15-21 February 2005
Installment #258---Visitor #

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Host a Hummingbird Mornings banding demonstration at your facility in Summer 2005

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We were at the University of Arkansas most of this week, introducing K-12 students and teachers to Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project and discussing our hummingbird research with professors and graduate students. As a result, our nature observations were limited to occasional glimpses out our office window as we worked on PowerPoint presentations prior to departure. Fortunately, the backyard view includes several bird feeders and all of Hilton Pond, so most days we're guaranteed to witness something of interest. Last week, for example, we spotted a Great Blue Heron perched on one of our Wood Duck nest boxes, and shortly after dawn on 16 February we watched the activities of several waterfowl for which those boxes were actually intended.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

In the early morning light, we glanced up from our work and noticed a few ripples in shallows along the pond edge nearest our office window vantage point. We suspected something was dabbling and, sure enough, in a minute or so six Wood Ducks appeared from behind a cluster of emergent vegetation and slowly began swimming toward the far bank. One of the drakes lingered, but the other five paddled off (above), making overlapping V-shaped wakes on the lightly rippled surface of Hilton Pond. This was a natural moment worth getting up early to see.

The brightly colored solitary male (above) stayed nearby as the other five "woodies" pulled away. Led initially by another drake, the small raft split up at mid-pond, with a male and two females scooting left while the lead male and another female steamed ahead. There was little doubt this particular pair was headed for a nest box near the spillway that handles overflow from Hilton Pond, so we weren't surprised when the hen suddenly sprang up from the water and perched atop the nest box.

Wood Ducks have no trouble holding on to tree limbs and irregular surfaces with their flexible webbed feet, and the female seemed quite comfortable as she walked around atop the box. Occasionally she looked down at the male and--although we couldn't hear her through the window or across the 150-yard distance between us and the spillway--with binoculars we could see her bill opening and shutting; we suspect she was vocalizing to her apparent mate (below). Even though it's still February, this particular hen may already have a few eggs in the box; if not, she'll likely be laying any day now before starting to incubate as her clutch of a dozen or more eggs is complete.

We keep a digital SLR handy for these natural moments, and fortunately our Canon D60 was outfitted with a 100-400mm lens that we zoomed to maximum. We fired off a few exposures and then took time to add a 1.4x telextender, bringing our magnification to 560mm. Getting an acceptable image while hand-holding a telephoto lens at long distance in weak morning light and shooting through window glass was only possible because the lens has an internal stabilization mechanism that minimizes hand shake. At times like this, we're grateful for modern camera technology that allows us to capture photos of Wood Duck behavior--photos that can be shared with folks who weren't able to observe firsthand such fascinating scenes as we saw on a mid-winter morning at Hilton Pond Center.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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NOTE: Be sure to scroll down for an account of all birds banded or recaptured during the week, as well as some other interesting nature notes.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written & photographed
by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

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Oct 15 to Mar 15
Please report
your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter


15-21 February 2005

American Goldfinch--22
Chipping Sparrow--1
Carolina Chickadee--1
Song Sparrow--1
House Finch--2
Purple Finch--6

* = New species for 2005

6 species
33 individuals

16 species
251 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
124 species
45,558 individuals


All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)

American Goldfinch (3)
01/22/99--after 8th year female
04/18/01--after 5th year female
01/05/03--after 4th year male

The American Goldfinch at the top of the above list is one of the oldest on record at Hilton Pond. Amazingly, this is the third week in a row we have re-trapped a different after 8th year goldfinch; the first two were males. The federal Bird Banding Lab lists the age record for this species as 10 years, 5 months.

Dark-eyed Junco (1)
12/16/02--after 3rd year unknown

Chipping Sparrow (2)
03/22/04--after 2nd year unknown
01/23/03---after 3rd year unknown

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.

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