Over the course of 25 banding days, and with 7,180 net-hours of effort, we banded 3,379 birds (and recaptured an additional 356) of 87 species in September, for an overall capture rate of 47 birds per 100 net-hours. Our highest daily banding totals during the month occurred on 9/15 (229 birds banded) and 9/16 (245). Forty or more species were banded on 9/19 (42 species), 9/20 (40), and 9/29 (43). Magnolia Warbler easily topped the banding totals in September (401 banded), with the remaining nine of the month's "top ten" as folows: Swainson's Thrush (250); Gray Catbird (188); Common Yellowthroat (184); American Goldfinch (179); Ruby-throated Hummingbird (167); Hooded Warbler (167); American Redstart (150); Red-eyed Vireo (1372); and Tennessee Warbler (102).
As always, wood warblers made up a high proportion of our total September catch, although perhaps even higher than usual this September. In all, nearly half the birds banded this month (1,594) were warblers representing 30 species (!) and one distinctive hybrid. Of these, the hybrid, a beautiful male "Lawrence's" Warbler on September 12th, was the undisputed banding "highlight" of the month!
Sunrise over Crisp Pond (September 22, 2006)
Pictured is just the tenth "Lawrence's" Warbler ever banded at Powdermill, our fourth adult male, our second September record of the "species," and our first of its kind to be banded since May 2001, when we caught a male in a much less typical "Lawrence's" plumage.
Powdermill Avian Research Center fall banding assistant, Felicity Newell, was the lucky one who came upon the LAWA in one of our nets in the first place, and although she had never seen one before, she knew instantly what it was!
As mentioned above, wood warblers were a very prominent part of this month's banding activity, so we've decided to start this monthly summary with a miscellany of warbler notes and photo highlights.
This September's total for Connecticut Warbler (25) tied for the third highest ever at Powdermill and was just two birds shy of our tying recent record September total in 2002 (27). One of the CONWs banded this month was this adult male.
We never band more than a handful of Worm-eating Warblers at Powdermill (a total of 33 fall birds since 1961; just 12 in September), so those that we do catch generally have more than a few pictures taken of them. Here is a different photo of the same hatching year (HY) bird banded on 9/5.
Other infrequently banded warbler species at Powdermill, are Prairie (grand total of 110 banded in fall; 46 in September) and Pine Warbler (grand total of just 10 banded in fall at Powdermill; three in September). One of each (both of them HY females) was banded this September (the PIWA on 9/29; the PRAW on 9/12)--both easily qualify as "confusing fall warblers!"
This unconfusingly handsome adult male Canada Warbler was banded (and photographed) on 9/13.
Also unconfusing, but certainly not uninteresting, is this adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler, an example of the moderately well-differentiated southern Appalachian race known as "Cairn's Warbler" and distinguished by the black streaks/spots on its head and back and by exceptionally large white wing patches. The northern limit for breeding BTBWs ascribable to "cairnsi" is very near Powdermill in the mountains of southwestern PA, which explains why we only rarely catch birds of this subspecies (we have commented on fewer than a dozen BTBWs as possibly belonging to this race).
In contrast to the southern Appalachian subspecies of BTBW pictured above, which is, if anything, more strongly marked than the nominate subspecies, the American Redstart female pictured here with her very dull gray dorsum and very reduced (in fact, in this photo, not even visible!) yellow wing spot, easily fits the description for the far northern and northwestern subspecies, Setophaga ruticilla tricolora.
We banded eleven Blackburnian Warblers this month--for comparison, pictured below are HY female (left) and HY male (right) BLBWs banded on 9/9.
Below is a similar comparison of HY female (left) and HY male (right) Northern Parulas banded on 9/14 and 9/20, respectively.
Unlike the preceding photos, this last pair of warbler photos is not being included here as a "highlight" because the birds were particularly photogenic! In fact, they were downright motley! Caught side-by-side in the same mist net on 9/1 was this HY (actually aged as "L" for local, based on its still very extensive juvenal body plumage) (top photo) and this ASY female Hooded Warbler (aged precisely so because it had made so little progress with its prebasic molt, a majority its "old" flight feathers and alula were still retained where a molt limit would still be evident in an SY bird). Both birds were undergoing heavy molt at a time when most HOWAs have completed theirs. Undoubtedly, they were a product and participant, respectively, in an unusually late nesting attempt at Powdermill. In their classic study of a population of breeding HOWAs in northwestern PA (Condor 98:736-744), Lesley Evans Ogden and Bridget Stutchbury concluded that delayed or very late molt like that exhibited by the HOWAs pictured below probably constituted a constraint on late nesting (specifically, double-brooding) in this species, due to later migration, delayed arrival on the wintering grounds, decreased likelihood of obtaining winter territories, and, consequently, reduced overwinter survival.
Although it may not seem like it, we actually did band some non-wood warblers in September! For example, we banded 215 flycatchers of six species (seven if you consider the likelihood that our sample of "Traill's" Flycatchers included both Willow and Alder).
Pictured below are HY Yellow-bellied (left) and Acadian (right) flycatchers. From this photo it is clear that ACFLs can be just as yellow on their bellies as a YBFL, but they can always be distinguished from YBFLs by their mostly white throat (YBFL have a yellowish-white throat bordered with olive), their proportionately much larger bill (not especially evident in this picture due to the angle of the ACFL's head), and in the hand, of course, by the lack of emargination on the outer web of the sixth primary in ACFLs.
With 82 banded, Rose-breasted Grosbeak was the 13th most frequently banded species this September. We have reported previously on variations in the underwing coloration of female RBGRs, ranging from yellow edged with pink to light orangeish to salmon-colored, etc.; the adult female pictured, however, with her uniformly bright orange underwing coverts, was quite unusual.
On September 6 we netted and banded our first American Woodcock of the season (and for the year), an adult (SY) male that had just begun its prebasic wing molt. In the second photo can be seen its unmolted, worn and faded, juvenal secondaries, with their distinctive dark subterminal band. This is what enabled us to age this bird as an SY. An HY bird would have this same patterning on its secondaries, but it would not be actively molting any primaries or its outer secondaries, as this bird is; naturally, any unmolted outer secondaries of an ASY adult would not show juvenal patterning. Following completion of a complete prebasic molt, an adult woodcock can only be assigned the AHY age code.
An understanding of the timing and extent of molt and related wing plumage-based ageing criteria for immature (HY), subadult (SY), and adult (ASY) woodcock in early fall is thanks to the classic study by F. W. Martin published in 1964 in the Journal of Wildlife Management (vol. 28, pp. 287-293).
Very odd indeed were two adult Ruby-crowned Kinglets that had either arrested (in the case of an ASY female) or not even begun (in an SY female) their prebasic molt when they were caught at Powdermill (located 400+ miles south of the species' nearest known breeding grounds) on 9/7 and 9/29, respectively.
In the ASY bird (top photo), secondaries 5-9 on the right wing, 6-9 on the left wing (note the contrast with adjacent worn, brown unmolted outer secondaries and primaries), and probably also rectrix 1 on the right side of the tail, all had been recently molted, but the bird did not show signs of any active molt. The SY female (middle and bottom photos) showed no active or completed wing molt, the fresher appearing rectrices 1 & 2 on the right half of her tail probably representing earlier accidental loss and replacement. We cannot recall ever having banded an adult RCKI in fall that had not already completed its prebasic molt.
We end this belated monthly update with an significant non-avian highlight: that is, the extended visit of Giorgi Darchiashvili, a biologist from the Georgian Centre for the Conservation of Wildlife (GCCW). Dr. Todd Katzner, who is the Director of Conservation and Field Research at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, and who has worked with GCCW in connection with his own studies of Imperial Eagles, helped make the arrangements for Giorgi to receive training in banding techniques at Powdermill so that he could return to the Republic of Georgia to establish some pilot "ringing" sites and, perhaps eventually, a national ringing scheme.
Giorgi bands his very first Powdermill bird, while PARC's Assistant Field Ornithology Projects Coordinator, Mike Lanzone looks on.
During his two-week stay, Giorgi gained experience banding, ageing, and sexing a wide variety of birds, including small passerines, near-passerines (like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo), and non-passerines (like Green Heron; bottom two photos).
It was not all training and no play during Giorgi's stay, however. One evening we all enjoyed dining at a local Mexican restaurant, where David Kadagishvili, a fellow Georgian, is chef. In honor of Giorgi's visit, Chef "Dato" specially prepared two traditional Georgian dishes, Khinkali (a spicy meat-filled pastry; he very thoughtfully made a vegetarian version as well) and Hachapuri (a flat cheese-filled pie). Our thanks to Chef Dato and Casa Chapala for showing our visitor and all of us from Powdermill such wonderful hospitality.
Giorgi Darchiashvili and Chef "Dato" (David Kadagishvili)
The Republic of Georgia, fringed by the lofty Caucasus Mountains in the north and in the south by the Lesser Caucasus Mountain range, and situated between the Black and Caspian seas to the west and east, is geographically well-positioned not only for monitoring the passage of songbird migrants moving between northern Europe and the Middle East and eastern Africa, but also for witnessing large concentrations of migrating raptors.
During his stay with us in Pennsylvania, Giorgi visited a very productive local hawk watch run by the Allegheny Plateau Audubon Society on the Allegheny Mountain escarpment (the border between Somerset and Bedford counties) about an hour's drive to the east of Powdermill. Although the hawk flight over the Bedford Valley was not especially heavy on 9/17 when we visited, Giorgi, like most vistors to this hawk watch, greatly enjoyed the expansive view and snapping photos of the few raptors and vultures that did put in an appearance. After leaving Powdermill at the end of the month, Giorgi spent a couple of days at the world famous Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, located along the Kittatiny Ridge near Kempton, PA, before returning to Georgia.
On Giorgi's last day at Powdermill on 9/29, everyone wished him well in his future bird monitoring efforts in Georgia for the GCCW. To the right of Giorgi (at the far left) in the photo are PARC's Fall Banding Assistant, Felicity Newell; visiting bander, Deb Plotts; PARC assistant field ornithologist, Mike Lanzone; PARC Bander-in-Charge, Adrienne Leppold; Powdermill banding program founder, Bob Leberman (with "Puppy" Mulvihill); PARC Field Ornithology Projects Coordinator, Bob Mulvihill; The National Aviary's Director of Conservation and Field Research, Dr. Todd Katzner; and PARC Research Associate, Professor David Norman.