Thursday, May 24, 2012

5-21 May
So far the spring season for us has been rather dismal for migrants. But then again I do live on Cape Cod, not a great place for spring bird migration, especially on the outer cape. I should know better but I always get pumped up only to be disappointed! If I want a place hopping with birds, I guess I should move to Veracruz, Mexico (eh, Manuel?). Enough whining, I actually feel very privileged to work with birds and they are all wonderful in their own right.

We had our first of two banding demonstrations on Saturday, May 5th and 15 brave souls endured the cool, overcast day. Our nets were only open for a few hours but we captured 29 birds of 11 species. It was a 3 thrush day including Hermit Thrush and we banded our first ever spring Veery, an ASY (after second year) bird, which was released before taking a photo but looks similar (except for the greater coverts)  to the first year bird below.

A real treat for some people in the group was the capture of an ASY Swainson's Thrush,

a life bird for some of them. This bird was just passing through on migration as it makes its way to north to breed.

We caught only 2 species of warblers this day one being a Nashville, an ASY male.

He had quite a bit of rusty feathers in his crown (partially hidden) and a distinct contrast between his gray head coloration and greenish back.

It was nice to have a Northern Mockingbird in the net. We haven't banded many since 2006. Pictured below is an AHY (after hatch year) male in breeding condition.

A female AHY Red-winged Blackbird (below) was found in our saltmarsh nets, not yet breeding.

On May 6th, Gray Catbirds and Nashville Warblers could be heard singing all over the island. We managed to capture 2 more Nashville's and our first Common Yellowthroat male (below), a return from 2010 when he was in his first year.

I like to try to take photos of each species as we capture them, but I tell you trying to get a good picture of a cardinal without getting assaulted, especially by an older male (also a return from 2010) is downright impossible sometimes. After I pried his beak off this finger

he gave me a good bite on my middle finger (is he trying to tell me something?)! See the telltale diamond shaped mark of a cardinal. Oh the things we banders go through for the study of birds... 

The only other new species for the day was a Tree Swallow, a breeding male.

Two more towhees arrived on the 7th, one a SY female,

with a molt limit in her tertials, replacing secondaries 8 and 9, but not s7.  

I could hear many Northern Parulas singing as well as Yellow Warblers that morning and we captured our first of year Yellow Warbler on the second net run.

On the 8th it was a treat to find an adult male Orchard Oriole. We've banded young birds before and I've had SY male Orchards but never an older adult in full breeding plumage.

Male Orchard Orioles delay their full adult plumage until their third year so a SY male would look like this:

While we normally band Field Sparrows in the fall, this AHY bird was another first ever for our spring season.

Prairie Warblers breed on Wing Island and they first arrived on the 5th but we didn't capture one until May 12th, a SY female.

We also banded our first of the year female Common Yellowthroat,

 a White-eyed Vireo,

as well as 2 Brown Thrashers.

May 14th was our best day so far with 57 birds handled of 18 species including recapturing the thrasher, but 33 were new birds like this gorgeous older adult male Magnolia Warbler,

two Northern Waterthrush,

a SY female Wilson's Warbler,

and a new species for our station, an ASY Wood Thrush! I used to hear and band Wood Thrushes often when I lived in central Massachusetts and really miss those birds. Hearing Veeries and Wood Thrushes as I walked through the woods was always so soothing. 

Other species for the day was a SY female Bluejay with a brood patch,

and Swamp Sparrows, which we don't band very often in the spring, but usually have many in the fall. I was able to capture both males and females for a good comparison on crown plumage. First an AHY male below with a good amount of rufous in the crown, 

and a female with a mix of brown, gray and black feathers.  

We've been seeing many of our residents in breeding condition now including this male Black-capped Chickadee on the 17th with a good example of an enlarged cloacal protuberance (CP for short). This area enlarges (notice the protuding area in the area of the lower abdomen) as the bird gets ready to mate and certainly aids us in establishing the sex of species where the plumage of males and females look alike.

Another Magnolia Warbler (we called them Maggies) was banded, this time a SY male.

I also banded a Song Sparrow that had pox evident on his lower mandible. 

No new species showed up again for the spring until the 21st when an ASY female American Robin, also with a brood patch, was banded.

I've been hearing Cedar Waxwings vocalizing since the 19th and finally captured one on the 21st.

I aged and sexed her as a SY female due to her lack of red waxy tips to her secondaries and small amount of yellow on her tail. 

The small amount of black feathering on her chin also points to female. 

We held another banding demonstration on the 19th but was too busy showing birds to people and neglected to take any pictures. They were fortunate to see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird up close and see how we band them. A cute story is of a young girl, perhaps 7, who came to the first banding demonstration and her mother told us she promptly went home and banded all her stuffed animals! They wanted to come back and see more birds of course, but her daughter was also intent on building a mist net (indoors)  in order to catch her 'birds'.

Many thanks to all who helped out at the banding station these past few weeks- Gretchen Putonen, Jo-Anna Ghadban, Jessica Rempel, Alice Wynn, Carolyn Kennedy, and Judy Keller. As usual, below is list of birds seen, heard, and captured (with numbers) throughout this 3 week period.

Total birds: 274                                        Total species: 76
Total banded species: 36                          Birds/100 net-hrs: 26

Green Heron
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Northern Bobwhite
Black-bellied Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
American Woodcock
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird-2
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker-1
Hairy Woodpecker
Yellow-shafted Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Tree Swallow-1
Barn Swallow
Blue Jay-1
American Crow
Fish Crow
Black-capped Chickadee-23
Tufted Titmouse-6
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren-14
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush-1
Hermit Thrush-1
Wood Thrush-1
American Robin-1
Gray Catbird-72
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher-4
Cedar Waxwing-1
European Starling-1
White-eyed Vireo-1
Nashville Warbler-3
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler-4
Magnolia Warbler-2
Black-throated Green Warbler
Pine Warbler-2
Prairie Warbler-5
Black-and-white Warbler-2
Northern Waterthrush-2
Common Yellowthroat-53
Wilson's Warbler-1
Northern Cardinal-5
Eastern Towhee-4
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow-1
Song Sparrow-19
Swamp Sparrow-5
White-throated Sparrow-5
Red-winged Blackbird-2
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird-1
Orchard Oriole-1
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch-25
House Sparrow

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Late March-30 April

We had a mild winter on Cape Cod this year with temps warm enough that I could have banded throughout the winter. I had no nets set up at my yard feeders so I was chomping at the bit by March. We did have numerous turkeys visiting our yard in March and it was fun being so close to displaying males. The pictures aren't the best as they were taken through a window.

Many people put their feeders out in March with reports of early migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I had a call from a person in Dennis who had a hummingbird at her feeder the day after she put hers out. She recognized it as a Selasphorus since I had banded a Rufous Hummingbird at her house in 2007. I went over the next day (25 March) and it turned out she had an Allen's Hummingbird, which I believe is our 4th state record. This After Hatching Year male had an all green back,

a lancelot shaped r2 and very thin r5 measuring 1.2mm,

and a very beautiful orange colored gorget.

Our first official banding day on Wing Island was 13 April. We still had two nets to install with others needing to be reset so we opened on the later side and couldn't open all of our nets. We captured two American Goldfinches together, a probable pair, both SY (second year) birds. The male was halfway finishing up his prealternate molt into breeding plumage.

We also banded our first of numerous Swamp Sparrows

and five birds returned to us from previous years including a 5 year old Song Sparrow

and a SY Carolina Wren of unknown sex.

The next day we recaptured a Hermit Thrush first banded last year

as a HY (hatch year) bird. The teardrop buffy edging to the coverts indicate a SY bird.

Our first White-throated Sparrows graced the nets and could be heard singing all around the island. White-throats are just moving through at this time as they head further north to breed.

The 16th proved to be our best day with 52 birds handled including our first ever Brown Creeper in the spring.

A handsome ASY (after second year) Gray Catbird was captured, the first of many! We didn't capture another one until May.

Young Northern Cardinals can go through a complete molt as adults do so in the spring unless we see a molt limit, birds are aged as AHY (after hatch year). We captured a female cardinal and were able

to age her as a SY due to retained juvenal tertials (s8 and 9), those two brownish flight feathers closest to my thumb.

Warblers this day include yellow-rumps, or Myrtle Warblers, one of our earliest warblers to migrate north. Many yellow-rumps spend the winter on cape. Pictured below is an ASY male.

Yellow Palm Warblers were passing through too, banding six new birds.

Pyle says that most Palm Warblers cannot be sexed by plumage alone except for possibly the length of the crown patch, but more study is needed. In this case the crown patch measured 21mm, on the highest end for an older adult male. We will send his sex in the BBL as unknown with a note that we suspect male. 

Other birds gracing our nets were an unwelcomed guest, a male House Sparrow, although if he didn't have such a bad reputation we would consider him quite handsome!

After our 'big' day on the 16th, numbers of birds plummeted to 20 or less per day, numbers more consistent with April. Additional unwelcomed guests were found on the 17th, male (first below) and female (second below)Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Cowbirds can have a complete molt as a first year bird so we typically age them as AHY (after hatch year) at this time of year. The male appeared to have a retained juvenal greater covert (the brownish feather among the other black coverts) so we aged him as SY.  

We can also look to see if there is a molt limit in the underwing coverts. We found more brown juvenal feathers among one of the feather tracts (above the middle of my thumbnail).

Eastern Towhees arrived on the 20th, both SY males. The male below appeared to have a lack of melanin showing a washed out appearance.

They were aged SY by a molt limit in the wings, retained primary coverts and replaced greater coverts.

Although we've heard them singing all around us, we didn't capture a Pine Warbler until this day a SY female.

The most interesting bird on the 20th was a Savannah Sparrow.
Reading about molt in Pyle, Savannah Sparrows have a partial molt in their first year, replacing all median and greater coverts, 1-3 tertials (secondaries 7-9) in most birds, and no rectrices (tail feathers). The photo below shows juvenal rects with a growth bar. As far as the tertials go, the bird replaced s8 and 9 on  the right wing, but only s9 on the left wing all pointing to a SY bird.
But on examination of the whole wing, it appeared this bird had replaced some inner primary coverts which were much wider, darker, edged in buff while the retained pcovs were very abraded, lighter and lacked edging. The same pattern appeared in both wings. It was hard to get a great picture of this as lighting wasn't very good. Some of the primaries/secondaries looked replaced too. Some birds just leave me stumped!

Thanks very much to those who helped out this month- Jo-Anna Ghadban,  Jessica Rempel, Alice Wynne, and Judith Bruce.
The following is a list of birds seen, heard, or captured (with numbers) during April.

Total birds: 166                                           Total species: 58
Total banded species: 20                             Birds/100 net-hrs: 23

Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Common Eider
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Northern Bobwhite
Greater Yellowlegs
Solitary Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Mourning Dove-1
Great Horned Owl
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker-2
Hairy Woodpecker
Yellow-shafted Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Black-capped Chickadee-40
Tufted Titmouse-7
Brown Creeper-1
Carolina Wren-9
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush-6
American Robin
Gray Catbird-1
European Starling
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler-5
Pine Warbler-2
Yellow Palm Warbler-6
Northern Cardinal-11
Eastern Towhee-2
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow-1
Song Sparrow-30
Swamp Sparrow-4
White-throated Sparrow-14
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird-7
House Finch
American Goldfinch-13
House Sparrow-4