Sunday, October 25, 2009

Good news, bad news

Well, as the title of this post reads - good news is that I got to see my beloved Black and Gold play today at Heinz Field and win a nail-biter against a very good Vikings team. The bad news - I was not up at the blind during that time. I had planned to be, but the weather was not very cooperative.

We did not get skunked - we did get one bird. A male hatch year Northern Goshawk. And what an approach he made - all stealth as he popped up over the top of some hedges in front of us on his way in. This is really a great bird - They are huge and sexy and all feet and voice and long tail.

Saturday was a pretty day, and we did see a ton of birds - probably more Bald Eagles, Rough-Legged Hawks and Red-tails than I remember in recent trips up. Hawk Ridge was seeing about the same thing - 174 eagles, 48 Rough-legs and 440 Red-tails. The bad weather fronts on either side of the day might have been an impetus for them to just get up and get out of town, though - they just thermalized and went on their way, not giving us a look at all for the most part.

The migration of other birds was pretty apparent, too. We had plenty of American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos to keep us company while the hawks literally gave us the bird from above.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Golden eagle on the move

Last fall, there was a golden eagle that had gotten caught in a leg hold trap in Buffalo County, WI. He was rehabilitated at The Raptor Center, fitted with a transmitter, and set back to the wild in March 2009. He went up to the arctic circle in the Kitikmeot region of Nuvaat, Canada around 66.9N and 95.8W. You can follow the maps and path he took up to his spring/summer grounds. He is now on the move south! Here is a map of some data points his transmitter is sending back over October. You can follow the story at Audubon, MN's site.

I actually headed to the area in WI where this, and other golden eagles, have been wintering last fall in the hopes of being able to get a transmitter on an eagle before it was determined that this bird would be a good candidate. It was quite an eye-opener for me - being from SD, our goldens are very used to open areas, where the only place to perch is a lone cottonwood or a barn roof or a telephone pole. The birds wintering in this region of WI roost in tree-covered valleys, and never perch on telephone poles. It was hypothesized that these birds were coming from this region in Canada, and not just coming from the west. With the differences in their hunting, perching and other choices, I learned a lot about how species adapt to the environment they know, and continue to make the same choices in similar areas. The first photo in this set of three has a golden perched in the typical woody area - what a shock for me! The other two photos show the woody sides of the valley where a couple of the birds perched, and then hunted wild turkeys and fox squirrels during the day.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

. . . and more migrant surprises!

Windy day today, but the migrants were still around. Got 20 birds today, including 2 recaptures (Black-capped Chickadees). Over the weekend here in town, 69 birds banded and 14 species - Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Black-capped Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Field Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, White-throated Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Song Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, and two Hatch Year Female Tennessee Warblers!
The first two are of the Fox Sparrow - there are 18 sub-species divided into 3 or 4 distinct groups, depending on which book you read. From the Birds of North America, "Fox Sparrow populations vary in migratory distance and route; individuals nesting in the Sierra Nevada of California migrate only short distances, mostly altitudinally, while those from Alaska migrate long distances, with some traveling over open ocean. Populations also vary in their song types; while northern and eastern Fox Sparrow populations sing 1 or 2 song types each, western populations sing 3 or 4; commonly heard calls (contact notes) also vary geographically, differences largely correlating with the major groups." In other words, they are pretty cool.

This is one of the female Tennessee Warblers.

This is a Hatch Year male American Robin - check out the brownish feathers still on his crown!

And finally - here is why we call the Yellow-rumped Warblers "butter-butts."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wave of Migrants

Took a quick break from raptor banding to see what kinds of fall passerine migrants might be moving through. What a day - 49 birds and 10 species! Kept us hopping to make sure we checked nets, banded birds, and interpreted to the public.

Do you think this Eastern Phoebe is a Klingon fan?

This White-throated Sparrow is always a favorite of mine. They are only in town on their way through north and then heading south again.

We had a couple of interesting Juncos today. We will in most cases call the Juncos that come through Slate-colored Juncos. However, we might get a couple of interesting sub species. If you look closely at the first two photos (same bird), you can see some white edging on the coverts. There are also some white feathers around the eye. These two attribures seem to indicate at least a cross-back somewhere in the bird's geneology of White-winged Junco. From the Birds of North America, "Until the 1970s, the currently recognized Dark-eyed Junco was split into 5 distinct species, 3 of them comprising 2 or more subspecies. The American Ornithologists’ Union (1973, 1982) lumped these 5 species but acknowledged the distinctiveness of the former species by designating them and their subspecies as informal “groups” of Junco hyemalis . Each group bears the scientific and vernacular name that it previously bore as a species: hyemalis (Slate-colored Junco); aikeni (White-winged Junco); oreganus (Oregon Junco); caniceps (Gray-headed Junco); and insularis (Guadalupe Junco)."

This other Junco does not have white feathers around the eye, but it does have some white edging, so there is again a possibility of White-wing somewhere in the background.

Can't beat this power of cute, huh? Ruby-crowned Kinglets abounded today. It is sometimes hard to see how they got their name. The males have this surprising little tuft of bright feathers that you only see if they choose to raise the feathers over them.

We were pretty excited about a Golden-crowned Kinglet that we got today. They are quite small - here is a photo of Ben the bander taking a tail measurement while holding the bird carefully in his hand.

What a handsome bird!

It was pretty neat to get this comparison shot - two female Kinglets of two species - Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned!

Friday, October 16, 2009


No, I wasn't holding out on anyone by not posting this double Red-tail release until just now. This was actually from last season, but I didn't have a blog then. Cool, huh?

Thought I would take a quick break from just banding to put up a couple of links that I think are interesting. One is a link to a pdf from the USGS with great information about lead poisoning in raptors and other wild birds. The Raptor Center does still see a number of bald eagles in particular with this problem.

As we are on the topic of migration (or at least I am), here are a couple of other links. This is a link to an article on how migration distances are increasing for birds due to environmental/habitat changes. How about this one that talks about how climate change is altering North American winter bird communities. And this one where birds are a good indicator of climate change in general.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ahh, the thrill of Harriers

We have a saying at the blind; "The thrill of goshawks, the agony of harriers." Well, that all-too-known agony turned to quite a thrill when we had a female Northern Harrier come in this past weekend. What a cool, weird bird! Check out that facial disc - the feathers fan out from the face to the ears, to help the bird collect sound, much like an owl. When they fly, their heads are usually tipped down to catch sound as they hunt over fields.

See how narrow the wing is? Especially in comparison to the more broad wing of this Red-tailed Hawk. You can also see that trademark rump patch - the white feathers at the base of the tail.

A couple of Northern Flickers found their way into the nets, too. Check out that lemony goodness under the wing! They always look like they got into their mom's make-up kit and went wild. And see the size comparison with the male Sharp-shin to the left and the female to the right. All three of these birds just happened to come in at about the same time, so we took a moment to showcase the size comparisons.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Soggy Days

Well, you have an inkling how this banding weekend went if the opening photos are not even of raptors. Yup - pretty wet and miserable. Didn't get many birds, but still the most fun you can have legally. The migration of passerines was notable, at any rate. And the soundtrack to this season continued - the Red-breasted Nuthatches were ever present. This Chickadee had a wet undercarriage - an example of the wet weekend.

These next two photos are kind of cool, though - can you see the greyish covering over the eyes of the Shin in the first photo? It is the nictitating membrane - a thin "third eyelid" that helps to moisten and protect a raptor's eyes. The last photo was taken just seconds after the other one, so you can see what the eyes look like without the membrane.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Reier reminded me the other day that man "and girl" cannot live by birds alone. Which is true. Mostly. So - here are a couple of neat articles on bird-forerunners - the dinosaurs!

Anyone who knows me probably knows that my first working world aspirations was to be a paleontologist. What could be cooler to a kid than working with dinosaurs? Or at least the remains of them.

This article (link from Science Daily, but actual article published in Nature)

shows a bird-like dinosaur with four wings has been discovered in northeastern China. IT seems to bridge a gap in the transition from dinosaurs to birds.

This article has a new theory on what killed Sue the T-Rex.

The Sue specimen was found with holes in the jaw which were thought to be wounds from battle. Turns out they might be from trichomoniasis. From the article: Birds such as pigeons commonly host the parasite but suffer few ill effects, but in falcons and hawks, the germ causes a pattern of serious lesions in the lower beak that closely matches the holes in the jaws of Sue and occurs in the same anatomical location.