Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Morning of Bird Banding at KIBS -- Sunday, October 5

KIBS  Team after first run of the nets - Libby Natola, Matt Arnold, Chris Davies, Will Oakley, Mattie VandenBoom, Aaron, Given

              The weather forecast for last Sunday, October 5, had called for very cool temperatures with a wind out of the north -- ideal conditions for Fall bird migration.  My birding buddy Aaron Given, wildlife biologist for the town of Kiawah Island and master bird bander extraordinaire for the Kiawah Island Banding Station (KIBS), was expecting a major fallout and placed a call for volunteers to help at the banding station.  Being outdoors at daybreak on a crisp fall morning, full of bird chatter, count me in!

             For those readers who do not know much about the KIBS operation, I invite you to check out their website where they post daily reports on their banding activity.  You can also learn more about bird banding in general from 2 previous posts written here in this blog, Birding Up Close and Personal -- Bird Banding 101 -- Part 1 and Part 2

             Back to last Sunday!:  When Aaron drove myself and Chris Davies, another volunteer, out to the banding station, his team had already arrived and had set up the nets.  As we crossed the dune line, we suddenly heard 2 Eastern Whip-poor-will calling!  Ah -- the sweet sound of the Whip-poor-will!  I had not heard one of those since childhood days at camp!  Listen to this recording that I found on YouTube by NoctuVide.

Eastern Whip-poor-will, KIBS, Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014

             This bird appears docile enough.   Just look at that tiny beak on that big bird!  As an insectivore, you may wonder how on earth he could consume enough bugs to support that substantially bigger body.  Ah but looks are deceiving!  He appeared much fiercer when he stretched his wings.... almost owl-like!

Eastern Whip-poor-will, banded at KIBS, Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014

              Now, imagine this flying at you with his large gape wide open!

Eastern Whip-poor-will, banded at KIBS, Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014 -- Photo by Aaron Given

           And that is exactly how this bird consumes enough insects to support his larger body size -- flying through the late evening and early morning skies gulping up insects into that cavern.   The tiny beak certainly belies the size of his mouth.

          After he was banded and photographed, Aaron took the bird into the wooded area behind the banding table to photograph him on the ground and to then release him.  Well, this bird made a you-turn back towards the banding table.  Aaron called out to us, "Here he comes!"  Yes, he flew straight towards me.  I had to duck!   What a great start to our busy morning!

         Initially, the first part of the early morning, most of the team (with me in tow) were removing birds from the nets.  I am happy to report that I have improved in my removing-bird-from net skills!   Patience and practice pay off.  I even got an old, feisty, finger-chomping Northern Cardinal out of the net.  Most passerines (songbirds) do not have powerful enough beaks to hurt you when they give you a nip.  Not so the Northern Cardinal!  After checking the bird band on this one, Aaron told me that this was one of the first birds that he banded at KIBS in 2009!   As activity slowed at the nets, we could spend more time at the banding table to help with the banding process (see my previous posts in the links above for a refresher if you need one).   Aaron reported on his KIBS blog post for the day, that he and his team banded 217 new birds and recaptured 15 birds of 31 species!  

        And thus to account for a few of those other species, here are a few more photos.  So what is better than a thrush in the hand?  

Swainson's Thrush -- KIBS -- Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014

Three thrushes in the hand!

Wood Thrush --  KIBS -- Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014

Gray-cheeked Thrush -- KIBS -- Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014

Wood Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush and Swainson's Thrush -- KIBS -- Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014

          Another lovely bird processed at KIBS that morning was the Common Ground-Dove!  This was my first up-close look at its awesome "scaly" plumage.

Common Ground-Dove -- KIBS -- Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014
             One very indignant Yellow-Billed Cuckoo received a band at KIBS that morning.  I had never heard one to be quite that raucous.  In my previous (and limited) experience with these birds at the banding table, they gurgled and cooed, and one even hung out by the table after he had been released.  Not this one!  This guy was as expressive as and louder than the notoriously vocal Gray Catbirds that we handled in abundance (79 individuals) that day.  

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo -- KIBS -- Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014
             I am sorry to say that I did not, this time, take a picture of a Gray Catbird.  If you want to see one though, just look outside.  They are quite thick at this time of year as breeders from elsewhere are migrating through right now.
            After all of these rich brown and gray tones, it is time for a few birds in yellow.  It was a treat to see this adult male Scarlet Tanager in non-breeding plumage.  A few red feathers remained under his wings!  This is a species which passes through along the coast during Fall migration.  We have to go to the mountains to see him in breeding plumage.  We all know that birds molt twice a year.  Still it is stunning to see the differences from one plumage to another. 

Male Scarlet Tanager in non-breeding plumage -- KIBS -- Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014
Scarlet Tanager -- Blue Ridge Parkway near the Heintooga Spur -- June 8, 2011

           The Northern Waterthrush, which breeds primarily in the Northeastern US and the boreal forests of Canada, also passes through in fair abundance along our coast during migration.  I always enjoy seeing these tail-bobbers in the local swamps in the Spring and Fall.  It is a treat to see close-up them at the banding table!

Northern Waterthrush -- KIBS -- Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014

             Finally, here are a couple of other warblers that I photographed last Sunday from the bird banding station.  If I remember correctly, Aaron determined that this Chestnut-Sided Warbler was a hatch year bird.  

Chestnut-sided Warbler -- KIBS -- Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014
The breeding plumage of the adult male Chestnut-sided is quite different.  This species breeds in the boreal north and also in the Appalachian Mountain chain.  Though this warbler is fairly tiny, Carl and I know it to be a bold and showy bird during the breeding season.  For comparison,  I have posted below a photo taken in the North Carolina mountains in June 2013. 

Chestnut-sided Warbler -- Richland Balsam Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway -- June 15, 2013

        My final bird photo from Sunday, another warbler, is below, again in non-breeding plumage, -- a Magnolia Warbler!

Magnolia Warbler -- KIBS -- Kiawah Island, SC -- October 5, 2014

Though I have seen Magnolia Warblers in their bright breeding plumage both in the Appalachian mountains and in the boreal forests of Maine and New Brunswick this past summer, I have yet to attain a photo.  So check out the link above to see what they look like in their bold, breeding finery.

             And thus, I spent another glorious morning at KIBS -- helping with the bird banding.  As I related to Aaron in an e-mail a couple of days later, being at KIBS is medicine to my soul.  I do not know if it is the the area behind the dune line that reminds me of my childhood stomping grounds or being able to be so close to such thickly associated birds (both at the station and in the field (OMG!),  or the opportunity to learn more about birds, bird banding, etc.  It must be the combination of all three!  Days later, I still thrill at the memory of the experience!  Thank you Aaron for allowing me to be part of it!   

Monday, October 6, 2014

Goodbye to the Rugged and Handsome Pomarine Jaeger

The Rugged and Handsome Pomarine Jaeger -- Breach Inlet, Sullivan's Island, SC -- July 11, 2014

            Yesterday, I learned of the sad fate of the handsome and rugged Pomarine Jaeger first found and identified at Breach Inlet by Craig Watson.  To learn more about this bird's arrival and his transfer to the Avian Conservation Center - Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, SC, please check out 2 previous posts on him here and here

             The Avian Conservation Center sent an e-mail to Craig this morning to inform him of the bird's demise from a sudden and acute upper respiratory infection -- likely aspergillosis, an ailment that often strikes captive pelagic species.  He had been receiving a preventative medication against this illness but had succumbed nonetheless.  Previously, the clinic had been cautiously optimistic on the possibility of his release back into the wild once he had completed a molt into new feathers.  Unfortunately, this was not to be and he passed yesterday morning. 

            I will always treasure the memory of this bird's alert and bold personality in his interactions with birders, tourists and fishermen on the beach at the inlet.  And I am sad that he did not live to sail out over the ocean again -- Free on the wing.   

           The good that came of this bird's stay at the Center comes in the form of increased medical knowledge for the staff in terms of how to treat future pelagic patients.  Kudos to the Center for all that they did in their attempts to save this bird!