Late September is a thrilling time of abundance in the natural world. As more yellow leaves begin to hustle to the earth ahead of the equinox, the goldenrod finds its stride, and deep purple asters become more plentiful. Butterflies seem to be more omnipresent now than ever, energized by the late season nectar, and their caterpillars can be found hiding under every leaf and bud. Our catch mimics this floral and faunal flamboyance in species richness and numbers.
Even though we were rained out again on Tuesday just like last week, we more than made up for it. We had a great catch on Wednesday of 35 birds with the highlights including a radiant male Magnolia Warbler and a female Scarlet Tanager. Although tanagers nest in Rushton Woods, they are a rare catch because they tend to dwell in the tree canopy high above our nets. Tanagers dine largely on insects, but they also enjoy berries including blackberries, raspberries, huckleberries, serviceberries, mulberries, and strawberries. The only reason we caught this one is because we have a new net nestled in a grove of tall sumac shrubs; she was most likely feeding on the velveteen berries of the sumac. She will continue south, across the Gulf of Mexico, to her wintering grounds in South America.
Yesterday, our catch was even more sensational — 47 birds of a dazzling 19 species! A handful of American Redstarts, a bushel of Black-throated Blues, lots of Common Yellowthroats and Ovenbirds, a Black-and-white Warbler, a vivid Tennessee Warbler, and the prized Connecticut Warbler. Wood Thrush migrants are now joined by their cousins, the Swainson’s Thrush and Gray-cheeked Thrush. The Gray-cheeked is the most northern breeding of our thrushes, nesting in underbrush near the edge of the arctic tundra, and is an infrequently seen skulker like the shy Connecticut Warbler.
The other little surprise was a goofy young Yellow-bellied Flycatcher who kept his fuzzy eyelids tightly closed when in the bander’s grip in the hopes of tricking us into letting him go prematurely. I could see him peeking out from under those sneaky little lids though…you can’t fool me, you sly fly!
Last but not least, a couple of crazy cool cats made their debut — caterpillars, that is. A Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar was curled up in its silk day bed it had spun for itself in a spicebush leaf. We marveled at how incredible nature is for this caterpillar to so closely resemble a snake. The false eyespots on its thorax, coupled with the rearing up action, is enough to deter any sane bird from turning it into a spicebush twinkie.
Tomorrow is our Open House from 6:30 am- 10 :30 am. We’ll welcome close to 80 people including University of Pennsylvania students, Rushton Nature Keepers, and everyone else throughout the course of the mayhem, I mean morning. We hope that all visitors leave feeling closer to nature.
There’s a lot going on in the woods,
Strikingly different from the deep calico colors it flaunts during breeding season, the fall Chestnut-sided Warbler is still a sight to behold. Sporting a stunning lime green poncho and snow white underparts, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the present meadow landscape of Rushton, in which the rich yellow blanket of goldenrod is broken up by fluffy white seed tufts. Banders were thrilled to have two of these birds in the hand this morning to compare plumages of two different ages and sexes; this species has been absent from our banding records since September of 2015.
As a foliage gleaner of small stature, the Chestnut-sided Warbler is a bird that must stop frequently during migration to build fat stores from foraged insects in order to make it to Central American wintering grounds. The Veery on the other hand, like the one shown below, is a formidable athlete with powerful wings that can propel it 160 miles in one night —even over open ocean—on its way to central and Southern Brazil. The orange glow in the photo below is a large amount of subcutaneous fat stored in the furcular hollow (wishbone area) of a Veery we banded today at Rushton. It is the mighty four-cylinder engine that powers this ball of avian adrenaline.
Incidentally, the Veery pictured here weighed a whopping 47 grams, which was a good 12 grams or so more than the other Veeries we banded yesterday. The Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a hefty bird with a heavy seed-eating bill, only weighed 43.8 grams if that gives you a better idea of the size of this Veery. This extra weight is strictly from the stored fat, which birds only carry as fuel for migration.
All in all, we had a nice catch this week, despite having to cancel Tuesday because of the abnormally wet conditions and swampy net lanes. Our “make-up day” yesterday produced 40 birds of 13 species, and today’s total was 45 birds of 16 species. Enjoy the photo highlights below.
The Rushton banding crew was back at it this morning, collecting as much data as possible before the temperature exceeded the safe limit of 78 degrees. Although it is important to collect an accurate census of the migratory birds using our protected open space here in Willistown, it is even more important to us to keep each individual bird as comfortable and healthy as possible. Soon autumn will reign over summer, and the mornings will be crisp and cool— just what a fully feathered athlete prefers.
Even though we closed the nets over an hour early, we still caught 33 birds of thirteen species. It was a quality assortment containing little gems like the Magnolia Warbler pictured above, which is making its first journey from the boreal forest of northern climes to the mangrove forests of the tropics.
Other interesting species included a scrappy young Eastern Towhee, one of the elusive Connecticut Warblers that elicit envy from listers (those nutty birders who keep life lists of species seen), a Canada Warbler, and a show-stopping adult male American Redstart. Redstarts flash their bright tails to startle insects out from hiding; the rictal bristles, specialized feathers around the bill, may also assist in snagging insects by helping the bird sense its orientation. The bristles do not actually capture insects, but are an essential sensory structure like a cat’s whiskers —if I dare compare cats to birds.
There’s a lot going on in the woods,