Bird Banding at SWAT

I groan as I turn off the alarm.  It takes me a few seconds to remember why it is set for 3:45 a.m.  I crawl out of bed and head for the shower.  Another day of bird banding experience…  Don’t want to be late.  Somehow I manage to check the radar, make a thermos of coffee, and eat a bowl of cereal before heading out.  Despite having to stop for gas along the way, I make it to the banding station two minutes before Tom and Jordan.  As we head out to open the nets they explain why today will be a busy day:  several families will attend to observe and participate.  (Click here for Tom’s post about the day.)

Tom and Jordan with Swamp Sparrows
Tom holds an immature and Jordan holds an adult Swamp Sparrow…

These two guys goof around a lot, but they are both great teachers.  Even though there were a lot of people today, I got quite a bit of experience handling birds and am feeling much more confident.

Of all the birds we banded today, I find the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to be the most interesting.  Ironically, I didn’t handle this bird at all.  Hee hee.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Long before I had read a word about this member of the Woodpecker family, I observed it in action at Girl Scout Camp over the course of several summers.  Yellow Bellied Sapsucker HolesThere are two White Birch trees outside Bellinger Lodge where the girls wait to enter the dining hall at mealtimes.  Both of these trees are riddled with holes…  holes made by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.  Sapsuckers get their name from their habit of drilling sap wells and licking the sap that flows from them.  One summer, I watched a pair fly back and forth from these two birch trees to another behind the lodge – near where the trading post is now located.  It took a little patience, but eventually I discovered the nest in a much larger hole in the trunk of that tree.  When I listened carefully, I could hear the babies peeping a greeting when the parents entered the cavity.

Hummingbird at Sapsucker Hole - by Jeremy MartinA few years later, I took my education staff to Timbercrest for a working retreat.  We worked under another tree that sported Sapsucker holes and watched several species take advantage of the running sap.  Small insects buzzed around the hole, as did hornets.  What fascinated us most, though, were the hummingbirds.  (Were they eating the insects, sucking the sap, or both?)

Last Christmas, I received Bernd Heinrich’s book, The Trees in my Forest.  He has a fascinating chapter entitled “Of Birds, Trees, and Fungi” that describes in more detail what I had been observing over the years.  He introduces the chapter with this familiar quote from John Muir:

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

This is particularly true of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker which is referred to by both Heinrich and the Cornell All About Birds website as a “keystone species,” a species which, like the keystone that holds a stone arch in place, plays an essential role for the overall ecosystem in which it lives.  Not only does it provide food for insects and hummingbirds, it’s abandoned cavities provide nest sites for smaller birds such as chickadees and tree swallows.

I could go on and on.  But instead – just click on the Cornell link below for more details!

Trees in my Forest BookLearn more:

Hmm… That was quite the tangent… You just never know where a post is going until you start typing… I’ll have to tell more bird banding stories in future posts, I guess…


Greystone Nature Preserve

We are blessed to have so many wonderful volunteers at Audubon. Take our trail guide volunteers, for example. Peace Pole at GreystoneThis spring there were thirteen folks who donated their time and expertise to help us guide thousands of children from dozens of schools and organizations along the trails at the sanctuary. A Discovery Walk is designed to introduce children to the natural world in a safe and informed way. We like to do this in small groups of 8-12 students, but with only 3 fulltime naturalists, that would be impossible. There were some days when we had as many as 80 children at the sanctuary at one time!

To make sure they all know how much we appreciate their work and their dedication, we offer a Thank You Field Trip at the end of each spring season. This year, we visited the property owned by two of our trail guides: Bill and Diane, pictured here with their dogs Little Bear and Holly.

Bill and Diane, Little Bear and Holly

In our tour of the property, it took us a long time to get past the house and the yard… so many interesting things to see. Bill and Diane are building this place with the help of some very talented local craftsmen and women.

Tour of Greystone

Inside and out, every effort is made to be as green as possible. The fish/frog pond was built to be a sanctuary for wildlife, as well as to provide water for the gardens. Rainwater from the roof is collected in a giant cistern underground.

Frog and Fish Pond
Green frogs and toads sang to us from this pond…

Circles are the theme… Even the gardens will be planted in circles around the Peace Pole. Nest boxes were in use by tree swallows and bluebirds. Even the strawberry patch concealed a nest!
Bird Nest in the Strawberries

Greystone Nature Preserve got its name from an enormous grey stone that now sits in a stone garden graced by a Peace Pole.
The Grey Stone at Greystone

The rock garden is filled with many, many unusual stones, some from an old collection belonging to Bill’s dad, and others that were wedding gifts to Diane and Bill. Wedding gifts? Yup. Bill and Diane told wedding guests that they didn’t need another toaster and encouraged each person to bring a special stone to add to the collection. There are awesome stones in that circle!

Wisdom Stones
Diane explained that stones like these with holes were Wisdom Stones to the Native Americans.

One of the contributions to the Stone Garden was an Inukshuk:

An Inukshuk is built in the image of man – two strong legs, a pelvic stone, shoulders, and a head. Read more about them by clicking here.

Grape Vine TreeWhen we could finally tear ourselves away from the features near the house, we wandered trails that took us past fields and forest. There were plenty of signs of Bill and Diane’s hard work. This property had once been a grape vineyard. In most places, they had gotten the vines under control, removing them from trees to release them to the sun… This one, however, they left for the turkeys. Have you ever seen a grape vine towering 20-30 feet in the air?

Around the bend to arrive at the teepee:


And here we are inside:
Inside the Teepee

Are you wondering what they are all looking at? Here it is:
Teepee Resident
A little Red Eft in Sarah’s hands. (P.S. Can’t wait to see how Jeff’s photo turns out…)

The property also affords a cool walk in the shady woods and down to a fine little creek.
Into the Woods

By noon, we were ready for our potluck lunch:
Trail Guide Luncheon
Staff and Volunteer Trail Guides (Sadly, not all were able to attend…)

We had fine food, conversation and laughter, sharing many stories from the busy walk season. We were all somewhat reluctant to leave and many of us have plans to go back when we can.

(Cross-posted at Audubon’s blog:

Crab Spiders

When I was little, I couldn’t abide spiders.  I couldn’t even bear to look at a picture of a spider in a book.  Certain (big hairy) spiders still have that effect on me.  Still, I’ve learned to appreciate their beauty and complexity.

Crab Spider on Oxeye Daisy

Crab Spider on Queen Anne's LaceThe common name “Crab Spider” comes from the fact that the spider looks somewhat crab-like, and/or the fact that it can move like a crab – frontwards, backwards, or sideways.  There are several species given this common name and they fall into a handful of spider families.  One common feature is leg length; the front two pairs are quite a bit longer than the back two.

Crab Spiders don’t make webs, nor do they wrap their prey in silk.  Instead, they lay quite still and ambush insects that come too close.  Several species are colored so that they can hide on flowers to await pollinators such as bees, flies, and butterflies.  With strong venom, they can paralyze prey bigger than they.

Gary Dodson of Ball State University discovered that males of the species Misumenoides formosipes drink flower nectar.  He is devising a study to try to find out if nectar gives the males an advantage in fighting or mating success.  Fascinating.

Crab Spider on Clover

Most Crab Spiders live only one summer season, laying eggs which will overwinter.

Learn more:

Camping with Emily

Canoeing with EmilyIn my camping box there is a little journal that we started on June 16, 2000.  “We” would be Girl Scout Troop 289…  disbanded, the number probably assigned to another troop by now.  I don’t know who wrote the first entry.  She didn’t sign her name.  Here’s what it said, all spellings as they were written:

We had to go to are school.  Then we went to camp and made are bed.  Then we made Banana Bout.  Then we went to bed leat at night.

My youngest daughter, Maddie, who was 8 at the time, wrote this a bit later in the weekend:

Today at lunch we found 2 toads.  everyone went crazy.  before lunch we made our T-shirts.  we used painted leafs.

Each time we go camping, we list the wildlife we see.  That first year, the girls were very young and we were consumed with making sure they were busy so that no home-sickness would set in.  The only wildlife listed were toads, newts, and a dragonfly nymph (spelled “nimt” by the journal writer!).  Meals were simple – hot dogs on a stick… S’mores…  Actually, I’m surprised we made Banana Boats!  That’s pretty complicated for little girls…

A Pickles RoastFast forward to 2008.  Emily is 18 and she and I are camping together – just the two of us until Chelsea joins us for the last evening.  What a great time we had…  packed with activities that included the Girl Scout Cookie Carnival (Friday evening), Camp Open House (Saturday afternoon) – including a Pickle Roast, and our own little outing to Tom’s Bird Banding station on Sunday.

Despite the busy schedule, we still managed to relax, read a little, do some dragon-hunting, cook some excellent meals, and pay attention to all the wildlife we saw and/or heard.

My favorite part of the weekend were the two evenings when we canoed at dusk.

Emily Floats Between Two Worlds

The lake was so still and beautiful.  We heard plenty of birds all around us and watched the swallows and the kingbirds over the water.  We sneaked up on the beaver lodge and were scolded numerous times by the slap of the beaver’s tail.  If only I had my camera at the ready for that!

The nest boxes that my girls built and installed as part of their Bridging activities from Juniors to Cadettes years ago – the account of which is also in the journal – still play home to birds.  We found tree swallows in two of them.

Wildlife List:

Amphibians: American Toad, Green Frogs, Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs, and could that one trill have been a Gray Tree Frog???  I wish…

Tree SwallowBirds: American Goldfinch, American Robin, Barn Swallow, Barred Owl, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Bobolink, Canada Geese, Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Common Loon, Common Yellowthroat, Crow, Cuckoo, Field Sparrow, Green Heron, Hairy Woodpecker, House Wren, Indigo Bunting, Kingbird, Kingfisher, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow, Tree Swallow, Turkey Vulture, Veery, Wood Thrush, Yellow Warbler

Fish (don’t know what kinds)

Luna MothInsects: Calico Pennant, Common Baskettail, Common Whitetail, Eastern Forktail, Eastern Pondhawk, Firefly, Forest Caterpillars, Fritillaries, Gnat, June Beetle, Ladybug, Lancet Clubtail, Luna Moth, Mosquitoes, Paper Wasps, Prince Baskettail, Sedge Sprite, Spittle Bug, Summer Azure, Tiger Swallowtail, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Variable Dancer, Wasp (the one with the REALLY long ovipositor – at least 3X longer than the body), Widow Skimmer

Mammals: Bat, Beaver, Dog, Eastern Cottontail, Mink, Muskrat, White-tailed Deer (an adult on camp and a fawn on the road to Randolph)

Reptiles: Garter Snake, Painted Turtle, Snapping Turtle, Water Snake

Besides taking too long to eat breakfast, part of the reason we were late arriving at Bird Banding on Sunday was this Snapping Turtle, laying eggs in a hole on the side of the road on the HILL that leads up to the tent units.  What an unlikely place for a nest.
Mama Snapping Turtle

Crab Spider on CloverMiscellaneous Other Critters: Crab Spider, Earthworm, Giant Millipede, Harvestman

Wildflowers: Bedstraw, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Dogwood, Hawkweed (yellow and orange), Musk Mallow, Oxeye Daisies, Red Clover, White Clover, Wild Roses

All weekend long, rain alternated with sun.  There were thunderstorms at night…  None of it seemed to matter.

Rose After the Rain

We had a fabulous time.  If it weren’t for the fact that the entire sixth grade from Portville School came noisily to camp on Monday morning, it would have been very hard to leave.


While camping at Timbercrest, I noticed a lot of dragons and damsels flying near the lake.  After bird banding (and a shower) I decided to take my net and see what I could catch.  I caught few, but observed many.  The full report is at my Odonata Blog.  Here are a few pictures of the ones I could catch, or that I could get close enough to…

Dragon in the GrassI’m pretty sure this one is the Lancet Clubtail female. The males are infuriatingly fast. They kept landing in the grass and on the road, but would not let me get close enough to net them. I had the same problem last year. One of these days…



The baskettails were much more friendly.  I caught several of them.

Common Baskettail

My favorite of all has to be the Calico Pennant.  They are very easy to catch, and were quite plentiful at the lake on this sunny, breezy afternoon.

Calico Pennant Male

Bird Banding at CLDC

Spider Web or Fairy JewelryIt is always so much fun to go bird banding with Tom.  Sunday the 15th of June was a perfect day for it.  Well, it was better than Saturday the 14th, anyway!  It rained like crazy and Tom postponed banding until Sunday.  Sunday was misty/foggy at first… but the mist burned off to produce a perfect June day.

Emily and I tried to get our acts together to be on time for the first net check.  (When you’re camping at the most beautiful place on the planet, leaving it can be difficult.)  Alas, we arrived just after the group had left for their 2nd net check at 6:30am.  I’d love to give you a blow-by-blow of what we caught and processed at each net check.  But when things get to moving so quickly, it’s hard to remember what happened when…  If the nets are loaded, the processing can sometimes take us past the next net check time and we get behind…

Checking the Nets
Checking the Nets

You get a lot of exercise during banding at this station.  Tom has 10 nets set up and we walk the loop every 30 minutes.

Karen and Jaqueline Look on as Kyle removes a bird from the netKyle is a future veterinarian studying at Canisius College.  Here, visitors watch as he extracts a bird from the net.  Depending on how tangled the bird got, that can be very tricky business.  The most difficult one of the day was a Hairy Woodpecker that managed to get “tongued”.  Bird tongues are barbed in the back.  Sometimes the net gets wound around the tongue.  Tom had quite a time getting that bird out!  I was fortunate to practice on a very easy one:  Just as we arrived at one of the nets, a Goldfinch flew in.  It didn’t have time to get very tangled at all!

Tom Won't tell us What this Bird is

Tom is a good teacher.  He doesn’t just tell you all the answers.  He gives you a chance to figure it out on your own, and he provides you with the tools.

But He Gives us the Tools to Figure it out
Karen and Jacqueline look through the “Thrush” pages…

 It’s a Veery! Karen holds it for a photo op.

It's a Veery Karen Holds a Veery for Photo Op

Tom uses his point-and-shoot camera to take some amazing close-up shots of the birds.

Tom Photographs the Veery
Check out Tom’s photo of the Veery here.

Getting back to the Woodpecker story, at one net check there were two Hairy Woodpeckers in the same net.  Tom told us the tradition with woodpeckers:  Whenever you catch one, you simply HAVE TO smell the head.

The Woodpecker's Head Smells Good
After Emily took one last piney-woodsy sniff, she released this relatively calm bird.

Woodpecker Won't Leave at First

In the meantime, Tom was off photographing the other Hairy Woodpecker… the one that had been through a little more trauma from getting his tongue stuck…  Tom’s bird wasn’t nearly so calm:

Tom's Hand After Several Photos of the Woodpecker
He managed to get this shot, though.  So I guess it was worth it!

House Wrens are Very Cute and Have such a bubbly song
I’ve got a House Wren

Jacqueline Releases the Wren
Jacqueline releases House Wren

I want to see the Orange under his tail

Blue-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler

And last, but not least… I banded this beauty!I banded this female Goldfinch

P.S.  There were plenty of dragons flying, too.  Next CLDC banding day, I’m bringing a net and I’ll do a Dragonfly survey, too, while I’m there!

Home Again…

Moonrise Over Keyser LakeJust got back from a long weekend camping with my daughter, Emily… I have over 270 photos to process and lots of stories to tell… Right now, I have to unpack camping stuff!

Here’s a sneak preview – the photo was taken at sunset as the moon rose over Keyser Lake.  Emily and I had just been canoeing and met both mama and papa beaver.  We even heard the little ones fussing inside the lodge.