Thursday, May 28, 2009

north america's smallest songbird and largest wren!

What is North America's smallest songbird? The Bushtit! Well, I suppose it is known as "one of the smallest" according to my Sibley guidebook. They are pretty close in size to Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and... I'm not sure what else rivals the size of this tiny bird besides hummingbirds.


We have gotten 5 bushtits in our nets in the past 10 days. They are just adorable! But kind of a pain to get a hold of since they are so small!

And so, what is North America's largest wren? It's the Cactus Wren!

I actually was not expecting to get this bird at all. It was not on our list of breeding birds in the area, but here it is! Most of the wrens in the USA are about 4-5 inches from tail tip to beak but this one is a whopping 8.5 inches long.

Cactus Wren

This giant wren was the last bird we banded today, also marking the last bird of Phase 3. On Sunday we start Phase 4, meaning we start another 10-day period of banding at the 6 different sites.

Northern Cardinal
I thought I would include a nice picture of a male Northern Cardinal. Cardinals are so common, I usually don't bother to get a picture! But this one was looking pretty handsome and was cooperative with the camera. We are using stainless steel bands with Cardinals since they are notorious and relentless biters. The bands are a lot harder than the typical aluminum bands we use on the rest of the birds. Cardinals are known to bite the aluminum bands right off! But since we have been capturing a lot of Cardinals that were banded in previous years (as the one pictured above) we have evidence that they can't bite through stainless steel!

Field Sparrow
Ah.. little brown birds! I just love banding sparrows. They are so neat to see up close. It may look like a plain brown bird from far away, but in the hand you get to see all the little identifying features perfectly. Field Sparrows are most easily identified by their little pink bill and legs. They are usually pretty small even though this one looks a little puffed up.. there was a bit of a wind on that day! The other day we also got some more brown birds, Rufous-crowned Sparrows! I didn't get any pictures of them yet though.. but hopefully I will get some later!

Friday, May 22, 2009

beginning of phase 3 and mosquito madness

Yesterday we started the 3rd phase of the MAPS banding schedule. In all, there are 10 phases (my training took place during phase 1). Each phase consists of 10 days, 6 days of banding at separate sites and 4 days off. Every phase, we revisit the same sites and set up the same net locations. Each site is a very different habitat, attracting a different variety of birds.

The above pictured location is known as "MESQ" which is an abbreviation for Mesquite. Every site has a four letter code and every bird has a designated code as well. MESQ was formerly a mesquite forest but a fire last year killed a lot of the trees. Now it is pretty much a wetland, with grasses and forbs growing up to three feet high. All the grass and the mud hold water like crazy too. And wouldn't you know it, it's an oasis for mosquitos. Today I wore my knee high boots but my knees still got wet and my legs were attacked by grass seeds with barbs in them. The mosquitos were so incredibly bad and absolutely everywhere. They were even biting the birds in the net and in our hands! I felt pretty bad since some of the mosquitos were about the size of a bird's head.

Anyway, the site isn't too horrible, since we have been getting some neat birds here. There are a lot of Dickcissels and Lark Sparrows and I even caught a new species, a Cassin's Sparrow. I think it was a Cassin's Sparrow anyway.. it actually escaped before I was able to band it. Hopefully that won't happen again. There are also a lot of Vermilion Flycatchers, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Eastern Bluebirds in the area. This time we caught a baby Bluebird.

Since this bird is fledged from the nest, he is fully grown. He (or she) will keep most of his flight feathers (wing and tail feathers) until next year's molt, but he will lose his juvenal body feathers by fall and become a much bluer hue. We've been catching quite a few juvenile birds lately, which is pretty fun to see! The other day we actually caught at least 4 or 5 juvenile Black-crested Titmice at the same time. We got the whole entire family! Wish I had a picture of that, but we kind of had our hands full.

Above is a Lark Sparrow that we actually caught a few days ago. We caught another one today as well.

I think they are one of the neatest birds that we have gotten! I love this sparrow's face. Some have compared it to a face painted like a clown or a mime.

Here is a White-crowned Sparrow, which is a migrant in Texas. I think he might be kind of a late migrant since it is well past peak migration by now. But we have still be getting migratory birds. We had a Swainson's Thrush yesterday and on Tuesday we had two Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.

And now.. some Texas wild flowers and prickly pear cactus...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rained in....

We were supposed to band today but we had a massive thunderstorm roll through Brownwood this morning. We are now officially 2 days behind on our banding schedule, due to bad weather. That means we have to keep banding until Monday and then we get two days off.

Since we had the day off today I took some time to draw a male Painted Bunting. During yesterday's banding we actually had 5 painted buntings and only one other species, a migrating Swainson's Thrush. We'll see what tomorrow will bring after today's storm.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

banding at camp bowie phase two

Hello! I am now finished with my MAPS training and I am now onto the regular banding season. I'm banding at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas for the rest of the summer. Brownwood is a pretty small town but they have a Wal-mart and a Dairy Queen, so at least we have the necessities. We don't have internet at home so I have to drive about 5 miles away to a coffee shop to update my blog. I won't be able to update everyday, but I will try to get access when possible!

Today was our second day banding at Camp Bowie. We got there before dawn around 5am. It is kind of scary setting up everything in the dark, but at least we know we are safe within the gates of the National Guard training facility. I have never been on an army base before but the parts we are using are mostly just woodland. Today's banding took place in a mesquite woods which had burned last year. Now it has turned into kind of a marshy grassland with lots of dead trees. Banding was great here, although since it was mostly open, the nets were exposed to a lot of wind which is not ideal for catching birds. Today we got a total of 19 birds including two recaptures. The highlights were two Dickcissels and a Lark Sparrow. I had never gotten to see these birds in the hand before. Luckily they are super common in this area so we will probably be seeing them all summer long.

I still have a few more pictures from training I wanted to put up so below I have a Least Flycatcher of the genus of Very Confusing Empidonax Flycatchers. He can be distinguished by his white eyering. Otherwise most of these flycatchers look a lot alike. Below that, I have a picture of a female Black-and-white Warbler. Both are migrating through the area.

Least Flycatcher

Black-and-white Warbler
On our four hour drive from training to Brownwood, we saw quite a bit of wildlife including a coyote and a turkey that ran across the road, a jack rabbit, and a couple of Harris's Hawks as pictured above on a telephone wire. Another common sighting on telephone poles was the Crested Caracara. They are really beautiful birds! I didn't get a picture but I might still see some here in Brownwood. More on the road sightings were Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures, Greater Roadrunner, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and once we saw a Great Horned Owl on another telephone pole.
Onto today's banding effort, one of my favorite captures was this male Yellow Warbler. We originally caught two but one accidentally escaped. They were singing and chasing each other around the area. Even though they are acting territorial, Yellow Warblers only migrate through Texas so they won't be around for long.

Yellow Warbler

As I said before, we got two Dickcissels this morning. I love this bird! And of course they are very beautiful in the hand. I think we will be seeing quite a few of these because they were singing absolutely everywhere here.

Vermillion Flycatcher

We captured two Vermillion Flycatchers this morning. The above pictured is a second year male. The adult will be much more red all over the body. They are very very brilliant in color. The rest of the birds we got included a very messy Carolina Chickadee, Painted Buntings, Bewick's Wren, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Bluebird, and three female Cowbirds. The Bluebird and the wren were both recaptures. Overall banding has been pretty successful, the bird have been super active and the weather hasn't been too bad yet.

Four more days of banding and getting up at 4:30am until I get my first day off since I've been here!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Nearing the end of training in South Texas

Black-crested Titmouse

Wow.. it has been an incredible time here in Texas. We only have a couple days left of my internship training with the bird banding folks of the Institute of Bird Populations. On Thursday I will be moving to either Giddings or Brownwood, TX where I will stay for the rest of the summer, collecting lots and lots of bird data! I wish I could blog more but I only have a limited time here at the library in the middle of nowhere. So I will just update with some more highlights and photos!
I have been getting up at 5:30 am everyday for the past week and a half.. yes every single day even weekends! And we have been banding every morning until it gets too windy or too hot. When it's overcast, the weather can be pretty tame, but as soon as the sun comes out it can be incredibly hot. Of course, what else would you expect? Of course the birds that live around here are used to the heat but we do have to be careful not to stress them out.

So, since my last update, we still have been getting a new species almost every day! Today was just incredible. We had several migratory species, including Magnolia Warbler, Ovenbirds, and a Mourning Warbler. On top of that, we banded a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. We've heard a lot of Cuckoos but it was my first time seeing one really up close! What a neat bird!!

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, back and front


Magnolia Warbler

These cuckoos are breeding here while the Warbler and the Ovenbird are just passing through. We were pretty lucky to catch them. Another species we caught today was the Gray Catbird. I have banded so many catbirds in Wisconsin!! It was nice to see familiar bird at the banding station. Otherwise I kind of miss all the old song sparrows and and goldfinches that I'm used to seeing when I band.
Above pictured is a Brown-crested Flycatcher. Almost identical to another species called the Great Crested Flycatcher, but with slight differences and a different song. They are super common where I am and we actually caught 3 of these yesterday.

A Summer Tanager!! We sometimes see Scarlet Tanagers in Wisconsin, but coming here has been my first time getting a really good look at the Scarlet's cousin the completely red Summer Tanager. They are really gorgeous birds.. and super common everywhere here! We have caught a lot of these guys. The above picture is a male. The female is mostly all yellow.

This is a Bronzed Cowbird male. It's distinguished by it's lovely ruff of feathers around the neck and bright red eye. Closely related to the Brown-headed Cowbird, which is another frequent species around here. The Bronzed Cowbird is more of a Southern bird so it was my first time seeing these guys. They are pretty neat! But also their talons are quite sharp and they know how to use them.

Well I have more pictures but I will have to update again another time!! Oh and I almost forgot, the first picture at the top is another breeding species in Texas, the close relative of the Tufted Titmouse, the Black-crested Titmouse! They were once classified as subspecies of the same species, and are listed as such in the Sibley bird guide.. But now they are classified as two different species.