Saturday, May 31, 2008

Banding at Biocore

It was a gusty morning at Biocore Prairie, but fortunately the winds were blowing the birds right into our nets. We had one male Red-winged Blackbird, two Yellow Warblers, a male Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Tennessee Warbler, two Song Sparrows, a Red-eyed Vireo and a Baltimore Oriole. It was great getting a lot of different species that we didn't have last week.

Here's the first Song Sparrow I've banded this season. I've had a few days in the past where Song Sparrows are the only bird we catch. I think it's more exciting banding sparrows when you get a variety and you get a real close-up look at the differences between the species, but that's just my opinion!

Here is the Tennesse Warbler we caught. It's hard to tell from the picture but he was a very olivey green color.

Here's my Common Yellowthroat. His head is a little damp because we wet the head feathers and check for skull ossification. This is a way of aging the bird, since we can see the color of the skull through the scalp. If there is variance in the skull color, this usually means that the skull has not completely calcified. It's similar to a new baby having a "soft spot" on its head. This male was an adult which is also evident by its complete dark mask and bright yellow throat.

Here, Marty is measuring the wingchord of a mysterious Empidonax Flycatcher, or so we thought. We're usually pretty wary when we get birds like this, since there are several flycatcher species that look nearly identical. Empidonax refers to the genus of species such as Willow, Least, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers. After checking several characteristics, it was decided that this was a Least Flycatcher...

...But after releasing the bird, the group changed their minds and decided that it was actually an Eastern Wood-Pewee! It sounded like one when it let a little out a little "weep"-like call and it just seemed a bit larger than a typical Empidonax. It also makes sense, since I had been hearing quite a few Pewees in the area. Well .. I'm not fully convinced even now. I wish I was an expert on flycatchers but they are the most impossible birds I've encountered so far... oh well maybe flycatchers and small sandpipers!

This was my favorite bird of the day, the aptly-named Red-eyed Vireo. I thought I'd get a close-up of that red eye.

I was so excited to find this guy in the net, even though he was not nearly as excited to see me. He squawked and bit all over my fingers as I was untangling him. But this was my first time with such a good view of Red-eyed Vireo. Vireos are typically pretty shy and like to sing from deep within the trees. It's very hard to spot them, but you can always hear them around here. They even are pretty common in the neighborhoods around where I live. I can hear them chirping something that sounds like, "here I am, look at me, in a tree, Vir-e-o." (Of course I can hardly tell the song apart from the Blue-headed Vireo, but we don't need to get too technical.)

Here is a young female Oriole that Alex is processing. We use very subtle differences in the wing feathers to tell the age and sex of the bird. I'm still learning what to look for and the differences between the "primary coverts" and the "greater coverts". Anyway, we could definitely tell this was a younger bird and not an adult male, since it was a lot more yellow-colored without any orange at all.

Pardon my poor video-taking skills, but here is Mara releasing the Eastern Wood-Pewee. Often we have birds that don't realize right away that they are free and take a little longer to fly away.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

wood warblers in a thousand pieces

I had a task this spring.. to identify as many warblers as I could... also to complete this warbler puzzle! Unfortunately, the puzzle did not come with a cheat sheet that identified all the species. And even more unfortunate, I don't know what some of these birds are!!

But anyway, I finished the 1,000 piece puzzle this weekend!

Here's a better picture I found on Google image search (poster version, titled Warblers of the Canopy) and here it is again with my labels:

OK Time to name those warblers!

  1. ?

  2. Blackburnian Warbler

  3. Cerulean Warbler

  4. ?

  5. ?

  6. ?

  7. ?

  8. ?

  9. ?

  10. ?

  11. Northern Parula

  12. Blackpoll Warbler

  13. ?

  14. Black-and-white Warbler

  15. ?

  16. Bay-breasted Warbler

  17. ?

  18. Golden-cheeked Warbler (not sure?)

  19. Black-throated Green Warbler

  20. American Redstart (Female)

  21. Palm Warbler

  22. Cape May Warbler

  23. ?

  24. Magnolia Warbler

  25. American Redstart (Male)

  26. ?

  27. Tennessee Warbler

  28. Black-throated Blue Warbler

  29. Prothonotary Warbler

  30. Nashville Warbler

  31. Golden-winged Warbler

  32. Yellow-throated Warbler
  33. Blue-winged Warbler

Great ... I guess that was a little harder than I thought, so I'll have to get back sometime with the rest of those ID's. In the meantime, there's another similar image out there called "Warblers of the Understory" maybe they have another puzzle! That's another hint though, the birds featured in this puzzle are all arboreal species, not ground feeders.

Here is a bonus blackburnian I drew on facebook

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Banding Bonanza

Wow, today was a really successful day at the banding station. We had about 10 or 11 birds, half of which were male orioles. It was so great to see that bright orange plumage up close. Walking to the prairie from the woods, you could tell that the trees were alive with birdsong. The summer resident Indigo Buntings were back at their usual perches and Common Yellowthroats were busy chasing Chickadees away from their favorite shrubs. An Eastern Kingbird teased us by perching just a few feet away from the nets and Scarlet Tanagers were chirping away in the distance. We also had a Warbling Vireo in the trees next to our set-up

This American Goldfinch was my first bird of the day. There was a whole flock of goldfinches sitting atop the net, wondering how to save their friend. But this guy was the only one who got stuck. If you see the strange color on his lower beak, we assumed that he had gotten stained by gorging himself on berries.

Here I am with the male goldfinch. I was able to extract him from the net by myself. It's really good that I'm getting some practice and feeling more confident doing this. It can be a really tricky and nerve-wracking process!

One of our 5 gorgeous male Baltimore Orioles. This was definitely a mature male judging by the brilliant coloring. Some of the younger males were a little yellower in color and had a few orange feathers sticking out of their heads.

This Common Yellowthroat wasn't being very patient for the camera and thought he could fly away. I banded another one right after I had this one. Both were males. Like the other two species mentioned, Common Yellowthroats are dimorphic species, meaning that the male and female have distinctly different plumages. The female Common Yellowthroat doesn't have the black mask and has a paler yellow throat. The females can be hard to distinguish from other warblers, especially after many birds molt their bright summer plumages.

I was about to say that I thought we had all male birds this morning, but we did have one female Yellow Warbler. Unless this was a young male, I don't remember now! But the mature males are much brighter yellow and have bright orange streaking on the breast.

With this Robin, I needed a little help getting him out of the net. It sure didn't help that he literally screamed when I was trying to remove the net from his wing. If you ever heard a rabbit scream, you'll know what it sounds like when a bird screams. But boy, was he beefy. It would help at this point to have bigger hands, because I couldn't keep his feet from kicking all over the place with my bander's grip. I needed a couple people to help me just to put the band on. I hope to go on and band even larger birds someday, so that will make for another kind of adventure.

This robin was so fidgety, I was a little afraid to hold him by his feet. But thanksfully, Jerry, another extremely helpful volunteer held the Robin for a nice pose. The Robin didn't want to fly away at first, and we worried that something was wrong with his wing. This can happen sometimes and banding can be stressful on the bird. He did manage to fly away eventually, so he may have just been getting over the shock a little bit. It's hard to guess how an inidividual bird will take the experience of being banded, but we try to minimize the stress as much as possible. If anything does go wrong, and the bird gets injured, our plan of action is to take them to a nearby animal rehabilitation hospital. But hopefully that won't happen.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

green bay + whirlwind of warblers

Check out these Tree Swallows - Does the male have his wing over the female's shoulder? Click the picture for the huge version. Awww!! Love is in the air.

Anyway, I took a trip to my hometown, Green Bay WI this weekend and happened to hit the jackpot of springtime birding. Of course, expectations were already high, the weather was perfect and the parking lot was full at the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. I got there around 7:30 which was after the official Saturday morning birding tour started, but I figured I could do ok on my own. Of course, my mom came to help out and hold the guide book if I ever needed it.

I already saw 3 warbler species around my parents' yard Saturday morning and I couldn't wait to get out to the sanctuary. Once we got there, this is the first warbler we saw, a Cape May. It was absolutely gorgeous and the first one I have ever seen. Later I would also add Northern Parula and Bay-breasted Warbler to my first-time-ever list.

Shortly after seeing the Cape May, I found this Blackpoll warbler amongst some Yellow-rumps and a Magnolia. After seeing this guy, I could really tell the difference between the blackpoll and the black-and-white warbler (which I also spotted later). The little black cap on the blackpoll is very distinct.

Obligatory squirrel shot - I love red squirrels and hardly ever see them.

A Blackburnian warbler! He was far away but I managed to get a shot. These guys are very striking with a bright orange breast. Some other warblers I saw that deserve an honorable mention are: Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, Yellow, Tennessee, Nashville, Canada Warbler, Northern Parula, American Redstart, and an Ovenbird. That brings the grand total to 18 warbler species in one weekend (in case you weren't keeping track.)

After a pretty exciting morning, I still had time to check out the American White Pelicans that hang out by the main street bridge in De Pere. They are a pretty cool sight to see if you're used to the typical midwestern birds. These pelicans have only been breeding alongside the Fox River for maybe the last 5ish years. This year there are close to 100 birds in this area. They seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.

A couple Oriole pictures, male at the top and female with nest material at bottom. Again, orioles were everywhere as they were last weekend. A couple other notable larger birds I saw were Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Wood Thrushes, Indigo Buntings, and a Scarlet Tanager. I didn't get anymore great pictures of those birds but they sure made for a colorful bird bouquet.

Here is a Baltimore Oriole nest I spotted at Green Isle Park in Green Bay. They construct beautiful little hanging baskets. This one was kind of out in the open and I heard nest-parasitizing Brown-headed cowbirds nearby so I wish this pair good luck.

I was sad that I missed banding on Saturday, but it was a pretty successful weekend anyway! I hope they didn't catch too many cool birds without me. The video for the day is a Grey Catbird singing at the Wildlife Sanctuary and the birdy artwork is a Yellow Warbler.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

bonjour oiseaux deux: a birdy souvenir

As a bonus blog, I wanted to share one of the souvenirs I got in Paris.

The Famous.. Garden Birds playing cards! I haven't used them yet, but they are pretty cute. Each card has a different bird on it.

Here are some more of the birds I saw that I didn't mention in my last post: Merle noir, Troglodyte mignon, Geai des chênes, Pie bavarde, Héron cendré, Pic vert. OK, well, I don't know French but I recognized some of those words! The Merle noir is a European Blackbird. I had to double-check but noir means black so that one is pretty easy. The Troglodyte mignon is obviously a wren, and it turns out there is only one type of wren in my european field guide, and it is called.. a wren. I think I'll call it a European Wren. I recognized the word troglodyte, since it is the family (Troglodytidae) and genus name (Troglodytes) for all wrens. It turns out that troglodyte is also some sort of term in France for a weird cave that people dine in?? We had lunch in one of these caves/makeshift restaurants alongside some French roadside, but perhaps that's a whole different story.. However it raises an interesting question, are wrens associated with caves? I wouldn't have known.

Anyway, the other birds are a European Jay, a European Magpie, a Grey Heron and a Green Woodpecker. I liked the French word for Green Woodpecker since pic is likely related to the Latin "Picidae," which is the family name of a group of woodpeckers and vert is similar to verde, the Spanish word for green. OK, I guess it may be time to learn some more Latin to improve my worldly knowledge of birds...

One last European bird for this blog... you might recognize it from the previous entry.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

bonjour oiseaux - a birdy blog from France

Well, I actually returned from France over a month ago, but hopefully it's not too late to post about it! By the way, "oiseaux" is french for bird (or birds plural?), just don't ask me to pronounce it since I never learned French. Anyway, I did a little casual birding during my visit to Paris and Amboise, France. My family was mostly interested in the fine dining and site-seeing but I wanted to check off a few European birds during my first trip across the Atlantic. Paris was a huge city, and I didn't expect to see a lot of birds besides the infamous Rock Doves (commonly known as pigeons). For the most part I was right except that Paris actually has two very common species of urban doves, Rock Doves and Woodpigeons. They were everywhere. I was also not surprised to see an abundance of House Sparrows, Starlings, some large corvids (Ravens and Carrion Crows) and gulls (I determined they were Black-headed Gulls).

After arriving in the countryside via train, I was finally relieved to see some birds that were a little more uniquely European.

I was surprised to see that my Peterson guide labeled a lot of birds quite plainly. For instance, this bird was just called a "Goldfinch" where I believe it is more accurately titled a European Goldfinch. I need to know the full name!

When you see them, you can just tell they are related to American Goldfinches even though they have some distinct features. Check out the red bull's-eye face! I love it!

This is a Great Tit. It may be unsurprising for me to tell you that tits are related to chickadees, since they have the same cute faces. They are also moving all over the place and quite difficult to get a snapshot of.

Blue Tits were everywhere and even tinier and harder to catch on camera. But they are probably the most adorable birds I have ever seen! This picture is terrible but my camera doesn't perform miracles... This bird was probably 30 feet up in a tree when I got the picture and I couldn't even tell what the bird was until I got home and looked at it on the computer!

This is a Greenfinch. I had a hard time identifying at first because of the poor lighting (let's just say it was dark and stormy almost every day I was in France) but the picture gives me no doubt. He gives a really cute buzzy call that I wish I had recorded.

This is a White Wagtail, and yes, they definitely wag their tails.

Chaffinches were quite abundant and were standing by, waiting for us to drop a piece of baguette nearby the magnificent French Chateaux we were touring.

Ok, this is a drawing I did of a European Robin. The original photo I took is just as cute though. I absolutely loved these birds! By the way, the relation to the American Robin is only superficial. I'm guessing it has something to do with the red breast.

To finish this rather long post I have a couple of (very shaky, somewhat rainy) videos of a European Robin and a Great Tit doing there thing, singing their songs. Time to memorize these songs for your next European vacation since you will be tested later.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bag a Bird

Today was my first day banding this summer at the Biocore Prairie. There wasn't as much activity as I was hoping, but there were plenty of Baltimore Orioles, Song Sparrows, Catbirds, Goldfinches, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers singing in the area. I also heard my first Scarlet Tanager of the year singing in the woods on my way there in the morning. But no warblers! How disappointing.

Instead of catching any lovely bright-colored orioles or warblers, we caught a flurry of brownish birds.

The coordinator of our bird banding station, Mara McDonald is holding our first capture, a female Brown-headed Cowbird. I was proud to add this to the list of birds that I have successfully taken out of the net without any help! (OK, so maybe it helped that I saw it fly into the net and was there right away before it could get too tangled!)

Chipping Sparrow

The other birds we caught were a Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, and a House Wren. I am holding the House Wren in the above picture. I decided it was a male based on its large "cloacal protuberance." Without this hint, House Wrens seem to be nearly impossible to differentiate between the sexes. The male cloaca swells during the breeding season, which is definitely underway. We usually see House Wrens all summer long so it's possible that this one will be nesting in the area.

I caught a video of a Baltimore Oriole, which sang in a tree above our banding station the entire morning. The picture isn't the greatest since it was so far up! But hopefully you get a good idea of the oriole's song, which is usually pretty loud. I've heard it described as sounding like, "over here, here, here, over here."

Oh, and take note of the Red-winged Blackbird which is perched almost right next to him. You can hear the "o-ke-lee" call as well as a Song Sparrow singing in the background.

If last year is anything to go by, we'll probably get to band some juvenile Orioles later in the summer after they have fledged.

Friday, May 9, 2008


Hi and welcome to my new birdy blog! I hope to use this space to provide updates on bird outings, share some artwork and photos, and other related news. Spring migration is currently in full force here in Madison, WI and the summer season of banding at Biocore Prairie is just beginning. The above photo is where I've done some undergraduate research and also where we mist net loads of Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, some other feathered creatures, and sometimes even giant dragonflies or bumblebees.

In addition to viewing and banding birds, I have been doing a bit of my own birdy art in my free time. To sample this collection, here is an Osprey I drew (using adobe photoshop and a tablet pen)

Thanks for reading and I hope you stay tuned for more to come !