Wednesday, June 18, 2008

West Sister Island...

The annual trek out to West Sister Island National Wilderness Area (WSI) with the Ottawa NWR crew and Ohio Division of Wildlife was successful in banding five species of colonial nesting birds. This 80 acre (approx.) island is the breeding place for 40% of all the herons and egrets nesting in the U.S. Great Lakes. The island is very significant for these populations making it one of the reasons it is part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. The scene almost looks like the Caribbean with the azure water….

Historically the island was a practice site for aerial military strikes during WWII. However, it has since seen the lighthouse run by a keeper up until 1960’s where it then became automated. The lightkeeper raised rabbits and goats and kept the SW end of the island grazed. When the lighthouse became automated the vegetation was allowed to revert to the Hackberry and Kentucky Coffeetree stand similar to the north and east end of the island.

I have been visiting WSI for 20 years and it hasn’t been until the last 12 that the trees on the SW end began to grow too big and tall for the Black-crowned Night-Herons. From earlier habitat nesting surveys conducted by the state wildlife agency, well before my time on the island, it was recognized that the night-herons used the shorter less than 15 foot trees in which to build their nests. Almost 10 years ago the USFWS and Ohio Division of Wildlife went through the process of public review for managing part of the island for Black-crowned Night-Herons. The species is a federally designated species of concern. After the process was supported, 4 acres have been cut at waist height over the past 9 years in the historical nesting locations on the island. After 2 years there was significant use of the cut area with the birds using the base of the cut stump as a nesting platform. In 2008, I was again pleased to see a larger number of night-herons using the old cut area. The trees in the cut are getting in the 15-20 foot range. It causes the banding crew to use a ladder to reach the nests to band the young.

Kim Kaufman is preparing to band night-herons
at the nest in the cut area.

Interesting enough the night-herons as other egrets and herons are very sensitive to disturbance during the incubation period. This night-heron must have been close to hatching and she stuck tight on the nest for quite a while before quietly exiting. It is a rare occasion that you get to see a night-heron on its nest.

The banding crew handled 5 species of colonial waterbirds including Herring Gull, Cattle Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Great Egret. Sixty-eight birds total were banded. Great Blue Herons and Double-crested Cormorants nest on the Island as well but are not accessible by ladder.

This is a photo of 4 little whites (Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets-are all small white birds). This picture shows 3 Snowy Egrets with a Cattle Egret chick second from the right with the mostly yellow bill and shorter neck. Little Blue Herons are known to nest on the island and all little whites usually nest colonially together making the identification not so easy. However, many years ago while at a regional bird banding meeting in southern state, I met up with a bander who bands a lot of Little Blues. He said little blues have dark gray trailing edge of the secondary feathers. For Cattle Egrets and Snowies, it is a little more difficult. Cattle Egrets have shorter necks and from what I can tell have shorter and stouter legs (fatter legs). At first I thought all of these were Snowies, but in my head when banding something wasn’t quite equal with all of them and I remembered the band number on the one that wasn’t like the others (that is hard to believe I am sure but it is the way it happened). So after looking at the picture and getting a second opinion, the Cattle Egret was weeded out of the mix.

For the past two years the weather and bugs on the island have been tolerable. It has been very hot, humid, with a host of mosquitoes and stable flies to escort you around the island. I probably just jinxed myself.

There is always something to be amazed out in nature. This is the only place I have seen Poison Ivy Trees with trunks 3-4 inches in diameter and free standing. A sight no one believes until they see it. Some think by looking at the plant whey will contract the itch.

Enjoy Summer!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Acadian Flycatcher, today's highlight...

Quiz bird answer for June 6th in the spring blog is female Nashville Warbler for those of you waiting in anticipation for the answer.

Today forces were split up between two Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (M.A.P.S.) breeding bird sites (Oak Openings-Ostrich Lane and the Navarre site). The Navarre MAPS site includes 10 nets in similar habitat as the migration site but located 100 yards north. The Ostrich Lane site is located on Metroparks of the Toledo Area. The Observatory has a great relationship with those fine people. We have 16 nets where 4 nets are stationed in four different managed habitats which are Oak Savanna- understory with sparse trees, Forest with understory-control area, grassland dune area, and early successional area. Nets were run for 6 hours and numbers of birds were very similar with Navarre capturing 23 new and 7 recaptures and Ostrich Lane capturing 19 new birds and 7 recaptures.

Blue-winged Warbler

Highlights of the Navarre MAPS station was an Acadian Flycatcher and a molting Northern Waterthrush. The waterthrush is inevitably not going to breed this year. It had already begun its symmetrical wing molt which is done in adults after the breeding season is over. For some reason it will not breed this year.

Blue Grosbeak female

Highlights of the Ostrich Lane site were a female Scarlet Tanager, male Blue-winged Warbler, and a female Blue Grosbeak! She was beautiful! For a female with her chestnut head and blue rump and wings, she outshined the male because he did not show his face. She was nice-looking regardless of that fact. The male sang in the savanna habitat which was where the female was captured. Hmmm… not typical habitat to find a Blue Grosbeak. There was another pair at the south end of the banding site too. Their populations must be increasing or at least at this site. The female was a second-year bird and may possibly been an offspring of the birds seen in the area last year. We did capture a female in the early successional area last year.

The weather is great to get out and learn some bird songs so take the opportunity to expand your song repertoire!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Cuckoos are late spring migrants...

The last day of the official season and it was a great ending. See what you think: While putting up the nets, an Eastern Screech Owl flew into the net. Other highlights included the elusive Yellow-billed Cuckoo and another American Woodcock! We also captured a Black and White Warbler female with a brood patch. We have had a pair Black and White Warblers nesting on the ridge most years. For 5.5 hours of net operation we captured 18 new birds and 15 recaptures which included 12 species of birds.

Top 3 banded birds:
Traill’s Flycatcher - 3
Baltimore Oriole - 3
Indigo Bunting - 3

Owls have modified feathers of the leading edge of their wing
which lack barbules that hold the feather. See photo:

This feather adaptation allows for the birds
to fly silent at night.

Cuckoos are late spring migrants. Enjoy this Yellow-billed Cuckoo! Remember the wings on the YBCU are rusty colored contrasting with its gray back. This characteristic makes for easy ID when the bird is flying.

Have a great summer and if I have any news about summer banding I will post it here. Take time to help with the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas if you have not put in some time. It is a worthwhile project.

Bone up on your fall warblers they will be here sooner than later.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A few surprizes today...

In my opinion today was a scorcher for this latitude. There were still a few surprises to add to the end of the spring season records. The numbers were nothing to get excited about. We had 14 new birds and 17 recaptures of 9 species for the migration site in a little over 5.75 hours of net operation. In conjunction with the migration station, the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) station was run. The MAPS station in Navarre is about 150 yards from the migration station in similar beach ridge habitat. The MAPS station netted 25 new birds and 11 recaptures. Twelve species were captured at the MAPS station birds.

Prothonotary Warbler

The migration station has a high competition for Prothonotary Warbler nesting territories it seems. There were at least 3 males singing out in the buttonbush swamp and this week there had been one singing in a small slough area near a net. Yesterday we caught a female there. She was caught again in the same area. Today we netted in the vicinity, two after-second year males which could have been many years older than 3 years because they had wing feathers that were spectacular looking with rounded alulas and bright gray on the coverts. They could have been great, great grandfathers or older as fine as they looked. These did not compare with any of the other males we had caught this year.

Another surprise bird this one is! (quiz bird for today)

By the way, yesterday’s quiz bird was the bird with yellow legs and black head (black poll) female. If you remember in the fall, the Blackpoll Warbler has yellow pads to its feet which is all that is left of the yellow of its legs and feet in fall. Are you ready for fall warblers? The fun will begin in late August…

The surprise for the MAPS station was this female Ruby-crowned Kinglet female. This is a late bird!

Migration site species list:
Yellow Warbler - 3
Gray Catbird - 2
Prothonotary Warbler - 2
Red-winged Blackbird - 2
Nashville Warbler - 1
House Wren - 1
Great Crested Flycatcher - 1
Red-eyed Vireo - 1
Northern Cardinal - 1

MAPS station species list:
Gray Catbird - 7
House Wren - 4
American Robin - 3*
Downy Woodpecker - 2
Northern Cardinal - 2
Yellow Warbler - 1
Common Yellowthroat - 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 1
Brown Thrasher - 1
Blue Jay - 1
Red-winged Blackbird - 1
Common Grackle - 1
*juvenile American Robins are out and about

Stay cool and enjoy the outdoors!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Willow Flycatcher is a local breeding species...

It was really warm this morning with the winds out of the southwest. The Cottonwood trees are releasing their white fluffy seeds. It looked like it was snowing at the station today. However, it did not feel like snow. A warm day today produced 39 birds with 16 recaptures. The catch of the day included 14 species with 5 warblers among the group. About half of the Traill’s Flycatchers keyed out to Willow Flycatchers. This is to be expected since the Willow Flycatcher is a local breeding species. Highlights for the day were White-eyed Vireo and a male Mourning Warbler. We caught a male and female Prothonotary Warbler but the male received all the oohs and aahhs. It would figure.

The Quiz bird from yesterday was a Tennessee Warbler. I hope you guessed it correctly. The eyeline was very evident.

Here is another quiz bird for you to not let your brain be stagnant.

Top 5 banded bird species:
Traill’s Flycatcher - 10
Gray Catbird - 7
House Wren - 3
Indigo Bunting - 3
Baltimore Oriole - 3

Enjoy the outdoors!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It is the end of migration...

The day started off really foggy but was better than the forecast just ten miles south of here which had thunderstorms and lightening. You could tell where the warm front was located. Light east winds in the morning turned southwesterly by afternoon. When the winds shift to the south I do not get excited because the number of birds are telling me it is the end of another migration season. Today we beat yesterday’s total by 2 with 23 new birds and 11 recaptures. Thirteen species were captured today including six warblers. Seven warblers were seen or heard at the site. The only warbler added that we did not catch was Common Yellowthroat. We are catching many Gray Catbirds, Yellow Warblers, and Common Yellowthroat females with brood patches which is another sign spring migration is over. We have caught at least two female Prothonotary Warblers with brood patches also. It is great to have Prothonotary Warblers around! Such a treat to see the touch of the sun with its white tail rays flying around the marsh.

Wilson's Warbler female

There are still some female migrants around including Wilson’s Warbler and a male Mourning Warbler was still singing on site too!

Highlights also include a Gray-cheeked Thrush and a Wood Thrush banded today.

Top 4 banded birds:
Gray Catbird - 5
Traill’s Flycatcher - 4
Wilson’s Warbler - 2
Yellow Warbler - 2

So far I have not heard or seen where the Swainson’s Thrushes or Red-eyed Vireos have gone. They must have gone around us. Powdermill banding station in PA has had normal numbers of birds. I am still investigating where across the eastern US they made their travels north.

Here is a mystery bird we caught today for you to work on! As I have said before there is never a boring moment to be found in nature!


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A BIG thanks to our volunteers...

Today the winds were out of the southeast and even when the direction is slightly favorable I come into the marsh with a mindset that it could be a good day. Well, I am going to have to admit it appears that the majority of the birds went north and spring migration is just about over L. Today brought 21 new birds with 12 recaptures in 5.33 hours. Yes, it was quiet and slow in the marsh today. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo is still in there taunting us or should I say laughing at us because we have not caught one this spring yet. A Canada Warbler and a Mourning Warbler were among the recaptures that were migrants hanging around to eat a few more bugs before taking off for their northern breeding areas. Five warbler species were captured today with 9 warbler species seen.

The highlight of the day was catching a nice
male Mourning Warbler-quite handsome!

The top 5 banded birds:
Traill’s Flycatcher - 5
Gray Catbird - 4
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - 2
Common Yellowthroat - 2
Wilson’s Warbler - 2

Before the season is completely over I must give a big Thanks to all the volunteers who have helped tremendously with this project. With their time and valuable help this monitoring project is possible. Here are a few pictures of the hard-working volunteers. There are around thirty-five volunteers who contribute to the project.

Volunteers Dave & Dianne

Volunteers Rod & Pam

Volunteers Mark & Ryan

Volunteers Mary & Lee

My hat goes off to them for their hard work!
As always, find time to appreciate what is in your backyard!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Winds out of the west today...

The winds out of the west turned to the northeast during the day which did not improve the number of birds. It could be that spring is winding down. It is anti-climatic to have the numbers slow down this quickly. Today we had 72 new banded birds and 23 recaptures including 18 species in 6 hours of net operation. Nine warblers were caught with 13 being seen on the site.

Highlights for the day were an Eastern Kingbird and a Blue-headed Vireo.
Top 7 birds banded:
Traill’s Flycatcher - 19
Mourning Warbler - 8
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - 8
Wilson’s Warbler - 6
Yellow Warbler - 5
Common Yellowthroat - 5
Gray Catbird - 5

Take time to enjoy nature and you will be better for it!