Sunday, September 23, 2018

Watching the Parade Headed South

Every once in a while I'll be out at a banding site or working with kids in the woods or just sitting in the screen porch at home and the thought will occur to me that I am incredibly lucky to have a life that lets me spend time outside doing things I love.

Today was one of those days.

I spent both days this weekend banding at a site nearby my home and was privileged to watch as the phenomenon of southward migration appeared all around me.

Of course, the reason I was out there was because it is migration season but the landscape was just in constant motion as birds flew above me, to the side of me and near me at ground level. The sights and sounds made me feel joyful.

The banding was good too. Saturday brought what may be the tail end of migration for some of the bird species we handled. I banded 5 species of warblers and the first of the White-throated Sparrows for the fall have arrived. I watched as numerous raptors both sailed overhead and skirted the shrub tops as they hunted for their next meal. The most common hawk of the weekend was the Sharp-shinned Hawk. I had only banded one previously but this weekend I had 2 in the nets.

Both birds banded were juvenile males. Easier to get out of the nets than I imagined but also commanding a lot of respect with those needle like talons. The good news is that neither the hawk nor the bander were harmed in this process.

Besides the sharpie I had 10 species for the 2 days. In between nets runs I also watched Sandhill Cranes, American White Pelicans and a huge number of Franklin's Gulls go past my site. The gulls traveled in a long winding flock that almost went horizon to horizon. Turkey Vultures, blackbirds and Cedar Waxwings followed the same path.

The other thing I noticed was the presence of Red Breasted Nuthatches almost everywhere I went. The annual finch migration forecast out of Ontario, Canada is predicting big movements of several species south into the eastern U.S. due to a poor cone crop this summer. The movement of nuthatches this far south seems to bear this out.

Next weekend I'll be out again and I'm sure that in just those few days the changes in what we see and what we catch will be obvious. With the fall equinox just occuring, the march to winter has begun.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Fall Banding on a Hot Weekend!

Even though the migration of birds headed south starts in Minnesota in July, I don't really get out to do much migration focused banding until September. This usually means cool mornings and mild afternoons with birds being active most of the day. This year has been a very different story. We have been having unseasonably hot weather the last several days and it has changed how the birds are behaving a bit.

I have banded both days the last 2 weekends. In that time the diversity of species present is quite typical. The numbers haven't been as high as I had expected because the birds have become pretty inactive during the hottest parts of the day. By around 11 am the catch rate of birds is just about zero. If you don't get out early it is a slow day.

On the other hand I am still handling some exciting birds. Below is a Blue-headed Vireo (formerly Solitary Vireo). This is the time in the fall that many of the vireos are passing through our area. Besides this bird I handled Red-eyed Vireo and Philadelphia Vireo this weekend.

Vireo solitarius

A handsome male Mourning Warbler also graced the nets. This species is caught almost every year but is not common in the nets even though it is a skulker that spends a lot of time at just the right height to be caught. Always an thrill to handle these.

 Geothlypis philadelphia

A species that is a common breeder in the woods around here is the Ovenbird. Very vocal through the breeding season the local population has most likely already headed south and the birds I am encountering now are migrants that bred further north.

 Seiurus aurocapilla

There are still summer breeding birds around. Below is a bird that will be much more beautiful next spring but it's still nice to see that they are nesting here. This is a young Eastern Towhee. Mom and dad kept a close watch as junior was taken out of the net and then safely returned to their territory sporting some new "jewelry".

 Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Last but not least is a bird caught this morning that is not caught all that often and is the biggest species I handled all weekend. This is a Norther Flicker (Yellow-shafted form) and is a female. Note the lack of a moustachial stripe on the face. This was also the bird that did the most vocalizing while being processed. It was impressively loud.      

Colaptes auratus

A view of the underwing shows the yellow shafts that formerly gave this bird its name. The tail feathers show the same coloration. If you look close you will see this bird is molting in some new feathers on the outside edge of the wing.

The migration season is a time when what you can see in your yard or local woods changes day to day. If you want to see the most variety you need to spend as much time as you can in the great outdoors. Don't let the world pass you by unnoticed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Purple Martin Season Coming to an End

Another season of banding Purple Martins (PUMA) is quickly coming to an end. The colonies should be full of freshly fledged young and adults getting ready to head to their pre-migratory roosts.

No matter how long we do this banding and how many birds we handle, there are always things to learn. The most interesting bird this summer was a female we found on a nest at the Baker Park colony (Baker National Golf Course, Medina, MN). One of the nest boxes we took down to band had a bird that would not leave so she was easy to grab. Turned out she was already banded and when we read the band number we discovered she wasn't ours!

To make a long story short, she was banded by Tony Lau in Otsego, MN in 2013 as a nestling. We came to find out she was caught at another colony in 2015 and then this year at our site. These are the kind of things we would find out only through banding. Pretty fun to gain a bit more insight into the private lives of birds.

Interestingly, the 3 colonies in which she was found are not very far apart (20 miles?) and are almost directly north and south of each other. Apparently this bird follows the same route in the spring but doesn't go to the same colony every year.

Below are some images from our banding efforts. This wouldn't be possible without the cooperation of the Martin landlords who participate in our research efforts. A big THANK-YOU to all of those folks that welcome us to their colonies!

An unusual number of eggs in this nest. We usually see 4-6.

The easiest way to handle the young is by putting them in a container and bringing them to the banding table while the nest box gets cleaned.

They're not the prettiest babies but they grow up to be beautiful. You can't tell from this photo but their claws are really sharp. We never come away unscathed.

Parents are busy for about 3 weeks constantly feeding the chicks. As they grow, dragonflies become their main food source.

As the young get close to fledging they'll spend lots of time in the entrance hole to their nest in order to get fed first. As a growing bird it turns out greed is good.

Parents are very attentive to their chicks.

If we are lucky, this is the bird we'll see in 2 years wearing a bit of jewelry on its right leg.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Another Busy Day At The Banding Table

As hoped for, today turned out to be another great day for banding. Lots of birds around and good weather. Early in the day the wind was a worry but as the morning went on the winds calmed.

Our public program had 29 visitors and they all had a chance to see some fun birds up close.

Today's list:

Trail's Flycatcher (Willow and Alder combined)
American Redstart
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Canada Warbler
American Goldfinch
Black-capped Chickadee
Mourning Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Song Sparrow
Downy Woodpecker
Gray Catbird
Brown headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
American Robin

Total individuals = 31

What I think are the 2 best birds of the day are:
  3 Canada Warblers today which, for me, is my best one day total. We had this boldly marked male...
...and this less boldly marked female. Just a real joy to handle.
And we caught this very pretty Veery. This is actually the very first Veery I've had a chance to band. A very exciting weekend overall with over 60 birds banded. I plan to take my Field Ornithology class back to today's banding site to see if I can add to the lucky streak I have going.

Keep looking up!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The 3 C's of Bird Banding

We often tell visitors to our banding programs that some days we catch a lot of birds and other days we sit and drink a lot of coffee waiting for a bird to appear. The conditions that we think are the best for having a good banding day are what we call the 3 C's. That stands for cloudy, cool and calm. This morning we had all of those conditions and lots of migrants in the area. It turned out to be a really busy and fun banding day.

The totals for this morning were 33 birds of 15 species. Some were the local residents such as the 10 Black-capped Chickadees we caught. Others were birds moving through or summer residents just arriving. Below is a list of species we banded today:

Yellow Warbler
Canada Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Mourning Warbler
Clay-colored Sparrow
Black-capped Chickadee
Warbling Vireo
White breasted Nuthatch
Downy Woodpecker
Gray Catbird
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Black-billed Cuckoo

We had nice looks at a couple of warblers that we don't always get time to study in the hand.
 This female Magnolia Warbler was the only one of the day but we have seen them moving through our area for a while now.
Plumage indicated that this is a second year bird (hatched last summer).
Blue-winged Warblers nest in this part of the state and while we were extracting this bird from the net there were a couple of others sitting high in the trees calling.
The bird of the day had to be this Black-billed Cuckoo. This is only the second cuckoo that we've ever had the chance to put a band on. It was immediately exciting when we walked up to our net and all we could see was a long tail sticking straight up.
The red bare skin around the eye makes this an adult bird and even though this bird had a brood patch, we couldn't sex it because both male and females in this species develop brood patches.
Another thing we had not seen was the coloration of the underside of the wing. Pretty cool bird to have in the hand and worthy of a celebratory beer at lunch after the banding session.

We have another program tomorrow, Sunday, at a different site but if today is any indication of what birds are around I'm hoping that I wake up to cloudy cool and calm conditions once again.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Spring Has Finally Reached Minnesota

I haven't posted anything in a long time. Partly because life gets in the way sometimes and partly because this winter was pretty slow as far as my birding goes.

After a record cold start to April and a ridiculous amount of snow, the temps are rising and the birds are finally showing up though some are a bit behind schedule.

I got out this afternoon to see what water had opened up and to see what was present. I wasn't disappointed.
Waterfowl are moving through in good numbers and don't seem to be spending much time before continuing their trip north. These Northern Shovelers, Anas clypeata, were among the more common species. You gotta love the bill on these birds.
There was also a good number of Bonaparte's Gulls, Chroicocephalus philadelphia, feeding over the marsh while I was there.

Other species included Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sora, Greater White-fronted Geese, Ring-necked Ducks, Pied billed Grebes and American Widgeon and several other  expected species. With the temps still predicted to hit into the 70s this weekend I suspect birds will continue to push north as more water opens up.

All the more reason to go outside and keep looking up.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Just A Quicky

Looks like the Duluth radar is the hot spot this morning. Park Point might be the place to be today!

If anybody goes out, let me know what you find!