Monday, May 18, 2009

An Interior Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow

The marsh nets continue to yield marsh wrens and sparrows along with an occasional Common Yellowthroat. On May 9th a Nelson's appeared early in the morning. Given the bright white markings on its back and bright, buffy orange breast, it is likely of the nelsoni subspecies which breed from the Canadian prairie to South Dakota. Quite a nice bird.

Mystery Bird: Eastern Kingbird

Many of the early field guides (I am looking at the a 1966 Golden Field Guide of Birds of North America just now) mention and show crown patches on kingbirds. I have looked for such a patch through binoculars and spotting scopes since I was a young lad without success! Thus, after extracting the Eastern Kingbird from net A2 on April 30th, I immediately examined the crown. The color was beyond belief. The outer primary tips were also remarkable. The feathers were notched and emarginated. The white terminal tail band, of course, confirms the ID.

While we have not caught another kingbird this season, there are a number of them moving about the station daily. Two were seen chasing an Osprey over the salt marsh just the other day. A single bird was seen on a perch near one of the marsh nets over the weekend. It seems as if they may be nesting in the Park this year.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


The First Landing State Park banding station is a constant effort, spring migration banding station intended to capture and band passerines and near-passerines--songbirds. Essentially the same nets are placed in the same location each year during the same period of time and are opened daily during the same hours, weather permitting. This week we made an exception---and banded a small shorebird with yellow legs, a small hind toe and a long wing.
The Least Sandpiper is a common shorebird which can be found across the United States during migration. The species nests in Alaska and northern Canada. We see and hear the Least along with other shorebirds, such as Greater Yellowlegs and Spotted Sandpiper, at the station from time-to-time during the spring.
On May 5th the pictured Least was foraging in the mud path between two nets across the saltmarsh at the station. I saw the bird and herded, or "twinkled" as the British call it, the bird to the net. The bird weighed just 15 grams (1/2 oz), about the weight of a Swamp Sparrow.

Warblers in the Rain

This week has been warm and wet and, at times, very windy. Yet the station has been open each day for at least part of the morning, although some of our nets have been closed at times. Gray Catbirds have arrived in good numbers along with the first wave of Common Yellowthroats. The pictured warblers have also been banded. The species shown are: American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Hooded Warbler, Magnolia Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler. Are you able to match the name with each species pictured?

Can You ID This Bird?

This fine bird was netted on April 30th. Two clues, the pictures show (1) remarkable crown feathers and (2) shape of outer primariy feather tips; one hint, the only previous example of this species banded at the station was captured in 2006. So it is not a kinglet!! Answer will follow.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pictures for Laura

Laura Duval, CVWO's able spring intern, was not feeling well over the past weekend. Indeed, she did not have a sore throat or an upset stomach; rather appendicitis! She is now resting comfortably at home in Norfolk and will return to the station shortly. As the spring rolls on, she has missed a few "new species". Get out your Sibley and Pyle Guides, Laura. Have a go at ageing and sexing these birds netted in your absence!!

Station Decor and More

For four springs our signature blue tarp has been the "roof" over the Station in fair weather and foul, rain, sleet and snow. No, not that TARP! paid for the tarp and all the banding equipment with the generous assistance of its members and supporters.
This season, after a brief setback, a new white shelter has replaced the old tarp (and its temporary camoflage replacement, donated by Terry Jenkins). No longer do visitors have to duck under the "roof" to see the birds being banded underneath. Nor do the banders have to move outside into the sunlight to see the "true" color of a bird's feathers. Thanks, Rob Klages (CVWO treasurer) and Brian Taber (CVWO president) for erecting and securing the Station's new cover. Birders, come visit us and see the brilliant migrants as they visit First Landing State Park during the next four weeks. It is worth the walk. Follow the signs from the Trail Center. And try to come early. The FLSP gates open shortly after 6:30 a.m.

"Blue" Birds

While we have now netted a station-record 6 Eastern Bluebirds in the 2009 spring, blue birds have continued to find our nets. On April 22nd and 23rd these beautiful adult males were banded. Can you pick out which is the Blue Grosbeak and which is the Indigo Bunting? Each are after-second-year birds--meaning that they were hatched in 2007 or earlier.

April Marsh Birds

Yesterday the season's first Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow was netted in one of the Station's four "marsh nets". Our season's first Seaside Sparrow appeared last week. A steady stream of Marsh Wrens, now numbering nineteen, have been banded since 30 March. Each of these species depends upon healthy wetlands to survive, yet in the Lynnhaven estuary, Virginia Beach and elsewhere around the United States wetlands continue to be altered, mitigated and "hardened" in the name of progress and economic prosperity.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

CVWO at FLSP 2009 Spring Intern.

Laura Duval is CVWO's first spring intern at the FLSP station. She is a biology graduate of Virginia Commonwealth and grew up in Norfolk. Her family owns and operates Cobb's Marina in Little Creek. Laura recently worked for the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in the waterbird section.
During her five weeks at the station, she has become an accomplished extractor and has demonstrated the fine eye so necessary to ageing and sexing many passerines. Understandably, the Pyle Identification Guide to North American Birds has become one of her favorite books!!
Laura has a pleasant, easy way about her, takes her responsibilities at the station seriously and possesses a strong conservation ethic. If she chooses to pursue field ornithology, Laura has a bright future. Come meet Laura at the station!

Things Are Heating Up.

This weekend has been a warm one at the Station. Each day under bright sun the temperature has reached the 80s before noon. Such heat surpresses bird activity and can present a danger to birds caught in a mist net. But before dawn and in the early hours of the morning, the south winds have brought migrants to the Station and into our nets. Today these three arrivals, Prothonotary, Yellow-breasted Chat and Chestnut-sided, were among the eight species of warblers banded. The others were: Myrtle, Black and White, Prairie, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Parula.

Basic Bander Training 2009

Over two weekends in late March and early April, a basic bander training session was held at the First Landing station. Nine recent college graduates, current undergraduates and graduate students pursuing or planning to pursue ornitholigical research attended the session. They came from Virginia Commonwealth University, William and Mary, Old Dominion and Central Michigan University.

The session provided an opportunity for each participant to observe, practice and discuss the skills necessary to capture, handle, identify, age, sex, measure and evaluate the general condition of passerines and near-passerines. While the weather was a bit on the cool side and bird numbers were not high, each student banded and handled a number of birds and learned how a seasonal, migratory banding station operates.

The session could not have taken place without the support and assistance of First Landing State Park and CVWO volunteers. All involved seemed to enjoy and benefit from the experience; it is likely that another session will be held in 2010.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A New Sparrow for the Station!

Over the past four-plus seasons, twelve species of the Emberizidae family have been banded at the station. Five were added last year alone-Savannah, Field, Seaside, Nelson's Sharp-tailed and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed. Swamp Sparrow numbers are annually among the top five birds banded at First Landing. Slate-colored Junco, Eastern Towhee, Fox, Song and White-throated are banded in good numbers annually. Lincoln's Sparrow is banded infrequently.

Last Saturday a bright Chipping Sparrow expanded the group to thirteen. Although the Chipper is a frequent spring visitor to feeders in the Virginia Beach area, the pine forest and wetlands around the station are not "prime" Chipper habitat. Read more about this sparrow here:
Of the North American sparrows likely to be encountered along the Atlantic coast during the spring, only the White-crowned Sparrow has yet to be banded at First Landing.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Frosty Nets, Fox Sparrows and Bluebirds.

This is the fifth spring season of passerine banding at FLSP. In 2005 and 2006 the station opened on March 1. In '07 and '08 opening day was moved to 15 March. The two week "delay" avoided some nasty patches of weather but it missed many of the earliest migrant to pass through FLSP--the remarkable Fox Sparrow.
With this in mind it was decided to open the station on seven of the first fourteen days in March this season.
The decision was a good one. Several mornings found the nets frosted, even "welded" together until the sun did its job. But between March 9 and March 18, ten new Fox Sparrows were banded. And on March 16 an old friend appeared in the nets. Originally banded on March 5, 2005 by Jethro Runco as a second-year FOSP and recaptured last year on March 18, this individual is on its fifth north-bound journey to the northern reaches of Canada! Indeed its band was very worn and quite thin. Fearing that it might be lost, we removed the well-travelled one and rebanded the bird with a shiny, new one.
Four Eastern Bluebirds were caught in the same net at the same time on March 16. Two other bluebirds which were not captured remained near the net as their mates were extracted. Among the four was a fine male which had been banded at FLSP on March 28, 2007. Steve Living of Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries was visiting the station on that day and banded the individual. Bluebirds seem to be doing well in the park this year. Their calls are heard almost daily along Long Creek. A beautiful female is pictured above.

Too Busy to BLOG !!

Greetings, finally. March has been a very busy month at FLSP. Station setup occurred over the last two days of February. A nor'easter rearranged things over the next two days. Terry Jenkins and I put the pieces back together. Battery problems (essential for the station computer) cropped up; periods of wet weather were followed by days of cold, frosty weather.
The first weekend of the basic banding skills class came and went. And old banding friends from New Brunswick and Ohio visited FLSP for a few days before Bob Reilly and I followed them to the Eastern Bird Banding Association annual meeting, held this year in Chincoteague. Bob and I gave a presentation concerning CVWO activities at Kiptopeke and First Landing. We did band a few birds. More on that shortly.
Welcome to the 2009 blog. Consider visiting us at FLSP some morning between now and May 31. Simply follow the signs in the Park from the trail center road. If you cannot, we will keep you posted of what is going on.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bird Banding Training, Spring 2009.

Greetings. March is close at hand on this chilly, gray February day. And March brings the opening of the 5th season of spring, passerine banding at First Landing State Park by and the re-awakening of this blog. Do not be misled! It will be chilly and gray on more than a few March days at the station. But spring will be in the air and birds will find the nets again.

Indeed, some winter passerine banding has been undertaken this year in the Park. A handful of new Brown-headed Nuthatches have been marked and a number of previously marked BHNU have been re-spotted in familiar settings. [More about that in an upcoming, first-annual project report.]

Fifteen swamp sparrows which are wintering in the Park have been target netted on territory using a two-panel net and a MP3 player. Of great interest are two recaptures of previously marked SWSP on November 26 and Decamber 9, 2008. The individuals were banded last spring at FLSP on March 31 and April 16, 2008, respectively, and not recaptured thereafter during the spring. As SWSP do not breed in FLSP, another returning winter resident can tentatively be added to the list.

This spring a basic bird banding training session will be held at FLSP for the first time. Participation in the training session is limited to ten participants. A preference will be given to current college students and recent graduates demonstrating an interest in bird research. A notice of the session may be found here:

Finally, this season the station will open on March 1, rather than March 15, and close on May 31. Between March 1 and March 14 the station will open on seven days only. After March 15th the station will be open daily, weather permitting, 30 minutes before sunrise for six to eight hours each day. It is thought that the March 1 to March 14 opening on selected fair weather days will allow allow us to capture greater numbers of wintering passerines, such as American Robin, Eastern Towhee, Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush and Yellow-rumped Warblers, before they depart from the Park on their north-bound migration.