Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Jewel in the Hand

I decided to take a stroll around the net lanes to take photos that represented the area as is was that morning. Talk is that there might be a prescribed burn at some point to maintain the scrub environment and I want to have a before/after set of shots if it does happen.

The action was slowing down for the morning so I figured it would be an uneventful walk but at least I could get the series of photos done if the fire was set when I wasn't there.

I was pleasently surprised to find a bird in net 14. From a distace it could have been a migrating Warbler. Once I got closer, however, it was something even more exciting. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

There have been several caught in the nets in the last few weeks but I was not fortunate enough to be around when they flew in. A year and a half ago there was one in a net right near me while I was extracting another bird nearby. By the time I made my way to the Hummingbird it was partially through the net and was able to have its wings free enough to assume a kind of proper flight.

As I was reaching for the bird it powered itself at full speed, pulling the net taught and managed to pull free just before I could close the net around it. It was a sight I will never forget.

Now I had another in the net but this time she was perfectly aligned in in the folds so she could not get through the small openings of the mesh.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Since this was the first Hummingbird I had ever held it was a little difficult to figure out a proper grip. You can't grab them by the legs like other land birds. They are too small to hold without injuring them. Even if you can find their legs through the feathers!

But I did manage an awkward series of positions. At one point it even stuck its tongue out at me. "You shall never take me alive!"

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

I took it to a spot where it hopefully would not re-enter another net on release and let it go. With a slight buzzing sound of its wings it flew off back into the oak scrub and we wrapped up another morning at Wekiva.

Now we have a couple of weeks off. Time enough to rest up before the onslaught of Fall migration.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cardinal Vices

One of the early lessons I learned when I began volunteering at the Wekiva Banding Station was to keep one's fingers away from any Cardinal's beak. Of all of the birds we net and band the Cardinal has one of the hardest and persistent bites of any of the local land birds.

Chickadees and Titmice will try to go for your cuticles, Vireos and Warbles will nip at anything they can snag, and Thrushes and Wrens will just stare at you and wait for any sense that you are relaxing the least bit to try and fly out of your hand but a Cardinal...? They hope to take some of you with them by the time they are released.

I heard a few chips out of net 10 and headed over to see if there was a bird there and we did have our Cardinal of the morning. After deciding which way the bird flew in the next step is to make sure you can get their head secured so you don't end up bleeding before it is even out of the net.

It was close, but I managed to only get a slight snap. This feisty female was all set to continue heading in the direction she was originally heading in. I got her back to the table and processed her.

I usually don't mind a good bite and my boys delight in seeing or hearing of some bird biting the heck out of Dad. However, the last Cardinal I banded a few weeks ago really made me step up my attention to how hard they can bite. That one was a young bird and it about tore me up.

Once they grab hold, they can sometimes apply a bite so fierce that you start to rethink this whole banding thing.

Take a needle-nose pliers and attach it to a nice soft portion of the skin just outside the edges of your fingernail. Now press down. Hard. Keep going. Harder. Until the tears start to well up.

That is a Cardinal bite.

Think you can just pull away? Give the pliers to your friend and ask them to do it and not to stop until you punch them to make them stop. Make sure it is a real friend. One who might actually fear the strike.

The only other defense you have while banding these amazing birds is to offer them an alternative in place of your tender flesh. Luckily, out in the scrub environment, there are a lot of small twigs from the surrounding oaks. When used successfully it should look thus:

Northern Cardinal

Note the lack of blood. Plus the firm grip around the bird's neck to prevent movement to latch on to me.

This is one of my favorite shots of late. The same day, I got home to hear the calls of a new Cardinal chick at home calling for HIS mom to feed him.

Word to the wise. Towhees can bite almost as hard.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Four Degrees of NOPA-ation

Now in the middle of Summer, the babies are to be found all over Wekiva. Most of our netted birds were recently fledged birds of several species. Species included Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Northern Cardinal, and Tutfted Titmouse. We also managed to capture a Carolina Chickadee and a pair of Carolina Wrens. The Wrens were recaptured residents, one of which revealed a very evident brood patch.

The most interesting catches were a series of young Northern Parula. None of them had the same feather pattern and the last of the day had us stumped for a few minutes. It was definitely a Parula from the top side but it displayed no yellow on the throat or breast which is almost always referenced in the literature.

Here are the 4 birds we captured, in order. Note the different molt patterns.

Northern Parula

None of us had ever seen a Parula with NO yellow on the breast. Time to ask an expert. I contacted a friend well versed in all things birdy in Florida, Bruce Anderson, co-author of "The Birdlife of Florida".

Part of his response: "It appears that molting occurs independently in two regions: the throat and the breast. So the bird with the creamy breast and white throat just hasn't begun the breast molt and is perhaps younger than the others and a female."

Mystery solved! We knew it WAS a Parula but wondered if it were some aberation. Nope. Just growing up a bit differently.

Reported sightings of Warblers entering the state are encouraging. Seems a slightly early migration push is on. Hoping next week's banding efforts bring us more yellow in the nets.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

New Screech Owl

Took a quick walk outside after dark just to check for any activity.

Got lucky with an adult red-morph Eastern Screech Owl perched over the tray feeder. I got pretty close and it finally turned its head my way after a few seconds.

I rushed back inside to grab the boys so they could get a look but it had flown off before we got back out.

This is definitely a different bird than the one spotted June 20th. Hopefully we have a whole family roaming about and clearing away the rodents.

No picture this time.

Monday, July 02, 2007

White-winged Dove

Now that Summer is settling in, nothing to exciting is hanging around. However, the wife did ask about the description of White-winged Doves during the day.

Later, as I walked into the kitchen, I took a habitual glance out of the window and the White-winged was perched on top of one of the feeder pole.

"THERE is a White-winged Dove!", I remarked to her and never had to grab the books for a definitive, textbook description. The real thing outside the window teaches so much faster than fancy book readin'.