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