Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Two, New, Station Species in March? Yes.

On consecutive banding days in late March, two new species were added to the list of birds marked at the First Landing Station. The First Landing species total now stands at 113.

A female Rusty Blackbird appeared late in the morning of the first CVWO bander training weekend in one of the wetland edge nets often frequented by Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles. Rusty Blackbirds are in a steep decline in North America. Read about the Rusty here:

After a rain day, one of my favorite birds (and one rarely seen well by observers outside of the breeding season)appeared in one of our "roving" salt marsh nets. When I was much younger, the little bird (8 grams, this one) was called the Short-billed Marsh Wren. Now it is simply known as the Sedge Wren. The slightly larger wren pictured at the bottom above, now known as the Marsh Wren, was formerly the Long-billed Marsh Wren. What an appropriate description! But having the Sedge in the hand allowed me to "absolutely" separate Sedge from Marsh Wren: the length of the exposed culmen of the Sedge (length of upper mandible from the tip to the first feathers at the base of the bill) is less than the length of the middle toe, not including the claw!! Now who figured that out? One of the benefits of the shotgun era of ornithology? The exposed culmen of the Marsh is, of course, greater than the length of the toe! The Sedge Wren is distinguished from the Winter Wren by its lighter, overall appearance.

Which will be the next, new First Landing species? Oh, yes, the prior mystery birds? Song Sparrow and Swamp Sparrow.

A Nice Start to the 2011 Season.

Events at a migratory bird banding station are always interesting. Take March 2010: talk about slow, only 140 birds of 31 species were marked in 19 days. Forty-four Myrtle Warblers led the way followed by twenty-one Swamp Sparrows, three Song Sparrows.

Now consider March 2011 (given the weather forecast for tomorrow, banding for the month is over): talk about a nice pace, in 20 days 309 birds of 32 species were banded (including two new species for the season, more soon). One hundred seventy-two Myrtle Warblers have been marked (already breaking the season record of 137 established in 2006) and twenty-eight Song Sparrows have been marked (exceeding the season record of 23 in 2007 and following a season low of 3 in 2010). Also 41 Swamp Sparrows have been marked to date, a record pace.

What does this all mean? Our working hypothesis is this: last summer was a successful breeding year for Myrtles, Swamps and Songs--given that a coastal station like First Landing captures mostly birds which were hatched last summer--called second-year birds by banders because all birds celebrate a birthday on January regardless of their hatching date! And those birds which hatched last summer, survived the 2010-11 winter thanks to the habitat provided by First Landing State Park and other undeveloped habitats in coastal Virginia.

Now, let us see what April brings. Pictures above, top to bottom, Song, Swamp and Myrtle.

More Bridge Progress!!

The First Landing State Park crew, led by Sean, has been making great progress on the new bridge this week. Another day or two, weather permitting, and the deck should be finished.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Bridge at Long Creek and White Hill.

The bridge across the outlet of White Hill Lake at the intersection of Long Creek and White Hill trails in the Park was washed out by the November 2009 northeast gale. The banding station is nearby. Repair of the bridge is now underway. Over the past three weeks large laminated trusses have been moved into place by Park staff and mounted on two I-beams. With a little luck, the project will be completed by April 10, 2011. Bridge or not, foot traffic has crossed the outlet for the past 16 months!

Two New Mystery Birds.

The first mystery birds (March 14) are Brown Creeper and Eastern Phoebe. The brown forked tail with extended shafts and the long claws mark the creeper as a bird which climbs trees to forage. The bill profile of the phoebe mark it as a flycatcher.

The new birds can each be identified correctly by their crowns and bill. The undertail coverts of each are quite beautiful, but not helpful. Try the Emberizidae family.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Can You ID These Two Birds?

Using the characteristics of the toes and the color (brown) and shape of tail (out of focus, sorry) the identification of this cryptic winter Park resident is not that difficult.
The bill, bristles and crown of this migrant (a very few overwinter in coastal Virginia) reveal the identity of this signal of spring. The first of the season at the station was banded today.
Answer in a day or two.

Old Friends and Aquaintances and Opening Day.

On Saturday, February 26, 2011, old and new friends gathered for the eighth time to set up the CVWO spring banding station at First Landing State Park. Under the direction of Bob Reilly, the nets were set in place at the station. Using the many talents of Robert Klages, the fabric structure covering the banding table was assembled with the customary difficulties. This is my fifth spring.

Terry Jenkins and I fine-tuned the aerial nets and rearranged the boards at the treacherous mud nets over the next two days. And after waiting for some temperate weather, I opened the nets for the first time on March 4th at 1000. Why so late in the morning?

In past years the first banding day has netted good numbers of birds. Temperatures around freezing and many birds in the nets at once are not a good match. So I waited for a day when the sun was up and the temperatures exceeded 40F on a bright day with little wind. Such was March 4th.

On the 1400 net run a fond acquaintance appeared in net A3; the Fox Sparrow pictured. Banded at First Landing on March 10, 2010, the bird was a picture of health and prepared for its long migration north to Canada after another comfortable winter at First Landing. Another winter resident, a male Myrtle Warbler from March 17, 2008 also found the nets. Other old mates captured during the first few days were local, year-around residents, two Carolina Chickadees (2009 and 2010) and a Carolina Wren (2010).

Fidelity of many bird species to the same nesting areas is well established. The fidelity of many bird species to the same wintering areas is less well known. Over the seven seasons of the First Landing station, winter residents such as Fox Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, Myrtle Warblers, Swamp Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets have demonstrated their affection for the Park habitat by returning annually.

Finally, Eastern Bluebirds have done well in the Park in recent years. The male pictured earned a band on opening day. And not to be left out, a female Common Yellowthroat appeared from out of the marsh-the earliest of her species yet banded at the station. There will be many more Yellowthroats to come.