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15-28 April 2013

Installment #569---Visitor #Web Site Hit Counter

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In my continuing effort to catch up on posting "This Week at Hilton Pond" AND to maintain continuity in reporting phenological happenings at Hilton Pond Center, I offer the following installment covering the second half of April 2013. Some entries appeared in some form on the Center's Facebook page while others--and several images--are new. There's lots of cool info--especially about birds banded long ago that returned to Hilton Pond.

Happy Nature Watching!


All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

15 April

Things were pretty slow at Hilton Pond Center today. I barely got outside because of middle-of-the-month paperwork that came due. Of interest was the retrapping of a red House Finch male banded last year on 30 April 2012 as a recently fledged brown bird (above) of unknown sex. (Note the juvenal head plumes that often occur on nestlings; I've always suspected these are a cue or stimulus to adults responsible for feeding the youngsters.) Immature male House Finches resemble brown females but begin getting their adult red plumage by late summer of their first year. It's always good to recapture these young brown HOFI in a later year so I can verify their sex and better understand the species' population dynamics.

The House Finch wasn't my only recapture on 15 April. Especially remarkable was a male Red-bellied Woodpecker (above right) I initially caught on 17 March 2008 when he was a second-year bird. Now in his seventh year, he's the oldest woodpecker I've documented in 32 years for Hilton Pond.

Bird banded today at the Center:

1 Pine Siskin
2 Northern Cardinals
1 Brown-headed Cowbird
3 White-throated Sparrows

17 April

Spring must be here. Today's digital thermometer reading at Hilton Pond Center was 82.9 degrees--the second highest temperature so far in 2013. (It DID reach a blistering 86.2 on 10 April.) Birds banded today at the Center included:

3 American Goldfinches
5 Pine Siskins

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

18 April

This spring at Hilton Pond Center I've caught 13 new Ruby-throated Hummingbirds through today--significant because it's the second most RTHU I've had by 18 April since I started banding them in 1984. (The heavy red line on the spaghetti chart above represents this year's bandings.) The only more productive early spring was 1992 when I had 16 by this date but ended up with only 130 by the end of the season (30-year average is 157). In nine of those 30 years I hadn't banded ANY ruby-throats by 18 April. What does all this mean, Mr. Hil-TON? (I don't know; ask me again in mid-October. I MAY have an answer then.)

2 Pine Siskins
2 American Goldfinches

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

19 April

Although it took a LONG time (no excuses here, but illness, travel, and banding birds at Hilton Pond Center slowed me down a lot!), today I finally finished my on-line summary of our February 2013 Operation RubyThroat citizen science hummingbird expedition to Nicaragua. It's a comprehensive report with lots of photos, so it may take a while to access. All "This Week at Hilton Pond" installments are designed to be compatible with your iPad, Kindle, or other tablet, so you can always download them and consume them at your leisure. If you missed the Nicaragua write-up, clear here for the installment about the group known as the Nicaneers (one of whom was Pat Barker, at right above).

The Center's digital rain gauge showed 0.33" of precipitation for the day--the main reason I banded no birds today.

20-21 April

Things were really slow on 21-21 April at Hilton Pond Center with only four birds banded--two American Goldfinches on each of those two days. I'm just biding my time, waiting for the winds to shift and a ton of spring migrants to appear.

4 American Goldfinches

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

22 April

I noticed something worm-like squirming on one of Hilton Pond Center's trails today and recognized it as the smallest snake that occurs in the Carolinas. It was a slender, six-inch-long Redbelly Snake, Storeria occipitomaculata; a fully-grown specimen would be only extend 8"-10". Although the red ventral color isn't visible, notice the distinctive orange marking behind the serpent's head. This completely harmless species eats insects, earthworms, and slugs and reportedly spends winters in rock crevices and ant mounds. After 32 years, new snakes are hard to come by at the Center and this is only our ninth species seen since 1982.

Birds banded today at the Center included:

1 Pine Siskin
13 American Goldfinches

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

23 April

When American Goldfinches visit Hilton Pond Center, they often come in droves. This morning 15 AMGO entered a hanging sunflower seed trap (see photo) in less than five minutes. As I carefully removed them for banding I found three were returns from previous "winters": One from 2010 and two from 2011. So far, the current year has been my sixth most productive for AMGO since 1982, with 449 banded already in 2013--and we haven't even gotten to the fall season when another onslaught of seed-hungry migrant goldfinches will begin to arrive. Our archived photo essay contains lots more info about American Goldfinches.

Birds banded today at the Center included:

27 American Goldfinches

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

24 April

I got a wonderful e-mail this morning from an American expatriate in Nicaragua:

"The pleasure your report about the 2013 Nicaraguan hummingbird expedition has given me cannot be measured. I hope you are aware of how therapeutic and helpful Hilton Pond Center's Web site is for us housebound followers--a service far beyond your initial purpose."

Without any doubt, this sort of comment makes more than worthwhile all that time and effort I spend compiling my on-line write-ups about the world of nature in the Carolina Piedmont and beyond.

Birds banded today at the Center included:

2 American Goldfinches

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

25 April

I'm pleased to announce my Costa Rica guide, colleague, and friend Ernesto Carman Jr. arrived last night at Hilton Pond Center to spend some time learning even more about banding birds--and about ecology of the Carolina Piedmont. He even spotted two lifers this morning we locals sometimes take for granted: White-throated Sparrow and Red-breasted Nuthatch!

Birds banded today with Ernesto at the Center included:

1 American Goldfinch
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 House Wren
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Gray Catbird
1 Mourning Dove
3 White-throated Sparrows

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

26 April

Ernesto Carman Jr. and I are running mist nets this week at Hilton Pond Center--including some I haven't deployed in several years. One of today's bright spots was a second-year male Common Yellowthroat (see photo). This species was once quite common here at the Center; these days I'm lucky to catch one or two annually after banding as many as 51 in one year back in the mid-1990s. I suspect a drought-driven loss of shrubs around the pond margin--plus local succession from old farm to woodland--have been significant factors in this decrease in COYE numbers.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

It was nice to get the first Common Yellowthroat of the year, but perhaps the best bird of the day was a male American Goldfinch we trapped this morning. He already bore a band (2320-97491) I recognized as part of an old series. When I looked up the number in the archives, I learned this bird had been caught at the Center--in the same trap!--on 5 March 2007. Back then he was as after-second-year individual--i.e., he must have hatched in or before 2005--meaning in 2013 he is classified as after-8th-year. This makes him the oldest American Goldfinch I've documented for Hilton Pond Center.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

It must have been a day for old birds. We later trapped a dull-plumaged, eighth-year White-throated Sparrow (above) of unknown sex; this, too, turned out to be my oldest local record for its species. To top things off mist nets yielded a seventh-year female Northern Cardinal AND an after-fifth-year female Chipping Sparrow; neither of these was a longevity record, but they were venerable nonetheless.

All the returns above documented the prevalence of site fidelity among birds of numerous species at Hilton Pond. For them, "you CAN go home again"--which is especially fortunate for long-distance migrants such as the warbler and sparrow.

Newly banded birds today at the Center included:

1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
1 Carolina Chickadee
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Gray Catbird
1 White-throated Sparrow
1 Eastern Tufted Titmouse
2 House Finches
8 American Goldfinches

27 April

It was a dark and dreary day at Hilton Pond Center on 27 April, with 0.54 rain precluding our use of mist nets. Birds were visiting the free-standing sunflower seed feeders and seemed disinterested in entering the traps, so Ernesto and I handled only three American Goldfinches for the day. (We could hardly complain; the Center hasn't had rain since 19 April.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

28 April

No bird banding the past two days at Hilton Pond Center because of rain; no need to get the birds wetter than they already are. (For the record, the Center got a frogstrangling 2.46" of precipitation on 28 April--on top of the 0.54" the day before.) Between downpours Ernesto and I went out on the soggy trails and spotted a new wildflower for the Center: a pale blue blossom on stalks surrounded by big lance-shaped leaves. 'Nesto recognized it immediately as a member of the Boraginaceae (Forget-Me-Not Family) and a quick look at a field guide revealed it was Wild Comfrey, Cynoglossum virginianum (see photo), a native of the eastern U.S. This is a fire-tolerant species that in many locales is becoming threatened by loss of primary habitat--woods with little competing shrub or herbaceous growth. It's nice this week to have added a new snake AND a new plant to the Center's inventories.

On the evening of 28 April Susan Hilton, Ernesto Carman Jr., and I departed Hilton Pond for West Virginia and a week of guiding at the nationally acclaimed New River Birding & Nature Festival in Fayette County, West Virginia. (More about this annual event in the next installment.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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15-28 April 2013

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--4
Pine Siskin--9
American Goldfinch--63
Chipping Sparrow--1
House Wren--1
Yellow-rumped Warbler--1
Common Yellowthroat--1
Blue-gray Gnatcather--1
Northern Cardinal--3
Gray Catbird--2
White-throated Sparrow--7
Brown-headed Cowbird--1
Eastern Tufted Titmouse--1
House Finch--2
Mourning Dove--1

* = New species for 2013

15 species
98 individuals

22 species

771 individuals

(since 28 June 1982, during which time 171 species have been observed on or over the property)
126 species
58,922 individuals

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (2)
05/31/12--after 2nd year male
07/09/12--after 2nd year male

American Goldfinch (6)
03/05/07--after 8th year male
04/20/10--after 4th year female
04/22/11--4th year male
03/19/11--4th year male
06/13/11--4th year male
05/06/12--3rd year male

Pine Siskin (1)
02/17/10--5th year male

Carolina Chickadee (1)
06/07/10--4th year male

Chipping Sparrow (1)
03/23/09--after 5th year male

Eastern Phoebe (1)
10/03/12--2nd year male

Northern Cardinal (5)
04/09/08--7th year female
06/21/09--5th year female
09/01/10--after 4th year male
09/09/12--2nd year male
09/10/12--2nd year male

House Finch (1)
06/39/12--2nd year male

Eastern Tufted Titmouse (3)
08/16/09--5th year female
07/13/10--4th year female
07/09/12--after 2nd year female

Carolina Wren (2)
06/25/11--3rd year female
12/05/11--after 2nd year male

White-throated Sparrow (3)
12/10/06--8th year unknown
01/07/11--4th year unknown
12/09/11--3rd year unknown

Red-bellied Woodpecker (1)
03/17/08--7th year male

--Three of our typical early migrants began appearing during the latter half of April at Hilton Pond Center: Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Gray Catbird, and Common Yellowthroat. And, as usual, several species of winter residents still had a few individuals lingering: Pine Siskin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and White-throated Sparrow. A considerable diversity of spring migrants should appear in the next two weeks, simultaneous with departure of the last of the winter residents.

--The Center's Yearly Yard List 2013 of birds seen on or over the property stands at 47 species as of 30 Apr.

--Last week's photo essay was about local nature happenings during the first half of April 2013. It's archived and always available on the Hilton Pond Center Web site as Installment #568.

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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