As if we weren’t already a motley crew, banders donned their mismatch layers of winter coats, thrifted fleeces, alpaca fingerless gloves, and garish hats this week. Mornings dipped into the 30’s, and although the sun was (actually) shining bright, the brisk autumnal wind kept the temps suppressed. Banders and birders live for this kind of weather though, because riding in the dark on these cold north winds come oodles of southbound migrants.
Indeed, Tuesday set a record for our season thus far even though we kept two of our fifteen nets closed all morning due to the wind. Banders bared the cold and cranked through 65 birds of 19 species. We were thrilled to host some savvy birders from Birding Club of Delaware County who wisely chose this day to bird at Rushton, knowing this first cold front would have opened the migratory floodgates.
The first Ruby-crowned Kinglets came en masse, and we are always amazed by these little flying nickels (they weigh little more than that). Thrushes abounded as well including Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, and Hermit, and the array of warblers was astonishing— Tennessee, Palm, Yellow-rumped, Blackpoll, Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, and even a Common Yellowthroat still hanging around.
The stunner was our very first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! Even as a young hatch year bird, she still stole the show with her beautiful golden belly, her bark-like charcoal flecking, and her finely spotted red princess crown. As a more northern breeder, sapsuckers are only seen in our area during migration and winter. Sapsuckers drill small holes in trees with their sturdy bills to consume the sap and even the cambium of the tree. Other creatures can sip the sap at these sapwells, including bats, porcupines, and hummingbirds. In fact, some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds time their spring migration to parts of Canada with the arrival of sapsuckers.
Wednesday was another cold and exciting morning with 52 birds of 16 species. The morning opened with a delightful suite sparrows — Field, Song, Swamp, and Lincoln’s— and Rushton’s first adult male Purple Finch! These finches have the most beautiful dusty rose hue to their feathers, like raspberry sorbet, pink velvet, and peonies.
Then came the morning’s fun puzzle, a confusing fall warbler species that Rushton banders had never had in the hand before. After happily poring over various warbler guides and bander references, we concluded that this was a first year female Cape May Warbler! She was beautiful with her delicate streaking and yellow auricular patches; breeding males are even more handsome with tiger stripes and chestnut cheeks. This is a fascinating and poorly understood warbler that breeds in the conifers of the boreal forest and winters in the West Indies where it sips nectar from a semi-tubular tongue that no other warbler has.
Thursday saw the last of the Gray Catbirds, lots more warblers including another Blackpoll, thrushes and white-throats, and our first spunky Golden-crowned Kinglets. We processed 56 new birds, 7 recaps, and a total of 16 species. An additional handful of Purple Finches set another record for Rushton and validated the official finch forecast, which called for an irruption year. This means the pine cone seed crop up north was poor, so finches and other boreal seed-eating birds like Red-breasted Nuthatches will flood south for the winter. You’ll likely see Purple Finches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Pine Siskins at your feeders this fall and winter.
There’s a lot going on in the woods,