Exciting news! The first birds ever to be fitted with Motus nanotags at Rushton Woods Preserve have been detected by a Motus receiving station in the Chesapeake Bay. The birds are adult female wood thrush migrating south for the winter, after having spent the breeding season at Rushton. Who knows where they are headed next? Hopefully the Motus network will tell us. Stay tuned!
The flutelike song of the wood thrush is emblematic of summer mornings at Rushton Woods Preserve. Unfortunately, both the wood thrush population and places like Rushton, with over 50 acres of deciduous forest, are rapidly disappearing. The loss is so dramatic that wood thrush are one of eight species of conservation concern identified for study by a recent Competitive State Wildlife Grant awarded to the Willistown Conservation Trust.
Under the direction of Lisa Kiziuk, the Trust’s Director of Bird Conservation, University of Pennsylvania graduate student Amanda Bebel is conducting research on wood thrush as her capstone project. Amanda’s work is contributing additional scientific information about the wood thrush’s complete life cycle. The focus of her research is to learn precisely where they go during the breeding season. Since they nest in Rushton Woods Preserve, it is an ideal place to conduct the study. And the newly expanding Motus network, which electronically tracks birds’ movement, is an ideal research tool.
By attaching tiny nanotags (small radio transmitters) to six adults and three juveniles at Rushton Woods Preserve in Willistown and several more at Bucktoe Creek Preserve in Kennett Square, Amanda followed these birds during their breeding cycle with incredible geospatial precision. Throughout the summer, she used a hand-held tracking device to zero in on the birds to their physical location while general detections were consistently picked up by the local Motus automated receiver stations at both Rushton and Bucktoe. As the birds migrate south this fall, the broader Motus network that extends to South America will pick them up.
This work contributes more information to conservationists about how to better protect and manage wood thrush habitat. Pennsylvania plays a critical role in the conservation of the wood thrush as it supports a significant portion (approximately 8.5%) of the entire nesting population of the species.
What type of plants do they need for survival? How far do they go after they fledge? How much contiguous forest do they need? Where do they stop to rest and refuel on their migration path? We hope to learn more about these questions when Amanda completes her research in spring 2020. Stay tuned!
After peeling yourself out of bed in the pitch black of pre-dawn in deliberate disobedience of your circadian rhythm, you wander through the dark to the bathroom where you reluctantly flip on the light and stand blinking into the mirror with owl sized pupils. You go through the motions of getting yourself dressed, quiet as a mouse so as not to wake your sleeping significant other. Finally you creep to the kitchen to adeptly pour coffee into your thermos without spilling a single precious drop even though the light from the east is still woefully dim.
When you get to the preserve, it is near dawn. The air is fresh, and the trees are alive with tinkling chip notes of migrant birds. As you get to work setting the nets in the hedgerows, you take comfort in the sound of an Eastern Screech Owl singing its haunting song down in the lower woods. You smile as the familiar catbird belts out its harsh petition for the sun to rise now. Above you, a rainbow stretches from one lavender cloud to the next and now you remember what it means to be a part of nature.
Billions of birds now have their sights set somewhere over that rainbow as they travel south by starlight. Our bird banding operation at Rushton Woods helps us monitor which migrants are using our specially managed preserve, understand how long they spend here preparing and fueling up for the journey, learn about populations and lifespans, and study their movements.
This fall has been excellent so far with a catch most days of 90-100 birds despite the warm weather we’ve been experiencing. Some highlights have included Connecticut Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Nashville Warbler, and Worm-eating Warbler. Some of the most abundant species include Gray Catbird and American Goldfinch.
Songbird Banding Open House is Tomorrow Morning (9/14) from 7-10:30 am at Rushton Woods Preserve
Come on out to observe our bird banding, see incredible migratory birds up close, and chat with field scientists.
There’s a lot going on in the woods,
Summer is short for our migratory birds like this dazzling Baltimore Oriole. They grace us with their stunning tropical colors and songs for just a few months before their restless souls are again pulled southbound. The truth is, many of these neotropical migrants would likely call the lower latitudes their real home. The North’s appeal lies only in our temperate protein pulse, set in motion each spring by the freeze/thaw cycles found nowhere else. Rich nutrients from glacial soils migrate to the surface of rivers as it warms, thus supercharging an insect driven food web.
This spring’s banding season was our best spring yet with a total of 608 birds of 51 species. That total number includes 483 brand new birds plus 125 recaptures. All but one of the recaptures were our own birds either banded within the same spring season or in previous years at Rushton. The one outlier, or foreign recovery, was an American Goldfinch that was originally banded last fall as a hatch year bird in Maryland!
April and May set some other records for us as well. We were seeing stripes as Black-and-white Warblers dripped from the trees; sure enough, the data showed that we more than doubled out highest Black-and-white capture (14 in 2017) with a total of 33! Oriole numbers were up as well with 7 Baltimore and 3 Orchard. This could very well be a testament to the rich edge habitat, which is preserved around our Rushton Farm that promotes conservation.
Visitors of all ages, from grade schools to universities, flocked to our banding station this spring to learn about these incredible creatures and how our banding efforts help us understand more about them. Check out our previous blog post to learn more about why we band birds at Rushton. Also please enjoy the galleries below of the highlights from our spring banding season. (Click on the individual photos for slideshow style with captions)
April 2019 Rushton Banding Highlights
May 2019 Rushton Banding Highlights
You can visit our banding station at Rushton Woods Preserve now that we are officially opened to the public for fall migration every Tuesday and Thursday morning (weather permitting) from sunrise until about 11 am. Fall migration extends from September 3rd to the first week of November. Stay tuned here for updates and photos throughout the exciting fall season, which is already off to a roaring start with 104 birds caught this past Tuesday.
There’s a lot going on in the woods,
All in all, it was an extraordinary season, thanks to an exceptional team of licensed banders, ornithologists, volunteers, visitors, students, photographers, and bird lovers. The grand total was 1,010 new birds and 162 recaps of our own. We’ll be out there again next spring, for the love of birds.
There’s a heck of a lot going on in the woods,
P.S. Stay tuned for a special owl report coming to a blog near you.