Sunday August 30, 2020: 33 new birds of 16 species; 18 recaps. No new species today. We have banded a total of 40 species this season, 19 of which are warblers. Bird of the day was American Redstart with 5 new bands, followed by a three-way tie for second between Red-eyed Vireo, Veery and Magnolia Warbler, each with 4.

American Redstart; photo taken Aug 24, 2020

The breeze continued this morning, making banding possible but not ideal. When the wind is too strong, it isn’t safe for the birds to be in the nets (while humans might enjoy roller-coaster rides, birds don’t!), and so we carefully monitor how each net is reacting to both the direction and force of the wind. Luckily, we often find that the leaves on the treetops can flutter and the top branches sway, while at ground level scarcely anything moves. Such was the case today.

American Redstarts are one of our banders’ favorite warblers. They are instantly identifiable to species (at least once they’ve escaped their mousey juvenal plumage), and at least the adult males are easy to age and sex. The young birds and the adult females may present a bit of an aging-sexing challenge, but once you figure out the age, the sex is often pretty easy too.

These insectavorous birds used to be in a monotypic genus (i.e. a genus comprised of just one species) called Setophaga, which means moth-eaters. Recent genetic work shows that they are closely related to the Hooded Warbler, two species of parula, and all of the formerly-Dendroica warblers (such as Yellow Warbler and Magnolia Warbler). So now the genus has more than 30 species! Because there are conventions in how we name birds, however, the genus continues to be called Setophaga as that name was introduced in 1827 and the other generic names weren’t introduced until later.

So . . . do American Redstarts actually eat moths? Yes they do! They’ll eat a variety of insects which they tend to pick off of leaves and twigs, but they can also sally forth like a flycatcher to seize bugs out of the air. Overall a pretty nifty bird.

Today we welcomed Lydia and Cindy back to the crew, and it was like they had never been away. Lydia passed her NABC certification last fall with flying colors (seriously . . . everyone was really impressed!), and this season she’ll start learning the ins and outs of being bander-in-charge. So, she’ll be learning to make decisions about when to open and close nets, how many nets to open, how to monitor the weather while simultaneously making sure net runs and banding is happening in a timely way, and how to serve as a resource for less experienced volunteers.

Thanks also to Megan and Michaela for their excellent help today.

-Andrea Patterson