Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Snowbirds Begin To Arrive

We are starting to see reports of Dark-eyed Juncos showing up in parts of central Minnesota. This is the harbinger of winter for me and signals that migration will be slowing down over the next month.

I like Juncos.

This is one of the species that keeps us going at the banding station in January and February when it's cold and snowy outside. However, the Juncos that are here now won't be the ones we see in December. From our banding we know that these early movers will keep on going. One female we banded at Ritter Farm in early October one year was recovered 2 years later in December near Stillwater, Oklahoma. Quite the well traveled little lady. I marvel at the idea of these small birds flying thousands of miles every year yet ending up in the same exact small wintering habitat where we catch them. It's not uncommon for us to catch banded Juncos and American Tree Sparrows almost a year to the day and in the same net we caught them in the previous year. GPS has nothing on these guys!

So here's to the season of shorter daylight, colder winds and shoveling snow as a main source of exercise. Bon Iver.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Racing the Wind and Rain

I woke up this morning to the sound of wind blowing through the trees in the yard and seriously debated turning over and catching a few more hours of sleep. However, I know that the migrants aren't going to be here for much longer and even if it's windy my net lanes are fairly sheltered. Because I'm set up in a bit of a low spot my nets are often protected even in a strong wind. Figuring I had to go get my poles today anyway I dragged myself out of bed and got out to my site. It turned out to be not bad at the lanes so I went ahead and set nets planning on spending most of the time grading papers for school.

I was pleasantly surprised when this Swainson's Thrush was the first catch of the day. The thrushes may be around for a while yet.

A harbinger of fall is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I'm always amazed at how small these birds are and how thin their legs are. Handling these guys takes a light touch.

Nicest catch of the day was this Blue-headed Vireo (forever to be Solitary Vireo to me). It was a feisty bird, making sure it gave me a few "bird kisses" before I let it go.

I really love how colorful birds can be even in the fall. I think this guy was really posing for this shot.

The rains came just as I was making my last net run of the day. Got all the equipment in and headed home. This was a great weekend for banding with a total of 24 birds of 12 species. Hopefully, I can have a few more weekends like this before the nets get put away for another season.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banding on a Warm Fall Day

This morning started out calm and foggy, which for banding is just about perfect so I had high hopes as I set nets. As the morning went on though, the sun became brighter and the temps started to rise. It was pretty quiet until 9:30 or so. That's when this Red-eyed Vireo hit the net.

Things got really busy around 11:30 and here is the result of one run to the nets. The 7 bags on the left have White-throated Sparrows in them. They all hit the same net at the same time within about 3 feet of each other. The other 2 bags contain an Ovenbird and a Bluejay.

Last run of the day added this beautiful guy to the days totals. This Nashville Warbler is about as bright as I've ever seen, especially in the fall.

He was sporting a pretty good color patch on his head.

I love getting to see birds from angles that you rarely if ever see through binoculars.

Totals for today are:
Nashville Warbler - 2
Black-capped Chickadee - 1 retrap
Orange-crowned Warbler - 1
Least Flycatcher - 1
Red-eyed Vireo - 1
Ovenbird - 1
White-throated Sparrow - 7
Bluejay - 1

Total Individuals = 15
Total Species = 8

If the weather holds up, I'll be out again tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Day of Firsts

Fall banding is sometimes more exciting than spring banding, not because we see better birds but because we catch birds that offer more of a challenge. Last Sunday was no exception. After a relatively quiet day of banding at Carver Park near Victoria, MN, we did a program at Ritter Farm near Lakeville and found the conditions to be almost perfect when we arrived. Cool, just a slight breeze and birds everywhere. Walking out to the net lanes I saw flocks of robins, I heard singing Eastern Phoebes and House Wrens. Groups of sparrows jumped off the trail in front of me and skulked through the grapevines and dogwoods that line the path. I was stoked for a busy day and I wasn't disappointed!

Almost as soon as nets were open we started catching birds. Mark started processing birds and pretty much didn't move for the rest of the morning. We ended the morning with a total of 33 birds of 16 species. Not only did we see some first of the fall migrants moving through, we caught one really exciting bird that I personally had never banded and in fact we had to key it out to be sure of it's identification. A list of all the birds we caught will be at the end of this entry.

This Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula, was our first of the fall but reports from around the state suggest it was just one of many that had moved into the area in the last day or two. Many birders had them on their weekend lists.

The real excitement of the day was when we pulled this bird from a net and weren't sure what it was. We had it down to two possibilities just off the top of our head and our friend and banding volunteer made the right call when she IDed it as a Bay-breasted Warbler, Dendroica castanea. We got some nice pictures, made sure it was banded, let everyone get a good final look and then sent her on her way.

You can see why Roger Tory Peterson called this group "confusing fall warblers".

She stopped to straighten out all the feathers we had disrupted, showed off her new "jewelry", and headed south.

Another toughie was this female Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas. While this is a common breeder in the area, it still can be confusing. We might see her next spring on the edge of one of our wetlands.

This bird has been a personal struggle for me in the fall. This Philadelphia Vireo, Vireo philadelphicus, is not one we see much so I spend a lot of time separating Warbling Vireos from Philadelphia Vireos. The older keys say to look at the throat. Philadelphias should show yellow all the way to the base of the bill and Warbling should have a white throat. Apparently this characteristic is NOT dependable. Lots of good people commented on this photo and helped with the ID. I need to catch more Philadelphias.

Finally this Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe, acted like a typical flycatcher by being uncooperative and jumpy but beautiful in a flycatcher sort of way. Note the black lower mandible. This is a key to identification.

Species List
Traill's Flycatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Nashville Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Black-capped Chickadee (only retraps were chickadees)
Field Sparrow
Bay-breasted Warbler
Philadelphia Vireo
Eastern Phoebe
Red-eyed Vireo
White-breasted Nuthatch
Northern Cardinal
Gray Catbird

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sure They Sing but did You Know They Compose?

I found this while surfing around the internet the other day. It's pretty creative and must have taken a while to put together.

I hope you enjoy!

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

Sunday Banding Photos

We had a great morning banding at Ritter Farm Park in Lakeville, MN this past Sunday. It was the second of 3 fall sessions we do for the public at the park and we had lots of visitors including a group of kids who all got to help let some of our banded birds go.

Today was a classic fall banding day. Calm winds let us set nets in all the usual places. A cool morning changed into a fairly warm afternoon with temperatures reaching 80 degrees. We ended the session with a good number of birds and typical fall diversity. Totals can be seen at the North Central Bird Observatory website.

This Chestnut-sided Warbler, Dendroica pensylvanica, sure has a different look from it's spring plumage. I'm always taken by the vibrant color on their backs.

Many of the birds we caught today were young of the year like this not so Red-eyed Vireo, Vireo olivaceus. This youngster should show up next spring with a nice bright red eye.

Another young bird caught was one we don't see very often much less catch in out nets. It was this young Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius. Though a youngster, it knew how to defend itself as it tried to dril a couple of holes in our hands as we took photos of it.

We also caught this little fellow but couldn't band it because our permit excludes hummingbirds. This Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, found our net but was on his way without any new "jewelry".

Movement of birds has really picked up lately and the prediction is for a cold front to move through our area by the end of this week. 25 of the possible 26 species of warbler that can be regularly seen in Minnesota were reported on Park Point in Duluth yesterday. Shorebirds continue to move south but sparrows will not peak in their movement for 2-4 weeks yet.

Keep checking back for migration updates.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fall Migration Starting to Pick Up

With the days getting shorter and the temperatures getting cooler, it just stands to reason that we should be seeing more migration movement in the area. Reports from just north of Minneapolis and St. Paul are reporting lots of migrants with lots of diversity. I had the chance to band last weekend and did catch some southbound birds. Of course, I also caught a family group of Black-capped Chickadees that spent most of their time trying to peck me to death.

Of the birds I banded Sunday, the one that most excited me was this beautiful Black and White Warbler, Mniotilta varia. We'll get a few each year but they aren't a species that we can be confident of seeing all the time.

The other bird that made the day exciting was this Ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapilla. Both of these birds are only seen around here as they pass through.

I also got word that one of our Purple Martins, Progne subis, that was banded this spring as a nestling has been spotted far away from it's natal colony. We banded this bird at Eagle Creek Park in a northwest suburb of Minneapolis in July and it was spotted recently near Wilmar, Minnesota way over in the central part of the state. The bird is with lots of other martins at a pre-migratory roost. Now if only we can find some of those birds that have radios on them!

Watch the radar and the weather this week. We should see a real increase in birds moving through.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Migration Picks Up

The movement of birds has really picked up lately. Above is the radar map from about 11:00 pm CDT showing lots of migration over most of the eastern U.S. especially in the north along the border with Canada. With the weather staying relatively calm for the next few days, this Labor Day weekend may turn out to be very good for birding.

Here in Minnesota, flocks of warblers, shorebirds and nighthawks are being reported from almost every part of the state. Even a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos have been seen south of their breeding range!

Tomorrow should be a good day for banding and I hope to be out early so it's off to bed for me.