June 26, 2017

Sixth and Final Week of Spring Banding 2017

Female Cape May Warbler. 

The final week of spring banding 2017 coincided with Memorial Day weekend again this year. We were quite pleasantly surprised with the turnout that we saw at the banding station both in terms of the number of birds banded as well as  the number of visitors that stopped by. After what was undeniably a different spring migration than what we are used to here in Erie County, Memorial Day weekend we finally had sunny skies and birds singing nonstop. We were catching later season migrants such as Wilson's Warblers and Empidonax flycatchers alongside species that we would have normally expected to have passed through the park already. It was quite exciting! We also had over 100 visitors stop by the banding station over the holiday weekend, many of whom had never before heard of bird banding and were quite interested in learning about our work. A large part of what we do is public education as it is so very important to get people talking about the issues that face our avian friends as well as the environment in general. After all, we all share the same basic resources such as air and water and so, what is good for one of us is good for all of us. 

BIC, Laura-Marie Koitsch, banding a Black-throated Green Warbler.

One of the many highlights of the week was definitely catching not one, but two, Cedar Waxwings. Back when we still did banding in the fall, we banded this species quite often but since we switched over to spring banding only, we haven't handled one of these in several years so, it was a treat.

Long-term volunteer, Frank Frisina, proudly showing off a male Cedar Waxwing
Another highlight of the week was catching a subspecies of Wilson's Warbler that is pretty rare for this area. Wilsonia pusilla chryseola are slightly larger than the subspecies that we see here, plus they are very noticeably bright yellow overall and their forehead is also bright yellow with an orange tinge. 

Now compare it to the subspecies that we do see here (Wilsonia pusilla pusilla). Notice the bird pictured below is slightly smaller with an overall olive tinge.

Remember that even though the breeding range of the chryseola subspecies is southwest British Columbia to Southwest California, we caught this bird on migration and birds can take various routes to and from their breeding grounds, some even cross the entire continental US in one-go.

Another highlight was the two fledgling Song Sparrows that we banded on the last day this season. Both parents had been banded in previous years and after we banded the young birds, we took the back to where their parents were waiting for them as they were still being cared for by them.

Sixth Week Totals by Species:

American Redstart: 21
Magnolia Warbler: 60
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher: 3
Black-throated Green Warbler: 8
Black-and-White Warbler: 2
Chestnut-sided Warbeler: 8
Nashville Warbler: 1
Northern Parula: 3
Wilson's Warbler: 11
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 1
Yellow-belled Flycatcher: 5
Traill's Flycatcher: 9
Least Flycatcher: 2
Tennessee Warbler: 4
Eastern Wood-pewee: 3
Yellow Warbler: 18
Canada Warbler: 12
Common Yellowthroat: 12
Black-capped Chickadee: 2
Blackpoll Warbler: 22
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1
Blackburnian Warbler: 9
Bay-breasted Warbler: 2
House Wren: 1
American Goldfinch: 5
Philadelphia Vireo: 3
Red-eyed Vireo: 21
Mourning Warbler: 4
Northern Waterthrush: 2
Ovenbird: 1
Indigo Bunting: 6
American Tree Sparrow: 1
Lincoln's Sparrow: 2
Song Sparrow: 8
(Eastern) White-crowned Sparrow: 1
White-breasted Nuthatch: 1
Tufted Titmouse: 1
Downy Woodpecker: 1
Swainson's Thrush: 7
Gray-cheeked Thrush: 2
Cedar Waxwing: 2
Great-crested Flycatcher: 5
Wood Thrush: 2
Gray Catbird: 26
Northern Cardinal: 1
Baltimore Oriole: 1
Brown Thrasher: 2
Eastern Towhee: 1
Red-winged Blackbird: 4
Yellow-shafted Flicker: 1
Eastern Whip-poor-will: 1
American Robin: 3

The last bird that we banded this spring was this handsome second year male Indigo Bunting. 

June 7, 2017

Banding off of the Peninsula Spring 2017

This season we spent time banding at sites that were off of the peninsula but, still bordering along Lake Erie. As previously mentioned, we extended our coastal monitoring project to include several sites between the park and the NY border that we thought would be good stopover habitat for the same species that use Presque Isle State Park in a similar manner each spring. We had volunteers walk 100m transects at each site, recording the birds that they both heard and saw. As you may remember, last year we started placing small radio transmitters called nanotags on certain species to see how they were using the park and its resources during the time that they were in the area on the way to their northern breeding grounds. This year, we placed the same type of transmitters on two species, Swainson's Thrush and Blackpoll Warblers, but, instead of tagging them at the park, we tagged the birds at our survey sites. So, not only do we have the data from the surveys that tell us what species are using these various lakeside habitats we also will have the data from us tracking the fourteen birds that were tagged to show us more specifically how these species might be using the habitat.

Blackpoll Warblers have an incredible migration route, especially in the fall. They take off from the east coast and travel almost 7,000 km nonstop out over the Atlantic Ocean until they reach their wintering grounds in South America. Seriously, it's nothing short of amazing! We know of this migration because of modern technology: researchers placed small light-level sensors called geolocators on these birds and then were amazed to discover the journey that they make each year over open water. We're also placing new tech on these birds but, unlike geolocators which absolutely must be retrieved from the bird to get the data (ie, the bird needs to be recaptured) we are using radio transmitters called nanotags that will transmit the bird's unique signal to the nearest receivers until the battery wears out. We are tracking these signals/birds using a handheld device to discover more about their local movements and then there are Motus towers here in PA as well as ones across both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario that will also receive the transmissions as the tagged birds move north to their breeding grounds.

A male Blackpoll Warbler with a small nanotag attached. It's sitting almost right where the wings come together on its back, underneath the body feathers, so you're unable to see it. You can however make out, if you look closely, the thin antenna that protrudes from the tag.

A female Blackpoll Warbler that was tagged at our banding site that happened to also be at the house of our long time volunteer, Michele Rundquist-Franz. Again, if you look closely, you can barely make out the thin antenna coming straight out from the back of the bird.

Dr. Sarah Sargent placing a nanotag on a female Blackpoll Warbler at our Highmeyer Park site.

Making sure that the nanotag fits perfectly on a Swainson's Thrush

Banding off of the peninsula presented us with the opportunity to see species in the hand that we don't routinely catch in the park. Even though Belted Kingfishers can be seen (and heard!) year-round at Presque Isle State Park, we very rarely catch any. So, we were pleasantly surprised to find this breeding female BEKI in the nets our first time trapping at the Glinodo Center.

This species might look a little 'funny' with their head appearing disproportionately large compared to their body but that huge head serves as an anchor for powerful muscles that allow the bird's mandible to operate with some serious force. Believe me when I tell you that this species can not only clamp down hard but also slice up whatever is in its 'grasp' with the saw-toothed edges to its bill. A wiggly little fish or a bander's finger, it's all the same to this species.

Take a good look at their absolutely adorable little feets (very scientific term) and think about the strength that they must have within them to keep the bird upright on a branch.

We also banded species that we do routinely catch in the park such as this female Hairy Woodpecker whose multiple generations of feathers in her wing helped us to age her as a third year bird, which you can see in the first photo. In the second photo, you can see the extent of the vascularization of the skin on her breast, also known as a brood patch, which helps regulate the temperature of her eggs.

We also caught this super handsome Baltimore Oriole at one of our sites that, upon release, proceeded to sit right above us in the closest tree and sing his little heart out for the rest of the morning.

The BIC, Laura-Marie Koitsch, once again enjoying the fact that she finds herself matching the birds that she catches: it's like looking in a mirror! 

Plus, with scenery this beautiful, you can see why you really had to twist our arm to get us off of the peninsula! 

May 25, 2017

Fifth Week of Spring Banding 2017

(male) Bay-breasted Warbler. In two days, we banded 34 individuals & considering
that we've banded 39 total in the past eight years, that's pretty amazing!
We actually had two beautiful sunny days in a row during the fifth week of spring banding this season; one might have started to suspect that spring was finally here! But, alas, we went right back to strong northwest winds, cooler temps, and yes, rain. We had two days of banding cut short due to rain and one due to strong winds. We did, however, successfully deploy the first set of nanotags on four Blackpoll Warblers and the one Swainson's Thrush that we had tagged the week prior flew north to its breeding grounds. We look forward to receiving its data from the other towers in the Motus network to find out more info such as its date and time of departure as well as what path it took when it left here and even potentially how fast it was flying.

This week we had a Yellow Warbler that we banded as an adult in 2011 return once again
to nest at the park. Because we banded the bird, we know that he was hatched in
2009 OR EARLIER. That's pretty darn awesome for such a small bird.
Good luck, little buddy!

Gray-cheeked Thrush, one of two banded this past week. We don't always catch this
species every year so this was a bit of a treat. As they nest pretty far north in Canada
and winter in South America, we often don't even see them either. I like how Cornell
describes them as a: "shy skulker of the underbrush." 

(male) Hooded Warbler. One of  three banded this past week.

(male) Blackburnian Warbler. Always a showstopper.

Adult female Black-throated Green Warbler

male Black-throated Green Warbler. A species with a name longer than its body. :)

Oh, the Canada Warbler, such a beautiful species. 

Haha the moment that one of our volunteers pointed out that I was wearing the same 'outfit'
as this stunning male Indigo Bunting. Pretty sure that he wore it better though! :)

adult male Indigo Bunting. 

This second year male Scarlet Tanager was quite the 'highlight' this week not only because this was the first one that we've ever banded at Presque Isle State Park but also because a large portion of his breast plumage was highlighter yellow.

Week Five Totals Listed By Species:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 1
Magnolia Warbler: 15
Tennessee Warbler: 7
American Redstart: 9
Black-throated Green Warbler: 2
Chestnut-sided Warbler: 3
Northern Parula: 2
Wilson's Warbler: 3
Black-and-White Warbler: 1
Least Flycatcher: 1
Traill's Flyctcher: 1
Blue-winged Warbler: 1
House Wren: 6
Yellow Warbler: 67
Common Yellowthroat: 9
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 12
Bay-breasted Warbler: 34
Cape May Warbler: 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle): 2
Hooded Warbler: 3
Blackpoll Warbler: 11
Eastern Wood-pewee: 1
Canada Warbler: 5
Blackburnian Warbler: 3
Palm Warbler (Western): 2
White-eyed Vireo: 1
Philadelphia Vireo: 3
American Goldfinch: 3
Black-capped Chickadee: 1
Field Sparrow: 1
Ovenbird: 1
Indigo Bunting: 2
Northern Waterthrush: 6
Red-eyed Vireo: 20
Song Sparrow: 2
Swainson's Thrush: 8
Veery: 3
Gray-cheeked Thrush: 2
White-breasted Nuthatch: 1
White-throated Sparrow: 10
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel's): 1
Brown-headed Cowbird: 1
Great-crested Flycatcher: 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 2
Wood Thrush: 2
Baltimore Oriole: 6
Gray Catbird: 56
Eastern Towhee: 1
Northern Cardinal: 2
American Robin: 3
Yellow-shafted Flicker: 1