Songbird Banding Continues Full Speed Ahead and Owl Banding Off to a Roaring, Record-Shattering Start

White-throated Sparrow.  Photo by Mimi Davis.
White-throated Sparrow. Photo by Mimi Davis.

Well, I have lots to report from the field, so I’ll start with last week, which was an exciting one for Rushton banding station! On Monday (Columbus Day) we netted 73 songbirds of 17 species  including lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, our first Hermit Thrush of the season, Swamp Sparrow, Magnolia Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, our first Hairy Woodpecker of the season, and bushels of robins and White-throated Sparrows.  All this was accomplished with 3 less nets than the usual 12, as we were slightly understaffed and strive to avoid getting more birds than we can safely process.   Woodcock, Eastern Phoebe and Cedar Waxwings were also in the area, but not netted.

Hermit Thrush.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Hermit Thrush. Photo by Blake Goll.

We got rained out last Tuesday (10/9), but on Wednesday (10/10) we managed to band safely through the fog, mist and spitting rain, opening and closing nets as needed because we were so well staffed.  We netted 68 birds of 21 species, an exceptional day for Rushton.  Our first migrant Sharp-shinned Hawk of the fall stopped by along with two House Finch, a species we rarely see.

Adult female Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Adult female Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Blake Goll.

The rest of that Wednesday’s catch was similar to Monday with the addition of a couple of beautiful Yellow Palm Warblers, a Gray-cheeked Thrush, and a rather late Black-and-white Warbler that we first banded over two weeks ago.  She was a young female hatched this year who seemed confused about the whole migration thing; she had no fat stored aka no fuel for her imminent journey.   In fact, she actually lost a gram in those two weeks!  A recap like this gives us a glimpse into stopover ecology of these migrant songbirds.  Perhaps it’s normal for a hatching year Black-and-white to stay put for two or more  weeks before migrating or continuing migration? Or maybe she’s struggling.  After all, more than half of baby birds do not make it through their first year of life…

Black-and-white Warbler.  Photo by Justin Thompson.
Black-and-white Warbler. Photo by Justin Thompson.
Child with Swamp Sparrow.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Child with Swamp Sparrow. Photo by Blake Goll.
Palm Warbler.  Photo by Blake Goll
Palm Warbler. Photo by Blake Goll

Another 17 species last Thursday (10/11)  included two Sharp-shinned Hawks (adult and juvenile females), our first Winter Wren, another Palm Warbler, our 26th Swainson’s Thrush and more Gray-cheeked Thrush.  Magnolia Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Black-throated Blue Warbler, along with Yellow Palm and Myrtle warblers continued landing in the nets.  Ruby-crowned Kinglets filled the trees and we caught our share.

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Blake Goll.
Doris showing chickadee to delighted school group.  Photo by Blake Goll.
Doris McGovern showing chickadee to delighted school group. Photo by Blake GollCarolina Chickadee.  Photo by Blake Goll.Carolina Chickadee before release. Photo by Blake Goll.

This brings our day banding total for last week to 178 birds. It’s sparrow time at Rushton but still no sign of Lincoln’s Sparrow or Fox Sparrow.  Fall banding is nearing the end, but  it’s not over until the “Fox Sparrow sings!”

Yesterday, we banded our first regal White-crowned Sparrow and the first stunning Golden-crowned Kinglet of the season.  We also recaptured our little lady Black-and-white Warbler, so she’s been at Rushton for 3 weeks now!  She seems slightly healthier this week and put on a gram as if maybe she is now thinking about getting ready to migrate.

Male Golden-crowned Kinglet. Photo by Justin Thompson.
Male Golden-crowned Kinglet. Photo by Justin Thompson.

PUBlic Songbird banding continues every Tuesday and Thursday mornings at Rushton….

…when it’s not raining for the next couple of weeks until all we’re getting is sparrows and juncos.  This Thursday, we have a group of thirty 2nd graders from Abington Friends coming from 9:30-12:30pm, so you may not want to come then.  Otherwise, no reservation is needed for songbird banding, unless you’re bringing a large group.  Hours are 6:30am-11am.

The PA Young Birder event, “Owls and Their Night World” is FULL for this Friday October 19th at Rushton Woods Preserve and Farm.   Stay tuned for cancellation due to rain; the rain date will be Friday October 26, same time and place. If the event is cancelled for this Friday, we will start from scratch accepting RSVPs for the rain date.
Children with Saw-whet Owl.
Children with Saw-whet Owl.
 Children will get a chance to observe and learn about the science of owl banding, explore the natural world at night, view the stars and planets through a telescope borrowed from Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and exercise their creativity making owl art under the guidance of an owl artist.
 Owl drawings by Adrian Binns.
Owl drawings by Adrian Binns.
  Please understand that this event was capped at 30 children on a first-come first-serve basis, in order for us to ensure that our small staff can safely manage the crowd in the dark while operating saw-whet owl nets and keeping the wild birds safe with minimal stress.   This limit also ensures that the children get the most our of their experience.
Of course, if you did not make it into this event you are still welcome to observe owl banding on any of the other nights we are open!  Please see below for more info.  Additionally, there will be another Young Birder Owl Night for Teens on November 9.  We are not accepting reservations for Nov 9 at this time, but will let you know when we do.
Please remember that these events are free, but donations are greatly appreciated as we are a nonprofit, and it takes a substantial amount of money and effort to keep our banding station running between equipment costs, staff time, education materials, programs etc….  If you’d like to donate, please bring cash or check and look for the donation box with the handsome, hand-carved Saw-whet owl on it!  If you’d like to be recognized for your donations, mail checks for the Bird Conservation Program to the Willistown Conservation Trust (www.wctrust.org).
Saw-whet Owl next to donation box (with mouse!).  Photo by Justin Thompson.
Saw-whet Owl next to donation box (with mouse!). Photo by Justin Thompson.
Northern Saw-whet Owl Banding Program at Rushton
 Starting officially this fall on October 25, the public is invited to the Rushton Woods Banding Station for a rendez vous under the stars to observe first-hand the techniques and uses of bird banding and to learn about the biology of Northern Saw-whet Owls, arguably the cutest owls in the world. We will open from October 25 until November 21 with Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings available, but we can accept visitors on a RESERVATION BASIS ONLY. Many people wish to visit our station with the hope of seeing these enchanting owls up-close, but our space is extremely limited.
Young Saw-whet with juvenal coloring.
Young Saw-whet with juvenal coloring.

 The monitoring of Northern Saw-whet Owls (NSWO) is a nocturnal activity whereby this small owl species is caught using a system of loudspeakers (playing their calls) surrounded by mist nets in which the owls become entangled. The data collected from this process gives scientists information about the cyclical nature of the migratory cycles of these species and their reproductive success.

This year is a shaping up to be banner year so far with banders north and south of us reporting the earliest-on-record peak of Saw-whet migration.  Normally, the peak occurs around Halloween, but many stations reported record numbers last week.  This season, the tireless Rushton banding crew has already banded 41 new Saw-whets and recaptured 1 foreign Saw-whet in just 6 nights from 10/10-10/16  (plus 3 new Eastern Screech Owls).   The floodgates (and our hands) really burst open last night with 17 feisty young  owls in our nets and many more devils left in the woods (and 34 bloody holes in our hands from 17 pairs of needle-sharp talons!).  This blows the Chester County one-night record we set last year out of the water, which was 12.  Our current total of 42 NSWO in 6 nights is more than the total number caught in 2011 after 23 nights of effort (a mere 34 owls)!  If we stay on fire like this we will far exceed our best year, which was 2010 (91 owls).

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Eastern Screech Owl.  Photo by Justin Thompson
Eastern Screech Owl. Photo by Justin Thompson

This morning we discovered that the  foreign recapture we got last night, a hatching year female (born this year), was originally banded in Ellenville, NY on 10/08/2012.  Our calculations show that this young owl flew about 125 miles in about a week’s time to arrive at the Rushton “late-night Wendy’s takeout” yesterday evening.

In addition to these voracious “woodland elves” last night, we caught (alongside an outraged owl) a very dead field mouse in the net that weighed 19.1g.  After banding the owl, we offered his mouse in a “to-go  bag”, but the owl refused to take his meal with him even though he seemed quite hungry.  Perhaps he’s  germa-phobic and didn’t like us getting our grubby paws on his “burger”.  I don’t blame him.

Saw-whet Owl holding tight to his dinner!  Photo by Blake Goll.
Saw-whet Owl holding tight to his dinner! Photo by Blake Goll.
Saw-whet Owl with dead mouse.  Photo by Justin Thompson.
Saw-whet Owl with dead mouse. Photo by Justin Thompson.

The experts are saying this is not a cyclical “irruption year” due to the lack of mice and voles in the north but rather a bumper crop of Saw-whet babies spilling south due to a bumper crop of voles this summer in the north.  Hence, we’ve only banded hatching year owls visiting the Rushton all-you-can-eat mouse buffet so far.

“Between migration banding in the morning for songbirds and at night for owls, we are burning the bander at both ends,” says Doris McGovern, Rushton’s federally licensed bird bander.  “Oh well, it’s owl in a night’s work!” she says, still witty even though sleep deprived.

Please reserve an evening by e-mailing Lisa Kiziuk at lkr@wctrust.org as soon as possible and note that banding is weather dependent as rain or high winds will cause the station to close.  See available dates below.

The station is located in the farm shed at Rushton Woods Preserve and Farm and the GPS address to use is 1050 Delchester Road, Malvern, PA 19355. Here’s a link to a map :  http://www.wctrust.org/?page_id=58  (Rushton is on the corner of Goshen and Delchester Roads, with the entrance on Delchester).  Please note that parking is at a premium and you may be asked to park in the field lot.

You will want to come when there is little or no moonlight and we can’t band if it will rain. Based on my moon chart the best times will be between October 17 and 20 and between November 8 and 19.  There are a few spaces left for this Thursday October 18th.  Otherwise, choose any Thurs, Fri, or Sat starting October 25 until Thanksgiving with the exception of the following dates:

CLOSED Days Not Open to Public Include:

November 9, 10,11, 15, and 17

Hope to see you at owl banding, but please remember to RSVP to Lisa first!

Thanks,

~Blake

Saw-whet Owl on branch.  Photo  by John Fedak.
Saw-whet Owl on branch. Photo by John Fedak.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Just reading your great posting regarding the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. I was very glad to see that you are helping children to learn about the world of birds! I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and this past Friday, my wife and I came upon an adult Saw-Whet Owl out in the bush. This was the first time as birders that we had ever seen a Saw-Whet Owl. Fortunately, we had our camera with us and got some good pictures and video. We have posted them for anyone interested at: http://frametoframe.ca/photo-essay-northern-saw-whet-owl-sighting

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