Friday, October 2, 2015

Ornithology Lab, September 30

This is the fourth 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

~ ~ ~

Fall has arrived, both in date and finally weather. Cool temperatures in the upper 50's met us as we traveled once again to The Ridges on the outskirt of Athens, Ohio. It truly felt, and looked, like Fall; leaves were changing, leaves were falling all around us, it was cool with a breeze, and the sky was overcast. The birds were also pretty active, as I'll get into in a second.

Photo courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The entire Midwest had some pretty impressive migration flights this week. The photo above is a snapshot of a weather radar at midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Weather radars, when calibrated with certain parameters, actually show bird migration movements. This phenomenon has been used for years to help gauge and study migration patterns. When looking at the photo above, notice the multiple blue circles (some of which have green centers). These circles are masses of migrating birds. The darker the circles, the more numerous the birds. Let's look at Ohio specifically. Notice there's a cold front that's moving out of the state early in the night. There's not much movement before the front, but there's many large movements behind the front. As the front moved through Ohio, it brought northerly winds originating in Canada. On these northerly winds were thousands of migrating songbirds, and you can see the multiple dark blue/light green circles that represent them. As the front moved out of Ohio before sunrise, these songbirds settled out into the southeastern portions of Ohio, right where we were.

A Magnolia Warbler among the branches from Magee Marsh in May.
This time around, we did some bird banding on top of the normal birding. We set up nets in three areas (instead of the normal 6). We had one set of nets in a powerline cut with scruffy bushes and tall grasses that had deciduous forest on either side. We had another set of nets along a path that bordered deciduous forest on one side and thick grape-vine covered shrubbery on the other. The final net was set up in some young forest next to an open area. 

Photo courtesy of Dr. Kelly Williams.
Bird banding the past two times weren't that productive; however, this day was very productive. The most commonly caught species was the Carolina Chickadee, with 5 individuals banded for the day. The second most commonly banded species of the day was a relative of the Carolina Chickadee, the Tufted Titmouse, of which we banded 4. Going along with the more common, permanent residents theme, we also banded a Northern Cardinal and the Swamp Sparrow pictured above.

Now we'll get into the migratory species!

Photo courtesy of Dr. Kelly Williams.
We caught several warbler species over the course of the morning. The first was this Northern Parula pictured above. I've previously covered this species, and you can read all about it at this link! We then went on to net 3 Magnolia Warblers, all of which were hatch-year birds. The last warbler species we caught and banded was a beautiful hatch-year Black-Throated Green Warbler, my all time favorite warbler species. I was lucky enough to be able to release him!

Photo courtesy of Dr. Kelly Williams.
The star of the day, in my opinion, was this Blue-Headed Vireo, a bird I had never seen before. The Blue-Headed Vireo is a bird of mixed coniferous-and-deciduous forests which are found throughout Eastern Canada down through the Appalachian Mountains. The Blue-Headed Vireo is a common migrant species in Ohio, but is a very rare breeder. They require cooler locales with plenty of Eastern Hemlock trees. A few individuals can be found nesting here in Ohio in places such as Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve, Clear Creek Metropark, and Mohican State Forest. And finally, the last species that we banded was a hatch-year Indigo Bunting.

Here's the complete list of birds for the day:

1. Black Vulture
2. Turkey Vulture
3. Rock Pigeon
4. Chimney Swift
5. Downy Woodpecker
6. Pileated Woodpecker
7. Eastern Wood-Pewee
8. Blue-Headed Vireo
9. American Crow
10. Carolina Chickadee
11. Tufted Titmouse
12. White-Breasted Nuthatch
13. Carolina Wren
14. American Robin
15. Gray Catbird
16. Cedar Waxwing
17. Common Yellowthroat
18. American Redstart
19. Northern Parula
20. Magnolia Warbler
21. Black-Throated Green Warbler
22. Swamp Sparrow
23. Eastern Towhee
24. Northern Cardinal
25. Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
26. Indigo Bunting
27. American Goldfinch

Last weekend my class went down to South Carolina to do some birding. I'll be having a post on that coming up extremely soon, so stay tuned!

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