Tuesday, May 29, 2007

2 = ## Osprey Chicks of Female 788-20124.

The past few days have been busy about the Osprey nest tree. Fish are brought in directly to the nest with greater frequency in the early morning. So, too, are sticks and Spanish Moss. And, yes, the chicks are moving about, peeking their heads over the rim of the nest and even pulling chunks of fish from carcasses on their own! Today I finally was able to get a reasonable images of single chicks in the nest, and one with both!! The opportunities occurred when Mom 788-20124 was beginning to provide shade to the chicks at about 1000. 788-20124 spreads her wings as the air temperature approaches 80F and the chicks move to take advantage. Mom also elevates her body feathers to cool her own body as the image above without a chick demonstrates. The chicks are safely underneath, protected from the heat of the sun.

Yesterday there was quite a crowd at the banding station. Renee, Sheila, John, Terry (a noted local birder and baseball nut) and I took turns between net runs looking at the Osprey nest through a spotting scope trying to catch a glimpse of a chick. Terry briefly spied two small heads in the late morning. I was able to confirm his sighting today. Each appears healthy and is growing juvenile feathers. Their size seems about equal. If all goes well, I suspect they will fledge just after the 4th of July.


Oh, Canada!!

Just now the Ottawa Senators are playing in the Stanley Cup finals against the Mighty Ducks. This morning a SY, male Canada Warbler, the season's first, dropped into our nets. It was one of only three birds banded on this warm, humid day. What a beautiful bird it is. Perhaps a sign that the Cup will finally return to Canada?


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Success Before the Heat.

The past three days have been summer-like. Warm dawn temperatures in the mid-60s, clear skies, light to moderate SW winds and daily highs in the mid to upper 80s. Sounds perfect? Well, for the beach and swimming and volleyball, perhaps. But not, necessarily, for birds on an unshaded nest (consider Osprey and beach-nesting shorebirds/terns trying to shade/protect eggs and chicks from the sun while controlling their own body temperature) or migrants caught upside down in a mist net in the direct sun or heat. Banders must be careful to attend all nets frequently (every 20 minutes or so) or to furl them for the day. Thus, the banding day at First Landing has been ending by 1030 or 1130 recently.

Our daily tallies have been modest, 20 new, or less, but there has been an interesting assortment of warblers (Magnolia, COYE, Northern Waterthrush, Blackpoll), a thrasher, a catbird, vireos, wrens,chickadees, a sparrow and WOODPECKERS. Today, Sheila brought in a brilliant, adult Red-headed Woodpecker from net C3-a first of the banding season! The bird's back was a remarkable blue-black. The secondaries were a flawless white with black shafts. And the bill was gun metal blue. And the bird liked Sheila. No surprise there.

Compare the Red-bellied Woodpecker also pictured above. A member of the same genus (Melanerpes) as the Red-headed, the bill and general appearance of the Red-bellied is more coarse or less refined. I admit to a few favorite birds. The Red-headed Woodpecker is one.


An Eve to Remember.

On Friday afternoon, Brett, First Landing Park Ranger, and I made plans and preparations to attempt to mist net a remarkable summer breeder in the Park, the Chuck-Will's-Widow, a nightjar. Check out, for example: http://www.sdgfp.info/Wildlife/Diversity/Digest%20Articles/Chuck_wills_widow.htm
We painted aluuminium net poles, cleared net lanes and gathered other needed gear, including electronic calling equipment.

The group of volunteers included newcomers Terry, Aaron and Rich along with the always dependable Renee, Sheila and John. Before sunset, we set up the mist nets (which were in two groups, one of three, the second of four) in formations around the audio equipment and placed a white bird bag in a pocket of each mist net (an English trapping practice said to attract nightjars). We then retired in the gathering darkness to watch Common Nighthawks in the clear skies above the Park.

Soon, we heard Chuck's calling in addition to our electronic versions. Our first of four net runs was at 2100 hours. Brett's group found the two Chuck's pictured above on that run in the same net. Each was in close proximity to the white bag! No other Chuck's were netted.

The species is remarkable. The plummage is soft to the touch; owl-like. The gape (bill opening) is an avian version of a baleen whale-enormous (able and willing to eat a Common Yellowthroat whole in Brett's experience). The feet and legs are small boned and semi-palmated. And the middle toe of each adult has a remarkable comb. The birds we captured were banded, measured and released. They were each adult males, as demonstrated by the white outer tail feathers, which number only ten in nightjars. Each bird weighed about 4 ounces.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Not Easy Being a Snake!

As I have written before, on slow days there is much going on at the station. Today, the Osprey were busy feeding chick(s), shading them from the sun and undertaking some nest remodeling with new sticks and Spanish Moss.
Meanwhile, I caught a Great Blue Heron in the act of catching, killing and eating whole a large water snake. The distance and heat shimmer do not allow a clear image, but you can grasp the general idea. There was much snake shaking while holding both the head and then the tail. As usual, the prey was swallowed head first.


Prothonatory Success!

Over the past several weeks, Renee, John and Ross, a CVWO volunteer about to graduate from Old Dominion with a degree in Biology, have been busy locating, cleaning and checking the 80 boxes which CVWO placed at First Landing last year in an effort to recover the numbers of Prothonatory Warblers breeding in the Park. On Tuesday afternoon, we visited several of the boxes which earlier scouting had indicated Prothonatory nesting activity.
Indeed, using her home-made net, Renee, after quietly wading into the swamp in her hip boots, captured an incubating female at a nest box. The bird was then banded, aged, measured and weighed before being released back near the nest box. The pictures show it all!
It was a fine start to the 2007 chapter of the project which will continue through the breeding season. Chicks will be banded as well as adults. The goal of the project is to restore this wonderful warbler, a symbol to many of the southern cypress wetlands, to First Landing State Park.


Riches to Rags; the Flood and Ebb of Migration

Monday was the biggest day of the migration. Before dawn it was apparent that there were many birds about the station by both song and movement. I only opened 14 nets and began closing nets during the second net run. At the end of the day 109 new birds were banded with 9 recaps. New species included: Bay-breasted Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo (finally) and Baltimore Oriole. A Gray-cheeked Thrush is also pictured. It was a tiring, long day. Common Yellowthroats were 44 strong, followed by 13 Black-throated Blue Warblers and 9 American Redstarts. Catbirds only numbered three.
Monday night the birds moved north en mass. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday new birds failed to break 10 each day. The avian activity about the station was limited largely to local breeders, including a recaptured ATY Red-bellied Woodpecker, a first of season.
There remains a group of migrants yet to come through, such as Wood Pewee. Perhaps they will arrive on the next warm south winds.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Feels Like May, Again.

And the birds are on the move again. With 40 new birds of twelve species on Saturday (plus two hummers) and 98 new of twenty-one species on Sunday, migrating songbirds were again on the move. Six new-of-the-season species were netted over the weekend, of which four are pictured. The new species were: Gray-cheeked Thrush, Marsh Wren, Wilson's Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated-green Warbler and Red-winged Blackbird. Recaps were few: three on Saturday, one Sunday.

Common Yellowthroat was the most numerous species each day, with 21 on Saturday and 32 on Sunday. On Sunday there was a surge of American Redstarts and four thrushes of the Catharus genus, Swainson's, Bicknell's, Veery and Gray-cheeked. Warblers were eleven species: Redstart, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue(all females), Black-throated Green, Parula, Wilson's, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, Northern Waterthrush and Common Yellowthroat. Catbirds were on the decline with only three banded on Sunday.

Neither day could have been successful without our volunteers. Marcia, a Virginia Master Naturalist participant, patiently and accurately scribed each day. Renee, Sheila and John helped keep the nets cleared (and brought more bird bags when they were needed) on Sunday. Brendan, my nephew visiting from Washington D.C., provided logistical support and encouragement. All netted birds flew off because of their efforts.

Finally, the station was visited by many individuals over the period. Two interested groups of Cub Scouts and Brownies from Virginia Beach took the opportunity to view the birds up close at the banding table. They began to appreciate the critical importance of stop-over places like First Landing State Park to migrating songbirds in a chain which stretches across two continents from wintering grounds to breeding grounds and back.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Feels Like April.

This morning it was overcast, wind in the NE and lightly raining as I walked to the station. After opening the most sheltered nets, conditions only became more raw and damp for the birds. Following two catbirds and four bandits (male Common Yellowthroats), I closed up and returned to quarters.

Yesterday was a rainout, blowout day, although Renee and John took me for a soft-shell crab sandwich lunch at Bubba's! I recommend the fare and location at Lynnhaven Inlet.

Wednesday was quite productive, although a strong SW wind left many nets closed. Temps in the mid-80s slowed things down by late morning. Sheila and I banded 47 new, with 5 recaps, of 13 species. Yellowthroats outnumbered catbirds 16 to 14, with Blackpoll Warbler next at seven. Highlights of the day were a season's first Bicknell's Thrush (we measured everything) and ASY female, Indigo Bunting, pictured.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Two Productive Days.

Monday and Tuesday each were fine spring days to be outdoors. Monday saw a record low temperature for the date in Virginia Beach. It was 7.1 C at the the station. Tuesday also had a cool start. But the sun quickly warmed the air and dried the nets.

Monday brought 15 new and 5 recaps of ten species, including five warbler species, a House Wren and a Swainson's Thrush. There were no new species. Summer Tanagers were singing in the trees above the station most of the morning. No cuckoos.

Tuesday brought a brisk and building SW breeze which may bode well for tomorrow. Thirty-three new were banded with six recaps of only nine species, none new. Common Yellowthroats were most numerous at 13, followed by Blackpoll Warbler with 8 and Gray Catbird 5. Also of note were four Magnolia Warblers and a Great Crested Flycatcher.

John, Renee, Sheila and Ross (CVWO Prothonotary Warbler intern) were at the station. Renee and Sheila each did some of the banding, Sheila for the first time. John, Renee and Sheila also assisted with extracting birds and furling the nets as the wind freshened sharply at mid-morning.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cape May Visit!

Mother's Day at the station was overcast, breezy and sharply cooler. Indeed, it was 56 degrees when I furled the last nets about 1330, fifteen degrees cooler than the predawn temperature yesterday. The nets were damp when opened at 0530 and remained so throughout most of the morning making extractions about the toes difficult. We managed 39 new birds and 7 recaps for the day.

Catbirds outnumbered Common Yellowthroats eleven to ten. Magnolia Warblers held on for place with four new. Counting recaps, our species total was fifteen, including eight warbler species, Veery and Indigo Bunting. The final few net runs of the day were worth freezing for.

As we began banding the 1000 net run, Sheila, CVWO's now-accomplished extractor, calmly announced to me that there was a new species in one of the bags from net A7. She was not certain of the identification. The run had yielded a dozen or so birds and we were hanging the bird bags from a pole under the banding table to keep them comfortable and out of the NE wind. Thus, we did not search through the bags for those from A7.

As it happened, the A7 bags were two in number and they had been placed on the pole first. Therefore they were the last to come off the pole. Sheila is an accomplished birder. As she was writing down the data pertaining to the other birds I was banding (that is called "scribing"), she managed furtive looks at the fine, color plates in the Peterson Warbler Guide. She had made a silent, private, tentative identification of her bird as I pulled it from the last bag of the run.

There is a simple difference between birding and banding birds. When birding you do not have to be certain of the identification of the species you are fortunate enough to see. One can be reasonably certain that one saw this species or that and announce it to the world. Unless it is a rare species or one outside of its usual geographic range, your identification will likely be accepted without further question.

When banding birds, which is a scientific undertaking, it is a cardinal rule that one must be certain of the identification of each bird before a band is placed upon its leg. Thus, when Sheila and I first gazed upon the drab warbler pictured above, neither of us was certain that it was a second-year, female, Cape May Warbler. We looked at the Peterson Warbler plates. Could be. We looked at the Sibley plate. Perhaps. Then we pulled out The Pyle Guide, measured the wing and tail of our mate, fussed about the rump and auricular patch and went through the description of a second-year female Cape May Warbler phrase by phrase while examining the bird in my hand. We also briefly considered whether the individual could be a second-year Myrtle Warbler as suggested by Pyle. Then I crimped a ring on the girl. Such moments make field ornithology a wonderful endeavor.

See if you agree with our identification as you review the first three images above.

A day's second first-of-season warbler arrived on the last net run, a second-year, female Yellow Warbler. Yellow Warblers had been heard about the station for the past two days, so it was very fine to net one. Now, if our nets could do the same for a certain cuckoo or two....


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Attack of the Yellowthroats?

Sheila and I had a satisfying, turnaround day today. With Sheila scribing and extracting more than her share of catbirds and warblers (including ten warblers from wallpapered net C1 on the 1000 net run), we banded 66 new with 3 recaps. Common Yellowthroats were everywhere, but mostly in the lowest pockets (of course). Most COYE displayed remarkable restraint and refrained from doing their helicopter trick (which leaves them in a great tangle of net, legs, wings and feathers).

Blackpoll Warblers, including the first females of the season, were 9 in number. We also had Black and White, Black-throated Blue (both sexes), Magnolia, American Redstart and Ovenbird. Veery, Red-eyed Vireo and a Cardinal rounded out the day.

Yellow-billed Cuckoos continue to be seen and heard about the station. It is just a matter of time before we catch one, especially as there is some low-elevation chasing going on.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Disappointing Days.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday have been slow days yielding no new species for the season and few total birds; fifteen on Wednesday tops the list! Renee, Sheila, Cindy, John and Brian have each joined me at the station hoping for an influx of migrants. Each left disappointed. Today, Yellow-billed Cuckoos were seen and heard as were Blackpolled and Yellow Warblers and Red-headed Woodpeckers, but their numbers were few and they were high in the tree canopy.

We did have our first, female, Black-throated Blue Warbler today, but she seemed a bit stressed, so she was allowed to fly off unphotographed. The Veery and the male Ruby-throat pictured will have to do. We are still looking to the south for a brisk wind, clear night and new migrants.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Week That Was.

Weather conditions have caused the banding station to be closed the past three days, Sunday-Tuesday. High winds out of the NE coupled with occassional rain and showers have kept the nets closed. The winds damaged the tarp at the station and blew limbs and debris into some of the net lanes and nets. Repairs and cleanup were undertaken this morning. The wind is down just now, but the forecast is for rain showers again tomorrow morning.

On last Thursday, Dr. Bob Reilly and Renee operated the station. They handled two new species for the season--- Blue Grosbeak and a Magnolia Warbler. On Friday and Saturday, there were no new species banded and many recaptures netted (including Thursday's Maggie, pictured). When the wind gets out of the NE later this week, we should be in for some big days. Flycatchers, orioles, cuckoos and more warblers---such as a Yellow and Wilson's, have yet to be ringed this season. Perhaps a Cape May?