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1-30 September 2017

Installment #661---Visitor #AmazingCounters.com

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(Blue-crowned Motmot above right)


September was a busy month at Hilton Pond Center, even though we spent several days of the month away from home at distant locales. Travel is broadening but did put a bit of a crimp in local banding efforts that are usually quite productive this time of year--especially as Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are preparing to head south. There were so many tasks to attend to we fell hopelessly behind on writing "This Week at Hilton Pond," but for the sake of having a continuing on-line record of our banding efforts--there's a monthly tally below near the end of the page--we are posting this abbreviated installment. (We hope to do better sometime soon--maybe in early 2018!)

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

A Yellow-breasted Chat caught on 4 September 2018 was only our second banded at the Center since 2003 and our 136th in 36 years. This migratory species was more common around Hilton Pond when the property was in its "shrub stage" of vegetation succession. The chat is an enigmatic species. Once thought to be an over-sized Wood Warbler, it is now placed in its own family, the Icteriidae, with two "i's"--not to be confused with the one-"i" Icteridae (Blackbird Family).

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

We were gone from Hilton Pond for nearly a week in early September--the optimal time for hummer banding in the Carolina Piedmont--because were invited to speak at the 18th Hummingbird Migration & Nature Celebration at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs MS, about an hour south of Memphis TN.

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

This festival is the largest outdoor event at any Audubon-affiliated site in the country, annually attracting upwards of 10,000 people. Among the highlights are hummingbird banding sessions and a variety of talks by nationally known natural history experts. Altogether more than 600 people attended our presentations about "Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project."

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

At the festival we talked about our 34 years of hummingbird research here and in the Neotropics and invited attendees to join our upcoming citizen science expedition to Ujarrás, Costa Rica in January 2018. Amazingly, Cathy Sherman (above) of Oxford MS was so enthused about the prospect she signed up on the spot using her cell phone. We think that's a first! Modern technology is truly incredible. (NOTE: Our next Neotropical expedition with open slots is set for mid-November 2018. Sign-up info will be posted early next year.)

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

Upon returning from the Mississippi festival we immediately got back to work capturing and banding hummingbirds. Although some undoubtedly passed through while we were out-of-state, plenty of hummers remained at Hilton Pond. In fact, banding totals on 11 September 2017 were unprecedented for the 34 years we've been studying hummingbirds at the Center. Amid post-hurricane windy conditions and light rain between 7:45 a.m. and 6:10 p.m. we trapped, banded, and released a total of 36 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds--obliterating our local one-day total for this species! (Our previous record was 26 RTHU, set one day in late May 1997 after being at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for the first two months of hummingbird season.)

With that many birds entering our traps things got backed up at the banding table, so several times we held a few birds temporarily in lingerie bags. (See photo above; bags are hanging indoors in the office area.) Cloth bags are a standard and harmless way to keep hummers; the birds can't hurt themselves in the soft material and can breathe through the open mesh.

Prior to release, we carefully placed each hummer's bill in a feeder; all but one of the 36 filled its crop with fresh sugar water before flying back into the rain. (Because of the day's circus-like feeder action those hand-held drinks might have been the longest uninterrupted meals the hummers had all day!)

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

We also color-marked each bird (hatch-year male above, with dark streaking and a few red gorget feathers) with a swatch of temporary and non-toxic green dye on the upper breast. This told us whether a bird in the trap had been caught previously, allowing for quick release of banded individuals. And, if you live south or southwest of Hilton Pond Center at York SC, please be on the lookout for these green-marked birds during fall migration and let us know immediately if you spy one. (A sharp photo would be most helpful.)

The daily total on the 11th included just three adult RTHU (a male and two females), with a ton of immature birds (17 males, 16 females). The adult male was unusual in that we've only caught four on later dates, two each on 13 and 14 September. Also rather late was a previously banded female from last year; we've captured only two such "old returns" after 11 September. Today's bonanza brought the Center's 2017 ruby-throat total to 237--so far our fourth-best year since 1984, with about a month still to go in the current hummingbird banding season.

Because of a plethora of independent variables, it's always hard to determine cause-and-effect relationships in nature. Thus, we can't tell if big numbers on 11 September might have been the result of Hurricane Irma to the south--or because we were gone for the past four days to Mississippi . . . or both . . . or neither.

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

Despite the rush of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on 11 September, the vast majority had departed Hilton Pond Center by 23 September 2017 when an interesting warbler hit our nets. We've always said the late great bird artist and field guide author Roger Tory Peterson did us a disservice by calling some of these migrants "confusing fall warblers," giving folks a cop-out when it comes to NOT trying to identify them in non-breeding and/or immature plumage.

Can you identify the bird just from the field marks visible in the photo above? If not, We'll give you some hints: 1) Pale streaking on the back; 2) White undertail coverts; and, 3) wing bars and tail spots. That narrows it down to two species.

Two more hints should be all you need to know to arrive at the correct ID: 1) There was a hint of buffiness on some of the undertail coverts; and, most important, 2) the legs and feet were dark.

What's your conclusion? Use your field guide. Don't be a quitter! (And no silly guesses!)

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

The best WRONG guess would be Blackpoll Warbler, but that species has paler legs and especially pale toes. (We're sorry we didn't get a foot photo.) That leaves immature Bay-breasted Warbler (BBWA) as the correct I.D.--only our 13th banded locally in 36 year at the Center! Congrats if you figured it out AND to those who tried but didn't. 

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

One of the more easily recognizable butterflies at Hilton Pond Center is the Red-spotted Purple, Limenitis arthemis. Folks often mistake it for one of the swallowtails--even though there are no "tails." Metallic blue hindwings and four reddish-orange spots along the edge of the forewings are diagnostic. Southern populations of this species mimic the Pipevine Swallowtail, which is toxic, while northern populations have a broad white band across both forewing and hindwing and are called White Admirals. Hybridization occurs where their ranges overlap, effectively swamping potential speciation. Northern caterpillars dine on Yellow Birch leaves, while those in the South primarily eat cherry foliage. Adults prefer flower nectar and rotting fruit juices.

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

One of our favorite birds--the Brown-headed Nuthatch (above)--used to be more common and even nested in boxes at Hilton Pond Center. Never abundant, one or two could nonetheless be observed almost daily at our sunflower seed feeders--until the mid-1990s when a neighboring farmer clear-cut a 70-acre stand of mature Loblolly Pine. The local nuthatch population never recovered, so we're always pleased to see and band one of these little stubby-tailed bark-gleaners. The bird we captured this week was just our 50th since 1982.

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

Don't forget to scroll down for Nature Notes & Photos,
plus lists of all birds banded or recaptured during the period.

Payable to: funding@hiltonpond.org

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1432 DeVinney Road
York SC 29745

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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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Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us, among other things, to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond" with students, teachers, and the general public. Please see Support or scroll below if you'd like to make a gift of your own.

We're pleased folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making donations. Those listed below made contributions received during the period. Please join them if you can in coming weeks.

Gifts can be made via PayPal (funding@hiltonpond.org); credit card via Network for Good (see link below); or personal check (c/o Hilton Pond Center, 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745).

  • The following Facebook friends donated generously to Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History in honor of executive director Bill Hilton Jr.'s 71st September birthday. Many are repeat supporters and/or past participants in our Operation RubyThroat citizen science expeditions to the Neotropics: Carol Stroupe, April Lang, Sandra Brown, Charles Horn, Bob McAlister, Doren Burrell, Peter Stangel, Michelle Sanders, Patricia Barfield Boatwright, Andrea Holbrook, Libby Watson, Cindy Sexton, Ivan Randolph Mathena, Fernando B. Corrada, Clarke Thompson, Ric Porter, Nancy Biggins, Amy Girten, Catherine Wu-Latona, Maureen Gallagher McLeod, Kathy Johnson, Debby Miller, Carol Speer Foil, George Johnson, Jennifer Filipowski, Amy Mullenhoff Poore, Cindy Massey, Tammie Lesesne, Jim Guard Jr., Lexi Dandretta, Laura Neath Black, Cindy Kelly Rhodes, Cheri LaNette Dixon Fortenberry, Lawanna Stoeckel, Kim Beard, Jeremy Rubenstein, Mary Anne Ballard Bruce Krucke, Cindy Epps, Lisa Rest, Nancy Castillo, Laura Thomas, Ann Truesdale, Gary Randolph, Cherie Awbrey Steele and Linda Parker.
  • Frank Voelker (long-time supporter, via PayPal)
  • Quarterly disbursements from Amazon Smile & iGive.com
  • NOTE: Donations designated for "The Ela Fund" in memory of Elaida Mayorga Villanueva will be acknowledged at a later date
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The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of newspaper columns that first appeared in The Herald in Rock Hill SC. Optimized for tablets such as iPad and Kindle, electronic downloads of the now out-of-print volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
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Hilton Pond Center.

1-30 September 2017

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--
American Redstart--3
Northern Parula--1
Carolina Chickadee--3
American Goldfinch--5
Eastern Phoebe--2
Yellow Warbler--1
Bay-breasted Warbler--1
Magnolia Warbler--1
Brown-headed Nuthatch--1
Common Yellowthroat--2
Acadian Flycatcher--1

Red-eyed Vireo--1
Northern Cardinal--18
Carolina Wren--2
Yellow-breasted Chat--1
House Finch--11
Downy Woodpecker--2
Swainson's Thrush--2

Eastern Towhee-1
Mourning Dove--4

* = new banded species for 2017

22 species
191 individuals

53 species (36-yr. avg. = 64.9)

1,704 individuals
(36-yr. avg. =
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 296

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
126 species banded
66,648 individuals banded

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 5,969

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1)
04/23/16--after 2nd year female

Carolina Chickadee (3)
05/31/16--after 2nd year male
08/20/16--2nd year male
09/21/16--2nd year female

Tufted Titmouse (2)
12/28/15--after 2nd year male
06/02/16--2nd year female

White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
10/05/12--after 5th year male

House Finch (1)
06/07/11--7th year female

--September ended at Hilton Pond Center with 296 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded. In 34 years we've banded only 79 RTHU in all of October, so chances of reaching the coveted 300 level by the end of the 2017 banding season are iffy.

--A tally of all birds banded during the period is at left; below that is the list of returns. Of particular note were a seventh-year female House Finch banded locally in 2011 and an after-fifth-year White-breasted Nuthatch from 2012.

--As of 30 Sep Hilton Pond Center's 2017 Yard List stood at 80--about 47% of the 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (If you're not keeping a yard list for your own property we encourage you to do so, and to report sightings via eBird.) New species this week: Common Nighthawk, Yellow Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Veery.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about a potpourri of August nature happenings around the pond. It is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #660.

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 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.