A Surprise in the Net!

Finding a Sharp-shinned Hawk in the net was certainly thrilling.  But when you consider what Sharpies eat, it wasn’t really a surprise…  Last Saturday, I was truly surprised by this bird.  See if you recognize it:

Do you know who I am?

An American Woodcock!  Whoa!  Never expected that!

American Woodcocks, also known as Timberdoodles, are probably most well-known for their springtime courting dance.  Monarch wrote about it and included a video (dark – but cool because you can hear the sounds).  Click here to see (hear) it.  And if you have a copy of Aldo Leopold’s book A Sand County Almanac, read the essay on Woodcocks… it’s brilliant!

The Woodcock is a strange bird.  You’ll find it with the sandpipers in your field guide.  But you’ll have to go to the woods, not the beach, to find it outside.  It’s beak is long and flexible.  In the following photo, J had pried the bill open a bit to try to get a peek at the “teeth” and tongue.

Woodcock - Interesting Beak

I wish I had gotten a picture of what happened next!  When J removed his fingers, the upper bill curved, then straightened!  Woodcocks poke in the dirt with these long flexible bills probing for earthworms.  Their ability to manipulate the end of the bill undoubtedly helps in extracting tasty treats from deep in the soil.

The coloring of a Woodcock makes them excellent at hiding on the forest floor.  Many hikers have been startled when one suddenly rises just where a hiking boot was about to tread.

Woodcock - Camouflage coloring!

This was a big bird and a strong flier.  Tom and J had to work together to band it.  First they had to determine the appropriate size band by using a leg gauge.

Getting Ready to use Leg Gauge on Woodcock

Leg Gauge on Woodcock

Bird PaparazziOnce banded, the poor thing had to endure the Bird Paparozzi.  I’ll bet nearly a hundred photos were taken, many of them by me!



Then Tom let me release it.  He took my camera and shot this series:

About to Release the Woodcock

Release 1

Release 2

Release 3

Release 4

Release 5

Good-bye, Woodcock.  Live long and prosper!

Learn more:


“They” say…

Indigo Bunting - photographed in May“They” say that there are no blue feathers.  That is, there are no feathers that contain blue pigment.  When our brains tell us that we have seen a blue bird, it is the result of physics and a trick of the light…  reflection?  refraction?  I dunno… very complicated.

Whatever the science, it is always thrilling to see an Indigo Bunting!  My Sibley’s field guide tells me that Indigo Buntings are “common in any open brushy area, including weedy fields and hedge-rows, with trees nearby.”  The Cornell All-About-Birds website further explains that the Indigo Bunting is “a bird of old fields and roadsides” and that it “prefers abandoned land to urban areas, intensely farmed areas, or deep forests.”

Both descriptions fit the CLDC bird banding site quite well and we saw what must be a family of buntings on Saturday.

Indigo Buntings

I love how the Cornell website lists “Cool Facts” for each species.  Here are the two that intrigued me the most about Indigo Buntings:

  1. The Indigo Bunting migrates at night, using the stars for guidance. It learns its orientation to the night sky from its experience as a young bird observing the stars.
  2. Experienced adult Indigo Buntings can return to their previous breeding sites when held captive during the winter and released far from their normal wintering area.

Learn more:

Another Fine Day at Bird Banding

Yesterday, I spent the morning at Allegany State Park with Tom (a.k.a. mon@rch) learning about birds and bird banding.  I had been thinking during my drive to the park that it was odd that we hadn’t caught a Red-winged Blackbird, since the habitat seems agreeable for them.  “Ask and ye shall receive.” Look who was waiting for us at the first net check:

Red-winged Blackbird Female
Red-winged Blackbird, Female

It doesn’t show terrifically well in this photo, but look closely at the top of her wing.  I had no idea when looking at these birds in the field that the female has a bit of red on her wing, too.  I thought she was all brown.  When I searched Tom’s photostream in Flickr to find a picture of the male, I found this picture of a female that he took in June 2006.  Look at all THAT red!

Red-winged Blackbird Female
Another Red-winged Blackbird Female

Maybe next time we’ll catch the male.

Common Yellowthroat Male AdultThis is a great time of year for learning about all the plumage differences in birds – male vs female, juvenile vs adult.  I borrowed the picture of the male at right from Tom (again)…  We didn’t catch a male yesterday.  But we did catch Mother and Fledgling:

Common Yellowthroat Mommy and Baby
Common Yellowthroat Mother and Child

Once again, we caught several American Redstarts.  Their changes in plumage are quite dramatic.  This fellow provided quite a lesson in feather moult and regrowth:
American Redstart Male 1a

American Redstart, Male

He was born last year.  He has mostly adult feathers, but still some first year feathers:
American Redstart Male 1b

Eventually, the feathers with yellow will be replaced with feathers like those on the left – with orange.

Here are two views of another American Redstart male – younger.  Notice that his head is still gray, not black:
American Redstart Male 2a

And his wing feathers are all yellow, no hint of orange:
American Redstart Male 2b

American Redstart, Male

There were plenty more birds, and there was plenty more learning… But I have to get ready for work now… So I’ll save them for future posts.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet TanagerIt’s such a stunning bird and I’ve seen it so infrequently that I can remember each sighting vividly:

  1. Ruth had just started working at Audubon and we were taking her on a walk around Big Pond.  There he sat on a branch directly above the trail.
  2. Backpacking with Mary and lots of little girls…  Chip-BURR.  Chip-BURR.  Mary’s backpack was off in a flash and she was fumbling with her binoculars.  “Scarlet Tanager!  Scarlet Tanager!”  She listened and looked and finally spotted him.  We rested here for a while and watched him foraging for insects.
  3. A leisurely afternoon walk at Bentley Sanctuary… sitting on a bench with the tall, tall trees above me…  And there he was, directly overhead.
  4. Coffee on Terry’s back porch and there sat a male in the cedars on the edge of the yard.
  5. A week ago at the CLDC banding station with Tom and friends – flitting in the aspens on the forest edge.  (Jeff willed him to go into a net, but it would be a week before he complied!)
  6. And then there was yesterday…

Yesterday, Jordan took a gorgeous male from the net.  And then, though Tom offered the honor of banding the bird to him, Jordan deferred and let me band him.  I felt like a kid in a candy shop.  (Thanks again, Jordan!)

Scarlet Tanager - banding Scarlet Tanager - I banded this bird
Modest Photographer, Tom LeBlanc, took these photos…

Scarlet Tanager - FussingScarlet Tanagers tend to be birds of the forest interior and most of my sightings have been in such habitat.  Seeing one on the edge of a forest seemed unusual.  When I started surfing about the internet for more information about Tanagers I found that Cornell enlisted the help of citizen volunteers to collect data for three years, from 1993 to 1996, on tanagers and forest fragmentation.  Tanagers were selected as the main species for Project Tanager because their habitat needs are similar to those of many forest interior species.

Scarlet Tanager - Closeup

As I hopped from link to link learning about Scarlet Tanagers and forest fragmentation, I think the most interesting thing I learned was about a shift in the thinking for wildlife management.  There was a time when landowners were encouraged to create as much “edge” habitat as possible, because when you create edges (between forest and field) you increase the diversity of wildlife.  However, when you take a step back and look at the situation more broadly, here’s what really happens:  Local diversity may be increased, but regional diversity decreases.  It’s a tradeoff:  You get more species arriving that like edge habitat, but the species that prefer deep woods disappear.

As a result of the Cornell study, different land management techniques are recommended to maintain diversity on a broader scale.  Click on the links below to learn more.

Isn’t it fascinating how one little bird can teach you so much about the world around you?

Scarlet Tanager Range Map from CornellLearn more:

That's the end!  Goodbye now!

Bird Banding at Allegany State Park – July 4th

The first net check filled the bags and Tom had to work quickly in order to stay on his schedule.  Still, he took the time to teach Kyle and me as he worked.  There were some new birds, and young birds, and molting birds… and some tricky IDs for us.  I found myself getting frustrated sometimes and would say, “Well, I wouldn’t be able to band this one, because I don’t know what it is.”  Those Little Brown Birds are part of the reason that I’m such a Reluctant Birder!

I misidentified this one, for example.  Before you mouse over it, make your guess…
Louisiana Waterthrush

Did you guess Louisiana Waterthrush?  I didn’t.  I guessed Northern Waterthrush, which supposedly is yellower than this one.  Based on pictures in the field guide and on Cornell’s website though, I’m still confused…  The songs are way different, though… but we never heard this one sing…

I did get this one right:
Baby Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush!  Yeah me.

This is the first Black-capped Chickadee I’ve seen in a mist net:
Black-capped Chickadee

I now know why the banders aren’t anxious to find them in the nets!  The poor little dear was hopelessly tangled.  But with infinite patience, Tom managed to get him out.

There were several American Redstarts in the nets… This male was very pretty:
American Redstart

Sometimes an ID pops into my head the moment I see a bird in the net, but then I doubt myself.  After checking and double-checking, I discovered I was right on this one:

Hooded Warbler
Hooded Warbler.  Yeah me, again!

There were lots more birds, some of which I photographed, and others that got processed and released so fast that I couldn’t keep up.  One of the highlights, though, was a bird we couldn’t band:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Female

Tom isn’t licensed to band hummingbirds.  We brought her back anyway for photos, lessons, and to weigh her:  4 grams (0.141 ounces)!  Isn’t she so dear?

Thanks Tom, for all the great learning!

Kyle with Rose-breasted Grosbeak That's me - Banding the Gray Catbird