Autumn Colors Are Flying Our Way, and Fall Banding Will Soon Begin

Swamp Sparrow.  Photo by Justin Thompson
Swamp Sparrow. Photo by Justin Thompson.

Are you looking for a great spot to observe fall migration?  Since habitat is everything, the Willistown Conservation Trust invites you to visit the Rushton Woods Banding Station, which is an extraordinary place to watch birds congregate while they find plenty of food and protection from predators along their journey southward.

Rushton Farm in summer.  Photo by Blake Goll
Rushton Farm in summer. Photo by Blake Goll

Our public bird banding program will run every week during fall migration beginning Tuesday, September 4!

We will band songbirds every Tuesday and Thursday through the last week of October as weather permits-we will not band if it rains.  With our nets going up at sunrise, visitors wishing to see the most birds should arrive as early as possible.  Action is often constant until 11:00am, after which the nets are closed.  Feel free to stop by for an hour before work or stay the whole morning from 6am till 11am!

Rushton Banding Shelter.  Photo by Jodi Spragins.
Rushton Banding Shelter. Photo by Jodi Spragins.

Rushton Woods Banding Station is located at the Rushton Woods Preserve and Farm in Newtown Square, PA. (NOTE: GPS address is across the street from 950 Delchester Road, Newtown Square, PA).  Rushton is located at the corner of Goshen and Delchester Roads, with the entrance on Delchester Rd.  Park in the entrance parking lot and walk to the hedgerow opposite from Delchester Rd.  Hang a right when you get down to the hedgerow and quietly walk along the hedgerow past the net lanes until you see a mowed trail veering up through the hedgerow to your left.  Follow that and you’ll soon see the banding shelter.  Please approach quietly so as not to scare the birds.

Children observe a mist net in which the birds are gently caught.
Children observe a mist net in which the birds are gently caught.

Observers of all ages will get a chance to learn about birds from skilled bird banders and see all aspects of this exciting scientific process.  Birds we will be gently catching and banding are migrating south for the winter and are using Rushton as a stopover site to refuel and rest.  By inspecting the feathers of their wings, we can glean much important information about the amazing lives and the health of these beautiful birds.  The data we collect contribute to global bird conservation and helps us document the effects of our land preservation efforts on bird populations.

Second year female Northern Flicker.  (Ageing by feather molt and wear).  Photo by Blake Goll.
Second year female Northern Flicker. (Ageing by feather molt and wear). Photo by Blake Goll.

We are extremely grateful to the volunteers and staff members who contribute to the operation of our station by banding, serving as guides for visitors and presenting educational programs for groups.  Please remember that financial support comes entirely from the donations of individuals and organizations so please contact Lisa Kiziuk (lkr@wctrust.org) if you can help support the Willistown Conservation Trust’s Rushton Woods Banding Station.

Saw-whet Owl at  donation box.  Photo copyright Adrian Binns.  Note: No owls were compromised during this photo shoot.  They must be held for 10 minutes after banding to be sure their eyes have time to adjust to the darkness again, after which they may be placed on a perch (or donation box) and observed until take off.
Saw-whet Owl at donation box. Photo copyright Adrian Binns. Note: No owls were compromised during this photo shoot. They must be held for 10 minutes after banding to be sure their eyes have time to adjust to the darkness again, after which they may be placed on a perch (or donation box) and observed until take off.

Bird Banding Station Open House for Families – Saturday September 8th at Rushton Woods Preserve and Farm

In addition to the normal Tuesday and Thursday public hours, the banding station will be open to everyone, Young Birders, teens and adults, on Saturday September 8  anytime from sunrise (around 6am) until we close the nets at 11am.  We are not normally open on weekends, so don’t miss this opportunity to stop by and observe our fabulous fall migrants!

Episcopal Academy teacher and advisee with Baltimore Oriole female before release.  Photo by Blake Goll
Episcopal Academy teacher and advisee with Baltimore Oriole female before release. Photo by Blake Goll

PA Young Birders invited to visit Banding Station from 9-11am on Sept. 8 

During this time, other visitors and families are certainly welcome to observe bird banding, but we will kindly ask them to allow the children to take the “first row seats”.  PA Young Birders are welcome to come earlier than 9am too if they wish to see more spectacular birds.  Otherwise, from 9-11am Young Birders will be observing bird banding and learning about these amazing birds up close.  We’ll do some birding and explore the hedgerows to try to figure out what it is that’s drawing these traveling birds to this place.  We might get a chance to see other migrants too, like Monarch butterflies! Please RSVP to Blake Goll (bhg@wctrust.org or 610-353-2562 ext.20).

Banding a Magnolia Warbler and recording data.
Banding a Magnolia Warbler and recording data.

Lost and Found Caterpillar

Our PA Young Birder meeting last week about Monarchs and other butterflies was lots of fun!  John Black, a Master Naturalist for Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, taught us all about the fascinating life cycles of Monarchs and what we can do for them, like plant milkweed host plants and nectar sources in our backyards.  Did you know that right before a  Monarch caterpillar becomes a chrysalis, it vomits out its insides? After all, it won’t need tough leaf-digesting organs as a nectar-drinking adult butterfly!

Young Birders looking at Monarch chrysalis.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Young Birders looking at Monarch chrysalis. Photo by Blake Goll.
John Black showing Young Birders a Monarch butterfly.  Photo by Blake Goll.
John Black showing Young Birders a Monarch butterfly. Photo by Blake Goll.
Passing Monarch to child for release.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Passing Monarch to child for release. Photo by Blake Goll.
Young Birders releasing a Monarch Butterfly.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Young Birders releasing a Monarch Butterfly. Photo by Blake Goll.

John even brought a butterfly-rearing tent containing live Monarch butterflies, which the children got to release, various instars of Monarch caterpillars, Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars munching on spicebush, and Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars munching on parsley.  The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar was a favorite with its adorable “face” looking up at us!  Those eyespots are not eyes at all nor is that even its true head (it is underneath that “mask”), but this is an effective way to confuse predators.

Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar. Photo by Derek Ramsey on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Spicebush_Swallowtail_Papilio_troilus_Caterpillar_2400px.jpg)
Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar. Photo by Derek Ramsey on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Spicebush_Swallowtail_Papilio_troilus_Caterpillar_2400px.jpg)

However, we (the predators) confused the spicebush caterpillar when we accidentally shook the branch he was on!  To our dismay, the helpless caterpillar fell to the ground and landed somewhere amongst the grass where thirty minutes of rescue searching were to no avail.  John, having seen this happen many times before during his programs, knew just what to do.  He stuck a little spicebush twig with leaves into the ground near where the tiny caterpillar fell and simply went on with his program, not worried at all.

At the end of the night during cleanup, John collected his spicebush twig and the found caterpillar!  In just under half an hour, the little caterpillar smelled his life- giving host plant, found his way up to a leaf, and spun himself into his silk blanket with the tip of the leaf folded over him for the night.  Snug as a bug in a rug!  It just goes to show how sensitive these caterpillars are to their host plants.

Monarch caterpillar.  Photo by Margot Patterson.
Monarch caterpillar on milkweed. Photo by Margot Patterson.

That’s just one of the many reasons why it is so important to use native plants in your yard rather than fancy ornamentals.  It’s the native plants with which our native insects have evolved, so it’s the native plants we must plant to promote a healthy native habitat that supports native beauties like Monarchs.  If you have Butterfly Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed or Common Milkweed in your yard you may be hosting wonderful Monarch caterpillars who must feed solely on milkweed (this is what makes them toxic to birds as adults).  Other lovely native plants, like goldenrod and ironweed, will provide great nectar sources for adult Monarch butterflies.

Monarch on Joe Pyeweed outside the Willistown Conservation Trust office.
Monarch on Joe Pyeweed outside the Willistown Conservation Trust office.

Go to MonarchWatch.org to find out more about how to attract Monarchs to your garden and how to create a certified Monarch Waystation for migrating Monarchs!  They need our help.

A great field guide to the invertebrate community in a milkweed patch is “Milkweed, Monarchs and More” by Ba Rea, Karen Oberhauser, and Michael Quinn.

Milkweed Field Guide

End of Summer Observations

I can’t wait for those warblers but am having fun in the meantime just watching my bird feeders.  There are so many young birds born this summer visiting my feeders now, and even though they are starting to look exactly like the adults I can tell they are babies, mostly by their silly behavior.  I saw a young hummer at the sugar feeder the other day who had the most trouble trying to figure out where to stick his bill!  Goldfinch babies are begging from their parents incessantly at the sunflower feeder, young Tufted titmice are curiously hopping around on the floor of the deck instead of on the actual feeders, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers with gray heads are waiting patiently on the nearby tree for their mother to bring them a suet morsal or two.

Many of the adults are looking rather shaggy as they molt out of their tired “nesting season” feathers in preparation for the harsh cold weather ahead.  The goldfinches will soon lend their brilliant yellow color to the leaves of autumn as  little yellow warblers take center stage for a fleeting fall moment…

Ageing a Goldfinch. (Second Year)
Ageing an American Goldfinch. (Second Year)

We hope to see you at the banding station throughout the season!

Gratefully,

~Blake

2 Comments Add yours

  1. this is such a wonderful blog/ I love the photos–each one is better than the next, and your voice is really enthusiastic and uplifting. Gloria On Aug 28, 2012, at 5:01 PM, Willistown Conservation Trust Bird Blog wrote:

    > >

    1. wctbirds says:

      Awe thanks, Gloria! I really appreciate that. I spend a lot of time putting my heart and soul into the blog! I really want it to be a fun learning resource for people interested in birds and nature as well as somewhat of a journal for the Willistown Conservation Trust Bird Conservation Program. Your comment made my day! Thanks for following.

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