I finally decided to buy a Canon 100-400mm lens… I found it online at a place called Bingo Cameras.  They had several summer deals.  I was a little hesitant, because who buys from a company called Bingo?  Still, it looked like a good deal, so I placed my order.

This evening when I got home, someone from Bingo called me and tried to talk me into a different lens – real salesman-y.  I hate that.  I held my ground and said I wanted to stay with my original order.

When I signed onto my email this evening, there was a note from Bingo Cameras saying they had cancelled my order because the were “oversold”.

Can you say, “Bait and Switch”?

I don’t think I’ll do business with Bingo again.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

When I think of the Scarlet Pimpernel, I think of the French Revolution.  I think of secret societies, and of intrigue.  I think of old movies and Leslie Howard.  Oh yeah, and there’s that flower… important in the story because the hero signs his notes not with a name, but with an image, a flower:  a Scarlet Pimpernel.

I never thought to look for the flower.  It never occurred to me that it might grow around here – or even on this continent.  Then, after seeing  tiny reddish-orange flowers in the paths at Reinstein Woods and discovering (via my Flickr friends) that they were Scarlet Pimpernels… and looking them up in my various field guides and reading how “widespread” they are and that they bloom from June through August along roadsides in sandy soil, in “wasteplaces” (like lots of our summer aliens)…  well, I just began to wonder how I could have lived to be more than a half-century old and never see this flower?

Scarlet Pimpernel 1

OK, in my defense… it is only 1/4″ wide.  And it grows in sunny places – and only opens on sunny days… (and if you know me at all you know that from June to August – you’ll find me in the shade… I only venture out on cloudy / rainy days!)

Still, now that I’ve seen them… I’ll be braving the sun to look for more.


All spring I’ve been trying to get down to the National Forest to tag along with Scott Stoleson’s team.  I never made it… until the first full day of summer!  This is the second year they have been targeting Cerulean Warblers for banding.  Why Ceruleans?  Audubon’s Watchlist entry for this species explains:

Formerly one of the most abundant breeding warblers in Ohio and the Mississippi River Valleys, its population plummeted in the 1900’s due to habitat destruction.

Cerulean Range MapCerulean Warblers nest in the upper canopy of mature forests in North America.  Their wintering grounds are in South America.  Both breeding and wintering sites have been changed considerably by human activity through the 1900s causing one of the sharpest population declines of all warblers…  70-75% overall decrease, according to Scott.

The mist-netting demonstrations that Scott’s team does at Audubon in spring, and the MAPS projects run by Tom LeBlanc throughout the summer do not target a single species.  In those projects, several nets are set up in various locations near the banding station and nearly the all birds that come into the nets are banded.  It’s a little trickier to target just one species.  Here’s how Scott’s team caught its first bird:

  1. We drove out to a spot in the National Forest where Ceruleans had been spotted before.  We watched and listened.  It didn’t take long to hear a male singing fairly close to the road.  Scott played a recording of Cerulean song to draw the bird in.  During breeding season, Ceruleans are fierce protectors of their territories.  The sound of another male nearby was sure to cause concern.  Sure enough, down he came to investigate.
  2. All binoculars went up to see if this male had a band or not.  (Having the curse of extremely bad eyesight since childhood, I was astounded they could find the tiny bird so quickly, let alone see an even tinier band around the fellow’s ankle!)  This one was unbanded!  The team mobilized to catch him.  Now remember – Cerulean Warblers like the upper canopy… so a standard ground-level net is not going to work.
  3. No, Linda is not trying to shoot the bird with a bow and arrow!  Having located a suitable branch from which to hang the net, Linda shoots an arrow attached to fishing line.  Mike mans the reel.
  4. Up and over a high branch goes the arrow.  When it returns, the fishing line is removed from the arrow and attached to a (tan) rope.  Mike reels in the line until the rope is up and over the branch.
  5. Next they will attach a pulley system (that’s the blue ropes in the picture)  to the (tan) rope and hoist it all the way up to the limb.  Mike crawls into the brush to find a tree that will serve as an anchor for the system.
  6. In the meantime, Scott and Emily are busy setting up the frame that will hold the mist net.  The MP3 player and the decoy are attached in the upper center part of the net.
    The frame is assembled.IMG_0918
    Attaching the mist net.

    The decoy:  Scott admits that they don’t know if the decoy really helps, but it amuses them, so they use it.

  7. The net is hoisted up and secured.  A (black) rope on either side of the frame will allow Emily and Linda to turn the net to the desired angle and stabilize it so it doesn’t spin randomly.IMG_0924
    Scott turns on the MP3 player.IMG_0926
    Up she goes!
    The net is now in position, the decoy singing away.
  8. Then we wait and watch.  We are lucky.  June 22nd is pretty late in the season to find males that are still aggressive about defending territory.  Many pairs are already feeding young – some that have fledged.  This little guy displayed all the classic behaviors of an aggressive, defensive male, and while it took a bit of time, he did finally “attack” the source of the other song.
  9. The net is lowered; Scott removes the bird.  Linda, Mike, and Emily disassemble the net contraption and Scott processes the bird.IMG_0934
  10. The bird will actually get 3 bands:  the standard numbered aluminum band will go on the bird’s left leg, and two colored plastic bands will go on the right.  (Last year’s birds were banded with aluminum on the right, colored on the left.)  These combinations will help the team identify individuals in the future without having to re-capture them.  (This year, the team has spotted 5 birds that they banded last year – most having returned to the exact same nest site.)IMG_0936
    Purple and blue colored bands for the right leg, aluminum for the left.IMG_0937
    Attaching the aluminum band.

    A little heat seals the plastic colored bands.  (The bird is unharmed and Scott’s burn is only mild.)

  11. After weighing and many photos, the pretty fellow is released (by me!).IMG_0940
    Weight:  9.3 grams

    Cerulean Warbler

    A fine Cerulean Warbler Male – with new jewelry.IMG_0946
    Scott takes many photos – from all angles.

    "My" Cerulean Warbler

    And they graciously let me hold him for a photo opp, then release him.

This first bird we caught and processed made it all look so easy.  We tried two more times – not on the road, but halfway to the summit of steep hillsides.  In the second attempt, the net placement was apparently on the boundary between two territories.  The bird on one side would not go in; the bird on the other side would not go in.  The third placement seemed perfect, but the birds were not interested in the “intruder’s” song… they seemed only interested in eating.  In fact, I watched through binoculars as one warbler extracted whatever critter rolls up the leaves… that was fascinating!

It was a fun, exhausting day of learning for me.  If I could do my life over, I would pursue a career in which I could do this sort of thing.  Maybe next time around?  For now, I’ll live vicariously through the lives of those who let me tag along.

Many thanks to Scott, Linda, Emily, Mike and Don for being patient with me (and sharing their lunches).

Learn more about Cerulean Warblers:

House Wrens

For such a small bird, they sure are vocal.  The song – an energetic bubbly burst of music.  The call – scolding incessant chatter.

House Wren

Being small, they are also very apt to escape before we can get them out of the net when banding… or before we have finished gathering data.  I’ll bet there are many House Wren records with no number in the body mass column!

House Wren Nest - side viewThis year at Audubon, we tried something a little different with regard to nest boxes.  We moved all the boxes with 1.5-inch holes to the middle of the field to attract Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds.  Along the edge of the field we placed boxes with 1.25-inch holes – big enough for House Wrens and Black-capped Chickadees – both of whom seem to prefer to be a little closer to the brush and trees.  And, to facilitate monitoring and photographing, I asked John to make me boxes with hinged roofs, as well as hinged side doors.  (Thanks, John!)  House Wrens in particular are difficult to monitor from the front or side because they tend to fill the box so full of sticks.  With a hinged roof, I can look in from the top!  All aspects of this plan are working very well! I have no House Wrens in the boxes I intended for Tree Swallows and Bluebirds, and they ARE so much easier to monitor!

House Wren Nest with EggsHouse Wrens start construction of a nest by laying a foundation of sticks in the bottom of the natural cavity or nest box.  The nest will then be lined with softer material before egg-laying begins.  The eggs are so tiny – like the Easter malted milk eggs – and there can be 4-8 of them (or more), making you wonder how such tiny birds will feed so many mouths once they hatch.

Mom lays one egg each morning until she has a complete clutch.  She will start incubating the eggs when the 2nd or 3rd to last egg is laid – so hatching could happen over the span of 1-4 days.  When they hatch, they are pink and featherless with eyes tight shut.  Slowly the feathers come in – at first all encased in little shafts, and eventually breaking loose.

House Wren - Baby Bird Face

House Wren - Baby in the hand

Both mom and dad will feed the young for 12-18 days in the nest, and another 12-14 days after fledging.  A pair may have 2 or 3 broods in a season.  I never open Wren boxes after about day 9 or 10, because the babies are apt to fledge prematurely.  (OK, once I did… and I had to scramble to find all the babies and put them back!)

Despite their size, House Wrens are very fierce competitors for nest sites, which is why I tried to provide them their own boxes along the edge of the field.  Unfortunately, titmice and chickadees also like the edges of the fields.  I know for a fact that at least one Black-Capped Chickadee nest with eggs was removed from a box.  I assume this was done by the House Wren, as they are known for this kind of behavior, and because the box was next filled with sticks.

In the field habitat, we pair boxes so that if a Tree Swallow gets one, the other will be open for a Bluebird.  I’ve never seen that strategy listed for House Wrens and Chickadees/Titmice.  Given the House Wren’s habit of stuffing nearby cavities with sticks, providing paired boxes in shrubby habitat probably would do no good.

Can anybody out there suggest strategies for making sure the Chickadees get a place to nest, too?

Learn More:

Bird (?) Boxes

One box on my route has consistently had hair in it.  Once when I checked it, there was also a big old bumblebee on the top of the hair.

Bumblebee Nest?   Bumblebee Nest?

I asked a fellow nest box monitor about it and she said that it is not uncommon for bumblebees to do something like that in a box.  I decided to leave the hair and see what happened.  If it was a bumblebee nest, I thought it would be interesting to observe.  Earlier this month, though, there was still lots of hair, but no evidence of bees, so I removed the hair.

Yesterday, when I returned to that box, there was more hair…  And this time, I met the culprit:  not a bumblebee at all.

Who is that in my box?
01-Who is in my Bird Box

Come on out… Show your face…
02-Come on - Show your face

03-Hello Little Mousie

You look sleepy… Did I wake you?
04-You look sleepy-did I wake you

I think I’ll name her BumbleMouse.

Got Milk(weed)?

Today I was out early checking my bird boxes.  Some of them sit in a really lovely large patch of Common Milkweed.

Common Milkweed 2   Common Milkweed 1

Since I have been seeing Monarch Butterflies, I decided to check the plants for eggs or caterpillars.  I didn’t find any Monarchs at all.  But I found plenty of other stuff!  Take a look:

Milkweed Bugs
Milkweed Bug - Youngster   Milkweed Bug - adult

Harvestman on Milkweed


A Snail
Snail on Milkweed

Somebody Hiding in a Rolled Up Leaf
Milkweed Leaf Roll from back

and my favorite:  Virginia Ctenucha Moth!
Virginia Ctenucha Moth 4

Three Warblers

We had three different species of warblers last Saturday.  Two are pretty common throughout the continent.  Scroll down slowly and see if you know them before you get to the text below each picture that gives you the names:

Common Yellowthroat Female

Common Yellowthroat Male

Did you guess: Common Yellowthroat?

How about this one?

Yellow Warbler

You’re right if you said Yellow Warbler.

The third warbler from last Saturday is an eastern bird:

Blue-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler

According to Cornell, the Blue-winged Warbler has expanded its range northward during the last century… Maybe it will expand to the west in the next century?

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse - picture timeThe most fun bird of the day last Saturday was definitely the Ruffed Grouse.  We flushed it into the net at the 2nd to the last net check…  Tom was quick to get it contained and in the hand.  I wish I had been carrying my camera during net check, but alas.

Tom does not have a permit to target game birds for banding.  But since his study is to monitor all avian activity at the Sanctuary, he was able to band this.  (The same loophole applied last year when we banded the Woodcock…  Click here for that story.)

The new Pyle guide for bird banders did not specify which size band to use… so Tom had to measure using a leg gauge.

Ruffed Grouse - fitting


Jordon and Tom band:  it takes 4 hands!
Ruffed Grouse - banding

Head shot:
Ruffed Grouse - Head

Wing:  interesting shape!
Ruffed Grouse - wing

Tail:  such gorgeous colors.
Ruffed Grouse - Tail

Brood Patch:  Are those new feathers coming in?
Ruffed Grouse - Brood Patch

They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush:
Ruffed Grouse - in the hands
In our case, a bird in the hand was worth (at least) three in the bush.  Several were disturbed as we walked by… Only this one made it into the net.

That was pretty cool…

Eastern Towhee

One of our first birds at CLDC last Saturday was an Eastern Towhee recapture.

Eastern Towhee

One of the most interesting things about this recapture was the condition of the band it was wearing.  It was so worn and thin that Tom decided to give it a new band.  For comparison, here is the old band sitting next to a brand new band of the same size:

Eastern Towhee.jpg Bands 2

Update 6/17/08:  Check out Tom’s very cool picture of the thin band still on the Towhee’s leg by clicking here.

This banding project is part of MAPS – “Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship.”  This recapture was particularly exciting in that light.  Tom put the original band on the bird on July 27, 2004.  (I’m not sure how old it was when it was banded.)  According to the Cornell website (who quoted the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Website), the oldest known Eastern Towhee was 12 years 3 months.