15-31 July 2011

Installment #517---Visitor #Gap Coupon Codes

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(Trip info & pricing updated 29 August 2011)

Join birders & citizen scientists for Winter 2012
Operation RubyThroat trips to observe & band hummingbirds in Belize, Nicaragua & Costa Rica; there's also a CR trip in Nov 2011. No experience necessary! (Click on logo at left for details.)

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center


Based upon 14 very successful Neotropical expeditions from 2004 through early 2011, Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History--in conjunction with Holbrook Travel--is again offering mid-winter field trips to study Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on their non-breeding grounds in Central America. In 2012 we'll return to Costa Rica and Belize to continue our ground-breaking work there; in addition, after a long search we've finally located a lodge in Nicaragua with nice rooms and good food and--of significant importance--a staff willing to maintain sugar water feeders to attract and concentrate ruby-throats prior to our arrival. Thus, we're pleased to announce Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project is for the first time taking a group of hummingbird enthusiasts next February to Montibelli Forest Reserve near Nicaragua's capital city of Managua. No one has EVER systematically banded and studied ruby-throats down in Nicaragua, so we're recruiting now among birders, hummingbird fanciers, teachers, senior citizens, and other nature enthusiasts to join us in making important discoveries as we "Follow the Hummingbirds North" in spring migration. Nicaragua trip dates are 18-26 February 2012.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Archilochus colubris (immature male, above)--which occur in 38 U.S. states and across southern Canada March through October--are the most widely distributed hummer species. Nonetheless, they are poorly studied in Mexico and Central America where they spend their non-breeding months. During our 2012 expedition to southwestern Nicaragua, Center director Bill Hilton Jr. will teach participants how hummingbirds are observed, captured, banded, and released. As "citizen scientists," participants will play integral roles in conducting field work by assisting and making field observations, will visit diverse habitats, and will learn about fascinating aspects of Nicaraguan natural history and culture--from volcanoes to cloud forest ecosystems, from orchids to tropical butterflies. No experience is necessary!

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Nicaragua is rich in biodiversity with tropical rain forests, a huge inland lake, and tall volcanic ranges (Mombacho Volcano, above). It has 76 protected regions, including 23 privately owned natural reserves; the total protected area represents an impressive 18% of the country. Private reserves are accessible to visitors and offer an introduction to sustainable development and environmentally friendly projects that help the local economy, including organic shade-grown coffee farming.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Nicaragua 2012 brings a new twist to Operation RubyThroat's Neotropical hummingbird expeditions in that during the nine-day trip we'll make a mid-week overnight visit to Ometepe, a volcanic island on Lake Nicaragua (see map at top of page). Believe it or not, this lake is home to freshwater sharks! Our field site will be within Managua Province--specifically in the municipality of Ticuantepe ("Hill of the Fierce"), which has Nicaragua's most extensive freshwater aquifer and is the country's largest producer of pineapples.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Flights into the Nicaraguan capital of Managua (see map at top of page) arrive in the afternoon, after which we'll head out in an air-conditioned bus through tropical Nicaraguan landscapes--looking for birds and wildlife and arriving soon thereafter at Montibelli Private Forest Reserve (above). This extensive private mixed-use property includes great food and comfortable accommodations. Montibelli is the cloud forest home to a wide variety of tropical plants from epiphytic orchids to towering mist-shrouded trees--and more than 150 bird species.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Our Nicaraguan base station at Montibelli has single- and double-occupancy cabins (above) and private hot-water baths--plus a group dining room (below) with fresh fruit, meats, and vegetables at every meal.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Most days after breakfast at Montibelli we'll simply walk into the nearby forest (below) and spend morning hours running mist nets and traps to capture Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Afternoons will be devoted to independent exploration or to field trips to cultural and natural sites.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We expect to catch lots of other migrant and resident bird species, perhaps a Crimson-collared Tanager (male below). We'll band, measure, and release all Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, of course, but have permission to band other Neotropical migrants that may show up back in the U.S. or Canada. Because other ornithologists conduct research nearby we also may catch some of their birds and vice versa--which would make for a very nice collaborative effort.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

February weather in Nicaragua--as might be expected--can be warm and muggy; it can also get a tad chilly at night, but not so much so that we can't spend pleasant evenings on the spacious outdoor porches (below) enjoying sounds of the surrounding forest. Owls and other night birds, monkeys, insects, and amphibians all add to the nighttime chorus.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Afternoon activities include field trips to El Chocoyero-El Brujo Reserve (observe the spectacle of hundreds of parrots and parakeets coming in to roost); Mombacho Biological Reserve & field station (explore a vegetation-covered extinct volcano); Masaya Volcano National Park (view active calderas & craters); the typical Nicaraguan small town of Catarina (buy handcrafts and visit seedling nurseries); Granada, fourth largest city in Nicaragua (have lunch, view arts & ironworks & Cathedral of Granada, below); and a boat tour (glide past islets that host bird rookeries).

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The trip is open to ANY adult interested in studying and reporting observations of hummingbirds in Nicaragua (and--after the trip--in the rest of Central America, Mexico, Canada, and/or the U.S.). You do not have to be an experienced birder or scientist or have advanced training; we will teach you everything you need to know to participate and make valuable contributions to the project.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Because making you a hummingbird bander is NOT the purpose of this particular trip, you will not actually be banding birds or removing them from nets. However, you WILL be involved in every other way: Handling and releasing multiple hummers (above) and other colorful tropical birds, deploying mist nets and traps, collecting and recording data, making valuable field observations, photographing flora and fauna, etc. You will NOT be disappointed!

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Base cost for the February 2012 Nicaragua hummingbird expedition is $2,199, plus air fare. (At least $400 of the base cost is tax deductible. Additional costs may be incurred for optional activities; non-mealtime beverages or snacks; gratuities for guide, driver, and local personnel; estimated $32 departure tax; and optional graduate credit costs.) If you'd like to join us on this first-ever Operation RubyThroat expedition to Nicaragua, please see the Nicaragua 2012 Detailed Itinerary for day-to-day specifics, info about enrollment deadlines,and instructions on how to sign up for the trip. (You can also download a flyer and/or enroll directly from the Holbrook Travel Web site.) More than 125 citizen scientists are now alumni of our Neotropical hummingbird excursions, and many are repeaters who have gone with us more than once to help make all sorts of discoveries. With that kind of track record you know we provide a top-notch experience, so we hope you'll be excited enough to be part of the only on-going systematic studies of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on their wintering grounds in warm and exotic Central America.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The Piedmont Naturalist, Volume 1 (1986)--long out-of-print--has been re-published by author Bill Hilton Jr. as an e-Book downloadable to read on your iPad, iPhone, Nook, Kindle, or desktop computer. Click on the image at left for information about ordering. All proceeds benefit education, research, and conservation work of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.
"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History
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15-31 July 2011

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--31
American Goldfinch--1

House Finch--66
Eastern Tufted Titmouse--1

* = New species for 2011

4 species
99 individuals

28 species

1,728 individuals
49 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(since 28 June 1982, during which time 170 species have been observed on or over the property)
125 species (30-yr avg = 67.0)
56,606 individuals
(30-yr avg = 1,887)

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (12)
07/17/06--after 6th year female
08/31/06--6th year female

06/09/07--after 5th year female
07/25/09--after 3rd year male
07/25/09--3rd year female
05/27/10--after 2nd year male
07/15/10--after 2nd year female
07/25/10--after 2nd year female
07/25/10-- after 2nd year male
07/31/10--2nd year female
08/26/10--2nd year male
08/31/10--2nd year female

Northern Cardinal (1)
10/02/07--5th year male

House Finch (1)
11/20/10--after hatch year male

--Ruby-throated Hummingbird numbers are beginning to increase at Hilton Pond Center as this year's young leave their nests, so our hummer banding results have been improving steadily. More significantly, we recaptured 12 RTHU this week that had been banded in previous years at the Center. Two of these--both females--had been caught originally 'way back in 2006; we know for sure the one banded as a fledgling is now six years old, but the other was banded as an adult--so she's an "after-6th-year" bird and could be even older. Curiously, after being banded in 2006 the A6Y bird returned in 2007 but wasn't seen again until 2011; she may have been elsewhere or just evading our nets & traps. The younger bird has been encountered every year since 2006--a pretty strong indication of site fidelity--and of quite a few successful long-distance trips to and from the breeding and wintering grounds. Since we began working with hummers in 1984 we've had a total of nine RTHU that returned as 6th-year or after-6th-year individuals, two of which were males.

--It has been beastly hot the last half of July 2011 at the Center, with (dis)comfort indices up near 110 degrees on some afternoons. Running mist nets under those conditions isn't healthy for the birds OR the bander, so we've resigned our research activities to operating a couple of sunflower seed traps a variety of hummer traps baited with sugar water. The result is a species-poor banding total for the period that includes lots of hummers and House Finches but not much else.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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

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