Of the 31 days in October, banding at Powdermill took place on 26 of them, giving us a total of 6,875 net hours of effort for the month. With over 4,000 birds banded, we had a remarkable capture rate of 59.0 birds per 100 net hours. This extraordinary amount of effort was due in large part to the dedication of our visiting ringing/banding team (Prof. David Norman, Scott Kennedy, Chris Benson, and Deb Plotts), who kept the station running full time, along with senior bird bander emeritus Bob Leberman, while the rest of PARC staff and interns attended the IV North American Ornithological Conference in Veracruz, Mexico.
By far, the most exciting highlight of the month occurred on 6 October, when 890 birds were banded!!! The previous record was 621 birds set more than 40 years ago on 16 October 1965. Historically, all of our big banding days have occurred in the last two weeks of October, so it was certainly an unexpected event for 6 October. Note the dates associated with the previous top five record totals: 621 on 10/16/65, 576 on 10/22/82, 532 on 10/28/01, 529 on 10/25/95, and 453 on 10/18/83. Ruby-crowned Kinglet made up 40% of the day's catch with 352 banded, more than doubling the previous high total for this species of 118 set on 19 October 1975. This was also a surprise because it preceded when we would typically expect our heaviest movements of kinglets by a couple of weeks. Ironically, this single day total of 352 RCKI's was the the exact 2006 spring season total for this species. More details of the day's events can be found by following this link.
In addition to our visiting banders mentioned above (most of whom were of British decent and to whom we dedicate the House Sparrow photo on the home page), we also owe huge thanks to Kristin Sesser, Cokie Lindsay, Mary Shidel, Jess Scopel, Pam Ferkett, Lauren Schneider, Dean Thompson, Joe Schreiber, Todd Katzner, Erin Estell, Tom Anderson, and Trish Miller for helping make the month of October an international success for PARC.
Among the species highlights was the first duck to be caught and banded at Powdermill in three years. This HY female Blue-winged Teal, banded on 6 October.
At Powdermill, we can catch both subspecies of Palm Warbler, but the nominate "Western" Palm is much more common. The hypochrysea race, or "Yellow" Palm, is a rare migrant west of the Appalachians and its long term fall average at Powdermill is <1. So, of the 890 birds banded on 6 October, the one "Yellow" Palm Warbler was certainly a "good get". Despite the business of the day, visiting ringer, David Norman, still managed to get a great side by side photo comparing the underpart color of the YPWA with one of eight WPWAs banded that day.
In addition to keeping up with regular banding efforts throughout the day, our visiting crew even put in some late night hours. The fruits of their labor? - two Eastern Screech Owls.
Upon our return from Mexico, it was clear the season had progressed while we were away. The leaves were just beginning to turn in early October, but by the middle of the month, many trees' colors were reaching their peak and leaves were falling.
Our catch before we left was dominated by wood warblers, which made up nearly 50% of September totals.
But, on 14 October, for example, thrushes and sparrows made up the largest proportion of our catch.
This provides a nice comparison between three common Catharus thrushes banded during migration at Powdermill. Can you identify all three?
This photo shows the back and rump coloration of the same three birds. The difference between rich brown above (Hermit Thrush), brownish above (Swainson's Thrush), and gray-brown above (Gray-cheeked Thrush), as described in popular field guides, can be overlapping and subtle. But when compared side by side in the hand, the difference is clarified. From left to right in both photos is Hermit Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, and Gray-cheeked Thrush. Notice below that the Hermit Thrush also shows the characteristic reddish tail. In the photo above, notice also, the Hermit Thrush has a complete, mostly white eye ring, the Swainson's Thrush has a bold buffy eye ring and buffy breast, and the Gray-cheeked Thrush has a faint, incomplete eye ring. The face and breast also average less buffy and more gray in the Gray-cheeked Thrush.
There were still a few warblers among the later fall migrants, including this adult male Cape May Warbler...
and, of course, our token Orange-crowned Warblers for the fall, four of which, caught on our BIG DAY, were the first of the year.
Our tenth and final Orange-crowned Warbler was banded on 29 October. This adult male appeared to be of the V.c. orestera race, whose breeding range extends from the Yukon in Canada through the Rocky Mountains. It is not atypical that this would also be our latest migrant individual. As described in The Peterson Field Guide Book of Warblers by Dunn and Garrett, the orestera race have gray heads like celata (the common subspecies banded at Powdemill), but, not shown here, is the contrast on this bird between the gray head and more olive back. Orestera are also described as averaging brighter and clearer yellow below, with more yellow extending up into the throat. Compare with above photo of a typical nominate race bird.
In recent seasons, we have been collecting a couple of tail feathers from select individuals, primarily Parulids, with the hopes of having them analyzed for genetic and isotopic information. With this information, we will know where each of the birds sampled came from, and initially, we will use this data to assess geographic variation in flight call notes as part of our ongoing bioacoustic research. Basically, it will precisely confirm what we can only somewhat determine now based on size and plumage differences of a few select individuals, as with the bird shown here.
Of the total 821 Ruby-crowned Kinglets banded this month, one in particular stood out. Aside from a little yellow/green edging on the flight feathers, this HY female lacked nearly any other normal coloration, giving it a very frosted gray appearance, much like a leucistic Gray Catbird banded in the fall of 2001. For comparison, a normal plumaged RCKI is also shown.
We were delighted to have a surprise visit from Elizabeth P. (Betty) Neidringhouse the morning of October 21st. Throughout much of the 1970's, Betty was the preparator in the Section of Exhibits, Design and Production for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. While most of her work was used in displays and exhibits in the museum, a number of her botanical pieces made it up to Powdermill. In the photo below, she poses with Bob Leberman just before releasing a Swamp Sparrow.
It seemed only fitting that we take her up to the nature center and get a picture of her next to some of the many flowers she sculpted, mostly from wax, for our exhibits. For this particular "backyard" diorama, from left to right, there is an American Turk's Lily (Lilium superbum), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Bee Balm (Monarda didyma),and Bluets (Houstonia).
That same morning, we were surprised again when amongst a flock of Cedar Waxwings in the net, we came upon an individual that, except for a few head feathers that had just begun to molt, was still completely in juvenal plumage. This bird was clearly a very late hatched individual and became the first Cedar Waxwing in our banding database to be aged "L" (meaning locally hatched young) in October.
A week later, on 27 October, we were even more surprised to catch and band a Veery. Only two other October Veery records exist in our database and this bird succeeded both of those by nearly a month. The previous late date for this species was October 1st.