June - The
first week of June is always exciting and in past years has produced
some very rare birds like the Brown Thrasher in 2009 and the
Brewer's Sparrow in 2010.
Very unsettled weather at the beginning of the month had us all
thinking 2012 could be the same and we weren't to be disappointed
when this absolutely stunning second year (SY) male INDIGO BUNTING
Funnily enough it
was captured in one of two nets we set up for Mountain Bluebirds
along a fence line to the south of the banding station which have
since been christened the 'Bluebird Nets' and although we didn't
catch any MOBLs this spring we were very happy to settle for this
Buntings often have
an extensive 1st prebasic molt including all lesser, median and
greater coverts, carpal covert, alula, tertials, additional inner
secondaries and outer primaries. Members of the Cardinalis family
like Grosbeaks and Buntings where males have such contrasting and
distinctive plumages are very helpful for learning molt patterns and
especially helpful in looking for molt limits in females of the same
The wing of our SY
male below shows distinctive contrasts between 3 generations of
feathers; juvenile, first basic and first alternate and illustrates
the eccentric pattern of replaced remiges common in this species.
In its 1st prebasic
molt following the breeding season last year this bird replaced
lesser and most median coverts, all but two of its greater coverts
(GC 3 & 10 illustrated with the green arrows - GCs are numbered
proximally towards the birds body with GC10 the innermost), the
carpal covert, alula, the outermost primaries (pp 5-9 - primaries
are numbered distally away from the birds body with p9 the
outermost) but no secondaries or tertials. The 1st prebasic molt
limit is indicated with the red arrows - notice the thick glossy,
black rachis of the replaced outer primaries easily distinguishing
them from the retained juvenile inner primaries and secondaries. In
its 1st prealternate molt in the late winter early spring it
replaced inner greater coverts 7-9, tertials and the innermost
secondary (S6) indicated by the blue arrows.
Finally notice the washed out, worn
and lightly pigmented appearance of the retained juvenile feathers
especially the now very worn and tapered primary coverts.
Not quite as
impressive but gorgeous nevertheless was this after second year
(ASY) female Lazuli Bunting the iconic bird of Colony Farm
completing our Bunting double day!
Next up was another
rarity and first banded (for us) Least Flycatcher (LEFL) which was
initially heard and seen on a Monday in the small deciduous woodland
at the banding station.
As we all have
'real' jobs and are only able to band Thursday through Sunday we
were chomping at the bit on the Thursday after the bird was first
seen hoping that it would still be around. We rushed out to open our
woodland nets pre-dawn and immediately heard our LEFL CHE-bekking
away and captured the bird on the very first net round!
We've talked at length about Empid identification in the hand
and the benefits banders have over birders in being able to separate
these very similar species.
We always start by dividing these
tricky flycatchers in to 3 main groups:
White throat, white
belly and spotted crown - Traill's (Willow/Alder) and Least
Greyish throat, yellowy belly and narrow bill - Hammond's and Dusky
Yellow throat, yellow belly and greenish back - Pacific-slope (and
As can be seen in the photo above
Least is the smallest Empid with a white throat, whitish belly,
rounded head and almond shaped eyering. The bill is small but wide
with convex sides and pale lower mandible.
Wing morphology is really the key to
making definitive Empid
identification in the hand. The photo below left shows the primary
projection of Least which is short at just 11mm. Wing and tail
measurements were 64mm and 53mm respectively giving us a wing minus
tail measurement of 11mm and tail minus primary projection of 40mm.
Primary tip spacing is another important consideration in Empid
identification being evenly spaced in Least (photo below right)
although this second year bird was showing lots of wear to the tips
of the primaries making this feature more difficult to see.
Having now banded 6 species of
Empidonax Flycatcher - Traill's (Willow and we're certain at
least one Alder!), Hammond's, Dusky, Pacific-slope and Least we're
definitely getting the hang of Empid ID in the hand!
We were all feeling
very sorry for our Least Flycatcher singing away in the woodland
thinking that all his efforts to attract a mate were going to be in
vain! The constant singing was explained three days later when a
SECOND LEFL was caught in the same location – although this second
bird was not showing a brood patch the pair are clearly on territory
and we now have fingers crossed for a successful nesting attempt in
with an almond-shaped eyering caught the same day in the very same
net was this Pacific-slope Flycatcher (PSFL) which showed an unusual
The 1st prebasic
molt in PSFL is partial and normally includes lesser, median and
some inner greater coverts, sometimes 1-3 tertials but no other
flight feathers. This bird had replaced virtually no lesser coverts,
some median coverts, 6 inner greater coverts (GCs 5-10) and
unusually 4 outer primaries (PP6-9) all illustrated with the red
arrows. The 1st prealternate molt included 5 inner greater coverts
(GCs 6-10) and all 3 tertials illustrated with the blue arrows.
And we weren't
finished with new species banded for the station this month when
incredibly this quite stunning Red-breasted Sapsucker showed up in a
net one morning!
Although not rare
in the coniferous forests of BC the last place you might expect to
find one is in the middle of the old field habitat at Colony Farm.
A fitting bird for
species banded at the station!
Members of the
Oreothlypis (ex Vermivora!) genus such as Orange-crowned
Warblers (OCWA) have very thin, sharply pointed bills which they use
to prise open small buds to extract spiders and insects which may be
We are sometimes
able to show visitors this reflex action with birds in the hand by
asking them to gently place their forefinger and thumb on the upper
and lower mandibles when the bird will often prise them apart as
with this particularly cooperate OCWA in the photo below!
The final spring
Bird Monitoring and Banding Workshop was held over the June 8th -
10th weekend where our 11 course participants (some from as far away
as Washington and the Yukon!) sacrificed their entire weekend to
learn all about molt and ageing of NA landbirds in the hand. The two
field sessions although freezing cold (as you can see by coats, hats
and gloves in June!!) were a lot of fun and it's always such a treat
to see the look on people's faces as they band their first bird. It
really is a unique experience and one which we hope will encourage
them to get involved in banding and citizen science monitoring
programs once they return home.
It was another excellent workshop and by the end of the weekend this
group had again become like family to us. Thanks to all of them for
their wonderful workshop evaluations which as always can be viewed
on our testimonials page by clicking here:
June Workshop Evaluations
This after second
year (ASY) Western Wood-Pewee (WEWP) of unknown sex was one of 3
WEWP banded this month.
Although the wing
of this adult bird shows no discernible molt limits this bird
abnormally had 4 alula feathers (indicated by the red arrow in the
photo below left).
The tail of the same bird (photo below
right) shows the very broad, truncate appearance of adult retrices
with a distinct corner to the inner web of r4 indicated by the red
WEWPs are long distance migrants
overwintering as far south as Bolivia in South America and like all
long distance migrants have long wings as can be seen from the photo
left which in WEWPs almost extends to the tip of the smudged
morphology refers to the shape of the wing and reflects 3 aspects of
the primaries - the length and the occurrence of indentations to the
inner and outer webs called notches and emarginations.
Longer, more pointed wings produce
less air resistance in flight which is beneficial to birds making
these incredible long distance migrations.
This second year
(SY) female Black-throated Gray Warbler (BTYW) with a fully
developed brood patch had us scratching our heads when we looked at
the wing to age her (photo below right).
Unlike many of the
Setophaga (formerly Dendroica) warblers BTYW have a
very limited prealternate molt which is supposed to be limited to
head feathers and the 1st prebasic molt is supposed to include all
lesser, median and greater coverts and the greater alula covert.
In its 1st prebasic
molt after the breeding season last year this bird had replaced all
lesser and median coverts, the carpal covert and greater alula
covert but only some outer greater coverts, the 1st prebasic molt
limit between the outer greater covert and inner primary covert
indicated by the red arrow. The green arrow points to the retained
juvenal inner greater coverts. Strangely, in its 1st prealternate
molt this year she replaced a single inner greater covert (GC 7),
the glossy black feather indicated by the blue arrow (this feather
may or may not have also been replaced in the 1st PB).
The only thing that was by the book
was the white tips and small shaft streaks of the median coverts
diagnostic of first year females (white arrow).
Another reminder and example that
there is always something new and interesting to learn with molt and
ageing of NA landbirds in the hand and that in many instances more
study is needed with each species.
Hummingbird monitoring continued with
the first hatch birds showing up this month and so did Dev with his
fancy new super-macro lens!
and super-macro technology takes us in to a whole new world where
one can only further marvel at the miracle of birds.
The two super-macro
shots below are courtesy of Devin Manky and should not be used
without his permission.
Apodiformes which comes from the Greek word meaning 'no feet'
and although they do of course have feet to perch they are too far
back on their bodies to walk.
Hummingbirds have one toe (the hind toe or hallux) back and three
toes forward in a toe configuration termed anisodactyl.
is relatively easy as all species can be aged for the first 5 to 9
months after fledging by the extent of grooves called corrugations
along the lateral portions of the upper mandible.
When Hummingbirds are born the bill is soft and these deep grooves
are easily seen under magnification (red arrow photo below left)
whereas adult bills are smooth, hard and shiny along the entire
length of the upper mandible (photo below right)
have 10 primaries (the tenth full in length), 6 secondaries and 10
Rufous Hummingbirds (RUHU) can be reliably aged and sexed by
differences in the shape and width of primary 10 (p10 - the
outermost primary), and by the pattern of the central retrices.
P10 is broader and blunter (photo below left) in hatch year RUHU and
narrower and curved (photo below right) in after hatch year (AHY)
birds, especially in adult males.
retrices of hatch year (HY) males (photo below left) have
substantial rufous at the base while those of after hatch year (AHY)
males (photo below right) are almost entirely rufous, narrower and
more pointed and the outer retrices (r3-r5) are usually without
retrices of females are primarily green without rufous or with
limited rufous at the base of the feathers as can be seen in the
photo left of a hatch (HY) female.
Baby birds were
much in evidence this month all showing the characteristics of
recently fledged birds with streaked/spotted plumages, prominent
gapes, loosely textured feathers and bright mouth linings like our
Orange-crowned Warbler, Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker and
Red-winged Blackbird in the photos below.
June was an ugly
month for weather in Vancouver and went down as one of the coldest
on record with lots of rain.
We feared for our Tree Swallow nestlings and wondered whether they
could possibly make it. Like all aerial insectivores. cold, wet
weather is their worse enemy as adults try to find enough insects to
feed hungry babies.
Temperatures first thing in the
morning were sometimes only just above freezing and it seemed
impossible that one or two day old nestlings (top photo) could
possibly survive but survive they did as we monitored their progress
and and all but one of our occupied boxes successfully fledged
By late spring many
birds are showing extensive wear to flight feathers. Retained
juvenile feathers by now almost 12 months old and which have been
worn for one long neotropical migration are sometimes so worn that
only the rachis remains with all the interlocking barbs and barbules
worn away. Such was the case with this second year (SY) male
Black-headed Grosbeak (BHGR).
This emphasizes the
importance of molt to birds as worn or damaged feathers like these
can only be replaced during the annual molt cycle.
after second year (ASY) male was showing very little flight feather
wear having replaced all of its feathers in its definitive adult
prebasic molt after the breeding season last year.
Also notice the
extensive white wing patch and tail spots diagnostic of adult BHGRs.
Eastern Kingbirds (EAKI) are another
species where more study is needed regarding molt patterns and
EAKIs are sexually monomorphic meaning
males and females cannot be separated by their markings or the
colour of their feathers; both males and females display the red
central crown feathers shown in our after hatch year (AHY) female
Males and females
can be separated in the hand by the indentations to the inner web of
the outermost primaries (p9 & p10) called notches.
This notch is less pronounced (<8mm from the tip) in females and
longer and more elongated (>8mm from the tip) in males.
The prebasic molt
in EAKI is thought to be complete or nearly complete although much
is still not known of molt patterns in this species and more study
This bird had replaced some lesser coverts, the alula covert, carpal
covert and outer primaries (p5-p10) illustrated by the red arrows.
The inner 4 greater coverts (blue arrow) had been replaced
presumably in this birds prealternate molt this winter/spring.
So despite horrible
weather for the entire month that severely hampered our banding
effort June was an exciting month with lots of diversity, an eastern
rarity and two new species banded for the station!
Thanks to Mark
Habdas, Kerry Kenwood, Carol Matthews, Jason Jones, Jerry Rolls,
Debbie Wheeler, Sarah Gray, Mike Nutter, Kyle Norris, Eric Demers,
Celia Chui, Louise Routledge, Monica Nugent, Todd Heakes, Dev Manky,
Marianne Dawson, Vinci Au, Sara Legros, Christine Bishop, Kathy
Elwood. Marg Anderson and Hummer volunteers Marguerite Sans, Alida
Faurie and Erin O'Connor for their help with banding this