Return of the boot-sucking mud

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Monday April 27, 2020: 20 new birds of 4 species; 13 recaps.  New species:  American Goldfinch.  Bird of the day was Ruby-crowned Kinglet with 14 new bands.

Yesterday’s rain continued through the early morning, and it kept us closed for the first four hours of our scheduled day.  When we could finally open, things were hopping! Ruby-crowned Kinglets were again everywhere in the bushes, and they were joined by White-throated Sparrows scratching on the ground below.

Unfortunately, the rain also gifted us with something less pleasant . . . mud.  Early in the spring, our trails are often relatively dry, but it isn’t long before they are a muddy squishy mess.  In exceptionally bad years, we are forced to wear muck boots through the end of May as we slog through the mud that is ankle deep in places.  This year, most of the trails have been passable and we’ve worn muck boots mostly for convenience.  But now, they are almost mandatory as there are standing puddles and sticky quagmires in several locations.  We’re keeping our head up and our chin down . . . or is it that we’re keeping our chin up and our head down?  Whichever it is, we’re trying to stay positive as we try not to lose a boot!


-Andrea Patterson

Just a half, thank you.

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Sunday April 26, 2020:  10 new birds of 4 species; 4 recaps.  Bird of the day was Ruby-crowned Kinglet with 6 new bands.

We were only able to be open for the first two hours of the day, as rain moved in and shut us down.  In those two hours, we did catch more birds than on many of this season’s “complete” days, which made it extra-disappointing that we couldn’t continue.

While we are still getting new Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned are the little kings of the station now. Slightly larger than their golden cousins, these almost hyperactive birds never stop moving through the bushes and trees.  Turning this way and that with a flick of their tail, they beg you to look almost a moment too late as they flit away to another branch.  Their songs are equally as delightful  . . . they are more complex (and louder) than you might imagine.  We think RCKIs have the most beautiful eyes.  It’s as if they are wearing false eyelashes and a bit of white eyeliner, and they call to mind the cartoon eyes of manga and anime drawings.


-Andrea Patterson

Frosty and Slow

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Saturday April 25, 2020:  8 new birds of 7 species; 9 recaps.  Bird of the day was Hermit Thrush with two new bands.

We started the morning below zero (again!), but it quickly warmed up a bit and we had a lovely calm, clear day for banding.

Unfortunately . . . there were just not that many birds around!  Although I walked 13,000 steps and Emily walked as many or more, we ended the day with only eight new birds.  We hate to be idle at the station, however, so we took the opportunity to move some net poles, to re-set all the guylines on our six aerial nets, and to start cutting down a huge Multiflora Rose bush which has grown up in the “backyard” of the station.  Multiflora Rose is a non-native species, and it can form dense impenetrable thickets that displace native vegetation.  We have eliminated three large (10 foot-tall!) bushes at the station, and the bush in the “backyard” is the last of the really big plants.  There are numerous small stems that spring up here and there, but we manage them fairly easily by cutting at least twice a year.

-Andrea Patterson

Recap kinglets and a big brown bird

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Friday April 24, 2020:  17 new birds of 9 species; 37 recaps.  New species:  House Wren, Brown Thrasher, and Slate-colored Junco.  Bird of the day was Ruby-crowned Kinglet with six new bands, but American Robin made a valiant try and ended up with four new bands.

The story continues to be all about recaptured kinglets!  We are getting new birds here and there, but far and away we are kept busiest extracting kinglets that have been banded in previous days.  We are starting to recognize a few of them . . . #799 and #800 in particular seem determined to try out every net in the vicinity.  We first banded RCKI #799 on April 20th.  We didn’t see him on the 21st or 22nd (we were closed), but we recaptured him three times on the 23rd and two times on the 24th.  The first capture of each day, we bring him to the building for a quick re-assessment and weigh-in, but otherwise he is released at the net.

One neat capture today was our first Brown Thrasher of the season.  These birds are part of the mimic family, along with Northern Mockingbirds and Gray Catbirds.  Mockingbirds are the best mimics of the three, and they tend to repeat themselves in sets of four.  So, you might hear one say “beep beep beep beep . . . cheerily cheerily cheerily cheerily . . . witchy witchy witchy witchy.”  Mockingbirds are such good mimics that it’s easy to be fooled into thinking you are hearing another bird, and it can be fun to keep a list of all the songs you’ve heard a mockingbird sing. Thrashers tend to repeat themselves in sets of two, and their mimicry is not quite as good as that of the mockingbird.  Catbirds really just sort of chortle, and it’s a bit of a stretch to call it mimicry . . . except for their cat’s miaow!  We catch hundreds of catbirds and handfuls of thrashers, but mockingbirds are rare for us at the station.


-Andrea Patterson

When you’ve banded all the birds . . .

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Thursday April 23, 2020:  27 new birds of 11 species, 38 recaptures.  New species:  Eastern Phoebe, Swamp Sparrow, and Pine Warbler.  Bird of the day was Ruby-crowned Kinglet with 13 new bands.

After two days of wind, rain and snow, we were due for a pleasant morning and fate delivered!  It wasn’t an especially birdy day, but it was at least sunny with just a hint of breeze.  The chart below shows a comparison of our newly banded birds v. recaptures throughout the day.  The blue area shows how many new birds were banded at each hour – notice how the number declines after the first hour or so. The difference between the orange line and the blue line, shows how many recaps were processed.  So, early in the day we banded a lot of new birds and just a couple recaps, but as the day wore on, the number of new birds declined sharply and almost every bird we encountered was previously banded.  When you’ve banded all the birds, it’s time to close shop!

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Our first net run of the morning yielded the star bird of the day and our first warbler of spring – a handsome male Pine Warbler.  We don’t catch Pines very often; we’ve only banded 26 of them since 1986.  All but three were captured in spring, with two captured in the summer and one in the fall.   Pine Warblers are not uncommon along the lakeshore in Monroe County, but – as their name suggests – they do prefer pine trees and our station has just one small stand of about 6 or 7 conifers.  They will apparently use deciduous forest during migration (more so in the spring than in the fall), but a quick look at our database shows we captured most of them near our piney nets.


Pine Warblers are unusual in a couple of ways.  They are the only warbler to eat seeds; you might even find one picking at your suet or your platform feeder.  They are also unusual in that unlike most warblers, they spend their entire life cycle in North America.  Most of our warblers migrate to Central or South America for the winter, but Pines head to the southeastern US.  If you’ve birded Florida in in the winter, you’ve likely seen them at the very tops of trees.  Finally, Pine Warblers replace feathers only once a year – they do not have an alternate molt in the spring.  They do, however, appear brighter yellow in the summer months, because the greyish tips to their feathers wear off over the winter months, revealing the sunny yellow beneath.

Hope you see some at your feeders this spring!

– Andrea Patterson









April is the Cruelest Month

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Tuesday April 21 and Wednesday April 22, 2020:  no new birds, and no recaps.  We were closed due to high winds of 20-30 mph (gusting to 40 mph or more), rain, and snow.  Will spring never come???

Grackles are Gorgeous!

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Monday April 20, 2020:  6 new birds of 3 species; 8 recaps.  No new species.  Bird of the day was Ruby-crowned Kinglet with 4 new bands.

Another chilly morning, with a bit of north wind off the lake.  Luckily the sunny blue skies kept the cold from our bones as we walked the trails – newly soggy from the last night’s rain.

Spring is an interesting time at Braddock Bay; you can see and hear things changing daily.  One of the seasonal movements we watch for, involves a much-villified bird – the Common Grackle.  Early in the spring (March through April), these birds hang out in large flocks near the end of our driveway, but rarely penetrate much further into the station.  By the end of April, they largely disappear.  To where – we aren’t sure.  They breed in the area, and a grackle fledgling is often our first hatch-year bird of the year so they can’t go far.  It’s early enough that they are still lurking on the driveway, and today we were lucky enough to catch one.  They are fairly large for our nets, and they have a tendency to “bounce out” instead of getting stuck, but this time a smaller female found herself safely ensconced in one of the hammocks in net 1.

These birds are feisty and bossy, and many people who feed birds resent the grackle for his gluttonous, bullying behavior.  But, there is something beautiful about them as well. While their feathers are colored only with melanin, they are structured in such a way that they glimmer with iridescence in the sunlight.  The astonishing teals, purples, pinks, and rusty-oranges in this close-up from our grackle today, are all a product of the way her feathers are put together.


Next time you see a grackle, take a brief moment and appreciate the shimmer!

-Andrea Patterson

Cut Short by the Wind

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Sunday April 19, 2020:  5 new birds of 5 species; 2 recaps.  New species:  Hermit Thrush and Northern Cardinal.

The forecast for the morning was not great, but we headed out nonetheless to see how much of the day we could get in before the winds hit.  The morning was relatively calm until about three hours after sunrise, when the breeze picked up and we made the judicious decision to close before the gusts became too strong.

We only caught five new birds in our truncated day.  The flocks of kinglets from yesterday seem to have disappeared, and nothing much was singing from the brush.  One of the five new birds was a lovely Brown Creeper.


These tiny birds weigh between 7 and 9 grams (that’s three in an envelope for a first-class stamp), and they are neat in so many ways.  Their feathers are dappled in a dozen shades of white, brown and rust so that they blend in to the tree trunks; their toes and claws are long to aid climbing but their legs are short so they can hug the tree closely; their tails are stiff and pointed to act as a prop; and their bills are long and curved to help pry insects out from under bark.  If you’ve seen them outside, they were likely climbing up tree trunks using their signature spiral-up-and-fly-down maneuver.  If you’re lucky, you’ve discovered one of their nests lodged safely behind the loose bark of a dead or dying tree.

The Brown Creeper is the only member of its family to live in North America; 10 other species live in Europe and Asia.  Superficially similar to the woodcreepers of Central and South America, they are not at all closely related and the similarities of morphology and behavior are a result of convergent evolution.

And did we mention they need only 10 calories a day???

-Andrea Patterson

Where you been all week?

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Saturday April 18, 2020: 28 new birds of 8 species; 29 recaptures.  New species:  Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Field Sparrow, and Brown-headed Cowbird.  Bird of the day was Golden-crowned Kinglet with 18 new bands; 6 Golden-crowned Kinglets initially banded on other days were also recaptured, bringing the total number of GCKIs handled to 24.


Oh, what a beautiful morning!  We actually started the day above freezing, and we had glorious blue skies almost all morning.  The temperature difference was noticeable, and we were grateful to be basking in the sunshine after three days of shivering.

Our first couple of runs brought in a handful of new kinglets – both Golden and Ruby – but most of the rest of the morning was quiet with occasional recaptures of birds we had already seen.  Previously banded birds were recaptured 29 times today . . . but that number represented only 12 individual birds, some of which were banded earlier in the morning.  For the most part, we let these “frequent fliers” go at the nets if they’ve already been handled once during the morning.

What was puzzling, though, was that we recaptured six Golden-crowned Kinglets from previous days.  Five had been banded during the spring “pre-season”  . . . two from April 12th, one from April 8th, and two from April 5th.  The sixth bird was originally banded last October, and has presumably been around ever since.  So what’s the puzzle?  Where were these guys the last three days?!?  They were here a week ago, then the kinglets all completely disappeared, and now they are back!  And it isn’t just a new crop of kinglets – some of them have been around for days or even months!  Where they disappeared to, and why they came back, is a mystery.  Whatever the reason, we were happy to see them today, and we hope to see some new ones in the days to come.

-Andrea Patterson

Constant Effort . . . Little Reward

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Friday April 17, 2020.  2 new birds of 2 species; 0 recaps.  New species:  White-throated Sparrow.

The star bird of the day was a truly handsome White-throated Sparrow.  Crisp and clean, he (or she) showed the vivid stripes and throat of a white-morph of this species.  We’ll tell you more about white and tan-morph sparrows on a day when we catch them both – but they are really quite nifty with a fascinating life history.


BBBO is a constant effort mist-netting station, which means that we set a consistent banding schedule and we stick with it as long as the weather cooperates.  We don’t pick and choose days based on what looks good, and we don’t sleep in because we are feeling lazy, and we don’t close early because we are bored.  It’s all a part of our scientific methodology, and it helps us avoid introducing confounding variables into our dataset.

Today was one of those days that makes you wish we weren’t a constant effort station!  With only two birds on a dozen walks, we were dreadfully bored.  There is only so much sweeping, cleaning, organizing, and veg trimming you can do in a morning! Maybe next week it will pick up a bit . . . we can only hope!

-Andrea Patterson

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