Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bird Banding

I got to get afield with a bird banding operation down near Chillicothe yesterday, which is always interesting and educational. This particular operation has been at it for a long time, and is led by Bill Bosstic, Kelley Sieg, and Bob Placier. It's quite different to be able to see small songbirds closeup in the hand. They look much different than when seen through bins from afar, and one can really appreciate the subtle plumage features which, even on the plainest Jane, are quite striking when seen well.
We were out at the crack of dawn, setting nets up. Eventually, some 30 people arrived, including a number of Bob and Kelly's students. Quite a learning experience was had by all. This was a type of site that I hadn't been involved with banding before; a large field dominated by Tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima. Normally I don't think of goldenrod meadows as being overly productive for bird biodiversity, and in general, it wasn't. But, as ye shalt see, we caught some very interesting birds that we likely wouldn't have nabbed in other habitats.

Here's one of the interesting subjects, at least to a birder. A juvenile Henslow's Sparrow. We caught six of them in all, and at least one or two got away. They bred in this area, and it's likely that the birds that we caught were locally raised. It will be very interesting to see if we can catch them again next year. Henslow's prefer fields with a range of coarse herbaceous vegetation, not just various grasses.

Henslow's Sparrows are striking animals when seen well. They have flattened heads that are a gorgeous shade of greenish-olive, and these juveniles had most feathers broadly fringed in buff. I've been in one a number of Henslow's Sparrow captures over the years and have held many. Ironically, for a bird that is often thought of as the epitome of a secretive shrinking violet, they are savage biters and don't hesitate to nip the hand that holds them. Very little in the way of fear is shown, and this bird just hunkered in this person's hand for nearly a minute, not being held and just checking things out, before deciding to fly off.

Here's one that can and does fool people. We caught two of this species. This is a juvenile. Adult males are simple to recognize. See what you can do with it.

A beautiful warbler, this one. The "masked bandit", an adult male Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas. They produce the loud witchity-witchity-witchity song one hears in all manner of open scrubby sites and wetlands, and is perhaps our most common breeding warbler.

Although the day started out a bit foggy and with temps in the low 40's, by early afternoon it was in the 70's and a picture-perfect fall Ohio day. There really isn't many finer places to be on fall days like this, when the sky is crystal blue, the concert of autumnal insects is in full chorus, and the air is full of wonderful fall aromas.

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