY, April 12, 2012
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: 4.50-13.50
Net Hours: 87.50
Temperature (F): 32-54
Cloud Cover: 5-30%
Wind: NW-SE @ 1-3-5 mph
Barometer: 30.27-30.28
Precipitation: None
No. Banded: 44 (plus 18 recaptured and 4 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 10
Capture Rate: 75.4 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 10.0 hours, 5:00-15:00): Wayne Hoch, Tom Schlack.

Black-capped Chickadee - 2 (plus 3 recaptured)
Tufted Titmouse - 1
Hermit Thrush - 2
American Robin - 2 (plus 4 recaptured)
European Starling - 1
Song Sparrow - 3 (plus 7 recaptured and 1 released unbanded)
Swamp Sparrow - 5 (plus 1 recaptured and 1 released unbanded)
Red-winged Blackbird - 25 (plus 3 recaptured and 2 released unbanded)
Common Grackle - 1
American Goldfinch - 2

SATURDAY, April 14, 2012
Sunrise (E.S.T.): 5:53
Time Open (E.S.T.): 5:45
Time Closed (E.S.T.): 10:15 (rain forced early close)
Hours Open: 3.25 (closed for rain from 6:45-8:00)
No. of Nets: 4.50-13.50
Net Hours: 36.875
Temperature (F): 48-42
Cloud Cover: 100%
Wind: SE @ 3-5-10 mph
Barometer: 30.10-30.03
Precipitation: Intermittent light rain
No. Banded: 35 (plus 5 recaptured and 3 released unbanded)
No. of Species: 12
Capture Rate: 116.6 birds per 100 net hours
Volunteers (worked 8.0 hours, 5:00-13:00): Chris Charlebois (2 hours only), Jacob Charlebois (2 hours only), Greg Gasser, Ava Lau, Harry Lau, Rose Lau.

[Black-capped Chickadee - 1 recaptured]
Brown Creeper - 1
Winter Wren - 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 2
Hermit Thrush - 6
American Robin - 2 (plus 1 recaptured)
Fox Sparrow - 1
Song Sparrow - 3 (plus 2 recaptured)
Swamp Sparrow - 7 (plus 1 recaptured)
White-throated Sparrow - 4
Red-winged Blackbird - 7 (plus 3 released unbanded)
Brown-headed Cowbird - 1