Wednesday September 6, 2017

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It was a “Veery busy day” with 6 Veerys plus 59 other new birds and 11 recaps. We had 22 species.   Thirteen of the 22  were warbler species.
New to the station this fall was a Northern Parula, Lincoln’s Sparrow,
and a Cape May warbler. Each net run brought in birds  which was great for our visitors.






Photos by Peggy Keller

Peggy Keller and Cindy Marino, BICs



Triple Black-throated Green Warblers!

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Friday, September 1

It was the chilliest morning so far for the current Fall banding season and the first few net checks yielded only a few birds, but starting around hour two, that changed and we had decent numbers of birds to keep the banders and net pickers busy.

We banded 53 new birds and there were ten recaps. New species for the season was Nashville Warbler. There was a tie for bird of the day between Magnolia Warbler and Wilsons Warbler, with 7 each.

Cindy Marino, BICFullSizeRender-3Photo by Peggy Keller

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

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