Screech Owl Steals the Stage and Compost Pile Attracts a Pile of Birds!

Black throated Blue warbler
Young male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Notice the greenish hue to his back. This indicates he was born this summer.

Hello Everyone,

Here is our banding update for the past 2 weeks of Fall Migration Banding thus far.   Sorry for the delay, but we have been up to our ears in rain and getting ready for the Run-a-Muck, which is still on for tomorrow rain or shine, from 2- 6 PM ish.  Check out our website for more information about this delightful countryside bash!

Blake with Eastern Screech Owl
Me (Blake) with the Eastern Screech Owl at Rushton Woods Preserve.

The following is our official banding update written by our magnificent Master bander, Doris McGovern:

Friends of Rushton Banding,

We began our 2011 fall season weeks later than 2010.  August’s never-ending rain filled our net lanes with standing water and made it unsafe for birds and impossible for banders to work.  That’s why you haven’t heard from us until now.

Eastern Screech Owl
This young Eastern Screech Owl was born in Rushton Woods this spring.

However, when we finally got underway we caught the cutest gray phase Eastern Screech Owl I’ve ever seen.  Its plumage was an intricate bark-like camouflage pattern with subtle gray shadings, streaks and contrasts.  This young bird was so cooperative; there were more than a few visitors who would have been happy to have it as a pet.  We don’t anthropomorphize (attribute human personality to things not human) very often, but this little guy or gal came very close to being adopted.  This is our second Screech Owl.  The first, an adult red-phase, was caught late at night during Saw-whet Owl banding in 2010.  Only Lou Hahn and I saw that bird, but this little owl was seen by lots of visitors.  Children were wide-eyed.  These owls are quite common even in suburbia.  If you haven’t seen or heard one, check out http://www.owlpages.com/owls.php?genus=Megascops&species=asio

Connecticut Warbler
This male Connecticut Warbler graced Rushton with his fleeting presence last week.

Last fall we caught six Connecticut Warblers, an amazing feat since these illusive warblers, skulkers in fields and low vegetation, are rarely seen by even the most avid bird watchers.  Last week on the 16th we caught our first Connecticut, an attractive male with a gray hood.  A female followed this week (Tuesday the 20th) and we could get a few more of these warblers if it ever stops raining.  Thirteen warbler species netted so far this season include Worm-eating, Wilson’s, Black-throated Blue, Prairie, and lots of American Redstart and Magnolias.   Of course, we enjoy all the vireos, thrushes and woodpeckers that live in and stop over at Rushton Preserve as well.

Northern Flicker
This Northern Flicker is a resident of Rushton.

Our catch for the past 2 weeks  has been very good with no total below 28 birds and one as high as 57.  On Wednesday Godefroy, a post doc at Penn from Burgundy, suggested setting a net near the farm’s compost piles where we often see birds flitting about as we are leaving.  The birds glean insects and seeds from the rows of vegetables and use the hedgerow for shelter.  Lou and Godefroy set the net late in the day, but within half an hour, we caught 15 birds including Field and Chipping Sparrows, Indigo Buntings and wrens.  While the sparrow migration is on, this could become our best net.

Young female Canada Warbler
This young female Canada Warbler was one of our first migrant warblers this season.

Members of ’PA Young Birders’ will attend a banding session scheduled just for them next Thursday, September 29th from 9-11 am.  This program was very successful last fall when over 40 youngsters from 7-17 attended and were overwhelmingly excited by the experience.  If you have a youngster or know a young person who would be interested in learning about birds, contact Lisa Kiziuk (lkr@wctrust.org)  for a schedule of the fun birding and nature programs that she and Blake Goll (bhg@wctrust.org) have prepared.

See you in the woods,

Doris McGovern

Blogster Blake here again.  I just want to emphasize how exciting it was to have all those 15 birds in the “compost net!”  Lisa is the one who found them all in the net by herself as we were closing up.  She quickly called for reinforcements, and Doris drove her car right up to the net from the banding station!    After helping Lisa to extract all 15 birds,  she drove the birds back to the banding table for speedy delivery, and Doris and I got to work banding birds double time!

Many of the Indigo Buntings, Field Sparrows, and Chipping Sparrows in the “compost net” were young of the year, which is great proof that they nest in or near Rushton Woods Preserve.  In addition to contributing to nationwide bird conservation efforts, one of the main reasons we set up this banding station last year was to see which birds are using this special habitat.  Baby birds are great proof of the quality of our habitat as a breeding ground.  The baby Field Sparrow was especially important because they are declining throughout their range as a result of loss of grassland habitat.  Plus, this sparrow was absolutely adorable with its tiny pink bill, its bright white eye-ring, fuzzy baby body feathers, and lopsided tail (the rectrices were all coming in at different rates).  He was a cute little mess!  Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture to show you because we were in the middle of processing the 15 birds.

Adult Field Sparrow
An adult field sparrow banded earlier this summer.

The other thing I wanted to share with you is this recent New York Times article about the sobering truth of glass buildings luring millions of birds nationwide to their death each year.  Collisions with glass buildings in cities is the second leading cause of deaths to migrating birds, after habitat loss.  I don’t like to end on such a sad note, but this is a real problem that Audubon and the American Bird Conservancy are working hard to publicize.  Raising awareness is the key, as some architects are already coming up with innovative solutions that are being readily adopted by some cities.

And for the next addition to your personal library, I would recommend “The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds.”  It is an essential companion to any identification field guide.  I spotted Doris’s copy on the banding table the other day and immediately snatched it up to page through it.  It is quite a treasure and a joy to read (for bird lovers).  There are species accounts with the most detailed information, like what height in the tree you should look for that particular bird, interspersed with fascinating articles on avian natural history and ecology.  I’ll be ordering my copy from Amazon very soon!

I hope to see you at the banding station next week, Tuesday and/or Thursday morning, if the rain has stopped!  The Rushton fields of goldenrod are absolutely stunning, almost as stunning as our fall warblers…

Happy Fall,

~Blake

Screech Owl
Portrait of our Eastern Screech Owl by Justin Thompson.