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1-7 December 2013

Installment #585---Visitor #Hit Counter

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A few openings remain
for our March 2014
Operation RubyThroat
expedition to observe &
band hummingbirds in


We'll see & photograph lots of other birds and a variety of tropical flora & fauna.

Click on image of Jabiru stork or Snowflake Lily above for itinerary & trip details.

More excursions for 2014-15 (including a new one to Honduras)
will be
announced in coming months.

Join us for the
23rd Annual
York/Rock Hill
Christmas Bird Count

21 December 2013
(Click on link above for info.)

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


Among our favorite e-mails these days is are those infrequent ones that come from the federal Bird Banding Laboratory with a subject line of "Report to Bander." Any such message can mean only one thing: Someone, somewhere, somehow has encountered a bird we banded sometime at Hilton Pond Center. When you consider how seldom we get such e-mails, you can understand why one we received on 7 December 2013 was met with excitement--and wonder.

Since 1982 we have banded exactly 59,666 birds of 126 species at Hilton Pond. During the past 32 years, only 61 of those individuals have been reported from outside our home county of York SC--meaning our encounter rate is barely 0.1%--hence our excessive jubilation when that "Report to Bander" e-mail arrives. By comparison, of approximately two to four million birds banded annually in the U.S. and Canada, about 4% get reported, and at least half of those are waterfowl legally taken by duck and goose hunters; the remainder are spread around among all other North American bird species. (We should note another 34 of our birds have been reported from in-county locations AND we get countless numbers of returns and recaptures at Hilton Pond of birds we've banded locally.)

During the past three decades-plus, nearly half (48.4%) the birds we've banded at the Center have been one of four "winter finches" (House Finch, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, and Pine Siskin), so it's not a surprise that those species make up the bulk of foreign encounters; 46 of our 61 reports are for those four finches. However, the "Report to Bander" we got this week was for our eighth-most-common species: White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis (above), a relatively common winter visitor from far-off Canada.

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

The image above is the "Report to Bander" just received from the Bird Banding Lab and annotated in red for clarification. Reading from top to bottom (and correlating with black text at left) the page explains the bird in question was encountered by Antonin St-Jean and reported by him via the Bird Banding Lab's Web site on-line form.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Aerial image courtesy Google Earth Pro

The birds, alas, was found dead after striking a stationary object--we suspect a window--in the courtyard of the biological sciences center at University of Quebec (above) on or about 10 November 2013. (We think it's pretty cool to be able to pull up Google Earth Pro and see the precise location where the bird was found.) The info below the blue line on the "Report to Bander" tells the rest of the tale: This was a White-throated Sparrow (WTSP) banded as #2281-11012 at Hilton Pond Center on 7 December 2006. On that date it was an immature bird hatched sometime in the summer of 2006, so at date of final encounter it would be classified according to BBL protocol as being in its eighth year--quite an advanced age and quite a long trip (822 straight-line miles) for a little bird that weighs only about an ounce.

Despite its longevity, our bird was a whippersnapper compared to the oldest white-throat the BBL has on record: 14 years and 11 months for a bird still alive in Alberta, Canada in 2010. They also know of a couple of nine-year-old birds.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Aerial image courtesy Google Earth Pro

After getting the report we checked our data files and learned that after getting banded in December 2006 this particular White-throated Sparrow returned to Hilton Pond Center (above) with a re-trap on 17 Nov 2007--after which it likely spent the winter before being trapped again on 21 & 24 April 2008. We recaptured it the next year on 19 Jan 2009 and again on 18 Jan 2010, after which we never saw it again locally. The bird may have been here in later years, but it didn't enter one of our traps or get mist netted in 2011 or thereafter.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Aerial image courtesy Google Earth Pro

The bird just reported by Antonin St-Jean was only the second of 2,048 White-throated Sparrows banded at Hilton Pond to be encountered elsewhere (see map above). The first was #1341-59572, banded 15 April 1990 as an after-hatch-year adult of unknown sex and found even further north.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Aerial image courtesy Google Earth Pro

Incredibly, this WTSP was encountered on 1 May 1990 by Mark Demers at Lake à la Ligne, Quebec (above), where it was caught by a cat! How unfortunate for a White-throated Sparrow to fly at least 970 straight-line miles from its South Carolina winter range and two weeks after banding be killed in Quebec on its probable breeding grounds . . . thanks to a free-roaming feline!

(NOTE: Cat lovers, keep your cats indoors--for their sake as well as for the welfare of wildlife of all sorts. It's a matter of personal responsibility, and there are NO excuses for allowing your cat to mess with nature. we've heard them all, and none of them are valid.)

These two White-throated Sparrows banded at Hilton Pond Center are remarkable for many reasons. At the least they illustrate long-distance migration--one of the most fascinating and still not well-understood aspects of bird behavior. Referring to our map (above, and at right) we also find it interesting that both birds may have followed a nearly identical migration pathway northward across North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia's eastern panhandle before navigating central Pennsylvania and New York into southern Quebec. This is only a two-bird sample, but it's cause to wonder if WTSP use some ridge or river valley or other landmark in following what might indeed be a narrow migration route.

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

It's hard to know why one of "our" White-throated Sparrows ended up in the courtyard of a building at metropolitan University of Quebec-Montreal, but as a probable window strike it illustrates another human-related danger (besides cats) that kills an incredibly high number of birds, especially during migration. The bird encountered at Lake à la Ligne might reveal an unsurprising coincidence in that this bird was captured in South Carolina beside a pond and later encountered in Quebec beside a lake. Within their breeding and wintering ranges White-throated Sparrows often occur in weedy fields and open woodlands near bodies of fresh water, so it may be when this bird flew south it simply sought a place that looked like "home" . . . and Hilton Pond nicely fit the bill. In either case, these two foreign encounters provide lots of food for thought and help explain why we band birds. We're grateful Antonin St-Jean and Marc Demers contacted the Bird Banding Lab about their finds, but it's too bad those far-ranging White-throated Sparrows had to perish to be reported.

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

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"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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We're pleased that folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making end-of-year contributions that are fully deductible on 2013 income tax returns. Please join them if you can.

  • Marie Baumann (repeat donor & alumna of 2007 Operation RubyThroat expedition to Costa Rica-West)
  • Ramona & Jim Edman (repeat sustaining donors & alumni of 2006 ORT expedition to Costa Rica-West)
  • Ann Long
  • Mary Kimberly & Gavin MacDonald (repeat sustaining donors & alumni of FIVE ORT expeditions to Costa Rica-West 2009, Belize 2010, Guatemala 2011, Costa Rica-East 2012 & Nicaragua 2013)
  • John McCoy (via PayPal)
  • Bertha Simon (repeat donor; via Network for Good)
  • Juan Diego Vargas (tico ORT field assistant in Costa Rica & Belize)
  • Gail & Tom Walder (repeat donors & alumni of ORT expeditions to Costa Rica-West 2008 & Belize 2010)
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1-7 December 2013

None this week

* = New banded species for 2013

0 species
0 individuals

53 species (32-yr. avg. = 65.2)

1,495 individuals
(32-yr. avg. =

155 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(since 28 June 1982, during which time 171 species have been observed on or over the property)
126 species
59,666 individuals
4,837 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

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

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

Nature Blog Network

--Bird banding at Hilton Pond Center has been at a standstill since early November, most recently because the resident bander is still recovering from elbow surgery to offset muscle atrophy in his banding hand.

--Official high temperature on 6 Dec per the Center's digital thermometer was 75.5 degrees. That's quite a change from a recent low of 24.2 degrees on 28 November. Can't wait to see what happens as winter progresses.

--Even if we had wanted to band, there aren't many prospective bandees around Hilton Pond. House Finches finally began showing up at the our sunflower seed feeders on 7 Dec. Still no Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, or the other winter finches except for a few American Goldfinches. Ron Pittaway's annual "Winter Finch Report" predicted minimal incursion in the Southeast this year because of bountiful seed and berry crops across Canada; such may indeed be affecting our unusually sparse populations of local winter residents.

--After reading the above account of far-roaming White-throated Sparrows, you may wish to review our complete list of Birds Banded at Hilton Pond and Encountered Outside York County.

--The immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was a comprehensive account of our recent Operation RubyThroat expedition to Ujarrás, Costa Rica, complete with more than a hundred colorful photos of participants and Neotropical flora and fauna. The write-up is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #584.

--The 23rd annual York/Rock Hill (SC) Christmas Bird Count is scheduled for 21 Dec 2013. No experience necessary to participate! Click on the link above for more details.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Oct 15 to Mar 15:
East of the Rockies please report your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds

(immature male Rufous Hummingbird at right)

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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 Dr. 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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