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Pictorial Highlights, Fall 2007

October 2007

Powdermill Bird Banding Sign Our October 2007 banding total of 3,374 birds was well above the long-term (46-year) average for this month of the year (2,411); similarly, the cumulative fall 2007 banding total through October (6,745 birds banded) also is well above the 46-year average for the same period (5,516).

These high totals reflect some very good individual species counts, especially among boreal birds (both irruptive and regular migrants).

With 498 banded in October, American Goldfinch set a new record high total for this month (previous high October banding totals were 487 in 2001, 330 in 1994, and 308 in 2003).

Our October total of 496 White-throated Sparrow is the fifth highest ever at Powdermill, behind 701 in October 2001, 646 in 1995, 610 in 1982, and 498 in 1984.
Dendroica coronata hooveri

Our highest daily banding totals this October were on 16 October (379 birds banded), 25 October (265), and 2 October (229). A total of 75 species was banded during the month, with as many as 36 species represented in a total of 96 birds banded on 10/03. As usual, by the end of the month species richness had dropped markedly--for example, only 12 species were represented in our catch of 122 birds on 10/31. These are the species that typically are classified "short distance" migrants. Although most do, in fact, winter within the continental U.S., many have traversed thousands of miles (i.e., a long distance!) in traveling from the far northwestern reaches of boreal Canada and Alaska to Powdermill.
This October's Yellow-rumped Warbler total (394) was tenth overall, very far behind the record high October totals of 915 in 1982 and 818 in 1998. As usual, several of the YRWAs banded in October were ascribable to the much larger and grayer Alaskan subspecies, Dendroica coronata hooveri (photo at left). 369 Purple Finches banded this October is seventh highest (751 were banded in October 2001; 577 in October 1995).

This month's banding total for Song Sparrow (233), the species with the fifth highest October banding total this season, placed only fifteenth among October banding totals for all years (highest October totals were 408 in 1983, 354 in 1984, and 351 in 1970). We banded 225 Swamp Sparrows, which is our 3rd highest October total.

Several other species, while not contributing greatly to the month's overall banding total, nonetheless were banded in very good numbers this October compared to average. Examples include Northern Saw-whet Owl (48 banded) and Fox Sparrow (27 banded), both of which set new record high Powdermill totals for October; Magnolia Warbler (38 banded; 3rd highest); Gray Catbird (71; 4th highest); Winter Wren (31; 7th highest); Eastern Towhee (40; 8th highest); and Black-capped Chickadee (133; 9th highest October total).

Fall scenery near Crisp Pond Fall scenery near Crisp Pond - October 20, 2007

There are many to thank this month for help with banding, including our two seasonal banding assistants, Pam Ferkett and Molly McDermott, our regular volunteers Mary Shidel, Lauren Schneider, Dean Thompson, Kristin Sesser, and Katie Barnes, and these visitors: Greg George, Eliza Frazer, Joe Schreiber, Keith McKenrick, Alex Shidel, Jessica Bruland. 
Northern Finches  As usual, a lot of seasonal banding firsts occurred in October. Pine Siskins have been scarce or absent from our fall banding totals for the past six years, so we were hopeful that the first one of the season, banded on 10/18, would be a harbinger of many more to come.

It gave us hope, too, that other "northern" finches, like redpolls and Evening Grosbeaks might make an appearance in our nets after many years of absence. We banded a total of just four PISIs in October, but (stay tuned!) November did produce more siskins and one of the other "hoped for" northern finches. 
White-crowned Sparrows We banded our first White-crowned Sparrows on 10/06. In this species, strong plumage dimorphism in fall reflects age differences (bright adult pictured above; dull immature below). 
White-throated Sparrow Interestingly, in the congeneric (i.e., classified in the same genus, Zonotrichia) White-throated Sparrow, bright and dull-colored birds do not necessarily differ in age or sex; instead, they are simply plumage variants within this polymorphic species. 
First Fox Sparrow  We banded our first Fox Sparrow of the fall on 10/11, and by the end of the month we'd banded another 26. The flight of this quintessential boreal songbird continued to build from there (details to follow in our upcoming November summary) resulting in a record fall banding total for this species at Powdermill. 
Closeup of Common Grackle

Ridgeway's Grackle
This is a close-up of the back plumage of a bird that many people probably would not, at first, think to include on their list of beautiful birds...

But Common Grackles, like this first-of-the-season adult male banded on 10/13, with their oil sheen-like iridescence and bright white eyes certainly have a very striking (yes, even beautiful) appearance.

In older field guides, the Common Grackle was separated into two species--Bronzed and Purple--which now are recognized only as weakly differentiated geographic variants. "Purple" grackles were considered to have a more easterly distribution on the Atlantic slope east of the Appalachian Mountains, but intergrades between it and the more westerly distributed "Bronzed" grackle are common in the western Appalachians where Powdermill is situated.

The bird pictured below would be best classified as an intergrade, sometimes referred to as yet another form, "Ridgeway's" Grackle, based (this according to my well worn, black-ink signed copy of Roger Tory Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds [1947 copyright, 38th printing]) on the "broken iridescent bars on the back".

Rusty Blackbird Striking white eyes also are characteristic of Rusty Blackbirds, like this first-of-the-season HY female banded on 10/16.

Brown Thrashers  The eye color of Brown Thrashers changes from pale grayish yellow to bright yellow-orange with age. The photo to your left shows two HY BRTHs (age confirmed by skull pneumatization and molt limits) that we banded on 10/6.

The birds on the left and right evidently hatched later and earlier, respectively, based not only on their eye color difference, but also on differences in the extent of the first prebasic molt, which replaces the grayish juvenal body plumage (more of which is retained on the head of the duller eyed bird on the left). 
Sharp-shinned Hawks Bright yellow eyes in Sharp-shinned Hawks are characteristic of immature (HY/SY) birds, like this HY male banded on 10/9; adult (AHY) birds have dark orange to red eyes. 
Northern Saw-whet Owl Bright yellow eyes are characteristic of all ages of Northern Saw-whet Owl. We banded our first NSWOs (four of them) on 10/16. We will give many more details and photo highlights of this fall's record NSWO season at Powdermill in our upcoming update for November. 
American Coot 
Least Bittern
Among the many banding firsts this month were two that provide us with another opportunity to give our website visitors a confusing fall foot quiz. Both birds were even more unexpected than the subject of our first foot quiz--the Sora banded in September.

So, what birds do you think these feet belong to? Hint: look at the size (in relation to the hands holding them) and, of course, the shape of the feet. 

don't scroll down too far if you don't want to see the answer yet!
American Coot

American Coot Foot 

Least Bittern

Least Bittern Feet
Did you guess an American Coot and a Least Bittern?

Top Two Pictures is a American Coot.

Bottom Two Pictures is a Least Bittern.  
The Least Bittern  The Least Bittern was caught in a large mesh net (61mm) between two of our ponds during normal morning banding on 10/05. As you can see, it didn't fly off very far when it was released back onto one of these ponds. 
American Coot in Cone 

Rick and American Coot
The banding story and the very survival of the American Coot is thanks to Rick and Ann Kunkle, from live just north of the nearby town of Ligonier (Rick is holding the coot in the picture below).

They found it grounded but unharmed in a small puddle of water at the bottom of a large roll-off dumpster that had been delivered to their house the day before. After rescuing the bird, they brought it to Powdermill for a positive identification. Afterward, the bird was released on a small pond near where it had been found stranded. 
Long Eared Bat 

Long Eared Bat
Not exactly a banding first, but a Northern Long-eared Bat in our nets on the morning of 10/3 nonetheless was our first-ever capture of this species. Over the years a half dozen or so species of bats have been captured at dawn or dusk in our bird-banding mist nets.

Similar to the Little Brown Bat, but far less common and much less well known, the Long-eared, or Keen's, Bat overwinters in hibernacula that are dominated by Pennsylvania's much commoner overwintering bat species: Little Brown, Big Brown, and Eastern Pipistrelle bats.  
Fall Picture It was an unusual October weather-wise, with unseasonably warm temperatures lasting throughout the month.

This, in turn, gave rise to a later peak and more protracted show of fall colors and some other surprising late occurrences. For example...
blooming cardinal flower

Late Cardinal Flower
A very late, by more than a month, blooming cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) on 10/19.
Female Magnolia Warbler A very late (and very fat; 10.4g) adult (AHY) female Magnolia Warbler banded on 10/21, who took just enough time before realizing she was free for us to snap a few bird-in-hand shots. 
Male Magnolia Warbler   An even later (and fatter) immature (HY) male Magnolia Warbler banded on 10/24

This tied for the third latest fall banding date at Powdermill; latest are an HY-M banded on 10/28/74 and an HY-F banded on 11/6/95!

And, at 12.9g, it is by far the heaviest MAWA we've ever recorded (previous record weights in our database are 10.9g and 10.5g, coincidentally, also for birds banded on 10/24 in 1979 and 1970). 
Blackpoll Warbler 

Blackpoll Warbler
Although not especially late, we banded an even fatter (than the MAWA) Blackpoll Warbler on 10/11/07.

In the photo on top, the visible subcutaneous (i.e., beneath the skin) fat is much more extensive along the sides than in the MAWA above. At just 17.1g, however, this BLPW was far from our record heavy weight for this species of 23.2g (imagine all traces of the breast musculature rendered invisible by fat!). 

It even looked kind of fat with its feathers on! Bottom Picture.
Immature Purple Finch Continuing with our "late" theme--a very late hatching (and/or very late molting) immature Purple Finch, still mostly in worn juvenal plumage on 10/12/07. 
American Goldfinch And, a very late molting adult (SY) male American Goldfinch banded on 10/12/07. Ordinarily, by this date AMGO males have lost most or all of their bright yellow body plumage and black cap, both of which are part of the bird's alternate, or breeding plumage. 
Marsh Wren This hatching year Marsh Wren banded on 10/9 was the latest of three banded during the season. 
"Yellow" Palm Warbler We close with a miscellany of other October highlights.

The "Yellow" Palm Warbler pictured to the left was one of only two banded this fall (on 10/16 and 10/25). Although caught in comparatively low numbers this October (13 banded), the nominate "Western" Palm Warbler is always much more common at Powdermill than the eastern "Yellow" race, which predominates at coastal banding stations and which has a later migration at Powdermill in the fall. In spring, the opposite is true---YPWAs migrate earlier than WPWA. 
Black-throated Green Warbler This after hatching year male Black-throated Green Warbler was one of 18 banded during the month and one of 88 for the season. Clearly, AHY-M BTNWs do not qualify as "confusing fall warblers!" 
Golden-crowned Kinglet This after hatching year Golden-crowned Kinglet was one of 16 banded during the month and 21 for the season. 

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