Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Black-capped Vireos at Fort Hood

So since it has been raining for the past 24 hours, our banding schedule has been delayed for the time being. Hopefully we will get back out in the field tomorrow. I spent this past weekend in Killeen, which is about 2 hours away and is the closest place I could bring my Volvo station wagon to get serviced. Although my car has toughed it out through mud pits, hail, and downpours it hasn't really been working perfectly for the past couple of months. So I had to leave it in Killeen to get a part replaced. In the meantime, I have a shiny brand new Mazda sedan which is not exactly the best car for driving through what I have been driving through.. so I'm hoping they will have my car fixed sometime soon! You might not think a station wagon is ideal for rugged conditions, but it is sort of a hybrid between a station wagon and an SUV and is technically all-wheel drive!

This is a picture of my car in the field and covered in mud. It usually looks a whole lot filthier though. I miss my car! However, the one I have now is pretty nice and fancy, plus the A/c works a lot better!

Along with car trouble, (flat tire last week, engine died out of nowhere two weeks before that) I have been having computer issues as well! I just had to order a new power cord since mine is giving me grief (again)! Oh and more bad news... our coffee shop that we regularly go to to receive internet access has gone out of business and they're closing ..TOMORROW! We do know of one other place in the whole town that has wifi so it looks like we will be taking our regular coffee trips elsewhere. And there's always the public library. Ah, farewell to Pecan Valley Coffee, we will miss you so much! Sorry that our biweekly $1 iced tea contributions couldn't help you out more.

But more about our trip to Killeen now... Our supervisor Julie's friend Carla works on Fort Hood for the Nature Conservancy so we got access to the base to do some extra banding. Julie is doing a research study on Painted Buntings so we have been target netting to catch adult males. Now, Painted Buntings are spectacular birds, but while I was on Fort Hood I was more interested in Black-capped Vireos, a very endangered bird that I have never seen before. Turns out, they were just about as abundant as all the biting insects on the army base.

I was dying to get a picture of one, but of course they are very flitty birds and they love to hang out deep in the scrubby vegetation.

After watching an adult forage with some of its fledglings, I finally got a few fuzzy photos like the one above. You can sort of make out the "black cap" which is more like a dark face mask.

Well, as luck would have it, and since they were just about everywhere, we ending catching three young Black-capped Vireos in our mist nets.

Black-capped Vireo (juvenile)

They were so cute! The adult males are actually much more striking, as usual, with very black head feathers instead of gray. I didn't get any pictures of the adult though.

All of the vireos we caught were already banded. This one has a blue color band on one of his feet as you can see in the picture. A group with the Nature Conservancy is doing an intensive project with the vireos involving nest searching and banding hatchlings while they're still in the nest. You have to have very special permission in order to band an endangered species. Our group doesn't have that particular license, so if we ever catch a Black-capped Vireo at Camp Bowie, we just have to let it go without a band.

You can tell this guy is young by the fleshy gape around the corners of the bill. He/she will need that to stretch his bil open really wide to beg for food.

Although we haven't seen any Black-capped Vireos, it may be possible to see them around here according to their Range Map. But it is clearly a bird with a shrinking habitat and dwindling numbers overall. With the help of the Nature Conservancy, we are learning more about this species and how to manage its habitat. To learn more about their project visit the Nature Conservancy's website or donate to http://support.nature.org/texas

Friday, June 26, 2009

Past the halfway point for my internship in TX..

Yesterday was the last day of phase 6 for our banding season. So that means there are only four ten-day periods left of my internship. The weather is getting incredibly hot and humid, typically with temperatures soaring into the 90's before 10am. That means we've had fewer hours with our nets open and fewer birds. At our last six sites we had a record low of only 39 birds.

But as promised, I do have some photos of more juvenile birds that we have been getting more and more of.

This juvenile Lark Sparrow looks like a lot of young birds, brown and spotty. He still has the cheek patch like the adult, which will later turn a bright chestnut color.

Lark Sparrow (juvenile)

Similar to the Lark Sparrow, this juvenile Rufous-crowned Sparrow is much duller than the adult. He doesn't have much of a rufous crown at all. We found that this guy seems to have been born with a deformed bill that is crossed at the tip. Right now he probably is still being fed by his parents. Hopefully his deformity won't prevent him from foraging on his own, but it doesn't look to be too bad.

Juvenile Rufous-crowned Sparrow with deformed bill

Another bird with a tough life is the above female Northern Cardinal. Take a look at the horizontal bars on her tail. These are called "fault bars" and they show that while the feathers were growing in, the Cardinal encountered some kind of stress or nutritional deficiency.

And finally, we got another new species in our nets! We have been hearing plenty of Eastern Phoebes at one of our sites, but this is the first one I have gotten to see up in the hand. The phoebe is one of the many "name-saying birds." He sounds like he is saying "PHOE-bee", not to be confused with the Eastern Wood-pewee which also says its name "Pee-wee!"

Eastern Phoebe
Phoebes and Pewees also look similar. With an Eastern Wood-pewee look for the dusky wingbars and yellow on the lower bill. The Eastern Phoebe doesn't have much of any wingbars and has an all black bill.
Now I have the weekend off, but I'm Killeen, TX and hoping to see my first Black-capped Vireo, an endangered bird endemic to central Texas. I will be back next week with more birds!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Itty bitty wings 'n' things

In today's blog, I'm featuring a few itty bitty birds with teeny tiny wings. The first one is so small you might not see it at first...

Oh there he is! It's another Black-chinned Hummingbird. This one was a little bit stressed so he didn't fly away right away. But after a few minutes and a perfect photo opp, he buzzed off just fine.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

I think this one was a young adult (second year) male. Note that he doesn't have the full black throat like the adult male below. He just has the little speckling. The female's throat is mostly all white, making them easy to confuse with the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Adult male for comparison, showing his little tiny wing!

The other tiny bird we got this week was the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Just slightly bigger than a bushtit, the BG-Gnat weighs only around 6 grams.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Adult

Juvenile Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Along with the adult BG Gnat, we caught this juvenile (Hatch year) Gnatcatcher on the same day. We actually caught him twice, the second time he was caught right next to his mom (or dad?). Bird parents are very protective of their little fledglings. And sometimes if they see their baby caught in the net, they'll dive right in after them.
Another picture of the Bushtit for comparison. They are similar in size to the Gnatcatcher and about the same color as the juvenile Gnatcatcher. But the bushtit's bill color and shape look much more chickadee-like. The Gnatcatcher is beginning to develop a white ring around its eyes and has darker tail feathers like the adult.
As summer continues, we are getting more and more baby birdies. Right now we are halfway through the season, so hopefully there will many more fledgling photos to come.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Texas birdy art..

A few of my favorite birds of Texas...

Lark Sparrow

Yellow-breasted Chat

Friday, June 12, 2009

Today's forecast: Birdy with a chance of thunderstorms, wind and gunfire

Most people know ahead of time where and when their workday is going to take place. For me, my current work schedule happens to be dictated by rain, wind, and when the National Guard wants to practice shooting their machine guns. We get there before dawn and work until we're soaked in sweat from the heat.

The weather in Brownwood has been unusually crazy over the last month that I've now been here. For the past three days we've had thunderstorms, hail and tornado warnings that blow through the town in about half an hour. Fortunately, the bad weather has mostly been in the afternoon and hasn't interfered with banding! But are the birds picking up on something? We've only been catching on average 3 to 5 birds a DAY for the past week! Until today we suddenly caught 19 birds. So.. much like the weather here in Texas the level of birdiness is definitely unpredictable.

Northern Mockingbird
Today and yesterday we caught a couple of Mockingbirds, the state bird of Texas.

Here you can see his lovely white wing patches. When mockingbirds are flying they can be distinguished very easily by this trademark. They are also very fidgety birds so I think it would be hard to hold them any other way than the grip I have above. Maybe it can be done though?

Black-chinned Hummingbird
And now, here I am demonstrating a completely different way to grip a bird, known as the "pencil grip." This is the only proper way to hold a hummingbird, which is too tiny to hold in the traditional bander's grip. The hummer I have here is a male Black-chinned and the first male I have seen since I got here. We have had quite a few hummingbirds in the nets, but they have all been female until this guy!

Just look at that gorgeous purple gorget (another word for a bird's throat patch). So cool! We don't band hummingbirds since we don't have a permit for it and we don't have any special paper-thin hummingbird bands. But we do record when we get them and where they are located. And it's always neat to get a good look at them.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bowie bird update

Yesterday we started the fourth period of banding at our favorite site, Mesquite. The number of mosquitos was significantly less than last week! And the birds were out and about. We only banded for 4 and a half hours, but we got 15 birds and a good variety of species. We usually aim to band for 6 hours (6am-noon), but this site is really out in the open and the nets are really exposed to the sun, heat and wind.
Orchard Oriole

My favorite bird of the day yesterday was this Orchard Oriole. It was a very beautiful adult male. I am pretty used to seeing Baltimore Orioles in the hand, so I was surprised to see how much smaller Orchard Orioles are compared to Baltimores. According to the Sibley guide, they are the smallest oriole and "sometimes confused with warblers." OK.. I don't know about that second part. They aren't quite that small, in my opinion!
Orchard Oriole
Mourning Dove

Another new bird for our banding season was this Mourning Dove. Of course, Mourning Doves, or MODOs for short, are everywhere, but we hardly ever get a dove in a net. Doves are pretty big and less likely to get stuck. They also have powerful breast muscles that give them the ability of "explosive flight." And if you've ever snuck up on a MODO before you may know what I mean!

We got several more Dickcissels on Sunday and I wanted to put up this picture again so I could show the difference between the male and female.


The female is at the bottom. The yellow is more of a buttery yellow and she doesn't have the black chin strap. The females are a lot smaller than the males as well.

Today's banding only yielded 8 birds and at least half were recaptures. But we also had a great species that I had never handled before until today! The bill looks tiny, but only on the outside. These birds can open their bills really wide and eat insects from dawn until dusk. Their wings are extremely long and their feet are tiny. They only stop flying to sleep .. sometimes roosting in chimneys.. What is it?

It's a Chimney Swift! I never thought I'd get to band a swift since they tend to be high flyers and are quite acrobatic. So I was very happy to see this one in one of our nets! Swifts are very different from most of the birds that we get in the nets, since they aren't passerines (the grouping of songbirds). They are actually are more closely related to hummingbirds.

My last bird is the Rufous-crowned Sparrow which I mentioned in the previous blog. I finally got a picture of one this time. Looks a little like the Olive sparrow but without the olive! Time for me to go, it will be another early morning tomorrow!