Something to Chat About

Yellow-breasted Chat (Hatch Year) banded on Tuesday at Rushton. Photo by Blake Goll

Another dreary, drippy morning on Tuesday surprisingly produced a season record of 54 birds spanning a dazzling 20 species.  Highlights included Gray-cheeked Thrushes, another prized Connecticut Warbler, the first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season, and an increase in numbers of individuals of several species as compared to previous years—including Black-throated Blue Warblers, Indigo Buntings, and Eastern Towhees.  The grande finale was a glorious Yellow-breasted Chat, the second ever for Rushton!

The Yellow-breasted Chat is a large, chunky warbler with an atypical song that is more similar to the varied, staccato songs of catbirds and mockingbirds than to its more refined sounding relatives in the warbler family.  Dining mostly on spiders and insects in dense thickets, it also feasts on berries as evidenced by the traces of wild grapes on this chat’s bill.
Although this was undoubtedly a migrant, chats could theoretically breed at Rushton; we have everything a chat could ever want like dense shrubbery of blackberry bushes, sumac, multiflora rose, and honeysuckle.  Perhaps on its way back north from winter in the tropics, it will remember Rushton and decide to start a family here.  Never mind those pushy jewelers peddling their silver bracelets from the shady shack in the hedgerow.
Connecticut Warbler banded at Rushton. Photo by Blake Goll
Female Eastern Towhee banded on Tuesday. Photo by Blake Goll
Gray-cheeked Thrush banded Tuesday at Rushton. Photo by Blake Goll
One of our banding volunteers carefully blows the feathers aside to assess fat stores of a migratory Northern Waterthrush. Photo by Blake Goll
Students from Strath Haven High School experienced nature like never before as they crowded around the banding table in their pajamas (they mumbled something about homecoming school spirit week).  They were touched by these creatures as they guessed how many nickels a Common Yellowthroat weighed and learned of their arduous journeys to Central America.
Strath Haven student releasing a Common Yellowthroat on Tuesday. Photo by Blake Goll
The nets were still on fire on Wednesday with 42 new birds, 7 recaps, and a total of 14 species.  As I opened the woodland nets in the dawn haze, I got chills as high-pitched “weep” calls echoed from every corner of the dark woods.  It was as if I was surrounded by spring peepers in a second spring.  They were the distinct contact calls of Swainson’s Thrush, reserved specifically for migration.  These were birds that probably just touched down after a long night of travel and were checking in with each other before breakfast as the sun came up.
White-throated Sparrow banded at Rushton. Photo by Celeste Sheehan
White-throated Sparrows are now outnumbering Gray Catbirds as the fall migration plays out.  Rain kept us from banding on Thursday, but we will be back again next week, and the next and the next.   If you have been meaning to stop by to see us, you have three more weeks: every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 6:30-11 am.
Dewy dahlia bud at Rushton Farm. Photo by Blake Goll
There’s a lot going on in the woods,
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Rushton Conservation Center and dahlias for days. Photo by Blake Goll

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Brad Whitman says:


    I was at Kirkwood and am still mystified by what looks like a chimney box for Swift’s but
    with no access port and a really small flue opening

    The most amazing Swift colony is at the private Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, the Cottage building

    The huge brick chimney on a spring evening is a wonder to watch as dozens of Swift’s flying fast funnel into the chimney and then burst out and circle for insects

    How they can navigate into the chimney at that speed and in such masses keeps me enthralled every year

    Can you explain your box construction?


    1. wctbirds says:

      Hi Brad.

      Yes that structure you saw at Kirkwood Preserve is a chimney swift tower. If you get down on your hands and knees you can look up into the tower. We have had success with these here and at Rushton Woods Preserve, where we have two towers, resulting in numerous Chimney Swift nests each year. You can see the nest structures “glued” to the walls of the tower.

      The swarming and dropping of swifts into chimneys is an amazing sight. Our towers were primarily built for nesting (and have been successful) but we have seen groups of them congregate in there as well. Lisa Kiziuk, our Director of Bird Conservation, believes they are extended family members congregating in the towers.

      Thanks for your comment and for your interest in our Bird Conservation work.

      Jodi Spragins
      Willistown Conservation Trust
      Local Conservation with Broad Impact
      Support Our Work –

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