Something to Chat About

Yellow-breasted Chat (Hatch Year) banded on Tuesday at Rushton. Photo by Blake Goll

Another dreary, drippy morning on Tuesday surprisingly produced a season record of 54 birds spanning a dazzling 20 species.  Highlights included Gray-cheeked Thrushes, another prized Connecticut Warbler, the first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season, and an increase in numbers of individuals of several species as compared to previous years—including Black-throated Blue Warblers, Indigo Buntings, and Eastern Towhees.  The grande finale was a glorious Yellow-breasted Chat, the second ever for Rushton!

The Yellow-breasted Chat is a large, chunky warbler with an atypical song that is more similar to the varied, staccato songs of catbirds and mockingbirds than to its more refined sounding relatives in the warbler family.  Dining mostly on spiders and insects in dense thickets, it also feasts on berries as evidenced by the traces of wild grapes on this chat’s bill.
Although this was undoubtedly a migrant, chats could theoretically breed at Rushton; we have everything a chat could ever want like dense shrubbery of blackberry bushes, sumac, multiflora rose, and honeysuckle.  Perhaps on its way back north from winter in the tropics, it will remember Rushton and decide to start a family here.  Never mind those pushy jewelers peddling their silver bracelets from the shady shack in the hedgerow.
Connecticut Warbler banded at Rushton. Photo by Blake Goll
Female Eastern Towhee banded on Tuesday. Photo by Blake Goll
Gray-cheeked Thrush banded Tuesday at Rushton. Photo by Blake Goll
One of our banding volunteers carefully blows the feathers aside to assess fat stores of a migratory Northern Waterthrush. Photo by Blake Goll
Students from Strath Haven High School experienced nature like never before as they crowded around the banding table in their pajamas (they mumbled something about homecoming school spirit week).  They were touched by these creatures as they guessed how many nickels a Common Yellowthroat weighed and learned of their arduous journeys to Central America.
Strath Haven student releasing a Common Yellowthroat on Tuesday. Photo by Blake Goll
The nets were still on fire on Wednesday with 42 new birds, 7 recaps, and a total of 14 species.  As I opened the woodland nets in the dawn haze, I got chills as high-pitched “weep” calls echoed from every corner of the dark woods.  It was as if I was surrounded by spring peepers in a second spring.  They were the distinct contact calls of Swainson’s Thrush, reserved specifically for migration.  These were birds that probably just touched down after a long night of travel and were checking in with each other before breakfast as the sun came up.
White-throated Sparrow banded at Rushton. Photo by Celeste Sheehan
White-throated Sparrows are now outnumbering Gray Catbirds as the fall migration plays out.  Rain kept us from banding on Thursday, but we will be back again next week, and the next and the next.   If you have been meaning to stop by to see us, you have three more weeks: every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 6:30-11 am.
Dewy dahlia bud at Rushton Farm. Photo by Blake Goll
There’s a lot going on in the woods,
Blake
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Rushton Conservation Center and dahlias for days. Photo by Blake Goll

MAPS and Moths

Juvenile Wood Thrush.  Photo by Bracken Brown.
Juvenile Wood Thrush. Photo by Bracken Brown.
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MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship)  banding is almost over for the summer with just one more session to go.  Be sure to read the last section of the previous blog post, “Sayonara Spring…“, to learn more about this rigorous, national scientific research effort.

July was hot and wet and started off very slow with little more than ten birds a day and hardly any babies.  However, the past couple of weeks have shown a marked increase in birds and bird babies!  As you can see from the chart below that breaks down our total MAPS catch each year starting in 2011, this year’s baby boom appears to  have been delayed by several of periods from last year (each  period is 10 days and there are 8 periods each summer).  Last year, the boom happened in Period 3 with 26 birds, whereas this year it didn’t occur until Period 6 with 23 birds.  This delay was probably linked to the slow,cool spring and overabundance of rain in early summer. 2011 was just an exceptionally great year for our birds and probably abnormal.

Pd.    2011-2012-2013

1)    26- 19 -10
2)    32 -19 – 17
3)    27 – 26 – 16
4)    23 – 25 – 11
5)    43 – 31 – 13
6)    32  17   23
7)    26 -23 – 24
8)    34 – 24  –

Last week was the best this summer with 24 birds including hatching year (hatched this summer) Gray Catbirds, Wood Thrush, Carolina Wren,  Blue Jay and Ovenbird.

Hatch Year Gray Catbird.  Photo by Blake Goll
Hatch Year Gray Catbird. Photo by Blake Goll
Hatch Year Blue Jay.  Photo by Bracken Brown.
Hatch Year Blue Jay. Photo by Bracken Brown.  His tail is still growing in!
Hatch Year Blue Jay showing flight feather molt.  Photo by Bracken Brown
Hatch Year Blue Jay showing flight feather molt. Photo by Bracken Brown
Ovenbird.  Photo by Blake Goll
Ovenbird. Photo by Blake Goll

The hatch year Ovenbird was significant because, although these are usually the bulk of our catch during the summer, this year we have only caught two Ovenbirds.  We suspect it was not a good year for breeding Ovenbirds in Rushton Woods either because of all the rain or an increase in predators like chipmunks.  Ovenbirds are vulnerable to forest floor predators and flooding from rain because they build their nests right on the ground amongst the leaf litter.

Pictured below are other great birds we’ve banded thus far during our 2013 MAPS season.

Hatch Year Downy Woodpecker.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Hatch Year Downy Woodpecker. Photo by Blake Goll.
White-eyed Vireo.  Photo by Blake Goll
White-eyed Vireo. Photo by Blake Goll
Veery
Veery

Uropygial gland (preen gland) on Veery.  This gland secretes preen oil, which birds spread around their feathers to help with waterproofing and protection from mites and the like.
Uropygial gland (preen gland) on a Veery. This gland located at the base of the tail secretes preen oil, which birds spread around their feathers to help with waterproofing, feather grooming and protection from mites and the like.
Catbird with band.  Photo by Blake Goll
Gray Catbird with band. Photo by Blake Goll
Taking wing measurements of a partly leucistic Gray Catbird.  Notice the three white tails feathers, or rectrices.
Taking wing measurements of a partly leucistic Gray Catbird. Notice the three white tail feathers, or rectrices, that are normally all gray.
Hatch Year Gray Catbird showing off his scantily feathered thigh, which is a juvenal characteristic we look for.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Hatch Year Gray Catbird showing off his scantily feathered thigh, which is a juvenal characteristic we look for to help us age birds this time of year. Photo by Blake Goll.
Eastern Wood Peewee.  Photo by Blake Goll
Adult Eastern Wood Peewee. Photo by Blake Goll
Common Yellowthroat brood patch with egg shells stuck to it!  A brood patch is the patch of skin on the female's belly that gets highly vascularized after she picks the feathers out.  This allows her to regulate the temperature of her eggs more efficiently.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Common Yellowthroat brood patch with egg shells stuck to it! A brood patch is the patch of skin on the female’s belly that gets highly vascularized after she picks the feathers out. This allows her to regulate the temperature of her eggs more efficiently. Photo by Blake Goll.
Adult male Common Yellowthroat.  Photo by Gloria Ives
Adult male Common Yellowthroat. Photo by Gloria Ives

National Moth Week 

Did you know National Moth Week was last week, July 20-28?  Or that National Moth Week even exists?  Every week, spring through fall, can be moth week!  If you’re looking for a surprisingly fun and easy nature activity to do with your kids this week, try mothing!  Mothing is sort of like birding; it’s simply the act of discovering and enjoying these silent, winged creatures of the night in order to connect to nature and contribute to  their conservation.    As birding is more enjoyable with binoculars, mothing is made more enjoyable with a digital camera that can capture the minute details that our eyes can’t see.  Through the lens of your camera, I guarantee you’ll be blown away by the beautiful colors, patterns and diversity of the moths in your backyard!

Clymene Moth we found in Rushton woods during MAPS banding one morning.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Clymene Moth we found in Rushton Woods during MAPS banding one morning. Photo by Blake Goll.

Now, how do you find these moths at night? One way is to simply turn on your porch light and take close-up pictures of the moths that come to it.  Another way is to set up a black light with an extension cord out in your yard and shine it on a large white sheet on a clothesline.  The moths that are attracted to the light will rest on the sheet, allowing you to observe them and get pictures.  The theory behind moths being attracted to lights is that they navigate by the light of the moon, so light disorients them.  Another theory is that UV light stimulates pheromone receptors on the moths’ antennae, luring them in.

Junior Birders at Rushton investigating moths on a sheet.
Junior Birders at Rushton investigating our moths on a sheet lit by a black light.
Ambiguous moth
Ambiguous Moth

Then there’s the Bait and Wait method for those moths that aren’t into the light.  For this method, you need to make a gross concoction of beer, rotten fruit like bananas, sugar, maple syrup , and anything else along those lines you can think of.  If you have time, let this mixture ferment for a few days, although it’s not mandatory.  Paint the mixture on some trees about an hour before dusk and then go back and check the trees every 30 minutes or so after dark.  Sneak up on the moths quietly (they can hear!) and with a red light if you can, to avoid scaring them off before you snap your picture.  If you use a regular flashlight, you’ll be able to see their eyes shining in the light as you approach! Time to get your stealth on.  I’ve found that some species are more shy than others.

Ultronia Underwing.  Photo by Blake Goll
Ultronia Underwing. Photo by Blake Goll

As with birding, it’s important to report your mothing observations to a database.  If you get a chance to try to identify the moths you find you can submit your sightings (with picture proof) to BAMONA (Butterflies and Moths of North America).  This website is a great reference for learning about moth and butterflies and is an attempt to collect and share species information and occurrence data.   Another great website for learning about moths and their identification is John Himmelman’s “Moths in a Connecticut Yard”.  On his website, Himmelman also displays his wonderful books, including children’s books, about moths and night-singing insects.

It is  especially important to report your moth data because there is so much we don’t know about these elusive creatures.  While there are only about 1,000 butterfly species in North America, there are 11,000 moth species! There is much more to learn about moths and their distribution in order to be able to contribute to their conservation.  Every night you turn on your porch light, you have the chance to be a citizen scientist and contribute to our knowledge of moths.  Plus it’s fun and exciting!  On a good night of mothing, you can easily find over a dozen different moth species, and you can attract different species at different times of the year ( during spring, summer and fall). It really is quite astounding!

Moths are an important part of the environment for a number of reasons.  They are a valuable source of food for bats, which are in dire need of all the help they can get in light of White-nose Syndrome (watch this documentary to learn more about this sad environmental disaster), and the moth caterpillars are a vital part of the diet that most adult songbirds feed their nestlings.  Unfortunately, moths and other flying insects have been declining for several decades, which is negatively affecting birds that rely on them like Purple Martins and other aerial insectivores.  This is just another reason why it’s so important to get more citizen scientists to take an interest in moths.  The more we know about their distribution and biology, the better we are able to conserve them.

In addition to providing food for birds and bats, moths actually do a lot of pollinating of our fruits and vegetables long after the bees have gone to bed.  This month, we held a mothing night at Rushton Woods Preserve and Farm for our Junior Birders and found that Rushton supports a variety of these night pollinating mysteries.

The 3.5- acre sustainable farm was designed to be a  nature preserve that enhances and complements nature while providing more food per acre for the community than any traditional large-scale farm.  In the five years since the farm was started, we’ve documented an increase in human members, migratory birds and pollinating insects at Rushton.  (Read page 37 of the Land Trust Alliance’s summer publication to learn more about the unique Rushton Farm).

Rushton Farm.  Photo by Blake Goll
Rushton Farm. Photo by Blake Goll
Rushton Farm.  Photo by Blake Goll
Rushton Farm. Photo by Blake Goll

Until this month, however, no one thought to check out Rushton’s moth diversity!

Pictured below are some of the beautiful moths we discovered and reported.  Two were new reports for the county and one is in the process of being confirmed by BAMONA as the first for Pennsylvania!  It just goes to show that you never know what you might discover when you go looking for moths in the night…

Texas Mocis (1st for Chester County).  Photo by Blake Goll.
Texas Mocis (1st for Chester County). Photo by Blake Goll.
Badwing (1st for Chester County).  Photo by Sheryl Johnson.
Badwing (1st for Chester County). Photo by Sheryl Johnson.
Black tailed Diver.  Photo by Blake Goll.  Not 100% positive on this ID.
Black -tailed Diver. Photo by Blake Goll. Not 100% positive on this ID.
American Idia.  Photo by Blake Goll
American Idia. Photo by Blake Goll
Black-banded Owlet.  Photo by Blake Goll
Black-banded Owlet. Photo by Blake Goll
Black-bordered Lemon.  Photo by Blake Goll
Black-bordered Lemon. Photo by Blake Goll
Celery Leaftier.  Photo by Blake Goll
Celery Leaftier. Photo by Blake Goll
Delicate Cycnia.  Photo by Blake Goll
Delicate Cycnia. Photo by Blake Goll
Flame-shouldered Dart.  Photo by Blake Goll
Flame-shouldered Dart. Photo by Blake Goll.  1st for PA??
Ipsilon Dart.  Photo by Blake Goll
Ipsilon Dart. Photo by Blake Goll.  (The nasty-looking glob is the moth bait concoction!)
Glossy Black Idia.  Photo by Blake Goll
Glossy Black Idia. Photo by Blake Goll
Horrid Zale.  Photo by Blake Goll
Horrid Zale. Photo by Blake Goll
Splendid Palpita.  Photo by Blake Goll
Splendid Palpita. Photo by Blake Goll
White-headed Grape Leaffolder
White-headed Grape Leaffolder.  Photo by Blake Goll
Ultronia Underwing
Ultronia Underwing
Ultronia Underwing.  Photo by Blake Goll
Ultronia Underwing. Photo by Blake Goll

Sometimes you don’t need lights or bait , just a bit of luck!  This Tuliptree Beauty landed on my arm while my nieces and I were mothing at home!

No, that is not a tattoo! It’s a very friendly Tuliptree Beauty.
Tuliptree Beauty on my arm!
Tuliptree Beauty on my arm!

Here’s a large Waved Sphinx we had to extract from one of our nets while bird banding last week!  I don’t know how Lisa Kiziuk did it, but she’s Director of our Bird Conservation Program for a reason!  If you can gently extract a delicate moth out of a net, I’m pretty sure you can extract any bird.

Waved Sphinx moth. Photo by Blake Goll
Waved Sphinx moth. Photo by Blake Goll

And here’s an uncommon, spectacular moth my sister found on her doorstep this weekend.  It’s an Imperial Moth, in the Royal Silkworm Moth family (with Luna Moths).  The larva feed on pines.

Imperial Moth.  Photo by Brian Lewis.
Imperial Moth. Photo by Brian Lewis.

There’s a lot going on in the woods,

Blake

DSCN0859

Spring Songbird Banding Kicks Off this Week plus Beauty in the Brambles Workshops

White-throated Sparrow singing.  Photo by Blake Goll
White-throated Sparrow. Photo by Blake Goll

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“Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody…..Oh Canada, Canada, Canada….”.  However you interpret the angelically melodious song of the White-throated Sparrow, it is undoubtedly one of the sweetest bird songs to grace our ears.  Unfortunately, these remaining precious songsters will soon be back in Canada and New England where they breed.  The replacements for the White-throats and the Dark-eyed Juncos are quickly flooding through our area, inundating us with a flurry of new colors, songs and activity.

Spring is an exciting time already, aside from the return of the birds:  spring peepers are cheerily chirping away and the dreamy whirring of toads fills the night air with vernal euphoria, salamanders are bustling about the forest floor on wet nights, cherry blossoms and red maple buds are bursting open, and spring beauties and other enchanting woodland wildflowers are taking advantage of the light before leafout.

Red-backed Salamander with eggs.  Photo by Adrian Binns
Red-backed Salamander with eggs. Photo by Adrian Binns.   Our PA Young Birders were delighted to find sallies like these under logs last month!
Pickerel Frog found by our Young Birders last month.  Photo by Adrian Binns.
Pickerel Frog found by our Young Birders last month. Photo by Adrian Binns.

If spring were a cake though, the birds would be the icing… and what good is a cake without icing?

On Tuesday, April 16th, we once again raised our mist nets to monitor the avian species diversity and abundance  using Rushton Woods Preserve and Farm as a stopover site during migration.  And this is not just any nature preserve and farm; this is both a sustainable farm and a globally significant IBA (Important Bird Area)  coexisting and mutually benefiting each other, while demonstrating the benefits of low impact land management techniques on bird populations.  Learn more about the farm and stay up to date on both the feathers and the food it supports by following The Wild Carrot, Rushton Farm’s brand new blog!!

Rushton Farm
Rushton Farm

You are invited to observe our bird banding program every Tuesday and Thursday morning from April 18-May 21.

We open the mistnets at 6am and close them at 11am, so you are welcome to come visit us at Rushton anytime within those hours.  The earlier hours usually produce the most birds because that’s when they tend to be most active, feeding and refueling from their night’s journey.  Note: we do not band if it rains.

(Rushton Woods Preserve is at the corner of Goshen and Delchester Roads in Newtown Square, PA with the entrance on Delchester Road opposite 912 Delchester Road, Newtown Square PA 19073.)

Intern, Todd Alleger, banding a sparrow.  Photo by Justin Thompson
Intern, Todd Alleger, banding a sparrow. Photo by Justin Thompson
Tree Swallow at Rushton.
Tree Swallow at Rushton.  Photo by Fred de Long.

The office air is getting stale and we are excited to get back in the field amongst the birds and the land!  The handsome Tree Swallows arrived at the farm a couple of weeks ago in their tuxedos and are beginning to claim their real estate (and their women!).  The bluebird guys are stunning the lady blues with their breathtaking plumage and lovely, stammering songs. Brilliant red Northern Cardinal males are enjoying this time before the leafout when they can sit on conspicuous,  still bare branches and sing their hearts out to their mates.

Tree Swallow.  Photo by Adrian Binns.
Tree Swallow. Photo by Adrian Binns.
Northern Cardinal.  Photo by Justin Thompson
Northern Cardinal. Photo by Justin Thompson

Purple Martin scouts have returned to the Willistown area from South America and will continue arriving in the coming weeks.   Northbound flocks of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers are moving through along with some Pine Warblers, kinglets and even Hermit Thrush.  Purple Finches are showing up at bird feeders around the area, so be sure to look twice at the birds you think are House Finches.  Eastern Phoebes are investigating houses, porch lights, bridges and other man made structures on which to build their nests.  Eastern Towhees are noisily scratching around the leaf litter looking for seeds, berries, spiders, insects and snails and telling us, “Drink you Teea!!”

Some early birds have been busy for awhile now: Great Horned Owl chicks in the area are leaving their nests, and Black Vulture chicks will be hatching soon!

Great Horned Owl chicks in Villanova.  Photo by Adrian Binns
Great Horned Owl chicks in Villanova. Photo by Adrian Binns
Great Horned Owl mama in Villanova.  Photo by Adrian Binns.
Great Horned Owl mama in Villanova. Photo by Adrian Binns.
Black Vultures nesting in old barn.  Photo by Fred de Long.
Black Vultures nesting in old barn. Photo by Fred de Long.

Other migratory birds are still on their way:  House Wrens, Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrush, Ovenbirds, Catbirds, Indigo Buntings and bushels of warblers galore!  As we move deeper into spring migration, remember to help us document the new arriving bird species on our “Bird Species Seen in 2013″ checklist, which is located on our website here. Last year,  170 species were reported in the Willistown area.  Help us beat last year’s total!

Oh and get your hummingbird feeders back out (if you ever put them away) because they are zooming over the Gulf of Mexico as we speak!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  Photo by Steven Kersting
Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by Steven Kersting . Check out his flickr site for more awesome bird pics!

There are even still some reports of Western hummingbirds, like Rufous, in the state.  This past fall/winter was a record with over 90 Western hummers reported in Pennsylvania, one of which was right here in Devon, PA.  These hummingbirds are evolving new migration routes by passing on a genetic defect that causes them to want to migrate east instead of south for the winter.  With the relatively mild winters we now have and the help of birders keeping their hummer feeders up all winter, these “defective” Western hummers can make it through the winter in the East and then go back to the West to make more “defective” hummers.  Specially certified banders have been banding these vagrant hummingbirds to learn more about this phenomenon.  Watch this Audubon at Home video to witness the banding of an Allen’s Hummingbird in suburban Philadelphia, November 2012.

Northern Saw-whet Owl.  Photo by Matt Kesling
Northern Saw-whet Owl. Photo by Matt Kesling

Northern Saw-whet Owl Banding – 2012 Season Summary

Last Fall was not only a record for Western hummingbirds in PA but also for southbound Northern Saw-whet Owls.  We banded 263 new saw-whet owls in 7 weeks of banding from October through November plus recaptured 42 owls that were already banded (called retraps), including our own owls and 9 “foreign” owls (originally banded by other stations).  Unlike the Western hummers in PA, these little migratory owls were not “defective”;  they were simply doing what they are supposed to do, in larger numbers than usual!  Saw-whet owls breed in high elevation coniferous forests in the Appalachian mountains, the mountains of the Western U.S. and throughout Canada and Alaska.  In the fall they migrate through our area (with some overwintering) and can travel as far south as Alabama.

Saw-whet Owl.  Photo by Adrian Binns.
Saw-whet Owl. Photo by Adrian Binns.

The reason there were so many more saw-whets in 2012 as compared to previous years (we banded 34 owls in 2011 and 91 in 2010) is because it was an atypical irruption year.  It was a productive summer in the north for the pine trees, which produced many seeds, which in turn supported a healthy rodent population.  This set the stage for the production of huge numbers of baby saw-whets, which then got kicked out at the end of the breeding season and were forced to flood south for the winter, a time of food scarcity in the north.  About 90% of the owls we banded were hatching year owls (owls born that summer).  About 70% of the total catch were females, which is presumably because the adult males prefer to stick out the winter on their northern territories that they worked so hard to establish.

Very young Saw-whet Owl with juvenile coloring.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Very young Saw-whet Owl with juvenal coloring. Photo by Blake Goll.

We had several notable discoveries during our 2012 season of owls.  One foreign bird that graced our nets was a female banded at Drumlin Farm in Massachusetts in October of 2007!  A 5 year old owl is big news, since we mostly get only young owls.  One hatching year owl traveled 65 miles north to us from a banding station in Chestertown, Maryland in 4 nights….I guess it back-tracked when it heard about the five-star organic mouse buffet, called Rushton, that it missed on its way down the flyway!

Rushton Woods Preserve Saw-Whet Recoveries Map 2012
Rushton Woods Preserve Saw-Whet Owl Recoveries Map from Fall 2012 Season.  Click on it to see it closer.

Some of our owls ended up at other banding stations as well.  One female that we banded as a second year bird in November 2010 showed up this year near Blue Mountain!  Another of our banded owls was retrapped at Lake Ontario, Canada, and we’ve exchanged many owls with Scott Weidensaul’s multiple stations north of us in PA.  To learn more about the fascinating world of saw-whet owls and saw-whet owl banding, a MUST READ article is Dark Moon Traveler in Natural History.

Beauty in the Brambles Workshops

Successional Shrub Habitat is the “in between habitat” that exists before a meadow becomes a woodland. Composed primarily of shrubs, these important habitats are threatened in Southeastern PA because many landowners clear these areas, seeking a more suburban manicured look.  Our workshops are meant to help people understand and consider the ecological value of these habitats for birds and other wildlife and learn to see the unconventional beauty these places hold.

Successional Shrub Habitat at Ashbridge Preserve.
Successional Shrub Habitat at Ashbridge Preserve.

During these educational workshops, we’ll discuss the value of shrub habitats to birds, explore options for management on preserves and your own property, and see some of the bird species that depend on this special habitat.   These workshops will be held by Audubon Pennsylvania, Valley Forge Audubon Society and the Willistown Conservation Trust  at preserves within our program area where Successional Shrub Habitat models have been established.

Cedar Waxwing eating Hawthorn berry.  Photo by Ann Pettigrew
Cedar Waxwing eating Hawthorn berry. Photo by Ann Pettigrew

We  hope our efforts will help landowners, property managers, landscapers and the general public consider the “Beauty in the Brambles” when faced with decisions to clear  habitat.  Why not simply leave it (or at least part of it) alone and enjoy the life it supports?   We have enough to clean inside our houses…why spend energy and money tidying up every single inch of our properties to resemble biologically barren lawns when habitat loss is the leading cause of decreased biodiversity today.  As the human population continues to take over the earth, it’s becoming more urgent that we become more considerate stewards of the land and better neighbors to our fellow creatures.

We’re not asking people to get rid of their lawns completely, but rather to consider saving (or even creating) a corner or two filled with wonderful shrubs for the birds!  Remember when all of the habitat is gone and there are no birds left, spring will be a very sad and lifeless cake with not a speck of icing!

We have already lost half of the songbirds that filled the sky just 40 years ago, according to Bridget Stutchbury in her new book, “Silence of the Songbirds”.

tufted-titmouse-BINNS-IMG_2421-copy

If you haven’t already, please read more about our “Beauty in the Brambles”  Successional Shrub Habitat initiative for the birds in my past blog post called “WCT Gives Thanks for a National Grant from Audubon and Toyota.”

You can also learn more about the importance of this bold new habitat initiative by checking out our  enlightening “Beauty in the Brambles” brochure, which is available to thumb through electronically on the Audubon and Toyota TogetherGreen blog!

Hope to see you at one of our workshops! They’re short and fun plus you’ll get free food, new knowledge and a native shrub that birds love!

WCT Rushton Birds are NOW TWEETING!

Follow the Rushton Banding Station on Twitter to receive instant news live from the field at Rushton Woods Preserve and Farm.  I’ll let you know how the mornings are going,  if significant numbers of birds are hopping into our nets, and if we are banding significant or uncommon species, like Connecticut Warblers.  If you already have a Twitter account, simply search for “WCT Rushton Birds” and click “Follow.”  If you don’t have a Twitter account, go to Twitter.com and set one up today by choosing a username and password.

Enjoy the spring!  There’s a lot going on in the woods…

Blake

Songbird Banding Continues Full Speed Ahead and Owl Banding Off to a Roaring, Record-Shattering Start

White-throated Sparrow.  Photo by Mimi Davis.
White-throated Sparrow. Photo by Mimi Davis.

Well, I have lots to report from the field, so I’ll start with last week, which was an exciting one for Rushton banding station! On Monday (Columbus Day) we netted 73 songbirds of 17 species  including lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, our first Hermit Thrush of the season, Swamp Sparrow, Magnolia Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, our first Hairy Woodpecker of the season, and bushels of robins and White-throated Sparrows.  All this was accomplished with 3 less nets than the usual 12, as we were slightly understaffed and strive to avoid getting more birds than we can safely process.   Woodcock, Eastern Phoebe and Cedar Waxwings were also in the area, but not netted.

Hermit Thrush.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Hermit Thrush. Photo by Blake Goll.

We got rained out last Tuesday (10/9), but on Wednesday (10/10) we managed to band safely through the fog, mist and spitting rain, opening and closing nets as needed because we were so well staffed.  We netted 68 birds of 21 species, an exceptional day for Rushton.  Our first migrant Sharp-shinned Hawk of the fall stopped by along with two House Finch, a species we rarely see.

Adult female Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Adult female Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Blake Goll.

The rest of that Wednesday’s catch was similar to Monday with the addition of a couple of beautiful Yellow Palm Warblers, a Gray-cheeked Thrush, and a rather late Black-and-white Warbler that we first banded over two weeks ago.  She was a young female hatched this year who seemed confused about the whole migration thing; she had no fat stored aka no fuel for her imminent journey.   In fact, she actually lost a gram in those two weeks!  A recap like this gives us a glimpse into stopover ecology of these migrant songbirds.  Perhaps it’s normal for a hatching year Black-and-white to stay put for two or more  weeks before migrating or continuing migration? Or maybe she’s struggling.  After all, more than half of baby birds do not make it through their first year of life…

Black-and-white Warbler.  Photo by Justin Thompson.
Black-and-white Warbler. Photo by Justin Thompson.
Child with Swamp Sparrow.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Child with Swamp Sparrow. Photo by Blake Goll.
Palm Warbler.  Photo by Blake Goll
Palm Warbler. Photo by Blake Goll

Another 17 species last Thursday (10/11)  included two Sharp-shinned Hawks (adult and juvenile females), our first Winter Wren, another Palm Warbler, our 26th Swainson’s Thrush and more Gray-cheeked Thrush.  Magnolia Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Black-throated Blue Warbler, along with Yellow Palm and Myrtle warblers continued landing in the nets.  Ruby-crowned Kinglets filled the trees and we caught our share.

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Blake Goll.
Doris showing chickadee to delighted school group.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Doris McGovern showing chickadee to delighted school group. Photo by Blake GollCarolina Chickadee.  Photo by Blake Goll.Carolina Chickadee before release. Photo by Blake Goll.

This brings our day banding total for last week to 178 birds. It’s sparrow time at Rushton but still no sign of Lincoln’s Sparrow or Fox Sparrow.  Fall banding is nearing the end, but  it’s not over until the “Fox Sparrow sings!”

Yesterday, we banded our first regal White-crowned Sparrow and the first stunning Golden-crowned Kinglet of the season.  We also recaptured our little lady Black-and-white Warbler, so she’s been at Rushton for 3 weeks now!  She seems slightly healthier this week and put on a gram as if maybe she is now thinking about getting ready to migrate.

Male Golden-crowned Kinglet. Photo by Justin Thompson.
Male Golden-crowned Kinglet. Photo by Justin Thompson.

PUBlic Songbird banding continues every Tuesday and Thursday mornings at Rushton….

…when it’s not raining for the next couple of weeks until all we’re getting is sparrows and juncos.  This Thursday, we have a group of thirty 2nd graders from Abington Friends coming from 9:30-12:30pm, so you may not want to come then.  Otherwise, no reservation is needed for songbird banding, unless you’re bringing a large group.  Hours are 6:30am-11am.

The PA Young Birder event, “Owls and Their Night World” is FULL for this Friday October 19th at Rushton Woods Preserve and Farm.   Stay tuned for cancellation due to rain; the rain date will be Friday October 26, same time and place. If the event is cancelled for this Friday, we will start from scratch accepting RSVPs for the rain date.
Children with Saw-whet Owl.
Children with Saw-whet Owl.
 Children will get a chance to observe and learn about the science of owl banding, explore the natural world at night, view the stars and planets through a telescope borrowed from Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and exercise their creativity making owl art under the guidance of an owl artist.
 Owl drawings by Adrian Binns.
Owl drawings by Adrian Binns.
  Please understand that this event was capped at 30 children on a first-come first-serve basis, in order for us to ensure that our small staff can safely manage the crowd in the dark while operating saw-whet owl nets and keeping the wild birds safe with minimal stress.   This limit also ensures that the children get the most our of their experience.
Of course, if you did not make it into this event you are still welcome to observe owl banding on any of the other nights we are open!  Please see below for more info.  Additionally, there will be another Young Birder Owl Night for Teens on November 9.  We are not accepting reservations for Nov 9 at this time, but will let you know when we do.
Please remember that these events are free, but donations are greatly appreciated as we are a nonprofit, and it takes a substantial amount of money and effort to keep our banding station running between equipment costs, staff time, education materials, programs etc….  If you’d like to donate, please bring cash or check and look for the donation box with the handsome, hand-carved Saw-whet owl on it!  If you’d like to be recognized for your donations, mail checks for the Bird Conservation Program to the Willistown Conservation Trust (www.wctrust.org).
Saw-whet Owl next to donation box (with mouse!).  Photo by Justin Thompson.
Saw-whet Owl next to donation box (with mouse!). Photo by Justin Thompson.
Northern Saw-whet Owl Banding Program at Rushton
 Starting officially this fall on October 25, the public is invited to the Rushton Woods Banding Station for a rendez vous under the stars to observe first-hand the techniques and uses of bird banding and to learn about the biology of Northern Saw-whet Owls, arguably the cutest owls in the world. We will open from October 25 until November 21 with Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings available, but we can accept visitors on a RESERVATION BASIS ONLY. Many people wish to visit our station with the hope of seeing these enchanting owls up-close, but our space is extremely limited.
Young Saw-whet with juvenal coloring.
Young Saw-whet with juvenal coloring.

 The monitoring of Northern Saw-whet Owls (NSWO) is a nocturnal activity whereby this small owl species is caught using a system of loudspeakers (playing their calls) surrounded by mist nets in which the owls become entangled. The data collected from this process gives scientists information about the cyclical nature of the migratory cycles of these species and their reproductive success.

This year is a shaping up to be banner year so far with banders north and south of us reporting the earliest-on-record peak of Saw-whet migration.  Normally, the peak occurs around Halloween, but many stations reported record numbers last week.  This season, the tireless Rushton banding crew has already banded 41 new Saw-whets and recaptured 1 foreign Saw-whet in just 6 nights from 10/10-10/16  (plus 3 new Eastern Screech Owls).   The floodgates (and our hands) really burst open last night with 17 feisty young  owls in our nets and many more devils left in the woods (and 34 bloody holes in our hands from 17 pairs of needle-sharp talons!).  This blows the Chester County one-night record we set last year out of the water, which was 12.  Our current total of 42 NSWO in 6 nights is more than the total number caught in 2011 after 23 nights of effort (a mere 34 owls)!  If we stay on fire like this we will far exceed our best year, which was 2010 (91 owls).

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Eastern Screech Owl.  Photo by Justin Thompson
Eastern Screech Owl. Photo by Justin Thompson

This morning we discovered that the  foreign recapture we got last night, a hatching year female (born this year), was originally banded in Ellenville, NY on 10/08/2012.  Our calculations show that this young owl flew about 125 miles in about a week’s time to arrive at the Rushton “late-night Wendy’s takeout” yesterday evening.

In addition to these voracious “woodland elves” last night, we caught (alongside an outraged owl) a very dead field mouse in the net that weighed 19.1g.  After banding the owl, we offered his mouse in a “to-go  bag”, but the owl refused to take his meal with him even though he seemed quite hungry.  Perhaps he’s  germa-phobic and didn’t like us getting our grubby paws on his “burger”.  I don’t blame him.

Saw-whet Owl holding tight to his dinner!  Photo by Blake Goll.
Saw-whet Owl holding tight to his dinner! Photo by Blake Goll.
Saw-whet Owl with dead mouse.  Photo by Justin Thompson.
Saw-whet Owl with dead mouse. Photo by Justin Thompson.

The experts are saying this is not a cyclical “irruption year” due to the lack of mice and voles in the north but rather a bumper crop of Saw-whet babies spilling south due to a bumper crop of voles this summer in the north.  Hence, we’ve only banded hatching year owls visiting the Rushton all-you-can-eat mouse buffet so far.

“Between migration banding in the morning for songbirds and at night for owls, we are burning the bander at both ends,” says Doris McGovern, Rushton’s federally licensed bird bander.  “Oh well, it’s owl in a night’s work!” she says, still witty even though sleep deprived.

Please reserve an evening by e-mailing Lisa Kiziuk at lkr@wctrust.org as soon as possible and note that banding is weather dependent as rain or high winds will cause the station to close.  See available dates below.

The station is located in the farm shed at Rushton Woods Preserve and Farm and the GPS address to use is 1050 Delchester Road, Malvern, PA 19355. Here’s a link to a map :  http://www.wctrust.org/?page_id=58  (Rushton is on the corner of Goshen and Delchester Roads, with the entrance on Delchester).  Please note that parking is at a premium and you may be asked to park in the field lot.

You will want to come when there is little or no moonlight and we can’t band if it will rain. Based on my moon chart the best times will be between October 17 and 20 and between November 8 and 19.  There are a few spaces left for this Thursday October 18th.  Otherwise, choose any Thurs, Fri, or Sat starting October 25 until Thanksgiving with the exception of the following dates:

CLOSED Days Not Open to Public Include:

November 9, 10,11, 15, and 17

Hope to see you at owl banding, but please remember to RSVP to Lisa first!

Thanks,

~Blake

Saw-whet Owl on branch.  Photo  by John Fedak.
Saw-whet Owl on branch. Photo by John Fedak.