Monday, December 14, 2015

A Pretty Rufous Hummingbird in Solway Tennessee

In the midst of this balmy December weather we've been having (in the 70's F) east Tennesseans have identified another Rufous Hummingbird, this one in Solway, Tennessee.   
Mark Armstrong of East Tennessee Avian Research, Inc. and Master Bander of hummingbirds and songbirds, was contacted by the home owners to identify and band the hummingbird.  On December 12th, Mark set up a trap and was able to capture the hummer minutes later.  Above, Mark reaches through the trap door to capture the hummer.
Above, the hosts of this hummingbird watch with interest as Mark removes the hummer from the net bag prior to examination.  The bag helps keep the hummer calm after capture.
Above, Mark takes wing measurements to help determine whether this Rufous is a male or female. Females have a longer wing measurement.  This bird was a mature female.
Using a blunt darning needle, Mark counts the number of gorget feathers visible on the female's throat.  Unlike female Ruby-throated hummers which have white throats, the females of the Rufous species often have a cluster of gorget feathers on their throat.
Photo credit:  Mark Armstrong

Mark shows hosts and friends some of the characteristics that help to identify this bird as a Rufous female.  
The female rests quietly for a moment before buzzing off to continue her foraging.
Photo credit:  Mark Armstrong

Even though Rufous hummingbirds have been found in the eastern United States for many years, biologists still know very little about why they migrate to the east.  It is also a mystery just what geographic characteristics determine their migration routes and choice of wintering grounds.  What we do know, is they have good memories and often return to the same yard the next winter.

Keep at least one feeder out this winter and you may be lucky enough to spot a wintering hummingbird!  In east Tennessee, report winter hummingbird sightings to Mark Armstrong at or 865-748-2224. 

Thank you to Billie Cantwell for sharing her great images in this blog post!  All of the images in this post that are not otherwise credited were taken by Billie.

Western Hummingbirds Wintering in Tennessee
Rufous Hummer in Knoxville 
Other blog posts on Wintering hummingbirds in Tennessee
In recent years, fourteen species of hummingbirds have been documented in the east during fall and winter months.
Hummingbird banding
Hummingbirds in watercolor
Hummingbird art on Vickie's Sketchbook blog
Cornell's All About Birds:  Rufous Hummingbirds

Monday, December 7, 2015

Another Western Hummer in East Tennessee

...a mature female Rufous at Musick's Campground in upper East Tennessee.
In the above image, the captured hummingbird is photographed to capture the details of her feather color patterns.  When turned to the side, this female's orange-red cluster of gorget feathers appears charcoal or black.  Photo credit:  Mark Armstrong.
When facing the light in a different direction, the feathers shine a brilliant orange red.  Photo credit Mark Armstrong

This change occurs because the color is not due to feather pigment but is created by the reflection of light on feather structures.  A more detailed description can be found at Sibley's Guides.
Mark Armstrong, Master Bander of hummingbirds and songbirds, commented about this hummingbird's condition:  " Something striking to me but difficult to explain is that she was just a really pretty bird.  I’ve banded some young birds as well as adults that were in molt but this bird finished [her molt] and was in really perfect plumage and just looked good.  The only thing left for her to finish was her primary molt.  The last two primaries at the end of the wing were old everything else was fresh.  She had a good fat load also.  She weighed 4.3 grams and most of the female rufous that I band are in the 3.5 gram range.  I’m hoping that the bird will stay a while but they don’t carry a fat load for fun and this usually means they are preparing for a move."
Above Mark Armstrong examines the hummer.  Photo credit:  Wallace Coffey

Wallace Coffey, of the Bristol Bird Club, was on hand to witness the hummingbird capture and examination in Sullivan County and posted the following on the Bristol Bird Club listserve:

Expert Confirms Musick’s Campground Hummer a “Rufous !” 

If you needed to know the positive ID for the hummingbird visiting Musick’s Campground since the middle of November, then tic that one down for your life list or annual list as a Rufous Hummingbird. They occasionally frequent a lingering feeder, in appropriate habitat, during late fall or winter in our area.

Mark Armstrong, and his wife Jane, of the East Tennessee Avian Research,Inc. group out of Seymour, TN, headed up before daylight to capture and band the tiny creature which is en route from its breeding area along the Pacific coast in the northwest of the US and Canada, migrating to the gulf states for the winter and some to South America.  Mark caught it in less than 10 minutes, just before 9 a.m.  A careful study of the feathers, measurements and weight determine it was an adult
female.  He is an authority because Mark and Jane have caught and banded more than 100 Rufous hummers and more than 3,000 Ruby-throateds.  Mark is [the retired] curator of birds at the Knoxville Zoo.

This winter has been slim pickings so far.  He has encountered only about three birds, mainly in the Knoxville area.  That is very low for him.  He does not always scrape the bottom of the barrel.  In June of this year,  he trapped a Ruby-throated in his backyard at Seymour which had been banded in September 2014 at Lake Jackson, Texas.  Well, for that matter, he caught a Rufous at the feeders on Mae Musick’s porch at South Holston Lake in eastern Sullivan Co., 1 Dec 2009, which had been banded 10 Jan 2009 in Pass Christian, Mississippi, a bit west of Biloxi and Gulfport.

To capture the hummer, he took the South Holston bird’s feeders down and away from the heat lamps which prevent freezing.  Then he hung a cage not too different than a typical bird cage but much larger. One of the feeders was placed in the cage and the door held open with a release “string.” The hummer soon came to the cage and went right into the feeder.  Mark closed the door and safely placed a tiny band on its leg.  
In the photo above,  Nancy McPeak of the Bristol Bird Club, is holding the hummer in her hand where it left quickly at its own determination and effort.  Photo credit: Wallace Coffey
 Photo credit:  Wallace Coffey

Mark and Jane are shown here as they prepared to leave the hummer/banding site. They carry lots of equipment to get their job done accurately.  Jane is carrying the cage trap. They also documented the ID and details with many close-up photos of the bird. For the most part, only the capture and study of details,including specific feather study, is reliable for species determination.  Most of us can fairly well judge some birds but only handheld counts. 

Present for this morning’s capture and study were Mae Musick, Carol Musick, Nancy McPeak, Mark and Jane along with Wallace Coffey, Bristol, TN.
Photo credit:  Katherine Noblet

Keep at least one winter feeder out and you may find yourself hosting one of these rare winter visitors!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Western Hummingbirds Have Arrived!

Western Hummingbirds are migrating through Tennessee and some are arriving to stay the winter! 
Above, a Rufous Hummingbird juvenile feeds on Pineapple Sage in Billie Cantwell's yard in west Knoxville before being captured for banding.  Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell
A hummingbird trap is shown above, set up by Mark Armstrong near the Pineapple Sage.  The feeder is surrounded by the cage and a door is raised and lowered with fishing line to trap the hummingbird after he goes inside.  Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

Friends Billie Cantwell and Colin Leonard have their third Rufous hummingbird visiting their yard, making this their fifth consecutive fall/winter season of hosting a wintering hummingbird. One male Rufous wintered in their yard for three seasons.  
This year's hummer is a juvenile male rufous who was initially discovered visiting the red blossoms of Pineapple Sage while ignoring feeders. 

Billie described him as "one smart cookie" as he foiled Mark Armstrong's first attempt to capture and band him on October 29th.  Rather than feeding from a nectar feeders at their home, this juvenile preferred the natural nectar of the pineapple sage.  Mark erected a mist net to capture him.  The hummer flew up to the net, examined it, and then flew up over and around the net avoiding capture.   
As time passed, the hummer became aquainted with the nectar feeders and began to use them. On November 10th, Mark, Master Bander of hummingbirds and songbirds, set a trap over a feeder near the pineapple sage and captured the juvenile. Above, Mark gets his banding equipment ready with Janie Kading's assistance.  
Mark first examines the hummers legs to see if it is banded. This juvenile was not banded and received band K23381, shown below.  Bands are issued by the Bird Banding Laboratory at Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge and all banded birds are reported to the lab.
Once the band is in place, Mark takes measurements.  The birds wing and tail are measured for general identification.  These measurements also help with hummingbird species identification in some cases, and can distinguish males from females.  The belly is examined for fat deposits which give the bander information about the general health of the bird.  
Below, Mark measures the hummingbird's bill with a digital measuring device. 

Through a loop and magnifying glasses, Mark checks the beak for grooving.  Grooving or growth bands were found, confirming that this hummer is a juvenile.  These grooves close as the hummingbird matures into an adult.
Banders must also distinguish the hummingbird species from other similar species. Rufous and Allen's hummingbird juveniles look very similiar and both have rufous in their tail feathers. Both have been found to winter in Tennessee.  Examination of the shape and size of the tail feathers confirms that this bird is a young Rufous.
Above and below, the Rufous juvenile is shown just before release.  He currently has three gorget feathers on his throat.
Janie holds the hummer for release.  A few minutes after he flew, the hummer was observed feeding from the nectar feeder at the kitchen window.
Do you have your winter nectar feeder out?

All images in this blog post are credited to Billie Cantwell.  Thank you, Billie!

First juvenile Rufous visiting Cantwell residence . The same hummingbird is shown as an adult in Hummers in Snow and Cold
Learn more about Wintering Hummingbirds
More on Rufous Hummingbirds

Friday, October 16, 2015

Migration Season--Fall Banding at Seven Islands

This is the second in a two-part series on the October 11th banding session at Seven Islands State Birding Park, Tennessee, with Mark Armstrong and Billie Cantwell banding.  The first post can be found at this link:  A Palm Warbler Kind of Day 
Photo credit:  Patty Ford

Fall is always an exciting season as migrants are moving through the area and wintering species are just arriving.  Seven Islands provides a unique and exciting habitat for studying birds.  Situated on more than 410 acres along the French Broad River, the park offers a combination of shrubby and native grassland habitat with food sources that attract many migrating warblers, wintering sparrows and other species.    
Above, a female Hooded Warbler.    Hooded warblers breed in eastern North America, including Tennessee, and winter in the West Indies, Mexico, to Panama.  They live and forage in low, dense understory, often near water.   Photo credit:  Colin Leonard
Nineteen species were processed during the banding session with a total of 122 birds banded and 12 recaptures (birds previously banded), totaling 134.  Among the warblers and sparrows banded were 13 Common Yellowthroats, 1 Magnolia warbler, 57 Western Palm Warblers, 1 Yellow Palm Warbler, 1 Hooded warbler, 17 Field Sparrows, 1 Chipping Sparrow, 2 Savannah Sparrows, 6 Swamp Sparrows and 5 Song Sparrows.
Members of the banding team go to the nets to extract birds at regular intervals beginning at 7:40 a.m. with the period for banding lasting until approximately 11:00 a.m. depending on weather conditions.  When captured, each bird is placed in a small cloth bag while waiting to be processed. The bag helps keep the bird calm and safe until it is banded and set free again.
Above and below, images of a male Magnolia Warbler (Setaphaga magnolia). Magnolia Warblers breed in northern boreal forests and migrate to wintering grounds in Mexico and the West Indies to Panama.  Their conspicuous bright yellow and black breeding plumage with distinct tail markings make them one of the most easily recognized warblers.  The Magnolia warbler you see here is in his fall or non-breeding plumage.  Black markings around his face have faded to gray, as well as the streaked black necklace that is present during breeding season.
The distinctive band of white in the outer tail feathers of the Magnolia Warbler is shown above and is unique to this warbler species.
Magnolia Warblers also has a bright yellow rump which often causes them to be confused with the Yellow-rumped Warbler, but their bright yellow breast is an obvious distinction between species..  
Above and below, Magnolia Warbler    

Banding team members return from the nets to bring birds back to the banding station.
Below, taking a break between net runs.

Above, Billie Cantwell places a band on an Indigo Bunting.  Birds are banded and then examined for information that helps to identify their age, sex, and relative health at the time they were captured.
Wing measurements and tail measurements are taken.
If it is possible to determine the sex of the bird, this information is also recorded, along with the amount of fat found on the bird's belly.  A large amount of fat during migration indicates a healthy, well-nourished bird.    
All of the data collected is recorded on a banding sheet, shown above, and will be reported to the United States Geological Banding Laboratory.   Photo credit:  Colin Leonard
Age is determined by examining the wing feathers, including colors, length, and relative wear.  The skull is also examined for ossification. Photo credit Colin Leonard
Above, you see the wing of an Indigo Bunting.  The bird is being held in a "banders grip" during examination. This grip supports the birds body while it is being examined. Photo credit: Colin Leonard
In the image above, Mark Armstrong is about to touch an Eastern Phoebe's bill, but he gets a surprise. The phoebe snaps his beak making a loud clap. Phoebes are known to snap their bills during aggressive territorial interactions with other phoebes.  
Birds have personalities and it is particularly delightful when they express them!  Mark Armstrong is a Master Bander of songbirds and hummingbirds.  He is the founder of East Tennessee Avian Research, a non-profit organization, and has been operating the banding station at Seven Islands for approximately eight years.
Eastern Phoebe                      Photo credit:  Colin Leonard

Visit the first post in this two-part report on banding:  A Palm Warbler Kind of Day
Visit my previous posts on bird banding
Visit the Knoxville Chapter of TOS on Facebook
Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge now Seven Islands State Birding Park

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Palm Warbler Kind of Day--Banding at Seven Islands

Banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park in the fall can be spectacular and our banding session on October 11th was just that.  122 birds were banded and 12 recaptured for a total of 134 birds processed by a great banding team.

Photo credit:  Colin Leonard

Among the 19 species banded, 58 were Palm Warblers!  I am focusing this post on this beautiful species and will show you more species in a second post to follow.
Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum) breed in bogs and fens of remote boreal forests of the northeast and are considered one of our most northerly breeding wood warblers.  Migrating at night in small flocks, they winter in the southeastern and Gulf coast states, Mexico and the West Indies.  
Photo credit:  Colin Leonard

Our banding session was timed just right to capture this species during migration. They are found at Seven Islands because they like foraging on the ground in grassy and weedy areas and on small shrubs and trees, all plentiful in the park.
Above, a Western Palm Warbler, held in a bander's grip, showing rufous feathers on his head.  The male Palm Warbler wears a rufous crown during breeding season and the visibility of rufous feathers this time of year indicates a male that has molted into winter plumage.
Above and below, Western Palm Warblers (also known as brown).
There are two subspecies of Palm Warblers, the Western Palm Warbler, also referred to as brown, and the Yellow Palm Warbler or Eastern subspecies.  Among our 58 Palm Warblers, we captured one Yellow Palm Warbler which gave us an excellent opportunity to compare the difference.
In the image above, you can see a comparison of the lores (eyebrow area) and throat of the two subspecies of Palm Warblers.  The Western subspecies has a more buffy appearance with buff-colored lores while the Yellow Palm Warbler has yellow lores, throat and belly, shown below.  Photo credit:  Colin Leonard
Above, the Western is on the left and the Yellow subspecies or Eastern on the right. The yellow tail coverts on this species are also distinctive field marks.  In the field, the Palm Warbler is often seen pumping its tail while foraging.  The two subspecies inhabit separate breeding grounds but overlap on their wintering grounds and during migration.  Western Palm Warblers breed roughly west of Ottawa, Ontario, while the Yellow Palm Warbler nests east of Ottawa.  
Only at the banding table do you have the opportunity to see little known features of these beautiful warblers--both subspecies have yellow foot pads!  
Above and below, you can see a good overall comparison of the appearance of the two subspecies, the Yellow Palm Warbler above, and the Western Palm Warbler below.  Photo credit:  Colin Leonard
Photo credit:  Colin Leonard
Banding was conducted by Mark Armstrong, Master Bander of hummingbirds and songbirds, and Billie Cantwell.  Banding studies give scientists information about the relative health and abundance of bird populations, as well as, alert us to changes in the environment.

Thanks to Colin Leonard and Richard Secrist for their assistance in taking photos!

View the second post in this two-part report on our Oct 11th banding session:  Migration Season
Visit my previous posts on bird banding.
Visit the Knoxville Chapter of TOS on Facebook
Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge now Seven Islands State Birding Park
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham