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!

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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