This week of banding was a whirlwind of feathers, fanatics, and fog. It began with our bi-annual Open House last Saturday, which brought over 80 visitors to the preserve including our old friend, the sun. The crowd was an exuberant mix of children in our Rushton Nature Keepers club, students from University of Pennsylvania, and others of all ages from our immediate community and beyond.
Although our catch left a lot to be desired for us banders, the visitors were thrilled with Gray Catbirds, Ovenbirds, Northern Cardinals, and Common Yellowthroats. As many Gray Catbirds as we band, it is important for us to remember that releasing a common bird back to the wild is still special to someone who never knew such a bird existed in their backyard all summer. And then to imagine it flying hundreds of miles to overwinter near Mayan ruins is even more captivating.
During Saturday’s event, Rushton Nature Keepers had fun extracting plush birds from a demo net set up just for them. They also took measurements on their exceptionally agreeable subjects like wing length, weight, and leg size. This quickly devolved into kids repeatedly tossing the birds back into the net so they could keep extracting the birds. Future net pickers?
The quote of the day came from a little girl holding a diminutive, drab wren before release. “Birds are such extravagant creatures, ” she exclaimed in wide-eyed wonderment.
Wednesday was a gloomy day, but the catch revved up with 40 birds of 12 species. Highlights included a female Indigo Bunting, a luminous male Magnolia Warbler, and a show-stopping White-eyed Vireo. The White-eyed Vireo was determined to have hatched this summer, as evidenced from the grayish instead of white eye. I always get jurassic velociraptor vibes from this bird and am reminded that birds are living dinosaurs. Maybe it’s the intelligent way in which these vireos cock their heads, fearlessly peering at us through those wild white eyes.
Thursday was the grand finale of people and birds. Nets were filled with 35 new birds and 18 recaps of 15 species. So many recaps indicates a bit of a holding pattern for migrants as little movement could occur during the rainy nights we had. Nonetheless, some brave birds must have lifted off after the rain subsided Wednesday night because Thursday did see a more thrush-heavy catch and managed a young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak as well as a Blackpoll Warbler. After breeding in the far northern forests, most of these incredible long-winged warblers shoot out from our northeast coast for an over-water, nonstop, 72-hour flight to the northeastern coast of South America.
Researchers using the cutting edge Motus Wildlife Tracking System of automated radio receiving towers have learned that younger Blackpolls tend to take a safer flight south, hugging the coast after wandering around their natal habitat. This pre-migratory wandering is thought to help the inexperienced birds develop a search image for ideal habitat the following spring.
In partnership with Bird Studies Canada and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, our own Caitlin Welsh is piloting high school level science curriculum around this growing new Motus System (which includes more than 40 receiving stations in Pennsylvania, all strategically positioned to help researchers learn about the movements of birds passing through with tiny nanotogs on their backs). Students from Westtown School will learn how this technology can be used to ultimately help protect birds. Their visit to the Rushton Banding Station on Thursday had a powerful effect on the students who are now able to make an emotional connection from what they will learn in the classroom to these incredible living creatures.
There’s a lot going on in the woods,