Wednesday August 30, 2017

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Today’s count was 20 new bands and 13 recaps.

New for the season was Scarlet Tanager   (Photo by Peggy Keller).


The morning started out with several birds coming back from the first 2 net runs.
Yeah!  We thought we were in for a busy day! Well we were wrong because things slowed down.

Peggy Keller, BIC

Why you never close at hour 5 . . .

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Monday August 28, 2017:  50 new birds of 14 species, 9 recaps.  New species: Black-throated Blue Warbler.  Bird of the day was Magnolia Warbler with 16 new bands.

You might think you know what the day has in store for you, but there’s a good chance you’ll be surprised.  And BOY, were we!

The morning started in a pretty ordinary way for this time of year . . . a few birds every run that slowed to a near stop around hour 3.  That’s not to say the birds weren’t interesting, there just weren’t many of them.  In fact, it got so slow that Andrea left the building and pursued her campaign against the invasive plants around the parking lot. Swallowwort, mugwort, multiflora rose, and the occasional aggressive black raspberry were mercilessly cut at ground level and either bagged to bake in the sun, or hauled out to the street.

Hour 4 went by . . . and then hour 5 and 5.5 . . . and as we were nearing hour 6, Andrea heard Chita call for help.  Nearly 25 birds had come in on the 5.5 hour run, and they all needed to be banded while at the same time the nets needed to be closed!  They were amazing birds, too.  Four Blackburnian Warblers, two Baltimore Orioles, a handful of Bay-breasted Warblers . . . and that is why you never close at hour 5!

Most of the birds were fairly straightforward, but we did get a stumper:


Believe it or not, this is a Yellow Warbler!  The species we commonly see in Rochester is called Setophaga petechia aestiva, but this bird appears to be something different.  Aestiva is a sunnier yellow and a richer green – even in the young females – than this bird.  The pale, washed out, grey quality of this bird distinguishes it from our common Yellow Warblers.  We aren’t sure what subspecies it is (there are several to choose from) . . . but if we figure it out, we’ll let you know!

Confusing Fall Flycatcher?

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Sunday August 27, 2017:  25 new birds of 14 species, 17 recaps.  No new species.  Bird of the day was Magnolia Warbler, with 6 new bands.

Today was a bit slower than yesterday, but we didn’t mind since we just had a two-person crew.  Most of our morning was fairly routine – we captured a handful of easy-to-extract birds each run, and the identification, aging and sexing was pretty straightforward as well.  Until . . . we caught this guy:


There are four species of Empidonax flycatchers that we regularly capture at the station:  Yellow-bellied, Alder, Willow, and Least.  There is a fifth species – Acadian – that could wander through, but which we rarely catch.  These five species often closely resemble each other.  In fact, Alder and Willow are so similar that we can rarely distinguish them in the hand, and so we lump them together and call them Traill’s Flycatcher – which was their name when they were formerly considered a single species.

Luckily, we generally have ways to separate most of our Empidonax.  Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are . . . well . . . yellow-bellied.  Least Flycatchers are small with tiny bills, bright white eye-rings, white chins and throats, and an emarginated sixth primary (we’ll explain that below!).  Traill’s have white chins and throats, but have a bigger bill, a less distinct eye-ring, and an un-emarginated primary.

The bird above definitely gave off a Traill’s vibe . . . a mushy eye-ring and a brownish olive complexion with a white chin and throat.  But the bill was tiny!


We took two bill measurements – from the front of the nares to the tip of the bill, and the width of the bill as measured at the front of the nares (both shown in red in the photo).  A Traill’s Flycatcher’s bill typically measures 7.6-10.3mm long and 5.0-6.1mm wide.  This bird had a bill measuring 7.3mm long and 4.6 mm wide . . . which fits much better with Least Flycatcher (although actually the width is even on the low end for Least!).

So, to be sure of our ID, we did a bunch of fussy measurements involving the difference between the lengths of various wing feathers, and we scrutinized the sixth primary to see if there was any hint of emargination.  There wasn’t.


The arrows in the photo above point to emarginations – dips in the leading edges of the feathers – in the 7th, 8th and 9th primaries of this flycatcher. The feather marked P6 has a straight leading edge, without a dip.

So . . . how do we resolve the conflict?  We take a holistic view of all the evidence:


The only “wrong” thing for Traill’s Flycatcher, was the bill size, whereas Least Flycatcher was ruled out in several ways, including by wing morphology and by the eyering.  (The leg color was a little funny for both, but sometimes color is hard to judge under our artificial lights).  The numbers in our cheat-sheet represent 95% of individuals, so in this case we decided we had a Traill’s Flycatcher who was on the extreme small-end of the bill size range, rather than a Least Flycatcher with an unusual wing morphology AND an unusual eyering.

There is a lot of science in what we do, but there’s always a little bit of judgement too!




Birds are definitely moving now!

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Saturday August 26, 2017:  55 new birds of 17 species, 17 recaps.  New species:  Winter Wren, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler.  Bird of the day was Magnolia Warbler with 24 new bands.

My-oh-my, what a delightful day, and birds were only part of the story!  After a year on hiatus, Claire returned to us.  She started at the station as a pre-teen, and is now a senior in high school.  She took last year off to focus on her coursework, but since this year is a bit lighter she is able to come back.  She hasn’t lost her touch, and she’ll be a huge asset to the Saturday crew.  Today also marked the first day for Abbey Butler, a SUNY Brockport senior in her final semester.  She’s taking our Bander Training Class in a less conventional way – she’ll be doing the hands-on portion on Saturday mornings, and she’ll get the afternoon lectures with the rest of the class at the end of September.  We started her on bird handling and net-extraction today, and she is doing great.

Two days ago, we posted a photo of a young female Cape May Warbler.  We got another today, along with a young male.  Here’s a side-by-side for comparison:

We felt confident earlier in the week, calling the dull bird a young female, and seeing the much more vividly-marked young male reinforced our call.  The first time you see a bird in the fall, it’s not always easy to remember what the various ages and sexes are “supposed” to look like, as the last time you saw the bird – in the spring – the ages and sexes often looked radically different.  One of the advantages of working at a large station is that you often get the opportunity to compare the different ages and sexes side by side, so that you can make a careful mental catalog of the differences.


First Rose-breasted Grosbeak of Fall 2017

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Friday, August 25, 2017

We had delightful weather yesterday but not too many birds. We banded 26 new birds of ten species, and we had 5 recaps.

Bird of the day was Magnolia Warbler, with 8 new bands. Other warblers included Wilson’s, Canada, and Northern Waterthrush. The only new species for the season came into our nets at the very last net check. It was a young male Rose Breasted Grosbeak (photo by Cindy Marino).

Doctor Sue Smith-Pagano and Dr. Kristen Covino were at the station to work on their new research on the micro biome of birds. That was super interesting and made for great discussion when our nets did not yield many birds.

–Peggy and Cindy

They don’t call ’em confusing for nothing!

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Thursday August 24, 2017:  32 new birds of 19 species; 9 recaps.  New species:  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Prairie Warbler.  Bird of the day was Magnolia Warbler with 4 new bands, followed by Mourning Warbler with 3 new bands.

Something shifted in the weather overnight, and we saw our first real push of confirmed migrants moving through the area.  While our numbers weren’t large today, the species diversity – and the number of species that had a first-of-the-fall bird – was great for this time of year.

Our first puzzler hit early in the morning:


We don’t get many birds with a solid yellow-green back, wing and tail.  Most of our birds fitting that description are Common Yellowthroats, but this bird was a bit chunkier, and the head and neck just weren’t right.  A quick flip through our Warbler Guide convinced us he was a young Mourning Warbler.  He was traveling with this adult female of the same species, who looks quite different with her grey head, white eye crescents, and smudgy-white throat:


Shortly afterwards, we caught this sharp looking lady:


The tiger-striped streaking on the belly, the yellow wash behind the ear, and the slightly decurved bill settle this bird as a Cape May Warbler.  Although you can’t see it in this photo, she also has a yellowish-green rump and the soles of her otherwise black feet are yellow – a combination we don’t see in other birds.

The final stickler of the day was this (unfortunately unphotogenic) young lady:


She wasn’t a bird any of us had ever seen in the hand before, but some key features stuck out . . . the lack of white wing bars, the overall yellow-green color, the light crescents around the eyes, the black pattern on the face, and her itty-bitty stature.  The Warbler Guide came to the rescue again, and we identified her as a Prairie Warbler.  How special is she?  Since 1986, she is the 10th Prairie Warbler to be banded at BBBO, and only the second to be banded in the fall.  The first fall Prairie was banded in 1988 . . . it’s been a long wait!

To round our our circle of warblers, here’s one that’s not quite so confusing . . . our Bird of the Day – the Magnolia Warbler.



A slow day

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Wednesday, August 23:  11 new birds of 7 species, 11 recaps.  No new species.  Bird of the day was Gray Catbird, with 4 new bands.

–Peggy and Cindy

Puzzle Bird!

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Tuesday August 22, 2017.  8 birds of 4 species; 5 recaps.  No new species.  Bird of the day was Gray Catbird, with three new bands.

Yes . . . it was slo-o-o-o-w today!  We could feel a storm approaching, and perhaps the birds could too for nothing moved and there was nary a peep from the bushes except for the soft “choock” of a catbird now and then.  We watched the radar as the morning wore on and kept an eye on the rising temperature, but the hazy clouds kept the sun out of sight and the continually strengthening breeze moderated the effect of the heat.

To keep busy, we chatted about quilting and shared our eclipse pictures, we mended and replaced nets, and we enjoyed a delightful visit from Lola (a Havana Silk pup about 2 years old) and her two human companions.

And there were birds, of course . . . one of which turned out to be a bit of a puzzler.  Take a look:



This warbler had a strong “Blackpoll-Baybreasted” vibe, but he had too many extra streaks and speckles on his head, belly, and the sides of his breast.  Looking closer, we realized the streaks and speckles were actually remnants of the bird’s juvenal plumage!  Most of the birds that migrate through BBBO molt on the breeding grounds, and then migrate . . . but this little rebel was doing both at once!  You can clearly see the upside down yellow “V” running from the neck down to the flanks – one of the first feather tracts to molt – which has already been replaced, right next to the streaky juvenile plumage still waiting its turn.  So how did we decide between Blackpoll Warbler and Bay-breasted Warbler?  The soles of the feet!  A Bay-breasted Warbler has grayish feet with no more than a hint of yellow, and a Blackpoll has bright yellow feet.  A quick look at the top photo shows dull soles, making our mystery bird a Bay-breasted.

We caught him with a chum – also a first year bird – but with fully molted plumage.  Take a look at how they are “supposed” to look  by the time they reach our station:


Even a couple of birds can make a slow day interesting!

Mostly locals – one a real stunner!

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Monday, Aug 21, 2017.  Today was a slow but steady day of banding.  We banded 19 new birds of 10 species. In addition, 7 recaptures were processed.  The bird of the day was the Gray Catbird (4), followed by the Baltimore Oriole (3). Warbler species included American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler and Northern Waterthrush. Busier days probably lay ahead later this week when a cold front passes through.  –John Waud, Bander In Charge

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Idyllic conditions at the lake

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Sunday August 20, 2017: 17 new birds of 10 species, 13 recaps.  New species:  Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler and Wilson’s Warbler.  Bird of the day was American Redstart with 5 new bands.

It was a crew of one today, and an absolutely perfect morning . . . clear skies, cool and with a light breeze, a couple birds every run, and seven species of warblers.  Walking five miles on a morning like this is nothing short of delightful.

There wasn’t anything terribly remarkable about the day, but the star bird may have been this young male Wilson’s Warbler.  If you look carefully at his cap, you might see some yellow “speckles”.  Those speckles are the trailing edges of the feathers, and they are all frosted in yellowish-green – which is typical of a young male bird in the fall.  Older males will have a relatively solid black cap, without frosting.



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