Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Western Hummingbirds Have Arrived!

Western Hummingbirds are migrating through Tennessee and some are arriving to stay the winter! 
Above, a Rufous Hummingbird juvenile feeds on Pineapple Sage in Billie Cantwell's yard in west Knoxville before being captured for banding.  Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell
A hummingbird trap is shown above, set up by Mark Armstrong near the Pineapple Sage.  The feeder is surrounded by the cage and a door is raised and lowered with fishing line to trap the hummingbird after he goes inside.  Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

Friends Billie Cantwell and Colin Leonard have their third Rufous hummingbird visiting their yard, making this their fifth consecutive fall/winter season of hosting a wintering hummingbird. One male Rufous wintered in their yard for three seasons.  
This year's hummer is a juvenile male rufous who was initially discovered visiting the red blossoms of Pineapple Sage while ignoring feeders. 

Billie described him as "one smart cookie" as he foiled Mark Armstrong's first attempt to capture and band him on October 29th.  Rather than feeding from a nectar feeders at their home, this juvenile preferred the natural nectar of the pineapple sage.  Mark erected a mist net to capture him.  The hummer flew up to the net, examined it, and then flew up over and around the net avoiding capture.   
As time passed, the hummer became aquainted with the nectar feeders and began to use them. On November 10th, Mark, Master Bander of hummingbirds and songbirds, set a trap over a feeder near the pineapple sage and captured the juvenile. Above, Mark gets his banding equipment ready with Janie Kading's assistance.  
Mark first examines the hummers legs to see if it is banded. This juvenile was not banded and received band K23381, shown below.  Bands are issued by the Bird Banding Laboratory at Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge and all banded birds are reported to the lab.
Once the band is in place, Mark takes measurements.  The birds wing and tail are measured for general identification.  These measurements also help with hummingbird species identification in some cases, and can distinguish males from females.  The belly is examined for fat deposits which give the bander information about the general health of the bird.  
Below, Mark measures the hummingbird's bill with a digital measuring device. 

Through a loop and magnifying glasses, Mark checks the beak for grooving.  Grooving or growth bands were found, confirming that this hummer is a juvenile.  These grooves close as the hummingbird matures into an adult.
Banders must also distinguish the hummingbird species from other similar species. Rufous and Allen's hummingbird juveniles look very similiar and both have rufous in their tail feathers. Both have been found to winter in Tennessee.  Examination of the shape and size of the tail feathers confirms that this bird is a young Rufous.
Above and below, the Rufous juvenile is shown just before release.  He currently has three gorget feathers on his throat.
Janie holds the hummer for release.  A few minutes after he flew, the hummer was observed feeding from the nectar feeder at the kitchen window.
Do you have your winter nectar feeder out?

All images in this blog post are credited to Billie Cantwell.  Thank you, Billie!

First juvenile Rufous visiting Cantwell residence . The same hummingbird is shown as an adult in Hummers in Snow and Cold
Learn more about Wintering Hummingbirds
More on Rufous Hummingbirds

Friday, October 16, 2015

Migration Season--Fall Banding at Seven Islands

This is the second in a two-part series on the October 11th banding session at Seven Islands State Birding Park, Tennessee, with Mark Armstrong and Billie Cantwell banding.  The first post can be found at this link:  A Palm Warbler Kind of Day 
Photo credit:  Patty Ford

Fall is always an exciting season as migrants are moving through the area and wintering species are just arriving.  Seven Islands provides a unique and exciting habitat for studying birds.  Situated on more than 410 acres along the French Broad River, the park offers a combination of shrubby and native grassland habitat with food sources that attract many migrating warblers, wintering sparrows and other species.    
Above, a female Hooded Warbler.    Hooded warblers breed in eastern North America, including Tennessee, and winter in the West Indies, Mexico, to Panama.  They live and forage in low, dense understory, often near water.   Photo credit:  Colin Leonard
Nineteen species were processed during the banding session with a total of 122 birds banded and 12 recaptures (birds previously banded), totaling 134.  Among the warblers and sparrows banded were 13 Common Yellowthroats, 1 Magnolia warbler, 57 Western Palm Warblers, 1 Yellow Palm Warbler, 1 Hooded warbler, 17 Field Sparrows, 1 Chipping Sparrow, 2 Savannah Sparrows, 6 Swamp Sparrows and 5 Song Sparrows.
Members of the banding team go to the nets to extract birds at regular intervals beginning at 7:40 a.m. with the period for banding lasting until approximately 11:00 a.m. depending on weather conditions.  When captured, each bird is placed in a small cloth bag while waiting to be processed. The bag helps keep the bird calm and safe until it is banded and set free again.
Above and below, images of a male Magnolia Warbler (Setaphaga magnolia). Magnolia Warblers breed in northern boreal forests and migrate to wintering grounds in Mexico and the West Indies to Panama.  Their conspicuous bright yellow and black breeding plumage with distinct tail markings make them one of the most easily recognized warblers.  The Magnolia warbler you see here is in his fall or non-breeding plumage.  Black markings around his face have faded to gray, as well as the streaked black necklace that is present during breeding season.
The distinctive band of white in the outer tail feathers of the Magnolia Warbler is shown above and is unique to this warbler species.
Magnolia Warblers also has a bright yellow rump which often causes them to be confused with the Yellow-rumped Warbler, but their bright yellow breast is an obvious distinction between species..  
Above and below, Magnolia Warbler    

Banding team members return from the nets to bring birds back to the banding station.
Below, taking a break between net runs.

Above, Billie Cantwell places a band on an Indigo Bunting.  Birds are banded and then examined for information that helps to identify their age, sex, and relative health at the time they were captured.
Wing measurements and tail measurements are taken.
If it is possible to determine the sex of the bird, this information is also recorded, along with the amount of fat found on the bird's belly.  A large amount of fat during migration indicates a healthy, well-nourished bird.    
All of the data collected is recorded on a banding sheet, shown above, and will be reported to the United States Geological Banding Laboratory.   Photo credit:  Colin Leonard
Age is determined by examining the wing feathers, including colors, length, and relative wear.  The skull is also examined for ossification. Photo credit Colin Leonard
Above, you see the wing of an Indigo Bunting.  The bird is being held in a "banders grip" during examination. This grip supports the birds body while it is being examined. Photo credit: Colin Leonard
In the image above, Mark Armstrong is about to touch an Eastern Phoebe's bill, but he gets a surprise. The phoebe snaps his beak making a loud clap. Phoebes are known to snap their bills during aggressive territorial interactions with other phoebes.  
Birds have personalities and it is particularly delightful when they express them!  Mark Armstrong is a Master Bander of songbirds and hummingbirds.  He is the founder of East Tennessee Avian Research, a non-profit organization, and has been operating the banding station at Seven Islands for approximately eight years.
Eastern Phoebe                      Photo credit:  Colin Leonard

Visit the first post in this two-part report on banding:  A Palm Warbler Kind of Day
Visit my previous posts on bird banding
Visit the Knoxville Chapter of TOS on Facebook
Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge now Seven Islands State Birding Park

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Palm Warbler Kind of Day--Banding at Seven Islands

Banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park in the fall can be spectacular and our banding session on October 11th was just that.  122 birds were banded and 12 recaptured for a total of 134 birds processed by a great banding team.

Photo credit:  Colin Leonard

Among the 19 species banded, 58 were Palm Warblers!  I am focusing this post on this beautiful species and will show you more species in a second post to follow.
Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum) breed in bogs and fens of remote boreal forests of the northeast and are considered one of our most northerly breeding wood warblers.  Migrating at night in small flocks, they winter in the southeastern and Gulf coast states, Mexico and the West Indies.  
Photo credit:  Colin Leonard

Our banding session was timed just right to capture this species during migration. They are found at Seven Islands because they like foraging on the ground in grassy and weedy areas and on small shrubs and trees, all plentiful in the park.
Above, a Western Palm Warbler, held in a bander's grip, showing rufous feathers on his head.  The male Palm Warbler wears a rufous crown during breeding season and the visibility of rufous feathers this time of year indicates a male that has molted into winter plumage.
Above and below, Western Palm Warblers (also known as brown).
There are two subspecies of Palm Warblers, the Western Palm Warbler, also referred to as brown, and the Yellow Palm Warbler or Eastern subspecies.  Among our 58 Palm Warblers, we captured one Yellow Palm Warbler which gave us an excellent opportunity to compare the difference.
In the image above, you can see a comparison of the lores (eyebrow area) and throat of the two subspecies of Palm Warblers.  The Western subspecies has a more buffy appearance with buff-colored lores while the Yellow Palm Warbler has yellow lores, throat and belly, shown below.  Photo credit:  Colin Leonard
Above, the Western is on the left and the Yellow subspecies or Eastern on the right. The yellow tail coverts on this species are also distinctive field marks.  In the field, the Palm Warbler is often seen pumping its tail while foraging.  The two subspecies inhabit separate breeding grounds but overlap on their wintering grounds and during migration.  Western Palm Warblers breed roughly west of Ottawa, Ontario, while the Yellow Palm Warbler nests east of Ottawa.  
Only at the banding table do you have the opportunity to see little known features of these beautiful warblers--both subspecies have yellow foot pads!  
Above and below, you can see a good overall comparison of the appearance of the two subspecies, the Yellow Palm Warbler above, and the Western Palm Warbler below.  Photo credit:  Colin Leonard
Photo credit:  Colin Leonard
Banding was conducted by Mark Armstrong, Master Bander of hummingbirds and songbirds, and Billie Cantwell.  Banding studies give scientists information about the relative health and abundance of bird populations, as well as, alert us to changes in the environment.

Thanks to Colin Leonard and Richard Secrist for their assistance in taking photos!

View the second post in this two-part report on our Oct 11th banding session:  Migration Season
Visit my previous posts on bird banding.
Visit the Knoxville Chapter of TOS on Facebook
Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge now Seven Islands State Birding Park

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Albino Ruby-throated Hummingbird in East Tennessee

On October 4th and 5th, Mark Armstrong, Master Bander of hummingbirds and songbirds, and Janie Kading traveled from Seymour, TN, to Oliver Springs, TN, to capture and band an albino Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  Their second trip was successful! 
The young female, hatched this summer and weighing 4.1 grams is pictured above and below in photos taken by Mark Armstrong to document her condition.   In the image above you can see the dark red of her eye, and the lack of pigment in her beak, normally black in coloration.  
Mark explains albinism this way:  Albinism is a sex linked recessive characteristic and carried on the X chromosome.  In birds males are XX and females XY, so if a female had the gene it would be expressed and if a male had the gene he could carry it as a recessive characteristic and look normal or if he inherited the characteristic from both parents the gene would be expressed and he would be albino.  
"I think most likely our bird was the product of two normal birds but she would have inherited the trait from her father.  There is a lot I don’t understand about the trait....This bird did have dark red eyes, pigment wasn’t present in the beak or feet.  She did have dark bases to the feathers on the back however.  In ruby-throats the trait is rare but there usually are a few every year.  Leucistic is more common and those birds will have patches of white or overall a faded appearance. The genetics of that trait is more complex and involves the synthesis of melanin or turns it on or off in different areas of the plumage.  It was 6 or 7 years ago I went after a white bird and asked Bob Sargent for some advice and if I should try to band it.  He said sure, he had banded 100 or so but none have ever returned."   
Mark adds, "They are pretty vulnerable.  This bird reminded me of a cicada flying with those white wings flashing. Melanin actually strengthens the feathers so white birds tend to have worn plumage, this bird was actually in pretty good shape.  She also weighed 4.1 grams so had a good fat load and was preparing to head out.  I talked with the host yesterday and she did not see the bird the following morning."
The image above captures the fairy-like quality of the hummer's tail feathers absent normal pigment. The absence of pigment allows feathers to wear rapidly, as well as, makes the hummingbird more visible to predators.
Photo credit:  Kathy Townsend

Kathy and Tom Townsend were the hosts to this beautiful hummingbird in Oliver Springs.  Kathy called her. Angel, and she writes the following:  "This is the picture [above] I took the last time I saw Angel on Oct. 6th.  She was truly a blessing from God and I am so thankful for the experience.  I sure do miss seeing her.  She was at our home for 9 days.  It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget and what made it more special was when Mark put her in my hand after he had done the measuring and weighing, and I was able to let her fly.  She stayed in my hand, it seemed like a minute, but I'm sure it was several seconds and then off she flew.  I didn't think she would be back.  I thought maybe she was traumatized from being captured, but she came back to the same feeder that evening.  Then I knew that it is a harmless procedure and so well worth it."   Kathy also reported that after speaking with Mark the next morning and reporting the hummer hadn't returned, she then saw the hummer later that morning.  That was the last day the hummer was seen at their home.  
In 2013, Cyndi and Steve Routledge hosted an albino Ruby-throated Hummingbird in Clarksville, TN.  The images directly above and below were taken by Cyndi Routledge in her yard.  Since that time, Cyndi has also become a Master Bander and bands hummingbirds and songbirds in Middle and West Tennessee and northern Mississippi.  To see more images visit:  Albino Ruby-throat

Links and Resources:

Visit this link to read more about Mark Armstrong and fall/winter hummingbird banding
More about summer hummingbird banding.
Mark Armstrong, Master Bander of songbirds and hummingbirds
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham