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THIS WEEK at HILTON POND
8-14 September 2021

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A LOCALLY SCARCE WARBLER,
THE BENEFITS OF POKEWEED,
AND A TURTLE RENDEZVOUS

Close to dusk on 08 September 2021 at Hilton Pond Center we were preparing to stop banding for the day when we noticed a small bird in the mist net closest to our garden fountain. It appeared to be a warbler—an immature and/or one in fall plumage—but in dim evening light in the tree-shrouded net lane it was difficult to make out distinguishing characteristics needed for positive identification. (Poor light also made it hard to get a sharp photo; an on-camera flash, tripod, and steady hand saved the day, below.)

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

So let’s work through the field marks, just as we did that evening:

—Dorsum olive green
—Throat and breast bright yellow
—Blurred black streaking on flank
—Pale yellowish wing bar
—Grayish crown
—White undertail coverts
—White tail spots
—Dark line through the eye and another dark curved line well below the eye, giving the appearance of a big broken whitish eye ring

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

Does that help? How about if we disclose that in good light we finally could see hints of chestnut streaking on the bird’s back.

Still don’t know?

Well, this was only the 40th of this bird’s species banded at Hilton Pond since 1982, and the first since 2007. Of those 40 bandings, 38 of them came in 1996 or earlier—‘way back when our 11 acres were much more open and, in fact, included grassy, shrubby areas that were quite prairie-like.

And there you have it: This not-so-confusing fall warbler was an immature Prairie Warbler of undetermined sex, and we were very glad to see one after all these years. They may have nested locally when the entire area around us was farmland, but this individual was likely a pass-through migrant on its way to South Florida, Cuba, or the Caribbean islands.

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



POKEWEED BENEFITS

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

When the distinctive purple from pokeweed berries (above) stains the hands of the bander (photo below), you can rest assured Swainson's Thrushes have begun to arrive at Hilton Pond Center from their breeding grounds to the north. (Can you tell the berry juice passes right through digestive tracts of these birds?) Gray Catbirds are really good about this, too, as are several other fruit-nibbling species. We did get our first Swainson's Thrush of the fall on 10 September 2021.

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

Incidentally, although many gardeners despise American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, it really is an EXCELLENT bird attractant. Everyone should have a couple of these robust perennial plants in the yard to fuel fall migrants. Just don't hang out white sheets and clothing to dry on the line--unless you want tie-dyed originals, that is. (HINT You might also wish to keep light-colored cars in the garage until the pokeweed berry supply is all used up!)

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

Three days after the bander's fingers were anointed purple by the first Swainson's Thrush, we captured a trio of immature male Summer Tanagers (SUTA) that also had been dining on the Center's abundant crop of pokeweed berries. One of the SUTA apparently had a real penchant for these dark, succulent fruits; not only were his bill and gape purplish but his normally white tongue had taken on a bright bubblegum-pink hue (see photo above). The same kinds of pigments that stained his tongue will allow his current yellow feathers to be replaced by crimson feathers as he molts into adult plumage during coming months in the Neotropics.

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

It's interesting all parts of American Pokeweed are toxic to humans but birds--including the immature Red-eyed Vireo above--seek out the fruits with impunity as an excellent source of energy-rich carbohydrates. Even so, pokeberries do seem to loosen up avian bowels a bit--one reason we never-ever-never hold a bird over our banding table or data sheets during the banding process. We're also always careful to aim the bird's nether regions away from our pristine white Operation RubyThroat T-shirts!

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



BOX TURTLE RENDEZVOUS

On the morning of 14 September 2021 we were behind the old farmhouse at Hilton Pond Center, setting up with camera and tripod so we could take hand-held photos of birds we had just captured. As we looked down between shots we realized an Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, was lumbering in our direction, seemingly unperturbed by our presence. As we stopped our photo work and swapped the macro lens for a longer one the turtle continued his approach, giving us opportunity to focus on him instead.

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

This individual has the brightest color of any of the half-dozen or so adult box turtles that reside around the property, and we recognized him immediately because of his unique shell markings. (Carapace decorations are as distinctive for turtles as fingerprints are for humans.) His bright red eyes indicate he is a male; in this species females' irises are usually brown or yellow.

We suspect this male is much older than 40 years--he's been here ever since we arrived in 1982--and theoretically could even be approaching the century mark known for captive specimens. (It's likely wild, free-roaming individuals only make it to the half-century mark.) We're not sure if he recognized us or perceived us as non-threatening, but he stopped only briefly with head out and left hind leg extended before resuming his slow-motion stroll through the grass. Most other local box turtles draw in their appendages and freeze when we encounter them along the trails.

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



BIRD BANDING SNAPSHOTS

Here are a few photos of avian species banded during the second week in September 2021 at Hilton Pond Center:

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

Lately we've been watching a couple of Brown-headed Nuthatches (BHNU, above) at the Center's big sunflower seed feeder. They make about 60 visits per hour--each time grabbing just one seed. Then they disappear, likely eating few seeds but caching many in back crevices and other hiding places. Some of these will be found by other enterprising birds, and some will never be seen again. BHNU were relatively common around Hilton Pond before a neighboring farmer clear-cut 60 acres of mature Loblolly Pines in the mid-1990s; even so, counting the one this week we've banded only 54 of them in 40 years.

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

Of the 34 "eastern" Wood Warblers captured at Hilton Pond since 1982, the second most common have been American Redstarts (AMRE) with 582 banded. These have been exceeded only by Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers at 2,339 (and are followed by 442 Magnolia Warblers). AMRE are scarce breeders in South Carolina, and we've only caught a few adult males like the one above; the majority have been adult females or young birds with greenish-gray body feathers and yellow flanks and tail spots. (Interestingly, unlike most warbler species that are much more abundant at the Center during autumn migration, redstarts are split exactly 50-50 between spring and fall bandings.)

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

Of the two waterthrushes--Northern (NOWA) and Louisiana--the former is far more common at Hilton Pond Center (346 banded), even though the latter (59 banded) breeds locally. These species are quite similar in appearance, although NOWA (shown above) typically has a buffy eye line and streaking on its throat. As their name suggests, Northern Waterthrushes nest primarily in New England and across Canada into Alaska, while their cousins are restricted to the eastern half of the U.S. south of Canada.

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

On our Operation RubyThroat study sites among Costa Rican Chayote squash plantations, the most common species is not Ruby-throated Hummingbirds but Tennessee Warblers (TEWA, above). This bird breeds across Canada in boreal forests where it uses its thin bill to glean caterpillars and other invertebrates from tree leaves and needles. In the Neotropics TEWA transition to nectarivores, piercing flowers without pollinating them. (Abundant nectar-laden Chayote blossoms that are open and flat are even easier to feed from.) Tennessee Warblers migrate north from Central America in late March and after breeding depart Canada by late August. They appear to overfly Hilton Pond Center in spring; every one of the 101 TEWA banded here has been in fall migration!

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

Historically the last week of August and first two weeks of September comprise the most productive period during Hilton Pond Center's banding season for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (RTHU, immature male, above). The current year (2021) was no exception: Of 230 RTHU banded so far, 78 (34%) were banded during those 21 days. As anticipated, hummers captured in the span were overwhelmingly youngsters, with no adult males, four adult females, and 74 hatch-year (40 males, 34 females). We have a hunch most of these late summer captures are pass-through migrants on their way to the Neotropics from sites further north, although some could have dispersed from nearby nesting locales.

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

Don't forget to scroll down for lists of all birds banded and recaptured during the week.



HILTON POND SUNSETS
(from our on-going series)

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

Sunset over Hilton Pond (above), 09 September 2021
This evening's pink-and-blue is in honor of the eighth birthday of Miss Hadley Reid Hilton, our younger granddaughter.
Hoppy Bird-day, Had, from your Pap!


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

Sunset over Hilton Pond (above), 11 September 2021
Today was a lazy, hazy mid-September day at the Center,
just as it was 20 years ago as the news came down from
New York City. In 2021 we remember and regret lives lost
and the changes that day's events made to the American
way of life. May we never forget, and may we never again
see the likes of 9/11/2001.

Photoshop image post-processing for this page employs
DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI, and other Topaz Lab tools




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Checks also can be sent to Hilton Pond Center at:
1432 DeVinney Road
York SC 29745

All contributions are tax-deductible on your
current-year income tax form

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


"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Dr. 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). You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.

The following donors made contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 8-14 September 2021:

  • Deborah Boots
  • Katie Cottrell
  • Glenn Koppel (via Network for Good)
  • Jim & Lisa Gareis Korslund (repeat donors)
  • Tractor Supply Company
  • Laurie Yahr & Rick Kahl (long-time supporters)
  • Venmo
  • The friends below contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fund-raisers; some may be repeat contributors. Several have set up through Facebook to make a recurring monthly donation to benefit the Center.

  • NOTE: Most contributors listed below made thoughtful donations during Week Two of "Bill's 75th Birthday Fundraiser" in support of Hilton Pond Center & Operation RubyThroat. Many are long-time donors. You can support this Facebook effort all through September 2021 at FUNDRAISER.

    Kim Pierce Lascola*, Bob Olson, Doren Burrell, Carolyn Yost, John Angulo, Frank Voelker, Cheri Dixon Howell, Cindy Stacy, Cindy Sexton, Mary Alice Koeneke, Sara Carolyn Blair, Rosemarie Wahaus*, Laura Neath Black, Deanna Frautschi, John Reinhart Nash, Dennis Walden, and Hope Mims Andresen ("Top Tier" supporter)

    (
    * = past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition)
 
If you enjoy "This Week at Hilton Pond," please help support
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It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!

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If you like shopping on-line please become a member of iGive, through which 1,800+ on-line stores from Amazon to Lands' End and even iTunes donate a percentage of your purchase price to support Hilton Pond Center. ..Every new member who registers with iGive and makes a purchase through them earns an ADDITIONAL $5 for the Center. You can even do Web searches through iGive and earn a penny per search--sometimes TWO--for the cause! Please enroll by going to the iGive Web site. It's a painless, important way for YOU to support our on-going work in conservation, education, and research. Add the iGive Toolbar to your browser and register Operation RubyThroat as your preferred charity to make it even easier to help Hilton Pond Center when you shop.

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
to support the work of
Hilton Pond Center.

BIRDS BANDED THIS WEEK at
HILTON POND CENTER
8-14 September 2021

SPECIES BANDED THIS PERIOD:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird--27
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher--1
Magnolia Warbler--1
Prairie Warbler--1
*
American Redstart--7
Tennessee Warbler--1
*
Northern Parula--1
Cape May Warbler--2
White-eyed Vireo--1
Northern Waterthrush--2
American Goldfinch-- 2
Brown-headed Nuthatch--1
*
Carolina Chickadee--1
Northern Cardinal--2
Carolina Wren--2
Swainson's Thrush--1
Summer Tanager--4
Red-bellied Woodpecker--1

* = new banded species for 2021


PERIOD BANDING TOTAL:
19 species
58 individuals


2021 BANDING TOTAL:
59 species (40-yr. avg. = 63.7)

2,361 individuals
(40-yr. avg. =
1,854.1)

230 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds


40-YEAR BANDING GRAND TOTAL:
(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 172 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
74,163 individuals banded

6,874 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

NOTABLE RECAPTURES THIS WEEK:
(with original banding date, verified sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (0)
None this week.

American Goldfinch (2)
02/02/18--after 5th year male
02/03/19--after 4th year female

Tufted Titmouse (1)
10/27/20--after hatch year female

Carolina Wren (1)
10/13/18--4th year female

** New longevity record for species
(none this week)

OTHER NATURE NOTES:
--Although fall migration is underway at Hilton Pond Center, American Goldfinches are still among our currently nesting species. Two "old" individuals--a male banded in 2018 and a female from 2019--showed signs of active breeding: The male had swollen cloacal protuberance and the female revealed a prominent brood patch. (See recapture list at lower left.)

--As of 14 Sep, the Center's 2021 Yard List stood at 86--about 50% of 172 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, 84 of those species so far this year have been observed from the windows or porches of our old farmhouse! Best year so far was 111 species in 2020. If you're not keeping a
Yard List for your own property we encourage you to do so, and to report your sightings via eBird,
where y
ou, too, can be a "citizen scientist!") New species observed locally during the period 8-14 Sep: Tennessee Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Common Nighthawk

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about Underwing Moths and late-fledging wrens. It's archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #751.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center



Please report your spring, summer &
fall sightings of
Color-marked
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds


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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.