Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ornithology Lab, October 21

This is the sixth installment in a series of weekly posts for my ornithology class at Ohio University. We go out in the field every Wednesday (weather permitting) to do some birding and/or bird banding. One of our assignments is to write a blog post about each of these field trips, which is what this series will be about.

First Post: September 2
Second Post: September 9
Third Post: September 16
Fourth Post: September 30 
Fifth Post: October 7

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The morning chill has set upon Southeastern Ohio. Wednesday morning's lab was a brisk 34 degrees Fahrenheit. It didn't help that we were out before sunrise either; we arrived at The Ridges in Athens, Ohio, at 7:00 AM. The sunrise was at 7:44 AM. We used this twilight time to set up the banding nets at our usual locations.

This lab was filled with birds, especially when it came to banding. We banded a total of 20 birds (the most yet) over the course of 3 and a half hours. Eleven of the 20 were species of permanent residency in Ohio. The other 9 were all Chipping Sparrows, a migratory species in Ohio. While the warblers, vireos, tanagers, and others are all but gone, a few species are still migrating through. Many of these are various sparrow species, like the Chipping Sparrow. This must have been a big movement day for the Chipping Sparrow, as we just kept netting individual after individual.

As I previously said, the other 11 birds were all non-migratory (or permanent) species for Ohio. As many of you probably already know, not all birds migrate. In Ohio, birds can essentially be split up into 4 different groups when it comes to residency status. First off, you have the permanent residents. These species, such as the Northern Cardinal, live in Ohio year-round. Second, you have the transient species. These are the species which only move through Ohio during spring and fall migrations. These species, such as the Blackpoll Warbler, normally breed farther north in Canada and overwinter down in Central or South America. As a result, they can only be found in Ohio for a few select weeks out of the year. Third, you have the summer breeders. These are species, such as the Red-Eyed Vireo, which migrate into Ohio during spring migration, breed during the summer, and then migrate back south during fall migration. These species are not found here during the winter months. The fourth group is the overwintering birds. These are species that migrate from up north (typically late in Fall migration), spend the winter here in Ohio, and then migrate back north early on in spring migration. This group includes birds such as the American Tree Sparrow, White-Throated Sparrow, and White-Crowned Sparrow.

As always, there are exceptions. For example, Dark-Eyed Juncos are considered an overwintering species in Ohio; however, there are a few individuals in extreme northern Ohio which actually stay all year round and breed in the Summer. Now, it's kind of deceiving to call the junco a permanent resident when there's only a few individuals that do this, and thousands upon thousands of other individuals which only come here to overwinter. Another species in a similar situation is the Hermit Thrush. Generally speaking, the Hermit Thrush does not breed in Ohio. They can be found mostly during Spring and Fall migrations. However, there are a few locations in Ohio, such as the Hocking Hills and Mohican State Forest, where the Hermit Thrush breeds. And often there are several dozen pairs at these locations, making them locally common. Then, in the extreme southern half of Ohio, you can often find overwintering individuals. There are many other species which don't fall neatly into one of the four residency categories, but these categories are useful as a baseline understanding. The more you learn about nature, the more often you will run into exceptions like these.

Anyway, Chipping Sparrows are a migratory species. More specifically, the Chipping Sparrow is a summer breeder. They migrate here during the spring, breed over the summer, and then migrate back south over a long period of time during fall migration. Like I said, we ended up banding 9 Chipping Sparrows over the course of the morning. These individuals probably belong to the last wave or so coming through Ohio.

The rest of the birds we banded that day included Carolina Chickadees (including 2 of our own recaptures from earlier in the semester), Tufted Titmice (including 2 of our own recaptures), Song Sparrows, and a female Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

Here's the complete checklist of birds observed during the morning:

1. Canada goose
2. Turkey Vulture
3. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
4. Downy Woodpecker
5. Pileated Woodpecker
6. Blue Jay
7. American Crow
8. Carolina Chickadee
9. Tufted Titmouse
10. White-Breasted Nuthatch
11. Carolina Wren
12. Eastern Bluebird
13. American Robin
14. Cedar Waxwing
15. Chipping Sparrow
16. White-Throated Sparrow
17. Eastern Towhee
18. Northern Cardinal
19. House Finch
20 American Goldfinch

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