Sunday, October 20, 2013

Migration Monitoring Back in Session

The most intense fall landbird migration generally occurs during the last third of September and the first half of October along the Lake Erie coastline. Fall 2013 was shaping up to be one of the best on record as we passed through September. The Navarre Banding Station is located on private property but there is a management agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service resulting in closure when the government shutdown on October 1st. With that went our field work. Sixteen days, of what appeared to be very good bird movement was lost. 
On October 17th the study site could again be opened. Important data lost was the transition from the September speciation and the mid-October community. Warbler diversity reduced and the Blackpoll changed over to the Myrtle; Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked gave way to Hermit Thrush; Kinglets, Winter Wren, and creepers arrived to replace vireos and the warbler diversity as sub-dominants. When was the change over? What was the volume and how does 2013 compare to normality? In terms of the data, it was a major hit to a long-term study. 
Hermit Thrush (HETH) left with reddish wings and less apparent eye ring than the Swainson's Thrush (SWTH) right with buffy obvious eye ring.

HETH Left with brown back and reddish tail and SWTH right with brown back and tail

It is consistency that is the greatest value for migration interpretation.   
Can the loss of days and data be overcome? Those are big questions. We are hoping weather allows for a ten day to two week block of field work to have strong pre and post closure data sets to look at. We will be looking at our satellite stations and maybe turn the table and have them represent the control to assess bird movement this October. Big questions, the long-term data has never been more important and now we have new variables. Stay tuned as we work through these new complications.

Highlights for October 17-20th were seven species of warbler including Black-throated Blue, Myrtle, American Redstart, Tennessee, Nashville, and Blackpoll. 
Male Rusty Blackbird with its "rusty" basic plumage which feathers will wear off "rust" color by spring to leave a nice iridescent black feathered head.
The first appearance of Fox Sparrows arrived at the Navarre Station along with a couple Red-breasted Nuthatches being observed. Look forward to the cold fronts to likely bring the American Tree Sparrow from its northern territory.
Fox Sparrow (FOSP) - note bi-colored bill and distinct spots on breast

Back of FOSP showing the diagnostic "red" tail of Fox Sparrows

Monday, September 23, 2013

Highlights from September 16th- 22nd 2013

"When the gales of November come early." A cold front from the northwest is the favorable direction for good fall migration. A major front with extensive rain arrived Friday night departing just before daybreak Saturday morning. Often migrants "balloon in front of the rain front but just as often they follow right on its heels as if drafting the pressure and precipitation change. This scenario is just what happened Saturday morning; and what a day Saturday was! Untold numbers of warblers and some thrushes could be heard calling the hour before light as they descended to land following the early morning lake crossing.

Blackpoll Warblers (BLPW) were arriving in flocks, and not to be outdone, the Cape May Warblers (CMWA) arrived in numbers we haven't seen for quite a few years. An additional 18 warbler species wee recorded that day or earlier in the week and included: Tennessee (TEWA), Nashville (NAWA), Yellow (YEWA), Chestnut-sided (CSWA), Magnolia (MAWA), Black-throated Blue (BTBW), Myrtle (MYWA), Black-throated Green (BTNW), Blackburnian (BLBW), Bay-breasted (BBWA), Black-and-white (BAWW), American Redstart (AMRE), Ovenbird (OVEN), Northern Waterthrush (NOWA), Connecticut (CONW), Common Yellowthroat (COYE), Wilson's (WIWA), and Canada (CAWA). 

Below is a closer look at the CMWAs from Saturday. There was a boatload (or in this case a sky and shrub load) of them around. This species is highly variable in plumage in fall.

Cape May Warblers: adult male left and adult female right.
Note fine streaks on breast and small pointed bill.

Some highlights from the week:

Blue-headed Vireo
Connecticut Warbler:adult male with complete white eye ring.Two CONWs were captured and banded on 9/21/13

Stay tuned for another week of increasing numbers of Blackpoll Warblers. Keep that dog-eared page of confusing fall warblers handy! Prepare for the October birds: kinglets, sparrows, and blackbirds to start cranking up. 

Please mark your calendar and join us for a free public banding demonstration at BSBO next Saturday from 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Highlights for the Week of September 9th- 15th

This week saw an increase in bird species and volume from the weeks prior. The presence of a series of cold fronts from the northwest resulted in excellent migration in the Great Lakes. Higher numbers of thrushes, and Blackpolls (BLPW) and Tennessee Warblers (TEWA) headlined along with 21 other species of warblers including: Golden-winged (GWWA), Nashville (NAWA), Chestnut-sided (CSWA), Magnolia (MAWA), Cape May (CMWA), Black-throated Green (BTNW), Black-throated Blue (BTBW), Myrtle (MYWA), Blackburnian (BLBW), Western Palm (WPWA), Bay-breasted (BBWA), Blackpoll (BLPW), Black-and-white (BAWW), American Redstart (AMRE), Ovenbird (OVEN), Northern Watertrhush (NOWA), Connecticut (CONW), Mourning (MOWA), Common Yellowthroat (COYE), Wilson's (WIWA), Brewster's and Canada (CAWA). What a list! It was the first for this fall for the Western Palm, Golden-winged, Brewster's, and Myrtle Warblers. 

As promised from last week, here is a review of Brown Thrush ID for those species at their peak now. Veery (VEER), Swainson's (SWTH) and Gray-cheeked Thrushes (GCTH).

A few key field marks for identifying the brown thrushes are the appearance of eye ring, the spotting on the chest, and the color of the back. 
Left bird has a visible eye ring.  The right bird does not.
Bird on left is the only bird with an eye ring in this photo.
Note the differences in overall color as well. 
Then note the coloration of the head, back, and tail. Is it olive brown or reddish brown?
Back coloration of these birds are both olive brown
Back coloration on these birds are left olive brown and right reddish brown. Notice the markings of the secondary coverts on the bird on the right, this indicates a hatching-year bird and can give the appearance of a wing bar on some individuals.
Compare spotting on these and look for eye rings. Bird in center has blurry spots. Also appears more reddish brown than the other two.
Left to Right: Swainson's Thrush, Veery, and Gray-cheeked Thrush. 
Of the two olive-brown backed thrushes, one has an eye ring and one does not. The one with the eye ring has an "i" in its name: Swainson's. Also a Swainson's has a "buffy " eye ring and buffyness to its chest. The other olive brown thrush with no eye ring is the Gray-cheeked Thrush (GCTH).
Guess which ones are here:
Birds from left to right: SWTH VEER GCTH
For those who would like to see some of these fall migrants up close, we will be holding a free public banding demonstration at the Observatory this weekend, both Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM in conjunction with Midwest Birding Symposium.

Also check online for the update on the banding totals for this fall.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Warbler Species Beginning to Increase

A full week into September and as expected, numbers have begun to increase in volume and species diversity. A couple of weak cold fronts came through the region this past week bringing in more warbler species and an increase in brown thrush numbers. Nineteen species of warbler were observed or heard this week including Tennessee (TEWA), Nashville (NAWA), Prothonotary (PROW), Yellow (YEWA), Chestnut-sided (CSWA), Magnolia (MAWA), Cape May (CMWA), Black-throated Blue (BTBW), Blackburnian (BLBW), Bay-breasted (BBWA), Blackpoll (BLPW), Black-and-white (BAWW), American Redstart (AMRE), Ovenbird (OVEN), Northern Waterthursh (NOWA), Mourning (MOWA), Common Yellowthroat (COYE), Wilson's (WIWA), and Canada (CAWA).
Blackburnian Warbler (BLBW)
The facial markings and wing bars are clue to this species.
Back of BLBW

 We will start out with a quiz bird:
Note wing bar and streaked breast
 Other warblers of note for the week:
Mourning Warbler
Adult female with split white eye-ring 

Wilson's Warbler - male

Yellow Warbler
Nice adult female with slate gray bill and fine red streaks on breast
More on quiz bird.
This is not the same bird as we showed you above, but it is the same species.
Note: thin pointed bill on small rounded head compared to most warblers which have
larger bills and heads
Breast of this species always has fine streaking in both spring and fall season

Quiz bird revealed: Cape May Warbler (CMWA)
 Adult male in this photo. On most CMWAs in fall you notice a
shadow of their auricular patch (cheek).
The Cape May is often referred to as a "Gypsy" warbler as it follows Gypsy Moth and other insect outbreaks in its boreal habitat. It can be extremely common or quite rare on any given fall due to this behavior.

Numbers of birds should continue to increase this coming week as the Blackpoll begins to arrive in volume. Thrushes will also increase and we will provide a comparison of our brown thrushes next week in this Blog. 

The coming week may also the last of some of the flycatchers, orioles and CSWA, CAWA, and YEWA. Enjoy the beauty of the season!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

May 27th - June 3rd 2013

Aaah, the tail end of the spring migration has arrived. It is heralded by the song of the Red-eyed Vireo (REVI) and the call "wheacheer" of the Willow Flycatcher (WIFL). The Indigo Buntings made their last push this week. The finale was highlighted with a southern warbler we do not see, nor catch often in the Lake Erie Marsh Region. A female Kentucky Warbler (KEWA) was the grand finale for the last week of migration field work. Not a bad bird to have venture our way.

Female KEWA-note facial markings are not distinctive or black

KEWA female back- a different perspective looking at the birds back reminds us to note whether or not the bird has tail spots or wing bars as well as other field marks.
We were also graced with an American Woodcock (AMWO). Its eyes are placed further back on its head for spying predators more quickly from nearly any direction. Note its stripes on its head are between the eyes or perpendicular stripes to the bill whereas its cousin the Wilson's Snipe has stripes on its head that run parallel to its bill.

The Indigo Buntings (INBU) are dimorphic, with the male and female appearing different in coloration. The female is brown to be camouflaged on the nest and the male reflects bright blue coloration for announcement of its territory.

Female left- Male right INBU
One of the important values of banding is to get demographics of a population passing through. How many males to females and how many Second year birds versus older birds. In INBUs, banders look at the primary coverts to determine age. The arrows are pointing to the short feathers covering the primary flight feathers. These coverts on the male are not edged with blue and therefore is a Second year bird which means it was hatched last year. It matters not how "Blue" the bird is to determine its age per se.

Many, many thanks to the whole host of volunteers who made this spring's migration monitoring season possible. It is because of YOU that we could  have such a successful season! Our hats come off for you! 
                                  THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

Summer breeding season is upon us, so take time to appreciate those birds in your yard and nearby areas that return every year to nest in the same general location. Doesn't it make you wonder how they manage that feat of locating their home territory year after year? It makes you realize that migration, breeding, and wintering habitats are all valuable and necessary for these birds to survive throughout their life cycle. Enjoy the beauty of the season!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Highlights from May 20-26th, 2013

If you are looking for challenges while out birdwatching, this is the time of year to get up early and stay out late. Flycatchers including the not so easy to identify Empidonax flycatchers, female Magnolia Warblers (MAWA), Common Yellowthroats (COYE), and American Redstarts (AMRE) arrived in great numbers on Monday May 20th. Some of the early warblers had a few stragglers as well including the Black-throated Green and Nashville Warbler (NAWA).

PROW male
We had an exciting foreign recovery of a male Wilson Warbler banded by   Manuel Grosselet last October near Vera Cruz, Mexico. Foreign recoveries (those banded by someone and recovered by another banding station) else are few and far between, but are exciting when they are encountered. We also caught an old returning Prothonotary Warbler (PROW) that was banded as an After-Second-Year male and is now at least 5 years old. 

The weather is shaping up for the last pulse of the third wave occurring by mid-week. This will bring in the last peak of the flycatchers, Red-eyed Vireos (REVI), Mourning Warbler (MOWA), Blackpoll Warbler (BLPW), Wilson Warbler (WIWA) and the elusive Connecticut Warbler (CONW).

PROW male back-note white tail spots


Highlights for the week:

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (YBCU)-note rufous wings
YBCU-note tail spots

Here's a reminder that bird plumage does not always follow examples of field marks you will find in the field guide:

Wilson Warbler male with many yellow feathers in his cap

WIWA back

Male Yellow-breasted Chat (YBCH). How do we know it's a male?  
Males have black mouth lining while females have pink. 
Scarlet Tanager (SCTA) female. Note greenish yellow body color versus golden yellow body feathers of a female Summer Tanager.
Olive-sided Flycatcher (OSFL) back.
Not showing the white tufts emphasized in field guides.
OSFL front view. Note the dark gray vest it is wearing. This may be a better field mark than the white on its back. The song/call is more telling as well.
Philadelphia Vireo (PHVI) back- note the white superciliary line.
PHVI: note its lemon yellow throat and belly.
Check out our banding totals at

and Kenn Kaufman's Migration forecast at
Get outside and enjoy the last migrants of spring! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Highlights for May 12-19th

Even with the end of the Biggest Week in American Birding, there were still many birds to be found in the Lake Erie Marsh Region this past week. Our first Connecticut Warbler was captured and its cousin the Mourning Warbler sang its heart out this week at the station while small numbers were banded. The second pulse of the second wave of migratory songbirds occurred on Tuesday and Wednesday of the week. We were inundated with Magnolia Warblers (MAWA) and Common Yellowthroats (COYE). A few more of the older Yellow Warblers arrived back at the site, with a couple of five-year-olds showing up this week. Several older Baltimore Orioles also made it back home from their Central American winter residence.

Interesting things can be found while gathering data on songbird migration. It is a unique opportunity to have the birds in hand, allowing study of plumages of similar species. Take a look at these second-year (SY) female Black-throated Blue Warblers (BTBW). The primary coverts are diagnostic to age in second-year females, and both of these birds are SY; however, the differences in their plumage was striking. One has a small white handkerchief at the base of its primaries, the other virtually none. The coloration of the plumage of one has a yellowish cast while the other is whitish. You can see why field guides are a useful identification source but can't show all the variability that a species may demonstrate.

Quiz bird back for you to ponder:


We managed to get the whole group of brown thrushes for comparison
Thrushes from left to right: Wood, Hermit, Veery, Swainson's, and Gray-cheeked Thrush
Backs of thrushes from left to right: Wood, Hermit, Veery, Swainson's,
and Gray-cheeked Thrush

Some highlights of the week:
Scarlet Tanager male
Quizbird front view

Wilson Warbler (WIWA)-male
Female Bay-breasted Warbler (BBWA)
Back of female BBWA

Quizbird answer: male Cape May Warbler (CMWA)
Note the fine streaks on the chest and the thin pointed bill.

This week will bring more birds leading into the third wave of migratory songbirds. Stay tuned for your favorite vireos and Empidonax flycatchers!

Check out what we have banded this spring at:
and get migration predictions at