Monday, May 10, 2010

Birding by Butt, 2010

Wednesday was the "Birding by Butt" day at Opossum Creek for the Elderhostel gang. (I will never get used to "Exploritas," a really stupid name change for this long-standing program, with a tradition that you are never too old to learn something new.) The schedule is pretty much the same as it is for the participants of the New River Birding and Nature Festival - breakfast and lunch by Wendy of Cathedral Cafe, casual bird and nature walks with Jim McCormac, and bird banding with Bill Hilton, Jr.

Because the early morning temperatures hovered around freezing, Bill didn't open his mist nets, but instead set feeder traps to catch some birds for his demo. He checked them before calling us out to see him work; any female bird with a brood patch was released immediately, so she could get back to her job of incubating or brooding her young.

The first bird Bill had was this chickadee, a Carolina, not a Black-capped, in case you weren't sure.
After working through the ID and demonstrating the technique of bird banding, our little guy was ready to go.
The next bird was a White-breasted Nuthatch. We knew he was a male because of his dark black cap (the female's is lighter in color), and also because Bill had already told us he let the females go.
Bill turned him over to show us the rusty-brown undertail coverts. Why a bird who spends his life with his belly plastered up against a tree would have color markings where no one (presumably) would ever see them is one of the many mysteries of birds.
But, this guy had another surprise up his sleeve, so to speak. When Bill began examining him closely, he found the bird was already banded. I have been to a number of bird banding events, and I had not witnessed a recapture until now.

This is what banders live for - a chance to catch a banded bird and track his band number, to find out who banded the bird and when and where. It tells us a lot about bird migration, life span, and so on.

If you have attended one of Bill's banding demos, you may have noticed the anomaly in the picture below. The bird is banded on his right leg, and Bill always bands males on the left. Why? "Because females are always right," of course! Not all banders follow this protocol, giving us our first clue that this was not a bird Bill had banded.

In searching his Opossum Creek records, Bill learned that he had held this bird before, at the New River Festival in 2008. At that time, he discovered and reported the band and received this certificate, telling him that this bird was originally banded in 2005, right on Opossum Creek property, by the guy who used to give the demos for the festival.
This makes three times the bird was been caught and handled, in 2005, 2008, and 2010. Given that he was an adult bird in 2005, at least one year old, we know that he was hatched in 2004 (or earlier), is at least 6 years old, and lives at Opossum Creek. I think that's pretty neat! It also shows that the "stress" of being caught and handled must not have bothered him too much, or that he is a pretty forgiving character, since he keeps coming back for more.

Despite the cold, we were there for the birds, so off we went to find them. A pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were working on their nest, as they do every year. I wonder if Geoff pays them to build where we can watch.

Scott Shalaway and fellow birders watching the gnatcatchers.
It may not look like Jim is birding, but his bat-like ears are at work, picking out bird song.

We did get a few birds on our morning walks, including Northern Parula (too high in the tree tops for a photo) and Ovenbird (too skulky for pics,) so I settled for plant photographs.

Blue violets. If you want a specific ID, see Jim's informative and educational post on identifying violets. If I had to guess, I'd say Common Blue Violet, but don't quote me.

Fern fiddle heads.

And this gorgeous wild orchid, Showy Orchis, Galearis spectabilis, growing in the ditch on the side of the gravel road, very nearly overlooked.

The only trouble with my morning at Opossum Creek Resort was that it had to come to an end.


littleorangeguy said...

Geoff showed off pictures of the showy orchis Wednesday night, and we all went looking for it on Thursday. Still there, still pleasing the crowd. We are grateful for the Elderhostelers. (I worked for EH one summer; it was a fantastic job.)

Jim McCormac said...

Are you saying that I have large "batlike" ears, K? :-)

Nic epost, and yes, that's Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia.