Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hoist The Flag, Open The Starting Gate-Migration Begins!

Friday morning marked the beginning of the 2007 neotropical migration at First Landing. At last! Before the nets were fully open at dawn, a Louisiana Waterthrush flew in for a visit. On the next run, a Sharp-shinned Hawk hit the twine. (Accipiters, such as Sharpies often "accompany" passerine migrants.) It was a modest beginning, but a beginning it is.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

One Reason Osprey Do Not Live Longer

Below find a recent news account from western Massachusetts of yet another group of fish-eating birds which was unlawfully killed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is also a fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by permits or by regulation allows the lawful killing of many thousands of fish-eating birds, including Osprey, under the Treaty Act.

Fish farmer pleads guilty to some charges in bird killing case
By Associated Press
Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - Updated:
07:58 AM EST

SPRINGFIELD - The owner of a Sunderland trout hatchery pleaded guilty Monday to killing herons and osprey that were feeding at his fish pools.

Michael Zak, 59, owner of the Mohawk Trout Hatchery, entered guilty pleas to two counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and one count of conspiracy. Zak’s non-jury trial on two other charges - including allegations that he shot and killed a bald eagle - began before U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor Monday. The trial is expected to last a few days.

Zak could face up to three years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Zak’s attorney Vincent Bongiorni said his client acknowledged the killing of herons and osprey, but was not willing to accept a guilty plea for the eagle charge.

”There was a factual basis to support those two counts and our claim is that it doesn’t support the bald eagle count,” he said.

Zak and his employee, Timothy Lloyd, were charged last year with violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which provides protection for migratory birds through international cooperation and treaties.

Federal investigators said they found more than 250 great blue heron carcasses, as well as carcasses of ospreys and a bald eagle on hatchery property. Tests showed the birds were killed by gunshots.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents say they staked out the hatchery periodically and saw Zak shoot at a heron with a scoped rifle and Lloyd shoot and kill an osprey.

Lloyd, 30, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of violating the migratory bird act and one count of conspiracy. His sentencing was scheduled for June 27.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Brown-headed Nuthatch Is Special.

For me there are no good birds and bad birds-there are only good birds. But, the Brown-headed Nuthatch is a special bird in the temperate mid-Atlantic region. Why? Because this nuthatch is, with some frequency, a "cooperative" breeder. That is, more than two birds of the same species provide care in rearing the young from one nest! Not the usual arrangement. Google that term and you will find that it is a fertile area in avian reserach, usually in tropical regions. Check out the Florida Scrub Jay and read of the work that has been done and is on-going at the Archibald Biological Station in Florida. You will even read of a campaign to make the Florida Scrub Jay the state bird of Florida!!

These Brown-headeds which call First Landing home are near the northern limit of their range. How frequently they breed cooperatively here as opposed to Tallahasse, Florida, where Jim Cox of has found that as many as 40% of the Brown-headeds nests are cooperative, is an open question. Notwithstanding, last Sunday, March 24th, a second-year Brown-headed Nuthatch found one of our nets. Come visit First Landing soon to hear the Brown-headeds tooting their squeeky toy songs as they, too, begin another breeding season. Photo below.

Osprey Live A Long Time.

Osprey 788-20124 was banded on July 6, 1992 as a fledgling in Assawoman Bay, Maryland. Assawoman Bay is the coastal bay which lies between Ocean City, MD and the mainland; it is approximately 116 miles northeast of First Landing State Park. This is the initial re-sighting of this bird since David Bricker banded her. She is also the oldest Osprey of the many banded by Mr. Bricker for the State of Maryland during the 1980s and early 1990s ever to be re-sighted. Finally, it is possible, even likely, that 788-20124 nested at First Landing during 2005 and 2006, as the seasonal CVWO bander during those years noticed a banded Osprey using a nest in the immediate area of the present nest tree.
Trevor Lloyd-Evans of Manomet Center for Conservation Science,, graciously undertook some research on Osprey longevity. Trevor reports:
A nice old Osprey, but they do live a long time.  The Chesapeake
populations of the 1980's did not start breeding until 5-7 yrs. old
(Spitzer in Poole 1989). Oldest bird was 25 as of 2001; in MI 12% of
males and 9% of females were 12 or older (Postupalsky 1989). Swedish
birds are a bit longer-lived because of reduced mortality (Eriksson and
Wallin 1994).

Note that the names and and dates in parentheses refer to the authors of scientific papers and the year of their publication. In any event, the nesting cycle for 788-20124 has begun anew. Her mate has brought many sticks to the nest this week for nest improvement. The sticks have been moved about and placed here and there by 788-20124. Fish have been consumed daily, mostly Bluefish of the one pound plus class. Eggs should be forthcoming shortly. For now, much time is spent snoozing and preening on the nest tree or neighboring perches depending upon wind, sun and air temperature.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

She is an "Experienced Bird."

Somewhat confusing these metal bird bands. Most are nine digits. Hummingbird bands have only six (the band is, well, that tiny). Large bands, as used on eagles and osprey, it turns out, can have either eight or nine digits. This morning, while dining on fresh fish, the female Osprey ("fish hawk" was once their common English name) displayed her band to be of the eight number variety. So 788-20124 it is! Once advised, Dr. Bob Reilly of Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory,, promptly placed a call to the Bird Banding Lab in Maryland.

After checking the database once and then again, the BBL advised Dr. Reilly that this very Osprey, 788-20124, was banded as a nestling somewhere in Maryland by David Brinker, a biologist who works for the State of Maryland, on.............................the sixth day of July in the year --------------------------1992.

Remarkable. As I learn more of this individual bird, I shall pass the information along.

There were signs of new activity at the banding station today. A Hermit Thrush was netted, followed by an Orange-crowned Warbler. And then came a woodpecker. Not the quiet, small ones you see at your feeder or suet ball over the winter, not even close. Instead, on the last net run of the day appeared a screaming, thrashing, clawing, chisel-wielding, handsome, male, second-year Pileated Woodpecker. See their images below.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Marked Birds Can Turn Up Anywhere, Anytime...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007.
Like today, perched on a dead oak tree next to her mate not fifty yards from the banding station in the brilliant morning sunlight. The pair of Osprey almost seemed curious about what I was doing under the ugly blue tarp which covers the picnic tables which comprise our field station. Having banded a few early morning passerines, I put my spotting scope on one bird and then the other. A United States Geological Survey metal band is on the left tarsus of the female. (The female has a brown feathered necklace which distinguishes her from her mate.)
At first I can only make only few digits of the band through my scope. Then he leaves the dead limb and she fidgets and scratches and diddles about. Finally she adjusts her back to absorb the morning sun more completely and flexes a wing like a dog stretches its legs after arising. In time, eight of the nine digits are verified. The numbers are ?788-20124. Now we can learn something of the life history of this wild bird. And we can add something to that history. Incrementally, we will add to knowledge of the natural world of which human beings are but a part.
How is this possible? Within the U.S. Department of the Interior is the U.S. Geological Survey. Within that agency is the Bird Banding Lab ("BBL"). The BBL maintains a central database of all banded birds, with and without color markers. There are a number of ways to report a band to them. On the web see: Color-marked shorebirds may also be reported to another office in Canada. See: Each agency will advise the individual reporting the band information of information known about the banded bird.
Today was another slow day at the banding table. No new new species were banded. The last bird of the day was a second-year Pine Warbler. That was only fitting, as their loose trills filled the sunlight of what had become a 72F day.
Peter Doherty

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Slow Day with Much Going On!

Sunday, 18 March 2007.
Before dawn at net opening it was 29F with a brisk NW wind and without bird song or call. Six hours later only a single Fox Sparrow was wearing a new band and a mere three, banded Myrtle Warblers had been recaptured. It was a very slow day at the banding table.
Yet, on the predawn walk to the station Great Horned Owls engaged in a territorial hooting contests. In the cold sunlight on and about the two Osprey nests visible from the station, there was calling and copulating. The Brown-headed Nuthatches were tooting their squeaky toys in the loblolly pines above the station. And a Great Egret provided plumage displays which can only be described as "nuptial." Spring was very much in the cold air.
Following three days of banding beginning on March 14th (rained out on the 16th) the tally stands at 34 banded of 10 species with 15 recaptures including an 11th species. A full tally to follow after the first week is completed.
Welcome to the spring 2007 passerine banding season of the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory at First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, Virginia, waypoint N 36d 54' 21.7"; W 076d 01' 43.7". Weather permitting, the station will be open from one-half hour before local sunrise for at least six hours daily until May 31st. Bird numbers should be at their peak during the last three weeks of April and the first two weeks of May. Although one may only reach the station on foot, visitors are most welcome. This blog will be updated twice weekly.
Peter Doherty, bander.