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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:

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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:

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

Monday, August 21

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Watch this space!

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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Four new species on a slow day

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Saturday August 19, 2017:  16 new birds of 10 species, 7 recaps.  New species:  Warbling Vireo, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, and Hooded Warbler.  Bird of the day was Gray Catbird with 5 new bands.

It was a relatively slow day, but nice variety kept the morning interesting.  Two fledgling titmice brightened the morning, and a young Baltimore Oriole was a welcome catch after hearing them toodle all morning.

We’ve been mentioning molt as one reason we’re in a quiet part of the season.  This American Robin is molting his greater coverts, tertials, and some primaries and primary coverts.  If you look at the end of the finger in the photo, you can see a feather in its keratin sheath, which protects the feather as it is developing.  Eventually the sheath will flake off, leaving the newly grown feather behind.  You can also see the striking contrast between the faded and worn feathers from last summer, and the dark fresh feathers from this year.

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Molt means feathers grow, but birds are slow

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Thursday August 17, 2017:  16 new birds of 7 species, 9 recaps.  New species:  Magnolia Warbler.  Bird of the day was Gray Catbird with 6 new bands, followed by Red-eyed Vireo with 4 new bands.

This time of year, families across the United States are doing their back-to-school shopping, stocking up on note pads and pencils, crayons and glue sticks, tissues and hand sanitizer.  Many families are also buying piles of new jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers to see their kids through the coming year.  Many birds upgrade their wardrobes in August as well, trading  in their old, worn feathers for fresh new ones.

Look closely at this Common Yellowthroat, and notice its disheveled appearance.  Many of his feathers are noticeably tattered and torn, with nicks and chips afflicting the feather edges.

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This is especially noticeable on his tail:

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But if we take a closer look at the wing, we see signs that this bird has started to replace his faded duds with something better.  In the middle of the wing, you can see two fresh feathers just starting to grow in.

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Over the course of the next few weeks, this Common Yellowthroat will replace every single feather with one that is clean and fresh, and he’ll look sleek and dapper well through the winter and into the spring.  The breeding season will take the largest toll on his feathers, and so, sometime next August after his chicks have fledged, he’ll go shopping once more.

So what does this mean for our banding efforts?  They are slo-o-o-o-w.  Growing feathers is incredibly demanding, and so the birds are active only as much as they need to be to forage.  They stay hidden as much as possible, and we just don’t catch many birds even through there may be dozens in the immediate area.

This doesn’t mean it’s boring at the station this time of year, however!  There is plenty of habitat work to keep us busy, and today we spent nearly 45 minutes stalking a hawk hiding in the tall trees of the swamp.  Eventually identified as a young Broad-winged Hawk, he was incredibly challenging to spot amid all the greenery 50 feet in the air and it was perhaps only luck that we found him at all.

Ugliest Bird Ever!

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Tuesday August 15, 2017:  20 new birds of 11 species, 13 recaps.  New species: Ovenbird and Tennessee Warbler.  Bird of the day was Gray Catbird with 5 new bands.

Yesterday, we caught the world’s cutest bird – the young saw-whet owl.  Today, we caught the world’s ugliest.  This young pewee is sporting a huge growth on his forehead:

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and as if that isn’t bad enough, he also has one on his left side:

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After doing some internet research, we believe this to be a manifestation of avian pox.  We (at BBBO) haven’t seen it manifest itself in this way before, and we were unable to find images on google of North American birds that looked similar.  However, there were dozens of similar photos of Great Tits from Europe that showed lesions that appear to be identical to ours.  This news article in the Daily Mail describes the emergence of the disease in birds in the UK, and references a scientific article freely available on Plos One.

Avian pox is a virus related to small pox, chicken pox, and cow pox. Birds can become infected through contact, by ingesting contaminated food, or by being bitten by mosquitoes carrying the virus.  In wet summers like this one, we often see what we believe is pox on the bills of birds. Here are two other birds captured this summer whose bills show evidence of what we believe is avian pox:

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While birds can recover from avian pox, we suspect the chances for our pewee are slim.  While the vision in his left eye isn’t completely blocked, he must find foraging in the manner of a flycatcher to be incredibly challenging.  Nevertheless, he was perky (albeit without extra fat) when we caught him, and perhaps he’s been able to make up the balance of his diet by gleaning instead of by making aerial sallies.  We released him with our best wishes, which was the best we could offer.

 

Cutest bird ever !!!

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Monday August 14, 2017.  20 new bands of 9 species; 17 recaps.  New species:  Chipping Sparrow and NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL!!!  Bird of the day was a tie between House Wren and Gray Catbird, each with 5 new bands.

It wasn’t even close.  There were no runners-up, no other contenders for the title.  I suppose folks who band plover and tern chicklets on the beaches of Massachusetts and Louisiana might take issue with the claim (and they might even have a point), but today we banded just about the cutest bird we’ve ever seen.  Take a look!

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This is the third daytime saw-whet we’ve captured since 2014.  The first owl found its way into the bottom of the 40-aerial on August 9, 2014 around 7:30 in the morning, and the second blundered into net 27 on July 14, 2016 around 6:30 AM.  Today’s bird also bungled its way into net 27, around 7:30 AM.  Today’s bird appears to be the youngest one we’ve caught, as it’s still in full juvenile plumage.  The 2014 bird was also a youngster but one that had already started its fall (pre-formative) molt, and the 2016 bird was actually an adult (second-year).

Interestingly . . . we also heard duetting Eastern Screech-Owls later in the morning.  Will they be on the docket tomorrow? We can only hope!

 

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