Tuesday, April 27, 2010

2010 CVWO Bander Training at FLSP

Over two weekends, one in late March and the second in early April, CVWO hosted a bander training session for the second consecutive year. This session was attended by nine individuals, plus the CVWO bander intern. The weather cooperated and bird numbers were sufficient to allow each participant to handle a number of birds using the skills they learned. First Landing State Park provided living quarters and a central meeting/lecture room.

The goal of the session is to demonstrate and teach the basic skills necessary to participate in all aspects of a bird banding project. Various tasks were undertaken by each attendee, including net set-up, take-down and furling. This year the participants included a college student, two college professors, two state environmental agency employees (one from VA; other from NC), an NCAudubon employee, a VSO board member, a CVWO board member and a "professional" volunteer. It was a wonderful group with which to work and interact.

Is the Migration Finally Here?

Yesterday we banded 64 birds: today we marked 23 more. Finally, the dawn chorus included chips and songs of species other than our resident Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice. (Even a Chuck-will's-widow called in the distance.) Wood Thrush, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Black and White Warbler and Black-throated Blue Warbler all magically appeared in our nets--along with a number of Gray Catbirds and White-throated Sparrows. The endless disappointing, nearly birdless, days of late March and early April were forgotten for a moment.

Meet CVWO's FLSP 2010 Bander Intern

Mindy Mathenia of Downer's Grove, IL (west of Chicago) was just the type of individual CVWO had in mind when the banding intership at FLSP began in 2009. A recent recipient of a M.S in Biology from Northern Illinois University, Mindy had the desire yet little opportunity to gain field experience because of logistics and academic course load. Her thesis is entitled “Effects of Rainfall and Spatial Variation on Small Mammal Populations in North-Central Chile”.

Since her arrival at First Landing in mid-March, Mindy has developed the keen eye necessary to age and sex passerines and the dexterity and care necessary to extract and handle small birds. She is also a good field companion whether there are few birds or many birds at the Station.

My goodness, that looks like a new species for the Station in Mindy's left hand on the "bridge" crossing the tidal creek to White Hill Lake!! Get out your field guide (or shotgun). I think it is a game bird. Could it be a Virginia Rail?

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Migration Gathers Momentum

The three species above are each a member of the Parulidae (or wood-warbler) family. And each species tends to migrate earlier than other members of this large New World family. The Orange-crowned Warbler is a hardy warbler which spends the winter across the southern tier of the United States and into Central America. It nests in the Canadian boreal forest and in the high country of the American West. And it is infrequently captured at First Landing. This individual was captured on March 24th and is only the second in six seasons. See: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/orange-crowned_warbler/id

The Louisiana Waterthrush is also an early migrant, but flew a great distance to visit First Landing. See: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Louisiana_Waterthrush/lifehistory Salt marshes and tidal creeks are not Louisiana Waterthrush breeding habitat, but the two birds pictured above seem to enjoy the Park. They were each banded on March 31; and each recaptured on April 2d. They had gained a little weight for the next leg of their migration. Note that the two waterthrushes are slightly different in the throat. Still white; and with a stout, long bill and white undertail coverts Louisiania's each.
The Northern Parula arrived today, April 2d. Parulas, of course, breed in the Spanish Moss in the Park each spring/summer---with some banded birds returning on multiple springs to nest within the area in which we band. This first arrival was an unbanded, after-second-year male. Perhaps this bird spent the winter in The Bahamas. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_parula/id
These three arrivals signal that the migration is underway and gathering momentum. It will not be long before Gnatcatchers, Catbirds, Flycatchers and the later-arriving warblers visit First Landing once again. Come see them some morning.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Here Comes Trouble...

All banders and mist net extractors know that Common Yellowthroats can do remarkable things in a mist net. Simply stated, they can become very tangled and then, more tangled, in a very brief period of time. The Yellowthroat is also one of the two most commonly captured migrants at First Landing each spring; the COYE competes with the Gray Catbird for "top bird". Two hundred or so of each species are marked. Thus, while we were pleased to see this handsome male on March 25th (and he behaved well in the A2 net), trouble is not far away!

A Turtle and A Salamander

Whether it is still,sunny and warm or blustery, sunny and cold or just miserable, March is the slowest month for spring songbirds at First Landing station. Between and during net runs, however, interesting and unusual wildlife can appear--consider March 23 and 24.

The Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum) pictured above was found inside its carapace (shell) along a dry, sandy stretch of Long Creek Trail as joggers ran past almost stepping on it. This turtle can be identified by its plastron (underside)with its two hinges and the triangular shape of its pectoral scute (plate). see also: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7152.html I picked up the turtle and gave it a lift to a nearby fresh water wetland. The turtle soon emerged from its carapace and crawled off into the mud and water.

While walking in the saltmarsh above the bridge which crosses the tidal creek to White Hill Lake, I found the salamander. Before I picked it up, I thought it was an eel. Upon picking it up, I had no idea what it was, although eel was no longer on the list of possibilities. Mindy Mathenia, CVWO 2010 spring intern, and Sheila Scoville, CVWO board member, each identified the creature as a salamander. Indeed, it is!!

The Two-toed Amphiuma (Amphiuma means) was cold and inactive. Out in the open in the marsh it looked like a meal for the Great Egret which forages there daily. The pictures show the two toes on the small, vestigial limbs which characterize the species. Coastal Virginia is at the northern edge of this Amphiuma's range. see: http://people.wcsu.edu/pinout/herpetology/ameans/index.html and http://amphibiaweb.org/cgi-bin/amphib_query?query_src=aw_lists_alpha_&where-genus=Amphiuma&where-species=means The salamander was released into similar salt marsh habitat nearby the station.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bahamas Plover in Cape Cod!

The third Bahamas plover re-sighted in the US this spring was seen on Bank Street Beach, Harwich, MA by Susie Gallagher, Town of Dennis plover monitor with MassAudubon for three seasons, and her colleague Ed Nash. [coordinates: N 41.663379° W 070.072140°] The bird was spotted on Saturday, March 27, at 1645. The bird was marked with a black flag on the upper left leg, white band lower left leg; upper right leg unbanded; lower right leg dark blue over orange bands.

This piper was captured, banded and released on South Beach, New Providence, The Bahamas on January 17, 2010. [coordinates: N 25.00693; W 077.33325] The bird was in the first group of birds caught in the Environment Canada Piping Plover Project. It is ~1225 miles from the banding site to the re-sight location.

The top picture above was taken on the Pea Island NWR beachfront just south of Oregon Inlet on December 17, 2005. I spent that winter following Piping Plovers in a Virginia Tech project undertaken by the lab of Dr. Jim Fraser. This is among my favorite images. And it is, in large part, responsible for our ability to capture as many plovers as we did in The Bahamas last winter. The bird with the piper is, of course, a Black-bellied Plover. Pipers always seem to feel safe from outside threats when in the company of the wary "mama" plover. Thus, I had David Rhodes, a noted shorebird carver and conservationist from New Jersey, carve a black-belly for our use this winter. The decoy worked like magic; not only were pipers attracted to the decoy, live black bellies fell in love with her.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ellen Jedrey of MassAudubon for supplying the bottom two photos above, taken by Susie and Ed of the Harwich/Bahamas plover.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Second Bahamas Plover in South Carolina

Tuesday afternoon, March 16th, on the beach at Kiawah Island, South Carolina the second Piping Plover color-banded in The Bahamas this winter was seen by Aaron Given, a biologist with the Town of Kiawah. This bird was banded on Barbary Beach, Grand Bahama Island, The Bahamas on the late afternoon of January 27, 2010. Kiawah is ~425 air miles from Barbary Beach.

No pictures of the plover on Kiawah are available, but the identification is solid. Another likely ASY, male plover. The picture above is of Barbary Beach, located on the south shore of Grand Bahama. Seven plovers were marked on Barbary on the 27th. The birds foraged on the exposed shelf during low water and roosted on the narrow beach either side of high water.

Monday, March 15, 2010

First Phoebe = Spring!

Spring arrived officially at First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach on the 1145 net run of Thursday, March 11th in net C5. The season's first member of the flycatcher family, Tyrannidae , a second-year Eastern Phoebe, was in the net. As I extracted the bird it snapped its bill together to remind me that it eats flies and to assure me that winter weather is past.

The Picidae Quartet

Last Thursday and Friday, March 10th and 11th, as the temperatures warmed to the upper 50s and into the 60s, woodpeckers were suddenly active about the station. And for the first time this season, woodpeckers found the nets.

The male Pileated pictured was an old friend--of Jethro Runco, the first station bander! This bird, which I aged as an after-third-year bird by virtue of three generations of primary coverts, was banded by Jethro in the spring of 2006 as a third-year bird, meaning that this individual hatched in the Park during the 2004 breeding season. He was fit and trim and weighed 264 grams or 9.25 ounces. (You thought he would weigh more, did you not?) The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a handsome second-year male by virtue of the retained, brown, juvenile, body feathers on his breast (among other things). The male Hairy is a fine third-year bird because of retained, worn, inner primary coverts on his wings.

As for the Red-bellied female, she would not hold still for a picture until I agreed to let her grab my thumb (we reached an agreement that she would not peck a hole in it). The resulting image does not reveal how beautiful an after-third-year bird she is.

Friday, March 12, 2010

First Bahamas Piping Plover Re-sighted!!

Today at Little Talbot Island, Duval County, FL, Pat and Doris Leary re-sighted and photographed the first marked Bahamas Piping Plover. The Learys are devoted shorebirders and have re-sighted untold numbers of marked waterbirds in Florida for many years.

The plover was captured and marked on February 17 on a sand flat near South Blanket Sound, Andros Island and was the last of the 57 birds banded in The Bahamas in the 2010 Environment Canada/Bahamas National Trust project. It is ~440 air miles from the Andros capture location to Little Talbot Island.

At Andros the bird was aged as after-second-year and was sexed as likely male. Today's picture shows that the definitive pre-alternate molt has proceeded by the distinct black forehead and breast band, together with the orange base to the bill. The band combination is upper left leg black flag, lower leg black over orange; upper right leg no band, lower left white.

Please be alert for banded Piping Plovers as they migrate to their breeding grounds this spring. They are coming; more will arrive soon.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rusty Blackbird Road Trip

The Rusty Blackbird is declining for reasons which are poorly understood. Given the robust populations of many blackbird species in North America this is surprising to many birders. Sadly it is real. The Rusty Blackbird Working Group was formed in 2005 to discover and understand the cause(s) of the decline. http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationAndScience/MigratoryBirds/Research/Rusty_Blackbird/default.cfm
At present there are research projects in progress throughout the range of the Rusty Blackbird.

One of the projects is taking place on study sites in the Carolinas by a University of Georgia/Smithsonian graduate student. Her efforts are directed to understanding aspects of the wintering ecology of the Rusty. During the 2008-09 winter she was able to trap good numbers of Rusties using mist nets. This winter capture rates were discouraging to the point that use of a new method was in order.

Whoosh nets in the back of my truck and the prospect of poor banding conditions in Virginia Beach for a few days, I drove to a study site near Greenville, South Carolina and back between March 3-5. The whoosh net is a modern, bungee-powered net which throws a folded net over birds within the capture area when triggered. The net gains elevation by the use of launch poles. The net is very fast, safe when used properly and can be made in many sizes. The nets used in Greenville were ~38 feet by ~15 feet in coverage. The whoosh pictured above is 19 feet by 14 feet. The net is set and ready to fire.

I have been building and using whoosh nets (usually in concert with my drop nets) for six years. Over that time I have whooshed many targeted species of shorebirds (including many of The Bahamas plovers, see Feb 2010 blogs), Virginia Rails, lure birds for the CVWO Kiptopeke raptor station (Starling and Rock Dove), and some passerines, including 100s of Red-winged Blackbirds. Thus, notwithstanding the almost "mythological" wariness of the Rusty, I had confidence that they could be whooshed if there was a location at which the birds regularly fed AND at which a whoosh could be set.[note: whoosh and drop nets are active nets which only capture birds which the researcher intends to capture, i.e. target species; the mist net is a passive net which catches most birds which encounter the net, target or not.]

By 0630 on the morning of March 5th in a gravel driveway in a surburban neighborhood outside Greenville, we had the whoosh in place. The birds arrived just before 0700, as they had the previous morning when we were still setting the whoosh. Five minutes and one pull of the trigger line later we had eight Rusties to process and release.

The Mixture of Early March Birds

Carolina Wren, Brown Creeper (and remarkable rectices), Fox Sparrow and Blue-headed Vireo represent that which is early March at First Landing: a reliable resident, two predictable winter residents about to begin their migration and a surprise. Such species cause me to arise well before dawn, walk in the cold to the station and open and tend to the nets. That some of these same individuals, year to year, survive and reproduce in the Park or winter, migrate, breed, return and survive in the Park demonstrate the need for undeveloped, open space throughout modern America.

After only five banding days, sixteen birds banded in previous seasons have been recaptured. Among these individuals are Carolina Wren, Myrtle Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Cardinal and Eastern Bluebird. Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush and Pine Warbler will surely join this group soon.

Bluebirds, Galore!

During my Bahama "absence", Kurt Pederson, good friend and excellent birder, reported large flocks of Eastern Bluebirds on Long Creek Trail this winter. Kurt was correct. Six bluebirds, including a recapture from 2009, found the warming "C" nets as late-morning became noon on March 2d.

Bluebirds are loyal to each other when a member of the flock is in distress. At first, two birds were found in net C3; both were calling. As I took the first out, two more birds became entangled. While I took the now four bluebirds out, three others vocalized and flew back and forth above the net scolding me. The group quickly re-united above the station as I banded and released the four. An hour later two more bluebirds found net C5 and the process repeated itself except that no additional birds were caught. ASY female (top) and male are pictured. The male is the 2009 recapture.

Opening Day Re-run

The very first day of my first spring as bander at FLSP banding station was March 14, 2007. The very first bird banded on the first net run of that first day was a male, after-second-year, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, band 2410-54719.

On the first day of March 2010, the opening day of the sixth CVWO spring season at First Landing, kinglet 2410-54719 was recaptured for the first time since 2007. And the lad looked very fit for a 6.5 gram (1/3 ounce) bird of at least 5 years of age. Sorry, no pictures; it was cold and windy and kinglets are best sent on their way in such conditions.

Some other early observations of note: a. winter-resident Myrtle Warbler numbers are down at the station and elsewhere in the Park; b. while there are Osprey present in the Park and the Osprey nest near the station survived the November northeaster and subsequent storms, the nest and tree is being used much of the time by two Black Vultures; c. Woodcock have been heard and seen towering in the wetland along lower Fox Run; d. dead and living trees all over the Park have fallen or been pruned by the wind and snow of fall 2009 and winter 2010; e. Brown-headed Nuthatches are excavating a total of three cavities along Long Creek and within the station ; f. a partially-leucistic Myrtle Warbler was netted and banded on opening day. Pictures above.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Setup for the 2010 Season Completed

Yesterday, in the sun and out of the wind among the "B" nets at the CVWO First Landing spring banding station, it felt like an early spring Saturday. A Yellow-rumped Warbler jumped into net B7 before it was even open! Brown-headed Nuthatches, Pine Warblers, Hairy Woodpeckers and Tufted Titmice sang. A banded Hermit Thrush was spotted. All to welcome the eleven individuals, including CVWO President Brian Taber (who provided the above images of the day) and Master Bander Bob Reilly, who came to clear the net lanes, set the mist nets and erect the banding shelter for a sixth season.

The project was completed by 1500. Rob and Collette had the shelter up in a flash. Marty and Bob set the mist nets as soon as Laura (2009 CVWO intern), Sheila, Ingrid, Kurt, Terry, Brian and I cleared the net lanes and rearranged the boardwalks moved by winter storms. Terry, Brian and I set the aerial nets. Kurt, our good friend from Norway, and Ingrid, our new acquaintance from Sweden, added an international flair to the day.

The station will open for the 2010 season on Monday, March 1st. During the first two weeks of March the station will be open for seven days of the fourteen. This Monday and Tuesday the weather looks good. Later in the week the weather also looks promising.

Beginning March 15th the station will be open daily until May 31st, weather permitting (if it is not raining we are open). The station opens one-half hour before local sunrise and remains open for at least 6 hours thereafter. Come visit us at the junction of Long Creek Trail and White Hill Lake Trail in First Landing State Park. It is a beautiful walk.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Piping Plovers of The Bahamas

Where to begin? Can you imagine seeing 89 Piping Plovers in one place at the same time? Sid Maddock, my banding partner, and I saw such a flock roosting on a flat off Andros Island in The Bahamas on the morning of February 3, 2010. Over the past five weeks as part of an Environment Canada research project and with the able and generous assistance of the Director and staff of The Bahamas National Trust, http://www.bnt.bs/ , Sid and I trapped and marked 57 Piping Plovers which spend the non-breeding season (perhaps as long as eight months) in The Bahamas. Birds marked were found on New Providence, Grand Bahama and Andros.

Now the exciting work begins! And your eyes and optics are needed. The primary purpose of the project is to discover the migratory stop-over sites and nesting grounds used by The Bahamas plovers. During our work only a single, previously-marked Piping Plover was seen among several hundred viewed. That bird was from the endangered Great Lakes population http://www.nps.gov/slbe/forteachers/upload/GLPloverdoc.pdf. From this sighting two tentative inferences may be drawn. First, some of the 57 plovers may be Great Lakes nesters. Second, as no marked Missouri River birds (see Terry's Plover blogs, below) or marked Canadian prairie birds were re-sighted (and there are many marked birds from each of these areas), most of the 57 are likely from elsewhere--namely, breeders from the Atlantic provinces of Canada and the Atlantic Coast of the US from North Carolina to Maine. Your assistance in sighting and reporting The Bahamas plovers is solicited.

When will the plovers begin their spring migration? No one is certain, but sooner than you might think. Bahamas Trust staff and volunteers on the islands are watching the marked birds in an effort to determine spring departure dates. Wintering birds along the southern Atlantic Coast are known to begin moving north as early as March. Last year there were some plovers on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in mid-April. Before we left Andros Island on February 19, many of the plovers there were molting into breeding plummage. Plover spring is in the air elsewhere, even if it is only 39F in Virginia Beach just now.

How may a sighting be reported? Simple. Report all sightings to CHERI GRATTO-TREVOR, Prairie and Northern Wildlife Research Centre, Environment Canada, 115 Perimeter Road, Saskatoon, SK S7N 0X4 Canada, EM: cheri.gratto-trevor@ec.gc.ca , noting the color and location of each band on the bird, and location and behaviour of the bird (on nest, brooding, foraging at migratory stop-over, etc.), as well as presumed sex of the bird, if possible.

What do color bands of The Bahamas plovers look like? They look like the three Bahamas plovers pictured above. All have a black flag on the upper left leg. Each have a single white band on one of the lower legs, right or left. Each have two color bands (neither of which is a white band) on the lower leg opposite the leg with the single white band. Colors used were: red, orange, yellow, white, light green, dark green, dark blue, and black. No metal bands were placed on any of The Bahamas birds; nor were color bands placed on the upper right legs of the birds.

How should the color markers be reported? When you see a marked Piping Plover, immediately write down a detailed description of the bands and their location on the bird's legs (always using the bird's right and left). Make a note if you are unsure of the color or location of any of the bands or if you did not see all bands clearly. Please report incomplete sighting. The Bahamas Piping Plovers pictured above would be described as follows: (top image) black flag upper left, white band lower left, unknown upper right, black over dark blue bands lower right; (middle image) black flag upper left, orange over light green bands lower left, nothing upper right, white band lower right; (bottom image) black flag upper left, white flag lower left, nothing upper right, black over light green bands lower right. One final note, there are a several plovers with two bands of the same color placed over each other on the lower leg opposite the single white band (e.g. orange over orange). Together these two bands may look like one very tall band.