Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Confusing Flycatchers + B&W Warbler

Update on banding, two very similar looking birds but different species:

The top bird is a Eastern Wood Pewee and the bottom bird is a Willow Flycatcher ..... to the best of our knowledge. We thought they were the same bird at first but the Wood Pewee ended up being noticeably larger. You can also see that the Pewee has fainter wing bars and is more gray than greenish like the flycatcher. I still don't know if I'm fully convinced since there are so many empidonax flycatchers that look almost identical even in hand. At least we know for sure that both of these bird species have been heard around here. Sound is actually the best way to identify flycatchers and similar species.

Another couple of looks at the Willow Flycatcher, in case we ever decided to change our minds on the ID we made.

This is a very very young Common Yellowthroat. We are sure that this one had fledged within a day or two, meaning it's fresh from the nest. The picture turned out kind of blurry but you can see it has a stumpy tail (still growing his adult feathers) and a big mouth for showing mom and dad where to put the food. He also made very interesting calls that weren't typical sounds you would hear from an adult bird. They were more like trilling/shrieking noises that a begging bird might make. When we get young birds like this we always make sure to return them to where they were captured even though they are perfectly capable of flying, but just in case they get lost.

I think the bird-of-the-day is definitely this female Black and White Warbler. What a cute little bird! This was my first time seeing one banded. They aren't a very typical warbler out here, but I think that they might breed in the area or they are already flying through. It's hard to tell. Soon enough though, we should be getting lots more confusing fall warblers migrating through come September. Exciting!

Another shot of those lovely black and white stripes. The male doesn't differ much from the female but has more striping on the face.

Total Birds Banded: American Goldfinch (3), Common Yellowthroat, Song Sparrow, Eastern Wood Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Gray Catbird, Black & White Warbler

Birdy art: American White Pelican

Sunday, August 3, 2008

brief banding update + brown thrasher + AOU

Hi all, surprisingly the house wrens were gone from the banding station this week after the boom we had last time. In their place, we had several juvenile catbirds and a few late breeding birds. A pair of goldfinches showed signs that they were in the early stages of nesting. The female had a full belly, likely containing an egg. Another female Common Yellowthroat also showed signs that she had recently laid eggs. In general, August is late in the breeding season for birds, but it is also fairly common for specific birds like goldfinches.

The bird of the day was this juvenile Brown Thrasher. It was my first time seeing one up close.

Even though they are called Brown Thrashers, their feathers actually more reddish-brown as you can see.

This week I hope to update you with some western birds since I will be traveling to Portland, Oregon for the American Ornithologists Union meeting. I will be presenting some of my data that I've collected at Biocore Prairie with a poster I made and doing a little birding at Washington Park. Hopefully I will see some new birds but I will only be there for a few days.

Birds banded this week: Gray Catbird (4), American Goldfinch (2), Common Yellowthroat, Brown Thrasher, Song Sparrow

Birdy art: Stellar's Jay (a western bird)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

wren fest & heavy molting

This past Saturday was a great day for banding. As soon as we started putting up nets, we could tell that we would be catching a lot of wrens, and we did! 11 total House Wrens were banded in 4 hours. They were really active in the area and had taken over all three nest boxes near the banding station.

Here's one of the 11. One of the wrens had even just laid eggs recently, a little late in the season but these guys seem to be busier than ever.

I'm always excited to see Cedar Waxwings near the nets. They are such neat birds! A bit disappointing though because as you can see, this one does not have waxy wings, just like the other two we caught this summer.

Here's a Common Yellowthroat with some missing tail feathers. Many birds molt before after the breeding season, especially before they get ready to migrate across a long distance or if they have different summer/winter plumages. If you look at where the tail feathers once were, you can see two tiny shoots. These are called pinfeathers and will eventually grow into full feathers. Feathers are pretty cool and much more complicated than mammal hairs. People are still trying to figure out how birds evolved feathers. One theory is that they are modified reptile-like scales. Amazing what millions of years can do to a body plan adapted for flight.

Speaking of molts, here is a Black-capped Chickadee who looks terribly disheveled, but is actually going through a heavy molt. He (or she?) had pinfeathers sticking out pretty much all over. Of course it is important that birds shed feathers in a very particular order, so that they are still able to fly.

Another look, Black-capped Chickadee from the back. Chickadees tend to be little fighters and like to bite a lot. This one actually wasn't so bad (to me anyway, Jerry, who took the chickadee out of the net had a different story!)

Here's a young female Yellow Warbler. It's nice to catch up with a warbler in the middle of summer, since most of them only pass through in the spring and fall. Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats are the only warblers that breed right here at Biocore Prairie to my knowledge.

Another view from the back. It was definitely a day for small birds. Apparently this is tricky for some of the banders here but I don't mind. Well, that is, they are definitely a hassle to get out of the nets but I don't mind if I am just banding them!

Here is a really short video of a Cedar Waxwing being released... (listen for House wren song in the background)

and a quick House wren release..

Bird Banded: House Wren (11), Common Yellowthroat (2), American Goldfinch, Grey Catbird, Song Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwing

Birdy Art: Northern Cardinal

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"BirdNerd" artist on etsy

"BirdNerd: because birds are cool"
I just wanted to link to this artist's page on Etsy. She has some prints of her artwork, such as the chickadee picture above, and some other products based on her art. And the theme for all of her collection: birds.

All the birds look realistic but have funky colors and stuff. I really want to buy something from her. Maybe a pillow, they are really cute! So here's the link if you want to check it out:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

First Hatch-years + downy

This morning just "flew" by, with 15 birds banded in 4 hours. We also caught a few extras though which managed to escape. This included a very nice Brown Thrasher, which I would have loved to band. Too bad! One reason for all the bandings was the nice weather, sunny and no wind. The other reason was all the fledglings! A lot of the birds we caught were newbies, just born this year. They are officially called hatch-years.

This catbird was one of four hatch-year catbirds that we banded today.

If you remember my previous blog entry about catbirds a couple weeks ago, one characteristic we check is the mouth color. This baby bird has a yellow mouth unlike the adult in my other blog who had a black mouth interior. He also has a tremendous gape, which is the soft tissue on the outer corners of the mouth. The gape helps this bird stretch his mouth open while begging from his parents. The mouth color also takes part in stimulating the parents to "put food here!"

We had a lot of female common yellowthroats today. We've had lots of males in the past and I've posted pictures. Here you can see how different the female is. There is no black mask, but she still has that stunning yellow throat.

Here is my favorite bird of the day, a juvenile male Downy Woodpecker. These are the smallest woodpeckers you will find around here. It is so neat to see them up close since we hardly ever get woodpeckers in the nets. This one was a near escapee but I had good timing at the net. One of the neat things about woodpeckers is their tailfeathers, which are very stiff. They use their tails as a prop when they are climbing up trees and excavating the bark. Woodpeckers also have a very unique head bobbing motion which is pretty fun to see up close. Fortunately, this guy didn't peck the skin off my fingers and he was pretty small so I wasn't intimidated by his head bobbing.

Here you can see the red mottling distinct to the juvenile. An adult male will have a bright red patch on the back of the crown. This guy also had some kind of growth on the back of his bill. We weren't sure what it was unfortunately, but he appeared otherwise healthy.

Total bird banded: Downy Woodpecker, Gray Catbird (3), Common Yellowthroat (4), American Goldfinch (2), Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow

birdy art: Red-headed Woodpecker

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Weekly banding update: Orchard Oriole & Bluebird

This morning started out very windy and a slow day for birds. There was plenty of activity among the beautiful prairie blooms, but none of the birds were flying into the nets. Pictured above are a pair of Red-winged blackbirds. Most likely this pair is nesting in the grass below since they were being rather loud as I walked by. It's pretty neat seeing the same birds returning to the same nest locations a year later. Not that we can tell for sure, but the same species seem to return to the same spots and I remember a pair of blackbirds nesting in this spot last summer.

Although the hours seemed to drag by without any birds, we ended up catching a few of the old favorites, Song Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats (the male pictured above), and a pair of Catbirds. We also wound up with a few very awesome surprises!

Here is the bird of the day! I was really stumped when I saw him. A green bird with a black face flying all over the prairie and warbling away in the trees. We finally identified it as a first year male Orchard Oriole. I'm sure I have never seen one with this plumage before, but I think it was a pretty good match after checking the guidebook several times over. The mature male Orchard Oriole is very reminiscent of the male Baltimore Oriole, but with a reddish brown tint instead of orange. This male is in the awkward transition phase of life where his plumage actually resembles the greenish-colored female more closely than the male. A young adult baltimore oriole would be more orangey-yellow and singing a very different tune. Check the video to hear the Orchard Oriole's song.

Here's a look at what we deal with when we take birds out of the nets. Sometimes it's really hard to tell which way they actually came into the net. It can get worse the more they struggle since they can become tangled in several layers of the net. In severe cases we can cut the nets to untangle the bird, but we try to avoid it since it will be much easier for a bird to escape in a cut up net. But in most cases, such as for this Song Sparrow, we can get them out in 2 minutes or less.

Here's a close-up of our male Song Sparrow with some very lovely streaking.

And now our second Bird of the Day, my very first banded Bluebird! This is the male, evident by the beautiful brilliant blue coloration. The females are a much more dusky greyish blue, so the males stand out quite a lot in contrast. What an impressive bird in general, and even more gorgeous up close. This one was actually a little shabby, we aged it as a after-hatch year, probably a younger bird still growing into its adult plumage.

I just can't get enough of brilliant blue birds so I have to share another one with you, an Indigo Bunting singing in the prairie. We had indigo buntings in surround sound today everywhere we went, but they are still pretty good at avoiding our nets.

On my way home, I had another birdy surprise, a pair of Sandhill Cranes literally a block away from my apartment. Although the cranes are regulars to the marsh and the prairie not far away, I guess I just wasn't expecting to see them on the lawn of the "Cereal Crops Research Unit."

For those of you interested in flowers, I have a few pictures of prairie blooms. I couldn't tell you what they are called though. Second picture - Purple coneflowers I think?

Birds Banded: Grey Catbird (2), Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, American Robin, Eastern Bluebird

Birdy Artwork: Tufted Titmouse

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cedar Waxwings at Biocore

This morning was a slow day for banding at Biocore Prairie. We only had five birds and closed up early around 11am. The highlight though was a pair of Cedar Waxwings. We have them out on the prairie on a regular basis but they usually fly too high to get caught in the nets. Two were extremely busy this morning collecting nest material, and eyeing our nets for loose strands. Only a few minutes after I said how much I wanted to band one, we caught them.

Here I am with the banded female. We figured it was female because she had loose wrinkly skin on her belly. This is a sign that the female has recently laid eggs.

Another characteristic of the female is a lighter throat patch just below the bill. The male's throat has noticeably more dark feathers.

This is the male. Just a beautiful bird! The yellow tips on the tail feathers are one way of estimating the bird's age. This male may be older than the female we caught since it has more yellow on its tail. Oh and you might notice, neither of the birds we caught have "waxy wings" despite their name. Cedar Waxwings typically have a couple of red waxy tips on their wings, but apparently it is acquired with age.
All morning we had two waxwings building a nest right in the mulberry bush next to our banding station. I'm not sure if they were the same ones we caught, but it was very nice having their company. With the waxwings in the mulberries, tree swallows and bluebirds in the nest boxes, catbirds in the shrubs, sparrows and blackbirds in the grass, and two oriole nests bordering the prairie, the area is becoming quite the bustling neighborhood. I can't even begin to imagine how many birds' nests are out here and how many bird families are passed by without anyone noticing.

Well, even though it was a slow morning we had yet another bonus. We caught a toad in one of our nets, here being held by future ornithologist, Henry.

Here is a tiny toad that I found in the parking lot today. I'm guessing they are the same species but unfortunately I'm not a herpetologist.

And here is a Cooper's Hawk I spotted today, perched on top of the spotlights above the UW Track. What otherwise might be a pretty cryptically colored bird, stood out quite a lot due to the several blackbirds, robins and swallows dive-bombing it. It figures that most songbirds will be more agitated around this time of year since they are protecting nestlings.

Banded Bird Count for the Day: Song Sparrow (3), Cedar Waxwing (2)
Other birds observed: Yellow Warbler, Cooper's Hawk, Great Crested Flycatcher

birdy art: Western Meadowlark

Saturday, June 14, 2008

caturday catbirds

The Grey Catbirds at Biocore Prairie were very active today. Several pairs must be nesting in the wooded areas alongside the prairie. One of which decided to build a nest right next to one of our net sites. The pair was very loud when I was setting up the net and definitely not happy. I'm guessing we'll become very familiar with that pair and their brood at the banding site.

Above is one of the three Grey Catbirds we banded this morning.
Here is a picture of one of our nets that we set up and take down each time we band. This is the one nearby the catbird nest.

All of the catbirds we got were adults. This can be confirmed by looking at the color of the inside of the mouth. Adult catbirds have all black mouths while the juveniles have a whiteish pink mouth interior.
Another view of a banded catbird, and a good look at that catbird characteristic red rump, or probably more appropriately known as "rusty undertail coverts."

A lull in the morning was quickly interrupted when we had a Northern Flicker crash into one of the nets. I let Jerry deal with the giant Flicker while I got this tiny male American Goldfinch out.
I loved the mottling on this guy's head. You can tell he's relatively young since he still has some feathers more characteristic of the juvenile and female of the species.

The Northern Flicker was just gorgeous. We hardly ever catch woodpeckers and this was my first time seeing one get banded. We have downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers in the area as well but they usually stick to the more wooded areas. The Northern Flicker is probably the only woodpecker you will see around here that feeds on the ground and this species will actually make frequent use of the prairie area. The one that we caught was a male, which is evident by his black "mustache." And of course, only the males have mustaches.

I love all the details and decoration on this bird, it's almost like a piece of modern art. The plumage may be showy, but there are actually not many differences between the sexes in this bird. This Flicker is also known as a "Yellow-shafted Flicker" which is a sub-species. The Yellow-shafted and red-shafted used to be thought of as two separate species, but they often interbreed. If you see this bird in flight, look for red or yellow on the underwings. All of the Flickers I've seen at Biocore Prairie have yellow shafted wing feathers like this one, but I believe it's still possible to see the red-shafted variation somewhere around here.

Here is a quick video of the Flicker being released into the wild.. yaay. (Look for the yellow on the wings!)

Banded Bird Count for the Day: Grey Catbirds (3), American Goldfinch, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Flicker

Other birds observed: Willow Flycatcher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Indigo Bunting, Yellow Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Song Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-winged Blackbird, Tree Swallow

Barn Swallow