March - April 2009
After a long and cold winter in western Pennsylvania, we all were happy for the return of spring. I want to extend a special thanks to Mary Shidel, Emma Deleon, and Bob Leberman (Bird Bander emeritus) who helped out in the banding lab in February and March despite the frigid temperatures outside.
The annual meeting of the Wilson Ornithological Society and the Association of Field Ornithologists was held in Pittsburgh in early April and was co-hosted by the Powdermill and the National Aviary. Following the conference a number of professional ornithologists visited Powdermill's Bird Banding Lab. One of those visitors, Dr. David Bonter (Cornell Lab of Ornithology), is pictured recording data from the birds that were banded that morning.
This spring was a down year for juncoes, and we only banded 101 individuals. Still, Dark-eyed Juncos are always one of the most commonly captured species during spring migration. Although juncos breed in the mountains around Powdermill, those individuals belong to the carolenensis subspecies and are seldom captured at the banding station. This subspecies can be identified from their bluish bill and slightly smaller size. In the picture, the junco on the right belong to the local breeding race (Hymenalis carolinensis).
April brought many signs of spring (other than the returning birds) included the emergence of skunk cabbage, calling spring peepers, and peregrinations of bears evidenced by our damaged bird feeders and the prints next to some of our nets (photo below).
Birds began returning after a long, cold winter. We banded our first...
Winter Wren on March 27
Eastern Phoebe on March 27
Eastern Towhee (ASY male) on April 9
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (female) on April 12
Yellow-rumped Warbler (ASY male) on April 22
On April 9, with the help from the Purple Martin Society, we erected a purple martin house outside of the banding lab. Although we know it may be a difficult task, we are hoping to attract Purple Martins to Powdermill. Despite once being common in the Ligonier Valley, the Purple Martin is now a bird that is seldom seen in the region. Purple Martins are a long-distance migrant and spend the winter in the Amazon Basin of South America. In a recent study conducted in NW Pennsylvania one martin took a mere 13 days to travel from their Amazonian wintering ground to their breeding ground in Pennsylvania. This was 6x faster than previously believed and this individual averaged 358 miles/day during its spring migration. In the photo below, the 2 birds perched are decoy purple martins intended to attract other martins to the colony. So far, we have not seen any martins checking out the structure.
There has been a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks around the banding station during most of March and early April. This species specializes in feeding on snakes and frogs and would frequently use the ponds around the banding station as a foraging area. On April 14, we captured the female in one of our nets, and from her plumage she was identified as an ASY individual. This was such an unusual capture that it represented only the 3rd Red-shouldered Hawk ever captured in Powdermill's 48 year history of bird banding and it represented the first one banded since 1994).
When soaring, Red-shouldered Hawks can be readily identified by the white "crescents" on the ends of their wings. This field mark can be observed in the outstreched wings of this bird.
The last week of April brought our first push of warblers with April 25th being the best banding day of April (banded 75 birds of 27 different species). We caught a couple of Brewster's and Blue-winged Warblers during the last week of April. A Golden-winged Warbler wasn't caught until May and look for it in the next web update.
SY male Brewster's Warbler
ASY male Blue-winged Warbler
Another early migrant that we captured at the end of April was the Black-and-white Warbler. The individual below is a SY female. This individual can be aged by its very brown and worn primary coverts (retained juvenile feathers). In addition, the black on the middle (of 3) alula feathers extends all the way to the tip of the feather and shows a white spot on the side of the feather. On an ASY individual (both male and female) the white wraps around the tip of the feather.
SY female Black-and-white Warbler
We captured 3 Worm-eating Warblers this spring, and one of them was a recapture from a bird banded at Powdermill in a previous year. This Worm-eating Warbler was captured on April 25.