Migration Floodgates Opened At Carpenter Nature Center

We had so many birds fly into the nets today (like the Nashville warbler above) at Carpenter Nature Center that I did not have a chance to document them all. I really felt more like a helper today as opposed to someone under foot. It was awesome, I was getting birds out nets--even uber challenging ones, I was using my Pyle book and my Pyle dichotomous key and even understanding it to age and sex birds--it was just sweet. Hey, Peter Pyle, have I thanked you lately for making the words "truncate" and "abraded" part of my daily vocabulary? Perhaps next time I get my hair done I will tell my stylist Rachel, "I would like the bangs fresh and truncate and the back to be tapered and relatively abraded with pale to buffy edging."

You can see his little rusty feathers on his crown. Migration was in full swing, as I was taking birds out of the nets I could hear red-eyed vireos singing and Jim Fitzpatrick, our instructor could hear a towhee.

And eventually it was trapped and banded. Jim said that he thinks this eastern towhee may be a first time banded bird for CNC--he got to do the honors of banding this bird. It was an exciting bird to see up close. This particular male's eyes were not bright red, but more of a rust.

Check out how the eyes on this male perfectly matches the rufus on his flanks. Very cool bird. Just as we stepped out to let the towhee go, he made a few odd squealing sounds and from the nearby woods we heard an uncertain, "Towhee?" Jim and I looked at each other--there was another towhee was in the woods. We let him go and he flew in the direction of the towhee call. What a bonus bird.

A surprise today were two clay-colored sparrows. My fellow classmate Sue heard them out on the prairie but we didn't expect them in the nets. Two came in at the same time in the same net, I wonder if this was related to mating? Two males chasing each other or a male in pursuit of a female?

I thought this was going to be my big challenge bird today--a female ruby-crowned kinglet. She was so tiny, it was like trying to get a dust bunny out of the nets. I took a deep breath, grabbed a toothpick to help remove the net tangled around the wings and got it out. Woof. I got her in the bag and eventually got to band her. She was so light, I decided to take her outside to band her. I wasn't used to banding such a tiny bird and chances were could that she could slip from my fingers in process. I thought it would be better to just have her fly away totally than get loose in the building and hit a window. All went well, I got the tiny band on her, measured her wings, and away she went.

But, she was not the most challenging bird of the day for me. It was this male rose-breasted grosbeak (he still has some of his brown juvenile plumage from last year--that made aging him a little easier). At one point we had several birds waiting to be processed but we hadn't checked the nets. I asked Jim what would be helpful, helping to band or doing a round to check the nets. He told me to check the nets and if there were several in one net to give a shout and someone would come out to help. I checked one net and there were four birds--including the grosbeak. We had been warned that grosbeaks and cardinals would bite the crap out of our fingers. I thought about saving the grosbeak for Jim and concentrating on the chipping sparrows, but I realized that I would have to learn on one of these sooner or later, might was well be now.

At first, I tried to hold him so that he couldn't reach my fingers as I tried to get him out of the net, but that just wasn't getting him free, so I changed my grip and she started to bite my hand. When he would get the entire tip of my finger in the grasp of that fat beak--it wasn't too bad, almost like being bitten by a sharp-shinned hawk. However, when he would use his beak to pinch and grab a tiny piece of skin...ZOWIE, that hurt. He also completely scraped off the nail polish on my index finger. But, I didn't have it so bad.

Fellow classmate Kelly worked to get a downy woodpecker out of the nets and he went after her fingers like Homer Simpson in a donut factory. Boy, that woodpecker seemed to know where to strike, right on the cuticle and along a knuckle. Downy woodpecker blood lust, who knew?

Kelly took her banding wounds in stride.

I ended my morning by banding a male brown headed cowbird. When he was in the net, he was incredibly docile, but as soon as I had him in the bag he freaked and was fluttering like crazy. Since cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds contributing to the decline of many species of birds including thrushes and warblers, it was tempting to do some experimental neutering on this male, I could not. The CNC permits only allow us to place a band on the birds and measure them, so I had to let him go.

The male cowbird really is kind of a striking bird up close. They filled an important niche when the bison roamed the prairie by following the large herds and eating the insects kicked up by the large animals. The traveler lifestyle isn't conducive to raising chicks, so they evolved over time to lay eggs in nests of other species of birds and those parents would raise their young. There aren't any herds to follow anymore, so the cowbirds follow the sedentary humans. One female cowbird depositing 60 eggs while following a herd of bison for miles and miles is one thing. One female cowbird depositing 60 eggs in a neighborhood can cause problems.

I have to admit that after spending the winter banding mostly juncos, I wondered how I would handle doing several species in one day, but I think I'm going to be fine. Can't wait to see what the rest of May brings and who knows, maybe by the end of summer I'll be ready for those difficult flycatchers.