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Keith E-mail Archives

8/11/06

Greetings All,
 
    Myrt and Mattie cleaned all the trimmings from the lanes I had already cut back this afternoon, And Larry, Mattie & I cut back and cleared all of the lanes on the club side of the pond this evening. The swamp lanes still needing some cleaning but we ran into a minor equipment problem.
    We Will Not Be Doing Anything At The Club This  Saturday. Instead, we will be meeting around 8:30 Sunday AM to cut back and clean the rifle range lanes, finish up the swamp. I still need to run the mower over some of the lanes as well but I can do that my self.
    If time and the availability of manpower permit, we will set up nets Sunday as well. The plan is to band starting next Saturday Weather permitting.
 
See you All soon,
 
    Keith

8/10/06

 

Greetings All,

 
    I got to the club this afternoon, and managed to trim the side, and overhead growth on the trap field lanes and the three lanes across the street. If someone was looking for something to do, they could clear the large pieces of these debris off into the sides of the lanes with a pair of gloves and a rake. I will run the lawn mower over these lanes again tomorrow afternoon and then they will be ready for nets.
       I have two possible options for getting the rest of the lanes cleared and the nets set up. I plan to be at the club after work tomorrow. My best guess is 4:30 until ?. Sooner if by myself, later if I have company. I know that a large chunk of our number have prior commitments for Saturday. Garrett plans for He and I to go diving somewhere in salt water in the afternoon, Doc Weagle and Sue are going to be doing something for their anniversary, and either the Hetel's or the Sheridan's have a wedding to go to, I can't remember which. Sara & Jill are still in Ecuador, and the Blazis' are in Africa.
    I plan to clear the rifle range lanes starting around 7 AM Saturday morning, before they are open, and then proceed to the rest of the lanes. I want to be out of there by 10:30 so Garrett and I can "get wet."
    If I get help tomorrow evening Maybe we can get the lanes cleared sooner and possibly even get the nets up so we can try banding Sunday morning. There is however, a motorcycle charity ride starting from the club Sunday morning so if we want to band we will probably have to do it on the trap field.
    Anyone available to help me either tomorrow after noon or Saturday morning should Call me during the day tomorrow, (508)-335-4650, or just show up at the club and find me. I won't have access to my e-mail again before tomorrow night. If my truck is there I'll be there somewhere. If I'm working the trap field area or the rifle range my truck will be parked in those respective areas, and if I'm on the club side of the pond I will be parked in the club house parking lot. You should be able to hear the power equipment running.
    If we get to a point when we can band Sunday, or maybe even Saturday, I will send out an e-mail accordingly. Otherwise We will Plan on Banding Next weekend weather permitting.
 
See you all soon,
 
    Keith

8/8/06

Greetings All,
 
     I managed to get to the club for a little while this afternoon. I ran the mower over the lanes at the trap field and across the street. I also checked out the lanes at the rifle range. My mower is 20 inches wide and I made 2 1/2 passes on each lane. This is the width We want to maintain. The side and overhead growth still needs to be trimmed and then I can re-mow the lanes clearing all the derbies into the sides. If anyone has a little free time they are welcome to trim the side and overhead growth remembering that we don't want to cut any more growth than absolutely necessary. Roughly 48 inches wide and 7 feet high. Also be mindful of POISON IVY.
    It looks like we will be able to use all 5 lanes at the rifle range this fall. They just need a visit from the hedge trimmers and the weed whacker.
    Due to my erratic work schedule I'm not sure if I will be able to get to the club again before the weekend so I can't make any definite plans. If my time allows, I would like to get the lanes I've already started on finished first and then start with 9 & 10, then the swamp and canopy, and lastly 14, 15, & 16.
    If we can get the lanes at the trap field and across the street cleaned up before Friday, maybe we can get those nets set up Friday evening and open them Saturday AM. Kim is working this weekend & Garrett and I are going diving Saturday afternoon, so I need to be free by Noon Time. Garrett is doing a Mountain Man Black Powder Shoot Sunday so I am free for Sunday.
    I will send out updates as things progress.
 
Hoping to be "BANDING" soon,
 
    Keith
 
 

8/7/06

Myrt's original message;
 
Hi Keith & Larry,
     Hope your summers are going well.  Any idea when banding is going to start up again?  I know we talked about starting early this year, but has anything been decided yet?
        Thanks,
        Myrt
 
My reply;
 
Hey Myrt,
 
    Mark & I talked this weekend about this very subject. He and Helen left today for AFRICA and won't be back until August 24. Larry, Marci, and Gary are due back from Ecuador tomorrow. And Jill and Sara are due back on August 19.
    I talked with Pauline Sheriden and Penny Hetel by phone this afternoon trying to find out if anyone had been to the club to look at the net lanes and to my knowledge no one has.
    I have been driving around with the lawn mower in my truck for 2 weekends now, hoping for suitable weather to cut the grass and other growth from the bottom of the lanes just so they don't get too overgrown, and haven't had any luck getting there. Hopefully I can get there sometime soon.
    Mark gave Garrett the nets before he left so We do have them to set up when we get the lanes cleaned.. He also suggested that we be on the lookout for Philadelphia Vireo, and Bay Breasted Warblers as they are both early migrants.
    One of the problems we may encounter with an early start is that the temperature gets warm earlier in the day than when we typically band and will require us to either make frequent, once every 20 minutes), rounds and or close earlier in the day than we are used to. Anyone dropping someone off to assist with banding will need to be mindful of this and take necessary step to ensure that those dropped off can be picked up whenever we are done or have other appropriate arraignments in place.
    Also, as we aren't all expecting to start our season early, we can probably count on not being as fully staffed as we are when we "normally" operate. Also the club may have other conflicting activities scheduled.
     I will endeavor  to get the lanes cleaned as soon as practical, and will be looking for help where ever I can find it in getting the nets up as soon as possible thereafter. Maybe we can open on an abbreviated field this weekend, but I am not making any promises.
    Let me know if you can help with either cleaning the lanes and or setting up the nets.
    After talking with Doc Weagle at his mother's wake it looks like we might be enjoying his company at banding again soon.
 
Looking forward to "Banding" together Soon,
 
    Keith
 
 
 

6/17/06

Greetings All,
 
    It's that time of year again. Time to take the nets down for the summer.
    As the weather looks good for both days this weekend we will see if we can't increase our numbers before we take the nets down Sunday. I'll begin opening nets at the rifle range @ 5:00 AM. I believe Myrt & Mattie have a prior commitment for Saturday, but should be with us Sunday. Any help taking down the nets Sunday will be appreciated.
    As the temperature is forecast to be in the mid to upper 80's both days this weekend, Parents dropping off children for the mornings should be aware that we may close early, and should be available to pick up their children early as well. Please be sure your children have a way to get in touch with you if need be. They will be allowed to use our phones though so they will not need one of their own, just a number at which you can be reached.
    Remember, although We enjoy having You & your children visit with us,
        "WE ARE NOT A DAY CARE CENTER."
    Pre-teen Children need to be accompanied by a responsible parent or older sibling. And all Children must have a valid way to get in touch with their parents should the need arise. If you are unsure if your children are welcome to stay unaccompanied, please check with one of the ADULT members of the Banding team, and we will be glad to let you know.
    Although Mr. Blazis is no longer teaching, "SCHOOL TIME" rules of conduct still apply.
 
Thank You and see you at "The Club",
 
    Keith
 
5/11/06
Greetings All,
 
    The weather doesn't look to promising for the weekend at this point. Keep an eye out for a late Friday E-mail re: Saturday AM.
 
Keith

5/4/06

Greetings All,

 
    Looks like we are going to have Great weather for banding this weekend. Saturday morning temperature is forecast to be in the high forties at 5:37 sunrise with temps. warming into the seventies as the day progresses.
    As sunrise 5:37, I will aim for a 4:45 start to net opening. I haven't gotten a chance to check out the vegetation, but with this weeks rain, and the nice days, today and tomorrow, we can expect that it has improved some.
 
See you Saturday AM,
 
    Keith

 

4/28/06

Greetings All,

 
    It looks like it is going to be a good weekend for bird banding. The weather is forecast to be in the mid to upper 30's early in the mornings but getting warmer as the days progress. Sunrise is at 5:46 AM on Saturday, and it was way to light when we were opening nets last weekend, so we will aim to start around 5 AM this weekend.
    The vegetation has still to fill in so our lanes aren't all that concealed but we should still get some birds. I think we were around 2 or 3 dozen last weekend.
 
See you there, and dress for the weather,
 
    Keith
 

 

4/19/06

Greetings All,
 
    The spring bird banding season has officially begun. We banded about two dozen birds this past weekend. The Easter Bunny even came on Sunday, leaving eggs all around the grounds.
    Weather permitting we will be banding again this coming Saturday & Sunday, begining to open nets around 5:30 AM.
    
Hope to see you there,
 
    Keith

 

 

8/23/05

Greetings All,
 
    I stopped in and saw Gary Hetel this morning to get Doc's hedge trimmer & weed whacker. Gary says he has the Auburn lanes all set up for banding with the exception of the 5 rifle range nets. These lanes are ready but it has been too busy down there to set up the nets. People are down there shooting early every morning as it is getting close to hunting season.
    I plan to clear the lanes in Grafton this afternoon and tomorrow morning. I have an appointment for Kim's van tomorrow afternoon, but Thursday and Friday are still clear for now.
    Kim has this Friday off but has to work this weekend and Garrett and I have an appointment with the Eye Doctor Saturday @ 10 AM.
    If there is enough interest, we could band Auburn Friday morning. Maybe we could even get the Rifle Range nets up, although we may have to wait until Sunday AM for that. The weather is forecast to be GREAT through the weekend.
    We are planing to band in Auburn this weekend! If we can get Grafton set up and enough people willing to commit to work Grafton, it is possible that we will try both places.
    The more nets we have opened, the greater our chances of increasing our "Total Birds Banded" numbers for the year.
 
Looking forward to seeing you All soon,
 
    Keith

 

 

 

8/19/05

Greetings All,

    I paid a visit to the "Master" this afternoon.
    I am on vacation next week and plan to get the lanes cleared and with a little help the nets up during the week so we can start banding next Saturday AM. I am otherwise committed Monday, but have no set plans for the rest of the week.
    To the best of my recollection Gary has the nets and I will need to be in touch with him to make arrangements to set them up. As Mark is now "retired" he may be available to help as well.
    I believe others may have some nets also.
    Let me know if you are available to help set nets up during the mid to later part of next week. If we can set them up Wednesday and or Thursday that would be good. Maybe we could even do some banding Friday AM. I may be able to provide some rides for clearing and set up.
    Garrett and I have appointments with the eye doctor at 10 AM next Saturday so we will have to leave by 9:45 & We have plans to go camping Labor Day weekend, but that doesn't mean others can't band.
 
Looking forward to seeing you all again soon,
 
    Keith
 

 

Belated Congratulations to New Sub-permitees

 
MY BAD!
    I congratulated the new Sub-permitees in the adult group, but neglected to send out Congratulations for the two newest and youngest members of our Bird Banding Family! Quite possibly the youngest official Sub-permitees in the country! 
    Jillian Hetel, & Sarah Reich received their Sub-Permits at a Pizza party held at Casa Blazis in early March.
    Again, MY BAD! I knew about it in advance, and with all the confusion of my moving I simply failed to send out notice.
    Sarah has already put her new sub-permit to use with us earlier this week. Jillian is spending this week visiting with her friend in Florida, but she will be back banding with us soon.
 
See you all soon, and again Congratulations girls!
 
Keith

Banding Friday, April 22

April 20, 2005

Greetings All,

 
    We banded in Auburn Sunday, Monday, & on a limited basis Tuesday mornings this week. We caught 19 birds on Sunday, 20 birds on Monday, and 3 on Tuesday.  I don't have the records in front of me, but from memory species caught included Palm Warbler(2), Cardinal (several), Robin, Blue Jay, Song, Swamp, & White Throated Sparrow, Junco, & Titmouse (several).
    We plan, weather permitting, to band again on Friday AM April 22, starting around 5:30 AM.
 
See those who can make it then,
 
    Keith

 

 

February 2005

Greetings All,

 
    Please join me in congratulating our new sub-permitees!
 
    In a solemn ceremony at the Manor Blazis this past Sunday evening Tom & Stephanie Donaldson, and Gary Hetel became official Federal Migratory Bird Banding sub-permitees!
    Also, Dan Semenuk previously received his sub-permit in time to include it on his college applications.
    We look forward to many continued seasons of banding with our new sub-permitees.
 
Again Congratulations "Guys",
 
    Keith   

 

11/18/04

Greetings All,

 
    We are going to do Owls in Auburn tomorrow night. Gary is going to get the nets set up before sunset (4:22 PM) with the help of some of "The Kids" and we will meet around 5:30 or so to open them and turn on the lure as we did last time.
    We will have the fireplace and all the other stuff along with a special treat of whipped cream for the hot chocolate. If anyone has any dry fire wood it wouldn't hurt to bring a little along.
    We might go a little later this time as we have new info that a little later might get us a few more birds.
    
See you there,
 
    Keith
 
Forecast for Auburn, MA, for November 19, 2004 -
4 PM
Mostly Sunny
53F
50F 0% 35F 50% From NW 9 mph
5 PM
Mostly Clear
50F
47F 0% 34F 54%
 
 
From NW 8 mph
 
 
 
9 PM
Partly Cloudy
39F
35F 0% 30F 70% From NNW 6 mph
 
10 PM
Partly Cloudy
38F
33F 0% 29F 70% From NNW 6 mph
11 PM
Partly Cloudy
37F
32F 0% 28F 70% From NNW 6 mph
12 Mid
Partly Cloudy
35F
30F 0% 27F 73% From NNW 6 mph
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November

Greetings All,

 
    Thanks to, in no particular order, Scott & J.P. Livingstone, Lois Kolofsky, Gary Hetel, Larry & Sarah Reich, Steve Vincent, Matti Van den Boom, Myrt Morin, Keith & Garrett MacAdams the Grafton nets are down for the winter. We had to open them up and leave them open to dry for a little while. To bad we didn't plan to band this morning as we caught another dozen plus birds in the short while we had them open. A cardinal (twice), two recap BCCH, and a dozen assorted unbanded sparrows. It will be a shame if we are just a few birds shy of 1300 or 1400 for the year and we could have used these birds to put us over.
    Although we didn't catch any owls Wednesday night, we plan to give it another try Friday Night November 19. Gary will be looking for help to get the nets put up before sunset like we did Wednesday, and we will all meet there around 5:30 PM to open the nets and turn on the lure. We will have the fireplace going to keep us warm again as well as the stove for hot beverages & Jiffy Pop.
    This may or may not be our last attempt for the year, depending on when the Boreal Owls come through, although we will have to get a different lure for those.
 
See you there if you can make it,
 
    Keith
 

 

11/8/04

Greetings All,
 
    I think we all can agree, Owls at night followed by Passerines the following AM is difficult at best.
    We have a rare opportunity this coming Wednesday evening to do owls mid week. As most of you know, I am on vacation this week and there is NO SCHOOL Thursday for most if not all of our kids due to the Veterans Day Holiday. I'm not sure how many of You have the day off Thursday, but due to the projected weather forecast for Friday evening, I am wondering how many of you would be available and want to band owls Wednesday evening instead.
    Please get back to me by Tuesday evening so we can make a decision and send out a e-mail by Wednesday noonish.
 
Looking forward to hearing from you all,
 
    Keith

 

10/30/04

Greetings All,
 
    We had a good night in Auburn Last night! Even though we only caught 3 Saw Whets. 
    All 3 birds were caught on the same round, the 7:45 net check. At the time the sky was mostly clear with light SW winds.
    The birds were 2 Hatching Year unknown sex little puffs of feathers, weighing 85.9 grams each, both with wing chords of 142mm, we double checked, and a HY female also with a 142mm wing chord, but weighing 101.2 grams.
    All 3 birds received free anklets, had their pictures taken, and flew off to rejoin their friends.
    I've just talked with Helen, And we both feel that we should be OK for banding in Grafton tomorrow AM. Sunrise is at 6:13, so we will gather to open nets around 5:30. The showers should be over by then, or shortly thereafter. We might have to wait just a little. The nets will be wet so they will take longer to open. However, many hands will make the task go quickly.
 
See you in the AM,
 
    Keith
 
Ps Maryann, if you need a ride, CALL me as I may not check my e-mail again until it is to late.

 

10/23/04

Greetings All,
    
    We made history last night! The first Saw Whet owl to be banded in Auburn was taken out of the net at approx. 9:30 PM.
    She was an after hatching year bird with a weight of 106 grams, a wing cord of 145 mm, a black beak & no visible body fat.
    We plan to try again tonight. Setup starting around 5:45 PM with the lure to be started around 7 PM. As we are planning to band passerines in Grafton tomorrow morning, we will make our last net check, and close around 10 PM tonight, subject of course to how the owls are flying.
 
See you all there,
    
    Keith

Blazis Research Institute for Avian Migration Studies

Migratory Bird Banding & Lyme Disease Research Team

AuburnBirdBanding.org

 

Daily Banding Report

 


 

Date: September 23, 2004

 

Starting Time: 05:45 AM

 

Finishing Time: 12:45 PM            

 

Weather: Cloudless clear sky with some early morning fog.

                Temperature of 58 to start, warming to low 80s.

                  

Banders Present: K. A. & K. M. Mac Adams, G. Hetel, M.

                            Reich, & R. Weagle (briefly).Kim brought

                            along 4 of  the residents from Charlton Manor

                            Rest Home where she works for a visit.

 

Nets Open: 1-3, 5-13, 20, 23, BD, SJ, & Canopy

 

Total number of birds caught: 30; 17 new birds & 13 recaptures

 
 

Species caught: BCCH (1)

                           BLJA (2)

                           COYE (1)

                           CSWA (1)

                           GRCA (9 new &                                     

                                            12 recap)

                           NAWA (1)

                           NOWA (1 recap)

                           SWSP (1)

                           WTSP (1)


 

 

Net Production: Net 1; 6

                            Net 3; 2

                            Net 5; 2

                            Net 8; 1

                            Net 9; 1

                            Net 10; 5

                            Net 12; 2

                            Net 13; 2

                            Net 20; 5

                            Net BD; 1

                            Net SJ; 3                      

                            

Submitted by,

Keith A. Mac Adams, sub permittee

Blazis Research Institute for Avian Migration Studies

Migratory Bird Banding & Lyme Disease Research Team

AuburnBirdBanding.org

 

Daily Banding Report

 


 

Date: 21 September 2004       

 

Starting Time: 05:45 AM

 

Finishing Time: 12 noon

 

Weather: Cloudy and overcast at start with a temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit,                                    mostly sunny by 08:30 AM

                  

# Banders Present: K. A. Mac Adams, G. Hetel, and K. M. Mac Adams, M. Blazis                                       (briefly), and R. Weagle (briefly)

 

Nets Open: 1-3, 5-7, 9-16, 20, 23, SJ, Canopy

 

Total number of birds caught: 24, 15 new birds & 9 recaptures

 

Species caught: AMRE (1)

                             BLJA (1)

                             DOWO (1 new/1 recap)

                             ETTI (1)

                             GRCA (8 new/ 8 recap)

                             NOCA (1)

                             RBGR (1)

                             SWSP (1)

 


 

Net Production: Net 1; 7

                             Net 3; 6

                             Net 5; 1

                             Net 9; 1

                             Net 10; 2

                             Net 11;

                            Net 12; 1

                            Net 13; 2

                            Net 20; 2

                            Net 23; 1

 

Submitted by,

    Keith A. Mac Adams, sub permittee

 

    Keith

 

6-8-08

Greetings All,

    Very slow day today, very slow week for that matter. We caught 4 birds today, all recaps. 1 GRCA, 1 VEER, 1 BCCH, & 1 YWAR. Temperature was already at 69 degrees at 4:30 opening and had reached mid eighties by 9:30 close. Thanks however in part to J. J. White's bluebird program We are now at 950 total birds this year to date. Of that number 635 are new birds & 315 are recaptures.
    Gary & Mary will most likely be taking the nets down for the summer some time this week, again however thanks to J. J's bluebirds we will most likely be starting the fall season with over 1000 birds on record.
    In addition there is a possibility that we, given enough interest, might band Blackstone Saturday mornings over the summer. If definitely interested (read committed) to this please reply soonest so I can make a decision in the near future. I will need to clear the lanes and set them up prior to use, although I suppose we could set up and stay open the first weekend as the net lanes aren't too spread out. We would probably not stay too late into the morning as the temperature will definitely be a factor although being surrounded by water may help to keep things cooler. I'd like to be able to make a decision by Thursday Evening so I can clear the lanes Friday evening if we want to give next Saturday a try.
    Due to the size and location of the Blackstone sight and the logistics involved in accessing same, Blackstone is a Banders(Workers) Only sight, and is not generally open to the public. If you regularly attend banding in Auburn & actually assist with banding operations at the Auburn site you would be welcome at Blackstone, However we might have to restrict numbers of personnel at any given time to about a dozen because of space constraints. If we get too many interested people we could alternate weeks. There are no sanitation facilities at the Blackstone location and access is made by canoe or kayak so you have to be comfortable traveling this way if only for about 5 minutes each way. Island end is a "deep water in/out" for kayaks although a ladder can be provided if needed. Unless you make prior arrangements or provide your on boat you would need to be at the launch point when we start or call us by cell phone to arrange for transport as there is no direct access from shore and we can't see the launch point from the banding site.
Please get back to me soon,
    Keith

 

6/6/08

Greetings All,

 
    Light SSW to SW winds overnight and temps around 60 degrees at 5:11 sunrise. Looks like a good way to start. However, No Larry, No Gary, No Mattie, I hope someone will be able to help open. Maybe the Dion's, Mary, and David S?
    I would love to sleep in tomorrow and show up around 8, but that doesn't look like it would work very well so I guess I'll be there around 4:30 at the rifle range. We will probably be closing early as temps will be rising quickly once the sun wakes up.
 
See you in the morning? I hope,
 
    Keith

5/27/08

Greetings All,
 
    Just a Quick Note! If You didn't come You missed a Great Weekend. 137 birds over 3 days. New total 780 birds Year to Date. 532 New birds & 224 recaptures. I had at least 1 banding life bird.
    More info later but for now I need to rest.
    We even had a visit from Stephanie, Tucker, & Kestrel up from Wallingford, CT and Karen, Dave, Ivy, & Pippin down from Raymond, ME.
 
More Later,
 
    Keith
5/26/08
Greetings All,
 
    Just a Quick Note! If You didn't come You missed a Great Weekend. 137 birds over 3 days. New total 780 birds Year to Date. 532 New birds & 224 recaptures. I had at least 1 banding life bird.
    More info later but for now I need to rest.
    We even had a visit from Stephanie, Tucker, & Kestrel up from Wallingford, CT and Karen, Dave, Ivy, & Pippin down from Raymond, ME.
 
More Later,
 
    Keith

5/16/08

Greetings All,

 
    I got the canopy net up this afternoon after banding. It,(the canopy,) should be busy tomorrow as we have seen many birds flying through that area.
    We are going to be missing some of our key people tomorrow morning so all who can make it will be busy.
    I plan to begin opening with the rifle range around 4:45 AM if the rain showers have ended & I can get my wife out of bed that early. If the showers haven't ended then We Will Open Later When They Do, so please come down anyway.  I will be there by 6 AM at the latest either way. Perhaps we can enjoy a pre banding cup of coffee together.
 
See you in the morning,
 
    Keith. 

Back to the top

5/14/08

Greetings All,
 
    Great day today. 28 new bird & 17 recaptures. American Red Start, Magnolia Warbler, Common Yellow Throat Warbler both sexes, American Gold Finch, Northern Waterthrush, Black Capped Chickadee, Warbling Vireo, Swamp Sparrow, Red Wing Blackbird both sexes, Gray Catbird, Baltimore Oriole both sexes, Northern Cardinal, White Throated Sparrow, Eastern Tufted Tit-mouse, Song Sparrow, Blue Jay, and American Robin.
    We also had the pleasure of sharing our morning with another group of sophomores from Worcester Vocational Technical High School & some of the home schooled children from Elm Street.
    Those persistent beaver have been back and built there dam back up again. I wonder how long they will keep at it.
    After banding as no one was using the rifle range, I installed the 30 foot net on lane 19.
    My bad! I am informed that the All Method Fishing Derby this weekend is Sunday, not Saturday, as previously reported. The kitchen will be open for good food at reasonable prices. 
 
See You in the Morning at "The Club"?
 
    Keith

5/13/08

Greetings All,
 
    Just a quick note to let you know how we are doing. With all current new records entered into the computer, our Total New Birds Banded this Year to Date is 242. This # does not include recaptures as we haven't gotten them all entered yet. Hopefully we can manage that by the weekend.
 
Keith

From Keith again! (5/13/08)

Greetings again,
 
    This years 242 YTD count compares with 210 as of this point,(5/12,) in 2007 and 139 in 2006. Our first banding date in 2006 was 4/15, in 2007 it was 3/31, and this year we banded our first new bird on 4/3.
 
Keith

 

 

5/10/08

Greetings All,
 
    We captured 41 birds today. 26 new birds & 15 recaps in spite of the forecasted weather. After banding Mattie V. and I spent some time at the rifle range as no one was using it. We set up lane 18,were going to set up 19, but need a short net, 20 or 30 feet(Gary please bring one with you in the AM), AND CLEARED AND SET UP NEW LANE 38(a 40 footer) off lane 19 perpendicular to the range and parallel to old lane 21 which thanks to the beavers is now under over a foot of water.
    I look forward to opening these and all our other nets tomorrow AM beginning at 5:00 AM. Sunrise is 5:30 and we want to be open before that. I will start with the rifle range and proceed to the trap field and 6 & 7. Some one else should start with the swamp, 16, and 9 & 10.
    We currently have 1 set of poles at the rifle range, 2 sets at the sand pits, & 1 set near 9 & 10 not in use as well as the canopy which I would like to set up tomorrow.
    Although lane 17 to the right of the rifle range is under water, Mattie and I thought maybe we could set up 1 of the 2 tier"puddle" nets there and just keep it up away from the water near the top of the surrounding vegetation as long as the water isn't over our boots. Alternatively, we could cut a new lane parallel to the stream towards the clubhouse and away from the rifle range. Any more lanes will require more poles and money for them, according to the Home Depot web site $9.00 per set.
 
Hope to see you all early in the morning,
 
    Keith
  

5/8/08  

Greetings All,
 
    Saturday's weather looks Questionable at this time. Sunday looks good. If we are able to band Saturday,
we will need to Keep our numbers in check, people wise, and any guests under tight control. The club is holding their annual Fly fishing derby, and we have already had negative comments about Bird banders interfering with fishermen in the past. This was one of  the major complaints from the club members. We must be absolutely positive that we in no way get any where near the fishermen. There will be no walking around the upstream end of the pond and only limited walking at the street end. The same rules will apply double next weekend during the open fishing derby as there is usually 3 or 4 times as many participants. 
    I know this is the time of peak migration so we don't want to loose these days, however if we mess this up we could jeopardize our use of the club grounds. We, "Auburn Bird Banding," as guests of the club, need to share the grounds with the club members and give them all the space they need.
    I took a walk around the club this afternoon and noticed that the water level at the rifle range hasn't come down any where near what we need to be able to use our regular lanes. Gary, Ken, & myself have discussed a few alternative lanes and we wanted to give some of our junior banders a chance to cut and set then up, however we are running out of time. We need to get them cut, up and running by Sunday morning. If the weather is questionable Saturday morning I would still like to see if we can get them cut and set up if possible. Even if we need to wear rain gear. If any of our junior banders or others are available to help Saturday morning please give me a call @ 508 335 4650 so we can coordinate. Remembering that we will have to yield the range to any shooters that may arrive after 8 AM so I would like to start around 6. If we can band it would be helpful if there were others there that can open the nets we already have up and tend to them until we get the new lanes set. 
    If at all possible we want to use these new lanes Sunday. If we can't get these lanes set up Saturday we will need to do it Sunday morning along with our normal banding activities. We also need to get the canopy set up as soon as possible so we have a chance at some of the birds that just won't come down to our regular nets.
 
Keith
 

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July 23, 2007

Greetings All,

 
    As of this past Monday, July 17, including the 108 tree swallows & the 82 Bluebirds J. J. White has banded from nesting boxes since the beginning of summer we are at a total of 626 newly banded birds for this year. after adding in the 198 recaptures from this spring, that brings our total to 824 birds caught and released. Not a bad number to start into the fall with. J. J. still has a couple of second/third clutches to band if all goes well. 
    James, The Eagle Scout Candidate rebuilding the "boardwalks" for the lanes at the rifle range started his project a couple of Sundays ago. He and his team removed and disposed of all the old pallets the first week, and from what Larry let me know in an e-mail yesterday they are well on the way to replacing and securing the new ones.
    I understand that Justin Dion's project has also finally received approval from the Boy Scout Council, and he will be starting the swamp lanes as soon as his family gets back from their vacation.
    I am on vacation this week although the rest of my family has to work. I spent a couple of hours this morning clearing the Blackstone lanes and am about 2/3's of the way clear. I ran out of gas, both for the mower and myself. I should have brought something to drink out to the island with me. Hopefully I can get the remaining 1/3rd finished this evening or tomorrow.
    Mattie and I plan to join Mary Sharkey in Pomfret, CT. Thursday morning to see how they do things down there.
    If time allows, I hope to spend some time in Auburn cutting a new set of lanes in the swamp for Justin's project as the current ones are getting to open. most of my Friday and Saturday are already booked though.
    The Auburn Sportsman's Club has Archery shoots planed for Saturday August 11 and Sunday August 19. There will be no banding those days, however, look for banding to resume in Auburn around then. 
    Also, the Auburn Sportsman's Club will be celebrating it's Seventy-Fifth anniversary the weekend of September 14, 15, & 16. Plans are for a Ham & Bean supper Friday night, Pig Roast Saturday, and Pancake breakfast, Sunday morning. Tickets for these events can be purchased at the clubhouse bar. There will also be many other activities at the club over the course of the weekend. It is going to be a busy place. Additionally , the $10.00 application fee for ASC membership will be waived for anyone joining during the weekend. I encourage all interested bird banders to avail themselves of this opportunity. I will send out more Info on the Anniversary Weekend as it becomes available.
 
Hope You are all enjoying Your summer,
 
    Keith
 
P.s. for anyone interested, I finished the last Harry Potter book Monday evening. Not a bad read.& and  the ending was OK as well.


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Letter sent to Sue Frattasio, the President of the Auburn Sportsman's Club

4/17/07

Hi Sue,

 
    I hope I got your name right. The following is for the ASC newsletter.
   

    "In spite of last spring's unusual weather, and through the generosity of the Auburn Sportsman's Club's allowing us the use of its facilities and grounds, the Auburn Bird Banding Research Station Team achieved a Yearly Best record of 1604 birds last year! Thank You to all ASC members for your past and continued generosity to our team.

    With the abnormally warm weather at the beginning of this month we were able to get an earlier than ever start on our banding and therefore added American Tree Sparrow and Fox Sparrow for the first time ever to our spring migration species lists. These birds usually migrate north before our previous starting dates.

    We will be banding, weather permitting, mornings, Saturday and Sunday from now until the end of June. Also Gary Hetel and Mark Blazis from our team occasionally band week day mornings as time and weather permit.

    At last nights ASC monthly meeting J. J. White was appointed as the official liaison between the ASC and the ABBRS team.

     Additionally you may contact me, Keith MacAdams, at kamacadams@aol.com , or evenings before 9 PM at 508-335-4650 with any questions/concerns you might have regarding our program. ASC committee chairmen are requested to either see me at the club during banding or use the above mentioned contact methods to inform us of any potential scheduling conflicts that you feel might arise. It has always been our policy not to band when any Shooting Matches, i.e. 3-D Archery are being held.

            I encourage all ASC members to stop by and join us. And  feel free  to check us out online at auburnbirdbanding.org."

 

Thanks,

 

    Keith A. MacAdams    

 

 

 

11/17/06

Greetings All,
 
    No Banding tonight. Just too busy. Next weekend is Thanksgiving weekend and I am busy all weekend. The impression I get is that most of you have other things going on in your lives as well. I am willing to give it one last try, weather permitting, 2 weeks from tonight, Friday December 1, if I get enough interest.
 
Let me Know by Wednesday November 29,
 
    Keith

11/2/06

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Greetings All,
 
    We caught 4 Saw Whet owls last Friday!  Weather looks favorable for tomorrow night. Temperatures in the low forties at sunset falling to near freezing as the night progresses with WNW winds 6-9 mph.
    Sunset is 4:38 PM so we will open nets shortly after 5:00 and see how late we stay. Garrett and I are leaving for a week in Maine Saturday AM so I am unsure how late we will be able to stay. Also someone else will have to run the banding program Saturday night and both nights next weekend.
 
Hope to see you there,
 
    Keith
 
PS. Early morning for me again tomorrow so no calls or text message tonight please. I'll check my e-mail tomorrow afternoon

10/24/06

Greetings All,

 
    This weekends weather looks questionable at present but it's still too early to tell for sure.
 
    Mark sent me the following today ;
 
    "Word from my sources is that saw whet owls up in Maine are about 2 weeks behind schedule, so we haven't missed anything.  Even Strickland Wheelock has gotten only a couple birds with intense banding time.  I wouldn't expect things to explode until this week or next..."
 
    Thought you  all might be interested in the above.
 
Hoping for good "Owl Banding" weather,
 
    Keith

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10/20/06

Greetings All,

 
    The Weather for this weekend is not going to be appropriate for Banding. What with the rain tonight and the 20 MPH plus winds forecast for tonight and into much of tomorrow. The winds for tomorrow night isn't much lighter either.
    The good news is that this weekend's winds should get most of the leaves off the trees so that we shouldn't have to contend with too many of them next weekend.
 
 
    For those that were hoping to add Screech owls to our project, Mr. Blazis informs me that,
        1) the chance of ordering and receiving the appropriate bands in time for this season
            is very slim.
        2) Screech Owls have a temper and are very likely to grab with their talons. They are 
            not docile like the Saw Whets we are used to handling.
 
    This is something we might want to consider for next year but we won't be doing it this season.
 
Hoping for better weather next weekend,
 
    Keith

 

10/19/06

Greetings All,

 
    The forecast for Friday night doesn't look very good. Rain all day, Heavy in the afternoon, with thundershowers and HEAVY 20 plus MPH winds from mid afternoon until after midnight. We all know how heavy winds effect net operations. Looks like tomorrow night is going to be a No Go. Check back tomorrow after 4 PM to be sure.
    Kim, Garrett, & I have a family birthday party in Attleboro to go to Saturday afternoon and probably wont be back until after 9 PM. However if we can get someone else to "organize"(run)/open Saturday evening, It would be likely that it might be a good night as this is the same weekend as our "big numbers" opening day last year.
 
Look for tomorrow afternoons e-mail,
 
    Keith

 

October 14, 2006 

11:30 PM Saturday October 2006
 
Greetings All,
 
    Well our first weekend of Owl Banding for the 2006 season is over. We were open from 6:30 until 10:00 both nights although we caught not a single bird. We did however catch a record number of leaves on our second and third trips to the nets tonight when we had about an 1/2 hour of very heavy wind.
    We made 5 or 6 trips to the nets both nights. Upon checking our records for the 2 previous years, however we discovered that we are a week earlier this year. Maybe that accounts for our lack of birds. Also we noted that the majority of our birds were in fact caught during the time period we were open this weekend so that shouldn't be a factor.
    Opening day for owl bandings last year was the day we caught the most owls in any one night of all or Owl records. Hopefully next weekend, which would be the same weekend as we started the last two years, we can repeat that feat.
    I believe that all who came this weekend still had a good time, even though we weren't visited by any owls.
 
Hoping for good weather next weekend,
 
    Keith
 

10/12/06

Greetings All,
 
    Mattie and I set up 5 nets for owl banding this afternoon. We will start with these tomorrow night and see if we need more.
    We need to rake under these nets before penning. Sunset is @ 6:09 so we will open nets around 6:15. I plan to be at the rifle range by 5:30 so I can get set up.
 
See you all there.
 
    Keith

9/29/06

Greetings All,

 
    Looks like we will get to band both days this weekend. I will be opening nets around 6 AM.
 
See you in the AM,
 
    Keith
P. s. Remember only this weekend & next Until we switch over from Migratory Song Birds to Saw Whet owls

 

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9/28/06

Greetings All,

 
    Only 2 more weekends of fall bird banding. The hunting season starts on Saturday October 14. We will begin Owl Banding Friday October 13 weather permitting.
    The weather looks good for Saturday, although Sunday is still up in the air.
    I replaced the new 20' net #4 with a new 40' net this afternoon. I had to clear both ends back a little more and trim some of the side growth back as well. The sides may still need a little fine tuning with hand snips. We will have to wait and see how the wind effects the "bags" when it is open.
    I heard a rumor, that Tucker and Kestrel may be paying us a visit this weekend, and bringing their Mommy and Aunt as well. Banding isn't the same without them!
    I think this is also the Saturday that Jayne's Girl Scout troop is visiting.
    I will be opening nets around 6 AM on Saturday.
 
Hope to see you all there,
 
    Keith

 

8/20/06

4:45 AM

 
    Rain continues with showers and thunder showers forecast through much of the day. Wet birds & lightning make for a bad mix. I might live to regret this, but I'm going back to bed.
    Forecast for next week looks good so we will plan on next weekend and hope for the best.
    We had a good start yesterday, and those that have permits are welcome to band during the week
.
See you soon,
 
    Keith 
Greetings All,
 
8/19/06

Saturday @ 9:15 PM

 
    We had a good opening day today. Twenty five birds of  8 species including GRCA(8), NOCA, BCCH, NOWA, VEER, OVEN, EABL(5), & EATO(2). I believe the only recap was the BCCH, & the EABLs where fledglings JJ White retreived from 2 nearby boxes.
     The weather for tomorrow is questionable at this point, and I am leery of calling it either way at this point. I guess, I'll check to see what the weather is like around  4:30 and send out an e-mail then. However the weather in Grafton isn't always the weather in Auburn, so if the weather looks promising, You can always show up an see if we are going to band.
 
Maybe seeing you in the AM,
 
    Keith
Greetings All,
 
   

8/18/06

 Mattie and I set the nets up on lanes 9-13 this afternoon. That gives us 14 nets to start our season with tomorrow. If we get enough help, we may be able to get the rifle range nets set up before the range opens at 8 AM tomorrow morning so we can use them on Sunday.

    We plan to open nets beginning around 5 AM. I will start in the swamp, and Mattie says she will start on the trap field when she gets there.
 
Hoping to see You All soon,
 
    Keith
 
PS  Doc said he will be unable to join us Saturday, but is looking forward to being back banding with us on Sunday

Mark's E-mails

9/16/08

To all my team-mates:

Sept. 16 was a fine day for banding neotropical migrants, as the date promises each year.  (My eyes regularly go skyward now, anticipating the first broadwinged hawks on their way to Panama.  Many species of warblers and thrushes rush through about this same time, too.).  Mary and Gary brought in a wide assortment of jungle jewels, including black-throated blues, many magnolias (they've had fun sexing these problematic first-year birds, that have very subtle differences, primarily the degree of blackness in the flank streaking), rose breasted grosbeaks, Waterthrushes, etc. etc. 

 But today, Sept. 17 was even better, not so much bird wise (numbers were down thanks to last night's south west winds, although we had a lot of fun aging more magnolias, northern Waterthrushes, and blue jays),-- but better for what the birdbanding team accomplished, impacting positively some very special children.  Helen brought a class of extremely needy and highly challenged high school special education students to experience the birds captured at the research station.  Ken Dion, Mary Sharkey, and Gary Hetel once again were the core of the mid-week research team, opening the nets at dawn. 

 Every student had the opportunity to hold a bird and feel its heartbeat while releasing it back into the wild.  A few with severe disabilities (one boy couldn't speak, just smile) had all they could do to just touch the birds, initially.  Our goals, years back, were initially purely research.  Today's joy validates the evolution of our entire program, with emphasis being shared equally between research, education, and conservation ethic development.  Heidi, the head of Special Education in Oxford, said this was the greatest field trip her special education students over the years had ever experienced.  Despite some kids needing special apparatus to walk, our research leaders carefully escorted them around the approachable net sites and showed them how a captured bird is taken out of a net.  Heidi said that on the bus home, the kids were ecstatic.  Some things are better than a life bird.    Nothing replaces hands-on experience for kids, especially with wildlife.  Compliments to Helen, Mary, Gary, and Ken for sharing their time and skills to make a difference for those sweet kids.

Winds from the south west (definitely not the best for migration) are going to shift west and eventually north for tomorrow.  If we can use time and wind direction as indicators, the next two days should bring in some good migrants.  Try to join the team this week and catch the migration while it's still building. 

Helen will be bringing two more classes to the research station, an environmental class and her Honor Society Mensas  the next two weeks.  Any team researchers free then would greatly help.

We're expecting some of our great Amazon Team-mates from Cape Cod to join us this weekend for some good banding, as well.  See you at the nets!

Mark

9/12/08  The Explorers Return!!

Just back from the high Arctic with Dr. Larry Reich.  Thanks for your well wishes.  It was another "perilous adventure" with many rewarding firsts, especially living off the land, eating musk ox (which we filmed daily, along with Arctic fox and Arctic hare, peregrine falcons, Lapland longspurs, rough-legged hawks, and long-tailed jaegers), and Arctic Char, which has to be the most delicious fish in the world  -- it's the most northerly fish on the planet, living in extremely cold water, and therefore is like a salmon with sweet, buttery oils, making it very tender and juicy.  I've never had anything that compares to it in deliciousness, especially fresh right from the Arctic ocean, where we were camping.  King eiders were abundant, as were Arctic loons.  (We saw no yellow-billed loons:  they were farther inland, up with the caribou herds and wolf packs.)  The hares tasted very good, first par-boiled, then fried and added to a hot stew.  The Arctic foxes were very entertaining, tamely/brazenly coming to within almost touching distance to eat scraps of meat and fish from our hands.  Larry got some tremendous filming opportunities, which hopefully (after about 6 to 9 months of editing by Helen) will air on New England cable channels:  THE MUSK OX AND INUIT OF THE HIGH ARCTIC.  As we left, the caribou were moving south into our camping area.  They wait for the Arctic ocean to freeze in the Cambridge Bay area of Nunavut (Victoria Island) and cross south over the ice to mainland Canada, down towards the Northwest Territories.  The wolves follow them and cross over as well.  Grizzlies await them on the other side.  Many caribou drown when they try to cross the sea ice too early to get away from the wolves.  Eventually all the sea ice gets to around 10 feet deep or more.  It was good we left just before all this was about to happen.  Sometimes it's difficult to fly out when you wait too long.  We tried to avoid boating as much as possible because of the 34 degree water and heavy winds.  Three Japanese biologist-kayakers drowned in the waters just in front of our camp.  Being just north of the Northwest Passage, it was interesting to trace the route the pioneers discovered after so much pain and death.  Most of the Inuit rely on quads and snow machines, as well as dog sleds.  We found ourselves playing with two little Inuit boys and their new-born husky pups. 
Larry was going to do some dental work on the Inuit, but the scope of the problem was so massive, that to fairly treat everyone would have been a full-time job.  Their dental health is sub-par. 
If you're there when it gets to 50 below, you've got two minutes or less before exposed skin is damaged by frostbite.  This makes simple events like peeing a real challenge.  You try to find a place out of the wind (not always easy in the flat tundra) and you only "go" at the last possible second, so you don't have to wait unduly long and endanger your exposed flesh. 
I was surprised at the number of Inuit hunters with big families, several up to 10 kids.  This didn't make sense to me at first, knowing that the traditional hunters of the past would have had an impossible time feeding them all.  But when an Inuit girl (already a mother of four) told me that the government gives each Inuit family $360/month/per child, I could add up $45,000 a year some families were getting to raise their kids.  With that, there's not much incentive to get an education and a job.  I can see how all this could get way out of hand when those ten kids start having their own families and the Arctic Inuit population exponentially increases.  There surely will be more pressure on the caribou, musk ox, and char populations to feed them all.  (By the way, Inuit are VERY SPOILED:  they only want to eat caribou and char.)
Driving around the tundra on a Quad is very tough on the back.  Driving behind a dogsled in a box pulled by them is equally rough.  The wind-chill is a problem, and I used their trick of stuffing musk ox wool (the finest in the world, 8 times the warmth of comparable weight of wool) in the fronts of my mittens to keep my hands warm. 
Global warming?  Victoria Island is a polar desert.  Usually there's little snow in winter.  But last winter, there was a LOT of snow, more than in anyone's memory.  It only snows significantly when it's warmer than usual.  This is just another case of extreme, unforeseen weather patterns changing on the planet.  In addition, the grizzlies are moving north to the island.  At Ellis River, one had to be shot because it was attacking in the camp. 
We found that char was expensive:  about $40 a fish, so we netted them with the Inuit, going only 20 or so yards off shore.
The Inuit had plans to seal hunt with us (one of their favorite foods  -- they require a lot of fat in their diet to stay warm), but you can only hunt seals when the water is calm (that's about one day in 30, so seal wound up not being on the menu this time.  I wanted to share it with Larry, as I had enjoyed it with other Inuit in previous years on Baffin Island.  The skin and fat can be cooked to taste a little like calamari.  The ribs taste a little fishy, though.
One fascinating mammal that we saw frequently was the ermine, hunting around our shelter.  One day, I found him on top of our meat supply.  He still hadn't turned white yet.  (The arctic hares need another two weeks to be totally white, along with the arctic foxes.)
It was not a huge lemming year.  When their population explodes, you can see hundreds of them darting out of their tundra burrows.
Most Inuit have wolverine collars on their parkas.  It's the only fur that doesn't freeze up.  The Inuit really respect that animal and several hunters and trappers told us stories of a single wolverine chasing away a pack of wolves from a caribou kill, and even chasing away a grizzly bear from a carcass!  Their viciousness, aggressiveness, unbelievable bite and flailing long claws dissuade the competition from challenging them for very long.  In the Arctic, a bad wound or being blinded can mean death very quickly.  They were selling wolverine pelts for $800.  
When we first arrived, the weather conditions were fine, and darkness didn't set in until 10 pm.  When we left, it was dark at 8 pm, the winds were incessantly howling from the pole, and the snow was blowing horizontally.  The Inuit golf course of ice-broken rock (no greens!) was comedic.  There actually was a set of golf clubs in the Inuit village of Cambridge Bay, and some Inuit have swung a club there!  The growing season is only 50 days, and all houses are built on stilts so they won't warm and melt the permafrost and sink down.  Sleeping on the cold ground or floor was a cinch with Larry's camping equipment.  Normally the Inuit would use musk ox or caribou skins. 
The next ten days have always been my favorite period banding in the fall, with Connecticut warblers coming in along with the broadwinged hawks. (Interesting how the majority of those captures have coincided with the hawk migration peak).   For sure, one day following the first cold front of northwest winds, those hawks will come down from Canada (as much as 90% of their population will fly through in one concentrated week, allowing for possibilities of up to 20,000 of them to be seen in a day from viewpoints like Mt. Wachusett).  If you can get up there on that special day, you might see a phenomenon that rivals the wildebeest migration in unbelievable scope.
Weather is looking good, with night-time showers and morning clearing.  I wish the winds were exclusively northwest, but as long as they're not from the East, we should be fine.
Hope to see you banding the next couple weekends!
Mark 

6/17/08

To all my birdbanding team-mates:
 
GREAT news!  It's probably a historical first for any sportsman's club in the country:  we now have an official birdbanding committee as part of the Auburn Sportsman's Club!  J.J. White is chairman of the committee (a GREAT choice for this leadership position, considering his venerable ties with the club and the great degree of respect everyone has for him, not to mention his great expertise banding bluebirds and tree swallows);  Keith MacAdams is co-chairman, (another GREAT choice and honor to a man who is a backbone of our research team;  he is a true leader and deserves this position to reflect his importance to the club membership.  No one works harder for us.)  We had overwhelming support of our program following our presentation to the membership and trustees.  Many of them were already good friends, but by evening's end, we had won over all of those who didn't really know what great things the team was doing in conservation, education, and research (migration and Lyme disease).  This is a wonderful moment to celebrate, as it solidifies our position in the future plans for the Auburn Sportsman's Club.  I encourage as many possible birdbanding team members to join the club and support them, in turn.  There may come a time that we need your vote at a critical meeting, too.  Thanks to all birdbanding team members who were with us tonight. 
 
Mark Blazis

Mr. Blazis' e-mails

6/3/08

To all my birdbanding team (and David Sheridan's principal!):
 
Helen Blazis' class of special education students, because of problems at their school with buses, graduation, the predicted thunderstorms on Wednesday, etc., will be coming on MONDAY morning, June 9, instead.  That's approaching the end of our migratory banding season (those who do birdbanding monitoring avian productivity and survivorship of young actually just get started banding at this time, trying to band every breeding adult on a property along with all their young during the next 10 weeks, and that was a research project that I did for 12 years in Grafton, to try to determine trends in breeding populations of our migratory birds), with most birds already being on the nest, but still with a possibility of yellowbellied flycatcher, Acadian flycatcher etc.  David Sheridan and Mary Sharkey, I hope that date is okay for you both.  I would like to target band that day with you prairie warbler.  (I found two males on territory in the gravel pits, each of which is very bandable, along with several towhees on territory over there.)  Gary, if you could have the poles and a 20 ft. net ready, we'll show them how we do it.  Not all students will be able to participate, so Helen might remain back with the severely handicapped student(s).  I really don't want to disappoint these special kids.  I KNOW we can target band some very special species for them and take them into some spots that we usually don't go into.  I was exploring yesterday, following deer tracks; I saw a fox along the way, hunting rodents.  The wildflowers are changing, and I'm seeing early summer species replacing our spring species.  We'll give them a great experience, no matter what.  All that can help out, I'd greatly appreciate.  Ken, Larry, Lois, and any students out of school, your presence would be greatly appreciated.   
 
Mark Blazis

6/2/08

Monday June 2.  The birdbanding spring season is trickling to a halt.  We closed early, before 10 am.  Only 6 birds this morning despite good winds last night.  Females are mostly on their nests now.  There are still some birds (mourning warblers, gray cheeked thrushes, and yellow-bellied flycatchers) traveling north, so we'll stay in operation for about another week. 
 
J.J. White, the Godfather of the bluebird and true swallow banding program with us has some disturbing news:  numbers of nesting tree swallows is down about one third this spring.  Not good. 
 
The station was run by Mary Sharkey and Lois Kolofsky this morning.  They were absolutely professional.  Mary will be banding some eastern phoebes and black-capped chickadees that are in her nest boxes.  This is a little tricky.  You don't want to band them when they're too young, and you don't want to wait too long, as they can surprise you and leave the nest box before you expect them to.  Black-capped chickadees are often laying eggs as early as the time we start our spring banding season in early May.  Both the male and the female will incubate their eggs for about 12 or 13 days.  The hatchlings will stay in the nest for about 14 to 18 days, probably depending on the amount of food they've been given.  When we're not catching many of them in the spring, I know that they're busy with their nesting.  The problem for Mary is trying to band them just a couple days before they fledge.  When she goes up to the nest box, she might hear their famous snake-like hissing warning (a lot of bravado).  J.J. White monitors every bluebird nest box EVERY DAY, and that's dozens of boxes, a labor of love that takes up his entire spring.  He knows when the eggs were laid for each pair; when they all hatch, and when to expect them to fledge.  (He also knows if a nest has failed because of too many days of cold and rain or a lethal infestation of parasites, or, more commonly, the violent intrusion of house sparrows that wipe out many nests.)  He times his banding of them accordingly.  It's tricky if you don't monitor your nest boxes meticulously.    Eastern phoebes lay their eggs early too, most often in June around here.  They'll incubate for about 16 days, although that can vary a little:  one variable possibly being ambient temperatures.  (It can be pretty cold sometime in April or early May.)  They can be quite prolific and produce a second brood and sometimes, more uncommonly, even a third.  Down at our Cape Cod home, every year a pair builds a nest under the roof of our front entrance.  At the end of each season, I take the nest down and look at the mud and moss cup, lined with grass, a few feathers.  Its name is onomatopoetic, sounding like a rough or hoarse, two-syllable "phoe-be!"  We often identify this bird by its behavior, wagging it tail up and down as its perched.  Only a few other species (like Hermit thrush) do that.  This species is very important historically for us birdbanding researchers.  Audubon conducted the first American birdbanding experiment in Pennsylvania, placing silver wire around the legs of several birds that he captured.  There aren't too many bridges in our area that don't have a phoebe family nesting under or around them.
 
Our fiesty chickadee, that pecks us unmercifully when we're banding it (unlike the gentle warblers that never show any  aggression), is part of the Titmouse family, the Paridae.  It shouldn't surprise anyone that its cousin, the tufted titmouse also pecks the heck out of us when we're banding them.  Both species are like little Rocky Balboas, and I have to admire them for their feistiness, even though that can be particularly annoying.  They also have great energy and unbelievably strong legs for their size, often presenting us with the most difficult challenges of extricating them from the nets, as they kick and bite.   And, of course, they don't cooperate, pecking us during the entire operation.   This titmouse name comes from both and Old Icelandic word, 'TITRE",  that means anything small.  Mouse is a mis-spelling of "MASE", an Old English word for bird.  There are 65 species of these titmice in the world, including our chickadees.  In Europe, they are dominated by the various tits: blue tit, great tit etc. (You won't see chickadees at your feeder in Europe, but you will see lots of tits.)   Next time you band one of these Paridae, check out primary feather #10 on its wing, the outermost wing feather.  You'll note how it's strangely only about half the length of primary #9, the very next one.  This is way different from most of our other songbirds.  This is the only species that I've been able to get to land on my hand to take sunflower seeds near my feeder in winter.  They can be very tame, bold, and trusting.  One New Hampshire bird was banded until it was TWELVE YEARS OLD!  (very unusually for any songbird to live that long -- our longevity records have never gone over 7 years old.) 
 
We're taking the day off on Tuesday, preparing for a special education class that Helen Blazis will be bringing on Wednesday (weather permitting -- they're calling for some sporadic thunderstorms.  Weather date for that class would be Friday.).  Gary Hetel is preparing for his daughter's college graduation party, so the station will be run by Mary Sharkey and Ken Dion, who have been spectacular this spring. The migration is just dripping-slow now, and will come to an absolute halt in a matter of days, when all birds will have reached their nesting grounds and gotten down to the serious business of perpetuating their species.    

6/1/08

Great winds, last night.  But few birds.  (Only 19 were banded.)  Still some yellow-throats, black-and-white- warblers, veery's, and WOODTHRUSH.  Here's the Pavarotti of the forest, our most euphonious singer, often compared to a flute.  It is definitely my favorite singer.  It is not doing well, nationwide, a victim of forest fragmentation (it needs big, uninterrupted, non-patchy forest) and cowbird parasitism.  Gary Hetel shared his cowbird research with us this morning, noting what has been termed "Mafia behavior" among them.  One question often raised by people studying cowbirds has been why little songbirds like the warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers would put up with a strange egg being laid  by a cowbird in their nest for them to raise.  (Cowbird chicks dominate such a nest, being precocious and quick-developing, starving the rightful chicks by taking all the food brought by the parents -- or even pushing the rightful chicks out of the nest, leading to their death.)  The new research concludes that some of these little songbirds have learned that if they DON'T raise the cowbird chick, the adult will return and actually destroy the nest!  Strong-arm (I mean strong-wing) tactics, indeed.  This new research surprises me.  I've wondered if they can always recognize the larger egg.  I've wondered whether they can even count.  In the course of all this wondering, I've seen several warbler nests which cowbirds laid an egg in, resulting in the little parents actually building a new nest over the one with the cowbird egg.  (Apparently the big egg is too cumbersome for them to just push out.)  I've actually seen one nest with three layers of nests, indicating  re-nesting to avoid having to raise the cowbird chick was a desperate priority.  This must be a tough decision, considering all the effort the act would take, and that it basically negates all the prior reproductive effort and energy.  The new research does not indicate what percentage of nests are built over and what percentage of nests experience Mafia Behavior.  In any case, our songbirds have enough of a problem just flying here.  Even if they have a successfully migration, they can still be decimated by cowbirds, once they try to breed.  Our rarest warbler in America, the Kirtland's warbler that breed in small Jackpine forest areas of Michigan, was on its way to extinction, as their world population numbered less than a thousand a short time ago.  Only two things have saved the species:  1.  intensely trapping and killing all the cowbirds that come into the breeding area; and 2.  setting fire to mature jackpine stands.  Smokey the Bear was not always right about trying to prevent all forest fires.  Many species require fires to regenerate growth.  In the case of the Kirtland's warbler,  this is a species that can make a nest only when very young jackpine growth is actually touching the ground.  The warbler nests under this cover.  Just as our mature pine stands get shaded and open, with little if any protective growth underneath, the jackpines that grew up to maturity, with total protection from natural forest fires, eventually proved insufficient to provide ground cover for this species.  The government runs tours through two protected areas, intensely monitored by ornithologists, in Mio and Grayling, Michigan.
 
Despite small numbers of birds today, partly because it got hot and sunny fast (a condition that normally slows activity down), and partly because we're nearing the end of the great migration, some good things were happening at the research station.  Namely Justin Dion and David Sheridan, two of our most promising young banders, taking over the banding operations.  They're probably about a year away from earning their federal permits.  But it all boiled down to the soldiers of the research team, who sacrifice a good night's sleep every day, and are willing to be opening the nets at 4:30 am:  Dr. Reich, Ken Dion, Keith MacAdams, and Mary Sharkey.         
 

5/31/08

Saturday, May 31:  YES!  A GREAT morning!  (though a short one).  Unbelievably we captured our fourth, fifth, and sixth MOURNING WARBLERS of the spring. It's intriguing to see how birds of a singular species often arrive in numbers together.  (There really is something to the old-timers' adage:  "birds of a feather flock together.") Usually we're lucky to capture a couple all year.  In addition, we captured our FOURTH GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH of the spring. (One per year is typical.)  We're continuing to capture many second-year male warblers (especially American redstarts), confirming our suspicion that young males arrive later to the breeding grounds, with experienced, older males getting here earlier and reaping all the associated advantages, like first pick of choice territory and first opportunity to attract females.  We ended operations early as thunderstorms threatened.  We never want to jeopardize birds with hypothermia.  Winds tonight are absolutely perfect, from the South West, and of moderate to low speed.  This may be the last big push.  Sunday could be excellent.  Myrt Morin provided gourmet pastries for the banding team, once again spoiling all of us.  We've captured 875 birds up to this point.  With about two weeks to go, the thousand-bird barrier is appearing a possibility for us.  It would be our greatest spring record.  The birdbanding team presented Mattie VandenBoom, leaving us to birdband professionally beginning Monday, an IPOD loaded with all of the birdsongs of North America.  It will be a tool for her to attract some tricky species.  (She's one of the few members of our team who knows all the bird songs of our area.)  More than one tear was shed in the celebration. 

 
Mark Blazis 

5/30/08

GOOD MIGRATION DAY (unlike yesterday)!  Our  THIRD Mourning warbler! (female).  Black and white-warblers,  yellow-throats, Swainson's thrushes, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and Eastern wood-peewee were the main highlights.  Our pee-wee is a tough little bird, having flown here from somewhere between Panama down to Peru. They seem to prefer flying north mostly through the western islands of the Caribbean, willing to risk the potential hazards of flying long distances over water.  Another 6,000 mile round-tripper.  This neotropical migrant seems to have a preference for forests that are to some degree open underneath, and often with a good number of oak trees.  I'm not quite sure why these hardwoods appear to be so important to them.  Such was the case where we caught him today, just upstream of the rifle range.  I love the peewee's song , a sweet, clear, loud, easy-enough-that-even-a-rookie-can-identify:  "pee -o-wee!", given from high up in the canopy.  It's name is onomatopoetic.  Its scientific name, Contopus (short-foot) virens (green), doesn't make a lot of sense to me.  As I looked at his feet today, they looked pretty normal for a flycatcher, -- certainly nothing out of the ordinary -- and his coloration, if anything, is a GRAYISH-olive.  This is a good, easy bird to key out for the detective-bander.  You can't really mix him up, though, with any similar bird if you know the key features to compare are.  In this case, check out his two white wing bars, a yellow-orange lower mandible, (the dark gray phoebe has a bill that's all BLACK!); and a really obscure eye ring (Traill's/willow/alder flycatchers have an obvious whitish eyering).  If still in doubt, the wing cord length of the primary feathers is much longer than that of Traill's flycatchers.  As for the GREEN, forget it:  yellow-bellied flycatchers and Acadian flycatchers are much more greenish.  Although they're flycatchers, I've seen some individual peewees actually feed occasionally on some small berries.  While banding this particular individual this morning, we heard it twice loudly snap its bill -- a noise very few species outside the flycatcher family are capable of producing. 
 
Tomorrow looks 50/50, precipitation-wise.  If it's showering lightly, we'll give it a try, but we might wind up packing up early, or aborting entirely if it's going to be heavy for very long.  We've been the recipient of a lot of mornings much better than predicted this spring.  Keith should send out a communication to net-openers, regarding tomorrow's plans.  Be flexible and patient.  One thousand birds this spring is definitely within our grasp. 
 
Mark Blazis     

5/29/08

Thursday, May 29:  SLOW!!!!!!  As frenetic as yesterday's activity was, what with big numbers of migrants and several rarities, today allowed for a lot of rest and contemplation.  A few redstarts, a few yellowthroats, ...maybe a dozen migrants in all... and that was it.  The winds weren't generous last night, and it was quite breezy this morning.  But the migration is going to start slowing down now, anyway, and the easy pace of today was merciful to a team that's pretty exhausted from going almost non-stop since April.  (And remember much of our team was doing Cloud Forest birdbanding at the beginning of April, and Rainforest birdbanding in mid-April, down in Ecuador.)
 
  Probably the most interesting bird captured today was an Eastern Kingbird.  Not that that species is rare.  Far from it.  But it is fascinating from many points of view.  We saw THOUSANDS of them in April along the Napo River rainforest in Ecuador, as they were massing to migrate north from their wintering grounds down the Andes as far south as northern Argentina.  For whatever reason, they are exceedingly difficult to fool and capture in our nets. Luckily for us Keith MacAdams set up a canopy net near the trout pond where a pair nests each year. 
 
Tyranus tyranus (ruler ruler), is the scientific name of this big flycatcher that dominates flying insects around its throne/perch.  When it shows up, often around water, we hear its unique, electrical, sparking-like song (that's a politely generous term for its non-euphonious vocalization), and see its pathetic, shallow-wingbeat that gives the appearance of a very weak, poor-style-points flyer. That trait apparently inspired several studies on their flight speeds, which are relatively low, from around 13 to 21 miles per hour.   But somehow it makes the 6,000 mile round trip here every year, often doing a couple hundred miles each night.  Hunting-wise, they're like short stops, flying out from a perch and impressively catching flying insects in mid-air with their open bills.  They can even hover.  The two sexes are basically monomorphic, meaning they look pretty much alike.  In the hand, though, there's something to notice that a birdwatcher will never see: a primary feather pattern that is very surprising.  The very outermost feather on the wing, p-10 (primary #10), can have two different shapes, depending on sex.  If that feather's tip is very narrow and pointy, we've got a male; if it's not narrow and pointy at the tip, we've got a female.  Today, we caught a female.  Primary feather shapes with this much of a difference must have a benefit.  Although there appears to be nothing in the literature about it, I would bet heavily that the thin, pointy shape of the male's primary 10 feather is functional in communication, either in visual display or in auditory display.  Some birds use their wings to make sounds for communication.  Woodcock wings produce an incredible sound when the displaying male, starting from hundreds of feet high in the air, dives to the ground to sing/display on his lek.  The function of that male kingbird wing feather is deserving of future study to verify this speculation.  It was great to see Gary Hetel remembering this special wing feature for this species.  I knew he was going to be an Ahabish, monomaniacal bander when he started taking Pyle to bed and into the bathroom to read.  (Peter Pyle's indispensable, expensive, several-pound book, IDENTIFICATION GUIDE TO NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS, is every serious birdbander's Bible, 700 pages of numbers and measurements, graphs, charts, illustrations and esoteric data on anatomical minutia that are often critical for aging, sexing, and sometimes even identifying  tricky species.  It's nothing like a field guide.  If you're not a totally immersed birdbander, this book is a great cure for insomnia.  We know we've got a future professional when they ask someone to get them Pyle for Christmas.  Gary, keep taking it to bed!)
 
Mark Blazis
 
p.s.  Mary Sharkey, who has some of the best ears for birdsong on our team (along with Mattie VandenBoom), has been hearing yellow-bellied flycatchers this week in our net site.  This is a good sign, and we're likely to capture this much-anticipated species by the end of the week.

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5/28/08

What a great day!  Despite the fact that the winds were less than ideal (brisk and from the north west last night), we still had a smashing day of migration.  The urgency to fly north to breed obviously transcends less-than-perfect flying conditions for these little migrants.  Traill's flycatchers, Canada warblers (it was astounding to see Mattie VandenBoom differentiate between an adult female that we captured alongside an extremely similar young male making his first trip back here to breed:  he had only the slightest black showing on his face and his necklace was extremely subtle.  Next year, his female-looking necklace will be jet black and his facial markings will be black, too.) 
 
Mary Sharkey astutely noticed that we were catching a lot more second year male birds now compared to the beginning of the season in early May when the vast majority of the males were boldly marked adults that had made the journey north at least once before.  It's my contention, and our records support this -- that adult males that have already made the journey north to breed in previous years know the route and make it back here with great urgency and greater efficiency compared to the young males making their very first trip north to breed.  The older, experienced males know the route where they're going to re-establish their territories, often in the very same specific areas they had bred in the previous year (sometimes within a hundred yards of their previous nest site!).  Big numbers of young male common yellow throats and American redstarts have been the primary examples of this superiority/earlier arrival of older males, though we're seeing this same phenomenon with young male Canada warblers, as well.
 
Helen Blazis, advisor to Oxford's National Honor Society, brought that brilliant group of scholars to observe the banding research today.  They were rewarded with seeing Lyme disease tick extractions from the migrants, along with several brilliant jungle jewels, most notably female mourning warbler, gray-cheeked thrush, and great-crested flycatcher.  At first, some of the observers thought we had a Connecticut warbler.  This was most improbable.   Although we have captured this rare species on several occasions during the autumn migration, we had NEVER captured one in the spring.  In fact, only a handful of Connecticut warblers have EVER been seen on the East Coast in spring.  The entire species seems to migrate up the Mississippi River flyway on its way to the spruce-fir forest and bogs of Canada.  In the fall, they're keen to go back to Amazonia, and northwest winds bring them to the East Coast.  Our bird did have a grayish hood, but its throat was much too light for a female Connecticut, and there was a partial break in its white eyering, on the bill side.  In addition, its shape and posture were more upright/less horizontal.  Its legs were too short.  (Mourning warblers hop; Connecticut warblers tend to walk, one foot in front of the other, low.)  The "jizz", a British term for the overall impression a bird has was just not right.  We confirmed the identity of the species by noting its wing cord length was too small to be a Connecticut.  I really like Mary Sharkey's ornithological attitude.  She is very skeptical anytime anyone suggests the station might have an improbable rarity.  We HAVE to have that kind of critical skepticism.  We have no room for error.  If there's any question about the sex of a sexually monomorphic species, we always HAVE TO document it as SEX UNKNOWN.  The same goes for age.  
 
Helen, like a pied piper or Mary Poppins, led her group to the beaver dam, where they examined the construction and got totally soaked.  They now know beaver dams.  She also amazed most of them, capturing a very large, sunning male water snake (the tail length and shape from the cloacal opening to the tip is different in both sexes).  She also caught a huge male bullfrog for them to examine field marks to differentiate it from the similar, but smaller green frog.  It's great to see a woman that can one day go to the ballet and another day laugh in the mud with kids, snakes, and amphibians, at home in both the civilized world and the wild world.  Great role model for her girls.  (Although I think for sure that some of her male students were shocked that she'd dare to capture and hold that big water snake, a species that can have a nasty attitude as well as a nasty bite.) 
 
We captured another great-crested flycatcher, and most notably, Mattie VandenBoom brought in one of the two species she'll be banding this summer in the Montague sand plains, the brown thrasher!  I was proud to see her show everyone the naked skin under the breast feathers of this female.  This highly vascularized brood patch is wrinkled with blood vessels close to the skin surface, conducting body heat more efficiently to her eggs or young.  Males that don't sit on the nest don't have this naked skin under their breast feathers.  When you gently blow their breast feathers to the side, you will instead see that the male has flecks of downy feathers there, a major sexual distinction during the breeding season.  
 
We still haven't captured blackpoll warblers or yellow-bellied flycatchers.  Be on the lookout for them this week.  Temperatures are expected to warm up and go into the 70's. Numerous birds are already on their nests.  Robbins are already fledging young.  Fawns are being born and hidden in thick fern growth, dense low vegetation, and tall grasses.  (My friend Pete Picone, a great wildlife biologist from Connecticut was turkey hunting this week and reported to me the following:.  He sat totally still in the dark of pre-dawn.  As the sun came up, he noticed a newborn fawn, within arm's reach, that had been with him the whole time, unnoticed.  After photographing it, he stole away so as not to disturb it or its mother.  What an experience!)  Team-mates, get into the woods as much as you can now.   We don't have much more time before migration ends. 

5/27/08

I wish I could have been there.  YOU should have been there.  The Memorial Day weekend was one to remember, birdbanding wise.  Fortunately, our research team has so much depth, with Keith MacAdams, Gary Hetel, Mary Sharkey, and Mattie VandenBoom each capable of running the entire station and not missing any mid-week opportunities to capture the migration (as well as a farm team in training, our "Pawtucket.".  MOURNING WARBLER!  Now there's a special neotropical migrant.  This jungle jewel, emerald green, like the rainforest it came from, bright yellow, and black (from which it gets its lugubrious name) comes to our nets every year late in the spring migration.  I've found them wintering from Costa Rica and Panama south into Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, mostly in the highlands.  I've never birded Nicaragua, but I know they're well-reported there, in the winter, as well.  They just pass through Auburn, heading for the North, where I can usually find them way up in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, breeding in recent clearcuts, especially where there are a lot of raspberry plants, brush, shrubs, and young saplings.  We do have a very small number of breeding birds in higher-elevation western Massachusetts.    It's a gorgeous bird whose numbers have been going down for the last 25 or so years.  Mary Sharkey has an amazing photo of a fully mature male that I'll forward to you all.  
 
Today was iffy.  Fortunately we banded!  We were rewarded with TWO gray-cheeked thrushes, a rare migrant for us that we hope to catch late in May or early in June each year.  These special migrants came to us all the way from northern South America, especially eastern Ecuador (where we've caught them in the rainforest of the Napo), eastern Peru, Colombia Venezuela, north-west Brazil, and the Guianas.  They used a lot of fuel to fly the 3,000 miles to get here today.
 
We measured them VERY carefully, because there is a VERY closely related species, the Bicknell's thrush that looks almost identical.  Not long ago, the two birds were considered one species until it was determined that the Bicknell's breed solely in the North East on mountains that are over 4,000 feet. (Gray-cheeked's breed from eastern Canada to western Alaska!) For the Bicknell's, that's a pretty limited breeding range.  If we were to destroy the mountain top krummholz that they depend on (like building too many ski resorts), we'd probably lose this bird.  When we did the first Bicknell's population surveys, we'd climb the mountains (often camp out) and find none below 3,000 feet; we'd be hearing all the other thrushes below that elevation, with Swainson's thrush singing just before we'd get into Bicknell's habitat.  Then as we got towards the tree-lines, we'd start to hear them singing.  I associate their habitat with some of New England's most spectacular scenery.  Their song is significantly different from their cousins, the gray-cheeked, too.  (If you can hear them sing, identification is a cinch.)  And, of course, they don't interbreed.  They also winter only in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, unlike the Gray-cheeked's, which have a huge range.  The Bicknell's tail is a little more chestnut, and, in the hand, we can see a difference in both their wing formula (primary feather lengths) and overall size (they're slightly smaller).   It would be great to band a Bicknell's.  I've banded only two, when working with my great mentor, Strickland Wheelock.  I remember that day vividly.  It was early October.  The night before it SNOWED up in the White Mountains, and all the Bicknell's were forced out of the high elevations, and began their autumn migration.  I've NEVER had one in the spring, and it would be easy to confuse it with a nearly-identical Gray-cheeked thrush, so we always need to be meticulous in our measurements.
 
Today we also captured a second-year (2007 model) male American redstart.  It was like a pinto or African wild-dog, with all its patches of black just coming in.  Next year he'll have an immaculate black back and hood, salmon wing patches and salmon tail patches.  But this teen-ager has a way to go.  
 
Our great records-keeper, Keith MacAdams, has pointed out we're approaching 800 birds for the spring season.  This is an unheard of pace.  Strickland and I always thought the benchmark for a great YEAR was a thousand birds.  The fall season usually affords us even greater numbers, as the adult population is augmented by the young of the year.  If we break a thousand by mid-June, when we'll close up operations until August, it will be an incredible accomplishment of dedicated coverage.  The core team might look a little ragged (especially Gary Hetel), but it's because they've put in the time.  Ken Dion and Dr. Reich, opening nets at 4:30 am, have been crucial as well.  Everyone else who's working part-time on weekends is greatly appreciated as bull-pen relief.
 
It was good to have the Cape Cod Amazon Team once again join us this past weekend. They seem to always bring us good luck. Having been bitten by a rose-breasted grosbeak is THE initiation into serious banding, and I know some of you experienced that pain.  Only cardinals come close to the deep impressions left on a bander's fingers by these magnificent black, white, and rose birds from Central America and northern South America.  
 
The last and perhaps most striking capture of the weekend had to be the pair of scarlet tanagers.  Think velvet red on velvet black.  With proper light, you almost need sunglasses. They flew here from somewhere in the Andes.  Our good fortune.
 
Tomorrow, Helen Blazis will be leading the teaching/banding at the table with the Honor Society students from Oxford High School.  The annual event has proven very influential.  As a result of the banding experiences, one of her valedictorians actually chose wildlife biology as a major, specializing in, of course, BIRDS!  Ken Dion will open nets at 4:30 am with Mary and any other research team-mates who can help out.  I don't expect huge numbers, but I'm hoping for some late migrants like yellow-bellied flycatcher and black-poll warbler.  There is a possibility of that southern breeder, the Acadian flycatcher (a bad name, by the way:  Acadia is another name for Nova Scotia, and this species NEVER goes to Nova Scotia!), maybe a cuckoo.  We're always at the mercy of the winds the night before.  
 
Lastly, if any of you missed it, Mattie VandenBoom is now a professional birdbander (our first student bander, so honored), being hired to do research on prairie warblers and brown thrashers of the sand barrens in Montague.  Can you imagine being PAID four figures for banding migrants?  For me that's like being paid to sample chocolates.  What a great summer job, and so appropriate for a wildlife biology major at UMASS.  No one deserves the position more, considering her years of preparation, dedication, and dependability.  I remember her excitedly working with us as a rookie in the 7th grade.  But now, it's Mattie's time to fly.  We'll try to follow your flight. 

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To all my team-mates:
MAY 26: This is a date to remember! I am outrageously proud to announce that one of our most competent Auburn Birdbanding Research Team-mates, Mattie VandenBoom, a wildlife biology student at UMASS Amherst, and a product of our "farm team" developing student ornithologists, is our FIRST PROFESSIONAL BIRDBANDER! She was notified Monday that she has been selected as THE birdbander for a major research project on prairie warblers and brown thrashers! She'll be making several thousand (!) this summer along with room and board, as well, for doing what we all do, usually gratis: because we love it. Mattie is definitely a role model for all of us. An incredible position like hers is a possible opportunity for ALL of our students who go through our rigorous training program and attain their sub-permittee status. (It is also a possibility for our adult sub-permittees, too.) As a Master Bander, I get offered positions all over the world, every month, from New Guinea to Kenya; from Alaska to Australia to birdband. The work can be tough and challenging, as all of you know. In some areas you have to watch out for grizzly bears; in other areas, lions can be a concern. Snakes, mosquitoes, heat, humidity... sometimes ice and numb fingers. ALWAYS LONG, EARLY HOURS! But the rewards are invaluable: you always see incredible wildlife and meet some of the world's most knowledgeable wildlife biologists and field ornithologists. You make future professional contacts and get invited to participate in tangential opportunities. You generally are part of a published work, being written up in the credits of the dissertation abstract. It's not all glorious, of course. Food and lodging can be primitive (sometimes it's surprisingly sybaritic, though), but you come away from the experience with a lot of new knowledge that you can't buy or just read about. Anyone on our team wanting to follow in Mattie's impressive foot-steps can expect our assistance all along the way. Congratulations, Mattie! (I was going to say, since you're going to be paid now, YOU buy the coffee for us next time, -- but you and your mom usually bring it for all of us on the team anyway! -- Coffee's on us!) And as for all my wonderful adult sub-permittees, I'm DOUBLING your pay effective immediately!

Mark Blazis
5/22/08

WIWA, CAWA, EATO, SWTH, YWAR, VEER, NOWA, GRCA:  these are the four-letter alpha-codes of the major species banded today.  Wilson's warbler, Canada warbler, Eastern towhee, Swainson's thrush, yellow warbler, veery, northern waterthrush, gray catbird.  Just as professional ornithologists know genus and species in Latin for each species, there's a jargon among birdbanders, derived from the federal government's mandated computer abbreviations that we have to submit for our daily records.  When we say we've caught a COYE, for example,  everyone knows we've got a common yellow-throat.  Just to make certain that there is no mistake in our submission, the federal government also asks us to type in a four-number code, which corresponds to that species.  After a while, you even get to memorize those numbers (especially when you capture 400 gray catbirds each year -- by far our most frequently captured species).
 
Ten years ago, we had to submit all records to both the state and federal government agencies by hand.  If we made an error on a sheet, we had to write up the hundred-bird reporting sheet all over again.  We were VERY careful in presenting perfect-draft copies of our records (photo-copies not accepted).  No white-out was permitted, either.  It was very time-consuming.  Every set of my records had to be gone over by professionals in Laurel, Maryland, entry by entry.  I would get a report card every year.  The last five years in a row, the report card indicated zero errors on my part.  This was always very important.  There was always the implicit threat of losing one's permit if incompetent reporting was submitted.  Pressure.  -- Today, with the BANDIT program we use, we can have our submissions rejected as soon as we type them in, if our data is inconsistent with a species' known parameters.  That's a LOT easier, but mastering the nuances of the new computer program, (we've been kind of like guinea pigs with it), has proven a challenge.  We try to have many apprentices work on all aspects of birdbanding, including computer work, and that opens us up to mistakes.  It's critical our veterans remember to check our rookies for possible entry errors.  Fortunately, Dr. Reich, Keith MacAdams, Myrt Morin, and Mary Sharkey have spent a lot of time working the rough edges of the BANDIT program, and now it's proving more of an ally than an enemy.  High technology backgrounds are getting more critical in our work.  Every week, I receive research position offerings for birdbanding all over the world.  For someone like Sarah Reich or Mattie VandenBoom, these are adventurous opportunities that would complement your university work.  If you know your birds, know birdbanding, and can use a laptop and a GPS, you can almost pick and choose what part of the world you'd like to work in. 
 
Good news:  we're almost out of tick vials.  That means we're on a record pace finding more and more ticks on our migratory songbirds.  Yale School of Medicine was very happy today to hear that and will be sending us more vials. We're also out of alcohol to preserve the ticks.  Someone, really dedicated to the station, was going to bring in her Tanqueray to get us through till our next supply comes in.
 
It was great to have members of the Galapagos expedition team show up this week at the station.   
 
Winds are supposed to be tough on Friday.  Anytime they're much over 20 mph, it's a challenge to keep nets clean of falling debris and capture many birds.
 
The weekend should be better, and I suspect we're going to soon have a chance to capture our first blackpoll warblers, yellow-bellied flycatchers, and gray-cheeked thrushes.
 
I expect to be back on Tuesday, after opening up our Cape Cod home for the summer.  Meanwhile, the banding station is in absolutely great hands with Federal Sub-Permitees Keith MacAdams, Gary Hetel, Mary Sharkey, and Mattie VandenBoom in charge of all research and teaching duties.  Keith will send out daily reports, organizing the crew, and especially apprising all of our numbers for the year.  Good luck!   

5/21/08

Usually when J.J. White comes to the research station, he's all smiles and bringing good news or sustenance.  He didn't have that look this morning.  Today was not good.
 
He brought a nest of four dead, baby bluebirds, fatally pecked by invasive house sparrows that went into their nest box.  What's worse is that this is the SECOND nest this week to be destroyed by that invasive, alien species.  8 baby bluebirds won't be thrilling us this spring, and J.J. White looked devastated.  Much of his life is devoted to helping conserve that species.  He monitors hundreds of them every year, all over the state.  He's the Godfather of the bluebirds in our region, building nest boxes, monitoring their development, feeding them meal worms to get them over rough periods, eradicating their enemies, cleaning their boxes, banding them, and educating others to help the cause. 
 
The house sparrow shouldn't even be here.  Yet a lot of us inadvertently feed this bird and actually set up nest boxes for them to populate.  They are cavity nesters that will kill both tree swallows and bluebirds, two native species that are not able to defend themselves against this aggressive invader. 
 
The bird has been called the European sparrow or English sparrow because that's where the birds that originated our present population came from. (Prior to that, the original population came out of Africa.)   If you read about sparrows in the Bible, this is the bird they're talking about.  To be technical it's actually a weaver finch, and not a sparrow at all.  (Don't associate this "feathered rat" with our wonderful, harmless, native swamp, song, white-throated, Lincoln's, Savannah, and song sparrows.)  It has been very successful because of its parasitic relationship with humans, co-existing very will around our premises, especially during the winter, when it finds food and shelter.  Surprisingly, when Helen and I spent a weekend living with Roger Tory Peterson just before his death, he confided to us that he had actually developed a little bit of admiration for this deadly, destructive little interloper because of its improbable ability to survive and even thrive in habitat unnaturally altered by us humans.   
 
If you go back to 1850, eight pairs, brought from England, were introduced in Brooklyn, New York.  They didn't do well, so MORE birds were brought in in 1852.  A LOT more!  They were held captive to aid them in surviving our North East winter, and those that did were released in Greenwood Cemetery.  Another stocking took place in 1854 in Portland, Maine.  Around 1858, more were stocked in Peacedale, Rhode Island and Boston.  In 1867 another flock was released in New Haven.  (We humans can be a very persistent species.)  These birds flourished largely on the undigested seeds in horse dung, which proliferated on all the dirt roads at that time of our  pre-auto society.  They spread like wild fire with all this food, and soon were a pest in the seed/grain producing areas of the country.  By 1875, the pest was breeding all the way to the California coast and north into Canada.  A hundred million of them! It would be tough to find a town in North America without them.  mercifully, there is one place we don't find them:  untouched forest.  
 
Their nests are nothing like those of our native songbirds:  they're a big MESS of everything from straw and feathers to even fragments of plastic wrapping, all massed together in a big, roundish lump.   We'd find them every spring in the vents and ducts outside the school walls.  They're often filled with all kinds of pernicious little critters, indicative of poor housekeeping qualities. 
 
Because of their great and deadly impact on our more delicate native songbirds, the state permits their eradication 12 months a year.  If you see us trying to trap them, please understand we're doing this only to help our vulnerable little native American bluebirds and tree swallows survive.  A lot of well-intentioned, nature-loving Americans had good intentions releasing these birds, but even well-intentioned people can cause great harm when they act ignorantly.  If there's any hope for our wildlife, it's in educating our future generations. 
 
Mark Blazis   

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To all my team-mates:
 
A lot of birds got "ticked-off" by our team today (particularly veery's, northern waterthrushes, and brown thrashers). Deer ticks have been much more prevalent in our captures this spring of 2008 (possibly an ominous sign for more Lyme disease problems in the future).  Ixodes damini scapularis, the tick which we study because it is the vector of Lyme disease, is, in its larval stage, occurring now, EXTREMELY tiny.  If you don't know where to look for them (or how to look for them), you could easily miss their presence on a bird.  Dr. Reich visited us this morning, presenting me with an optical loupe, the same kind he uses in his delicate surgery etc.  What a difference that makes when a speck-of-pepper-sized tick is half-hidden under feathers near the blood-rich eye-ring or mouth-corner.  (Thanks, Dr. Reich!)
 
The brown thrasher is always an exciting capture.  Its bright YELLOW EYE (in an adult -- juvenile eyes lack this brightness) gives it a very intense appearance.  As a migrant, it's different from most of the birds we capture.  It winters entirely in the southern United States, and, unless it's behaving aberrantly, is going to be seen only east of the Rockies, summer or winter.  We're always intrigued by its unique song.  As one of our three mimics, it has a distinctive pattern, typically repeating an imitation of another bird twice; then repeating a different species' song twice, and so on.  If you can count to two, and hear one bird singing MANY different songs, you've found your brown thrasher.  (If you hear the same kind of imitation going on from a single bird, but the pattern is three or more same-phrases/notes repeated before the bird switches to another species imitation, you've got a mocking bird.  And if you hear imitations changing after only one utterance, you've got a catbird!  There it is:  one, two, three!)
 
Good numbers of magnolia warblers were captured as well today.  If there's a more spectacular jungle jewel in our forest, we want to see it. 
 
Mary Sharkey and Gary Hetel heard the great-crested fly catcher singing on territory at the rifle range this morning and succeeded in capturing it.  What a fabulous bird.  Its rough "PREEP!" is unmistakable to the trained ear.  Besides being just plain gorgeous, this bright, yellow-bellied, copper-tailed, gray-breasted, bushy-crested jungle jewel wintered somewhere between southern Mexico and Colombia.  It might well have watched Juan Valdez pick coffee or Jose Medellin supply plants to the secret jungle cocaine labs.  It loves big-tree habitat, where it can find cavities to nest in, and it's definitely not averse to nesting fairly close to human habitation.  (At our Cape Cod home, EVERY year, we have a pair nesting within 50 yards of our house.)
 
Our streak of uninterrupted-by-rain banding days is amazing, and, with continued luck, we may very well threaten the thousand-bird mark by the end of May.  Tomorrow may well have some brief showers, but we plan on banding through the lulls.
 
Still no black-poll warblers, one of our last jungle-birds to migrate; so we've obviously got a lot of birds still flying north.  Make sure you can identify yellow-bellied flycatcher, gray-cheeked thrush, and mourning warbler.  I expect we'll meet them in our nets in the next two weeks.  (For some strange reason, we've been regularly catching  the rare (in Massachusetts) yellow-breasted chats in late spring, as well) 
 
Mark Blazis         

5/20/08

South America was the big source of birds today.  Veery's from the Amazon.  From the Andes, Canada warblers, and American redstarts dominated our numbers.  The obnoxious high winds subsided, and our captures proportionately rose, as one would expect.  This was our biggest flight of redstarts in a long time.  (Redstarts are often an abundant migrant in our region in late May, so this was not altogether unexpected.)  There's something to the old adage that birds of a feather flock together.  Obviously, last night, big numbers of redstarts flew north, settling down here for the day to feed/refuel/ and rest for the next night's onward flight.  Some will actually stay to breed on the club property.  We attract a lot of redstarts in our research area because they prefer mature, deciduous forests, which are the main vegetative feature here.  (I wish we had a more diverse spectrum of all habitats, including some meadow/grassland/field, as well as more shrub/brush.  But that would mean some serious forest management, professional input, time, and money.)  Not everyone sees a lot of redstarts, so really appreciate them.  Go down to the Cape or coastal pine barrens, for example, where pines predominate, and you're not going to see anywhere near as many.  That's just not where they want to live.
 
Whenever I've been lucky enough to find one nesting, it's usually on a fairly low branch of a small tree, usually no more than about ten feet up and around a supporting fork.  When I used to collect old nests, I'd try to dissect some of them, and you could see how they were using strips of vegetation from grape vines, and grasses and weeds, and lichens and caterpillars' silk.  Imagine four eggs that are little more than half-an-inch long.  
 
If you watch them carefully, you'll see that sometime they'll behave like flycatchers, seizing a flying insect in the air; and sometime they'll act like typical warblers, diligently gleaning caterpillars and other arthropods from the foliage.  We can expect to enjoy them until broad-winged hawk migration time, in mid-September, when they'll all head back towards the Andes.  
 
What was great today was the opportunity to examine many redstarts of both sexes and ages.  The after-second-year, brilliant males (born in May or June of 2006 or before), with their black hoods and salmon tail and wing markings contrasted greatly with one-year old males (2007 models) that still looked basically like their Moms, betraying their sexual identity with only hints of black spotting on their otherwise female looking cheeks and necks, like-pre-pubescent boys.  Next year, those black spots will develop into the magnificent black hood and back, and the yellowish wing and tail markings will become vivid salmon-colored.   
 
Gentle west winds tonight should still be productive.  We'll try to band the rifle range habitat for as long as possible tomorrow morning.  Unfortunately, that area of the club has some of the best bird habitat in the entire 500 or so wild land, and our early closing to avoid conflict with target shooters often means our missing big numbers of migrants for our research.
 
Ticks taken from birds were mostly on veery's, swamp sparrows, and yellow throats.  Mattie VandenBoom did a great job on her first extractions.  (It would really help if we could acquire a surgical loupe-type instrument for the research station, as some of our delicate work would be greatly aided by good magnification.) 
 
Speaking of which, Marci Reich came down this morning, as she regularly does, sustaining the researchers with coffee, chocolate, cheese, snacks etc.  You might be interested in a behind-the-scenes look at her and some of the fiscal needs aspects of the research station.  She has been, of late, a Godmother/benefactor to the research station and its team.  The research station had been totally self-financed for most years of its work by Helen and me.  That's thousands of well-spent dollars over the years (especially for nets, which can cost close to a hundred dollars each).  Outside recognition of our work here, elsewhere in the United States, and in Amazonia resulted in some much needed grants.  But two people, working behind the scenes, have really come to the fore in a very quiet way, and should be recognized for their great impact on the station:  Myrt Morin (our web site person) and Marcy (grant Godmother/manager).  Their fund-raising efforts have been brilliant and have given us the freedom to expand in many directions, involving many more people in research and education.  Anyone wishing to join this support team would always be welcomed, and that can mean just keeping your eyes out for some useful equipment that someone is going to discard because they're upgrading.  We were talking this morning about future needs for the station, and, besides the perennial problem of net-replacement, we're definitely going to need a high-quality station lap top for record documentation for state and federal government purposes, as well as for our own records.  A first class dissecting scope for analysis of specimens taken in the field (especially ticks, lice, and some particular anatomical material.) is needed.  Special calipers for measuring bills (from tip to nare) and tails.  An additional scale.  Batteries.  An equipment box.  Several hundred pounds of bird seed.  An ipod and speaker for calling in target birds.  Fine manicuring scissors to help with net extractions and net repair; net-repair kits, optical loupe magnifiers, extremely fine tweezers for tick-removal, office-class copying capabilities to reproduce and hand out research materials in note-book form (especially the tabular information in PYLE, which is critical to our professional analysis of age and sex of difficult species) to critical members of the research team and/or teachers of apprentices; 10 ft. electrical conduit poles to set up nets;  -- there are other needs, but this is what the near future will require to continue to impact a thousand people a year, capture again over 2,000 birds in a single season, and maintain a level of professionalism in research and education that a hard working team has set as a standard.
 
Good winds for all of us.
 

5/19/08

WINDS!  In birdbanding, we live and die with them.  They were GOOD last night -- or so we thought! Even West winds will blow species our way as the birds fly north.   But TODAY, they were TERRIBLE!    I mean, what's with 25 mph winds shaking our nets (making them visible) and filling them with falling debris from the canopy (lots of catkins from willows and aspens)!  It was frustrating, knowing birds had flown in last night but weren't moving/feeding.  48 DEGREES!  -- Not much insect activity at that temperature means minimal feeding movement.  We didn't get shut out, mercifully, (Canada Warblers, American Redstarts -- both species originating in the Andes of South America) etc., but we were hearing MANY birds (including Great-crested Flycatchers at the rifle range, probably on territory) that just weren't moving.  The Great-crested Flycatcher, by the way, is a personal favorite:  gorgeous yellow-breasted with a warm brown back/head/crest and a very distinctive, rough "PREEP!" that you can't miss hearing.  I wasn't able to find his nest this morning, but I'm sure it's in one of the big trees with a woodpecker hole or other cavity that they build their nests in.  He flew her from his wintering grounds that span the territory from southern Mexico down to Colombia.  Where have you heard THAT geographical range before!  HUNDREDS of species that we think of as OUR birds spend half their lives (winters) in that part of Latin America.  It's CRITICAL habitat for them that we need to help safeguard.  When we lose land down there, we jeopardize OUR birds up here. 
 
If you had to miss a predicted good day, this was the one.  (We were BAD predictors today!)  High winds might be good for windmills and electricity production, but they botched up today everything from boating at the Cape (a lot of whale watchers undoubtedly got sea sick) to fly-casting for trout at the Club pond, and stripers off the coast, and birdbanding, of course.  Even the deer don't like high winds.  Under these conditions, they can't hear danger, with their sensitive ears.  They almost always just lay up and hide until the winds die down, relying mostly on their incredible sense of smell to help them keep "watch."  
 
Gary Hetel and Mary Sharkey nevertheless endured the rough conditions, hoping for that one bird (I HEARD a Mourning Warbler this morning at the Club, which would be one of our most special captures this season, by the rifle range nets, but, alas, it didn't fly into our nets!) that would make all the work worthwhile today.  We need the winds to die down for tomorrow, if we're to have any hope of big numbers in the nets.
 
By the way, one interesting, little bird that Mary and Gary netted yesterday, the diminutive field sparrow, is a bird we seldom capture.  Not that it's rare in this state -- it's just not one of OUR common birds because we don't have the FIELDS that it requires for habitat.  Our bet is that this species probably is going to be nesting in the weedy/grassy area around the wells of the town's water supply behind the gravel/sand dunes and railroad tracks.  (That area is LOADED with low-nesting birds.)  Its nest right now is probably on the ground, most likely at the base of a clump of weeds or tuft of grass.  If it can raise those young and start a second nest later in the season, (or if it starts a second nest because predators discover and destroy the first set of eggs) when things have grown up a little more, it will then change its preference for nesting, building it instead about knee-high in a shrub or small tree or bush.  As each week of our season advances, there are new dramas and complexities emerging.
 
Every one of the species we capture has something charming and/or fascinating about it (even those alien, invasive house sparrows that are pecking the eyes out of our nesting bluebirds and laying their eggs over the dead young that they've displaced), if we take the time and have the patience to observe them.  I hope you won't take ANY of our species for granted.  There's too much to learn from every one of them.  We were appalled this week when we heard a rookie callously say, ..."Oh, it's just a catbird."  (as if he really knew much about catbirds!)  As you might expect, that person doesn't know one percent of one percent of all the fascinating aspects of that species' intriguing behavior, varied vocalizations, and subtle body clues for aging and sexing.  Familiarity breeds contempt, and not just with birds, unfortunately.  We can tend to take for granted even wonderful team-mates, family members, ... even our own special life mates, if we're not careful.  Remind yourself  that every time you hold one of these jungle jewels, you're experiencing the privilege of an intimate encounter, an aesthetic and learning experience with one of nature's treasures: a moment of discovery and understanding that few other people will ever have.
 
Mark Blazis 

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Keith,
On behalf of the entire birdbanding research team, THANKS for giving up your entire vacation to help with this smashing week of banding.  You were a MONSTER,  at the nets, at the table, at teaching, and at the computer.
Could you please take over email communications next Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (I'll be banding Saturday morning, then leaving for Cape Cod with Helen for family matters.)  Please include total numbers of captures and recaptures.  I'm hoping we can get close to a thousand by June 10.
Thanks, Keith:  you are one of the irreplaceable, invaluable, totally dedicated members of this research team that makes it unique in the country.
Mark
 

To all my team-mates:

 
Sunday was magic.  A treasure of jungle jewels flew up on Saturday nights southerly winds!  Nearly two hundred people were present, a number augmented by the Auburn Sportsman's Club's fishermen, intent on catching huge, recently stocked trout at the club pond.  They brought their families with them, and the situation resulted in many people experiencing the excitement of seeing, feeling the heartbeat, -- and releasing a great number of jungle migrants. 
 
Not only were our numbers high, but the quality was exceptional as well.  We always capture neotropical migrants that breed in Massachusetts.  It's particularly exciting when we capture migrants passing through our state to breed farther north.  So besides all the warblers, like yellow throats, northern waterthrushes, American redstarts, blue-winged's, magnolias, etc., etc., the arrival of Wilson's warblers and Lincoln's sparrows was pure adrenaline for the banding team.
 
Wilson's warblers are green and yellow jungle jewels, possessing -- if they're male -- a black crown.  (That crown becomes larger and darker as they mature.  Females never develop much of a crown, so sexing them is quite easy this time of year.)  They're tiny:  about 9 grams.  It would take about 13 of them to equal the weight of a stick of butter.  Yet they fly two thousand miles to get here, all the way from southern Mexico down to Panama, their winter home.  (I don't understand why they tend not to cross the Panama Canal.)  I expect to see them on their breeding grounds during my short, annual trip to Maine, way up in the bogs, singing among the scattered tamaracks, dwarf spruces, and alders.
 
What a coincidence that another bird I expect to see in the same area of northern Maine, the Lincoln's sparrow, was captured along with the Wilson's.  The Lincoln's also loves those northern bogs, especially where there are willows.  The few nests of theirs that I've been lucky enough to discover have all been on the ground.  It's a bander's privilege to see the minute, sesame-seed size specks of black on their otherwise immaculate white throat.  Our birds could have flown here anywhere from Texas south through Costa Rica, their winter range.  They have a very subtle beauty.  Their fine streaking within their buffy breasts, their gray supercilium (eyebrow) and eye ring don't compare with many other jungle jewels, but they are definitely beautiful.  Though lacking the flash and pizzazz of the warblers, their natural tones are nevertheless very attractive (especially for a sparrow).
 
Probably the big lesson for the day resulted from an initial mis-identification of a thrush.  (There can be considerable variation in some of these birds.)  Initially identified as a Veery (an Amazon species, which we capture frequently), it was immediately apparent to several of us that the bird was actually a Swainson's thrush (a bird we find on our expeditions east of the Andes and in western Amazonia during the winter).  It had the characteristic buffy eye ring and "spectacles" of a Swainson's thrush, but, very importantly, also a primary feather pattern unique to its species.  Just as when you extend all the fingers of your hand and compare the relative lengths of those fingers (you'll notice your middle finger is longest; then either your index finger will be longer, shorter, or equal to your fourth finger etc.), the relative lengths of the primary feathers on a bird's wing often are helpfully diagnostic as to species, in this case, being quite different from other species of thrushes.  In spreading those nine primary feathers out and comparing them, we could see that primary feather #9 was longer than primary feather #6 AND  that primary feather #6 was NOT EMARGINATED (that is, the feathering on the narrow side of the main shaft was all equidistant from the shaft:  there were no indentations of the feathering).  If it were a VEERY, primary feather #6 WOULD HAVE BEEN EMARGINATED; and although primary feather #9 would also have been longer than #6, it would have been SHORTER THAN #7 (not the case in Swainson's Thrush).  Can you imagine all the thousands of hours of research/measuring that went into discovering all of these determinants?
 
For those who have been put on our email list just recently and want to review earlier records of this year's banding season, go to the research stations website (designed and kept up by our computer genius, Myrt Morin):  auburnbirdbanding.org. 
 
Hard to believe we're going to be given southerly winds Sunday and Monday nights!  That means Gary Hetel, Mary Sharkey, Ken Dion, and Lois Kolofsky won't be getting much rest this week.  Good thing Marci Reich keeps everyone going, supplying the high test coffee and chocolate.
 
Enjoy our last BIG week of migration.  It will gradually slow down and basically end around June 10, when all birds should be on their breeding territory.
 
Mark Blazis 
 

5/17/08

To all my team-mates:
 
From Cape Cod, a large contingent of students and surgeons who accompanied us to the Amazon this past April gambled that the dismal, rainy weather they left at dawn would eventually clear.  It did, resulting in a good day of mist-netting with a moderate number of expected neotropical migrant species being recorded (especially yellow-throats, northern waterthrushes, blue-winged warblers, pine warblers, warbling vireos, and veery's).  Still no huge wave, though.  Numerous birds from South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico were captured.  Considering the students had just returned from the Amazon themselves, they were quite impressed with the capture of veery's, which also had just come from that rainforest.  Two species were of particular interest:  a male American Redstart, and a "Trail's" flycatcher.
 
Let's consider the case of redstarts.  Significantly, in nature, many young males are killed by adult males of their species (lions and bears are typical mammalian examples).  Adult males are often intolerant of future competition.  To look like a female for as long as possible would appear to be an excellent survival strategy for a young male, given those dangerous possibilities.  And such is the case with many species... including our Redstart.  A young male will look almost exactly like an adult female for both his first year of life and the following year as well, with the exception of a few  hints/spotting of black on his head/hood, which by the following year will become solid black.  Without noticing these little specks of black, one might well assume the bird to be an adult female.  Consider a human parallel:  young boys not only LOOKING like young girls (no facial hair, no body hair); but also SOUNDING like girls, with high-pitched, pre-puberty voices.
 
Traill's flycatcher is actually a catch-all term for two almost indistinguishable species, Willow and Alder flycatcher, which look almost exactly alike.  If we could HEAR them sing, our identification problem would be easy, as their songs are much different to the trained ear.  We needed to look at the primary feathers on the wing.  Specifically the feathering on the narrow side of the shafts.  Some of the feathers can be the same parallel width, extending outwardly from the shaft, or they can have an extensive indentation.  We needed to look at primary feather #6 and notice that it had no "emargination" to determine it was not a Least flycatcher.  We were left with only one other possibility, a choice between Alder and Willow.  There were no further definitive clues that we could use to make such a determination, so we were forced to lump it into the all-encompassing "Traill's" designation.
 
The students examined breeding female brood patches, which were highly vascularized and wrinkled, with blood vessels close to the surface of the naked breast skin, transmitting maximum body heat to eggs and young.  They also so cloacal protuberances that were like little volcanoes, indicating males that were laden with sperm, ready to mate.  
 
Students were bitten by cardinals and pecked by red-bellied woodpeckers (a poor name, considering there is very little red on that part of their anatomy, and there are several other features which ARE very distinctive, and much more worthy of a descriptive name).  Students also noticed the difference of toes on woodpeckers compared to the toes on other songbirds:  most songbirds have three toes in front and one in back:  woodpeckers have two in front and two in back, giving them added support in climbing vertical trunks.   
 
As for ticks, today was a banner day. We collected  numerous ticks from birds of the shrub/brush habitat (yellow-throats had the most ticks).  We never get a tick from a bird that exclusively haunts the canopy.  All of these specimens for our Lyme disease study  are sent to our research partners at the Yale School of Medicine for DNA analysis.  It was great to see Sarah Reich, just back from Cornell, working with Mattie VandenBoom, back from UMASS, delicately extracting the ticks from the skin around the birds' eyes and mouth corners, along with surgeons Dr. Daniel Gorin and Dr. Edward Cantwell, both of whom displayed a much-expected precision in their handling of the birds.  What I noticed with these surgeons that is dramatically different from most people who do work on ticks with us is their decisiveness and efficiency in performing operations.  Their skills definitely transfer to this kind of research work.  
 
Keith MacAdams and Mary Sharkey directed net operations, as Gary Hetel was proudly attending his daughter Emily's graduation  from Assumption (Great Job!) and Helen Blazis was raising student scholarship money with Garden Club sales on Grafton Common.  (Bravo!)  
 
Winds have still not been what we need for the big wave.  Oh for 75 degrees and southwest winds over night -- SOON!  We've only got another week or so of prime migration time.  
 
Mark Blazis 

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5/15/08

To all my team-mates:
 
The exit of the dreadful storm/bad winds was like a cork popping out of a bottle.  The last two days have had good numbers of migrants, despite winds not being optimum.  Wednesday was good, especially considering the ten inner-city kids who were mesmerized by birds in their hand to release.  For most of them, this was the first time in their lives they made contact with a wild creature.  Russ Anderson, their environmentally inspired teacher, is opening up a new world for them, taking advantage of this resource.
 
Today, Thursday, was cool and cloudy, with showers prematurely ending the day's banding in late morning.  But we had constant activity throughout the banding period.  Keith MacAdams, Gary Hetel, Mary Sharkey, Ken Dion, Lois Kolofsky, and Joan Sharkey worked the station, capturing good numbers of red-eyed vireos, yellow-throats, warbling vireos,  and orioles, among other species. 
 
The capture of several red-eyed vireos was of interest and brings up the important concern with our carefully examining and learning eye color and how it affects our ability to age particular species.  Red-eyed vireos are found wintering all the way down the northern two-thirds of South America east of the Andes.  The birds we captured today likely flew an incredible three or four thousand miles for the privilege of breeding  in our forests, and eating our abundant, high-protein/high-fat caterpillars (perfect for feeding their young). It's thought that there is a resident, non-migratory population of red-eyed vireos down there in South America, virtually indistinguishable in the field from our breeding bird, that is a totally different species from our North American breeding birds.  Red-eyed's have a huge breeding range in North America.  They may be the most abundant bird of the eastern deciduous forest.  You can't miss them once you learn their incessant, monotonously repetitive song:  "Here I am...Where are you?...Here I am... Where are you.?"  often repeated over a thousand times per day.  This is one beautiful bird that we don't have much to worry about, in terms of danger to it by virtue of habitat destruction because it is so widespread.  They like canopy, though, where we hear it all day long, singing in May; so it always surprises me when we capture them in our low, 8 ft. high nets.  The adult birds are well-named, and it was advantageous for all of our banders to see the rich, ruby-red eye, which will serve as a standard of comparison for the hatching-year birds, born later this year, that can be tough to age in August and September.  (Those young birds will have a much-less-rich-red eye, and it sure helps if you've seen/absorbed this standard of intensity of color.)  Like many species we capture (like gray catbirds and several species of sparrows, for example), eye color gets richer and deeper as the bird ages.  The rich dark eyes of the adult catbirds captured now will similarly be much different from the murky/muddy eyes of the juveniles later observed this summer and early fall.  We need to carefully look at the eyes of a lot of species for accurate aging, especially during fall migration.  Many species of sparrows will present this same challenge, and even first-time visitors to the research station who have perfect color vision can be of assistance in aging tricky birds.
 
Once again, we found the importance of analyzing the primary wing coverts, which in these adults were truncated (flattish-tipped, rather than arrow-pointy),   with  obvious, light edging.  You've got to learn bird anatomy and know what feathers to specifically look at to get all the information we need.
 
Speaking of which, Eastern Kingbirds, which we observed by the thousands in Ecuador this past April during our research there, as they were massing in Amazonia to migrate north from their wintering grounds in Argentina, are singing all around the Auburn Sportsman's Club trout pond.  Bird watchers never see one interesting feature on them:  the sexually dimorphic difference in their primary feathers.  The male has indentations in those flight feathers that are very different from the wing feathers of the female, and we can only speculate that they help produce a signal to other Kingbirds, perhaps subtly auditory, like the wing-sounds from a woodcock (but far less obvious), helpful either in mate acquisition or territorial display.
 
We caught many yellow throats the last two days and we analyzed them carefully.  The moment was a great time to make an important distinction.  We're anticipating the eventual capture of a species we've not yet banded at the station, but should be ready for:  the orange-crowned warbler (most often seen along the coast during autumn migration, but coming down from Canada and definitely passing through our region).  We could get one this spring (more likely in September/October), and it would be a shame if we missed it because we confused it with a juvenile common yellowthroat.  1.  It will have DARK legs (as opposed to light legs that yellow throats have), as Gary Hetel points out.  2.  It will have SUBTLE, BLURRY STREAKING down its breast; 3.  a subtle eye-line. 4.  It will NOT have a faint, yellow throat.   Forget about seeing the orange crown, or even needing to see it for the identification.  
 
We're already over 400 captures, thanks to the dedication of our core research team.  With any luck with the weather, we should surpass the thousand mark when we around the tenth of June.  (At that point, all of our migrants will have passed through and be on their breeding grounds.)
 
Try not to miss the next ten days of migrations and all the lessons they afford.
 
Mark Blazis

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5/13/08

Birdbanding: Tuesday, May 13:
 
ZERO!  Even God rested on the 7th day.  With wrong-direction East, North East winds blowing heavily all night , and hardly diminishing this morning, the birdbanding team wisely slept in, conserving energy for Wednesday, which, with any luck, could be a massive migration day.   Considering the migration has been bottled up for two straight days by the huge storm to our south, (it has effectively blocked the big flow of migrants here), the bottle is ready to burst one day this week.  If we have the predicted big shift in wind direction and mitigation of wind speeds, Wednesday or Thursday could be one of the big waves of the spring migration.  In any event, try to get out Wednesday or Thursday if at all possible to catch the potential big wave.
 
Mark Blazis

5/12/08

To all my team-mates:
 
Monday, the perfect day for a BAD/BLAH (our first) day of birdbanding this May.  But what can you expect when the winds gust to 26 mph (shaking capture nets and making them visible) and come out of the East/North East (the WORST direction possible for migrants coming from the South! -- nobody is migrating here from far out on the Atlantic Ocean!), we tend to have our poorest days at the research station, and to no one's surprise, today was no exception.  Poor Keith MacAdams, wet from the start, opening the nets at dawn and submerging up to his waist at the infernal beaver dam that is jeopardizing our net sets as waters rise -- admirably continued the rest of the day with Mary Sharkey and Gary Hetel.  Our numbers were about 15% of what we should get on a good day with previous-night winds from the South/South West.  At least Keith got some new net positions ready, especially the high, canopy net that will take species that forage high up in the trees and almost always avoid our low nets.  There are so many warblers that require high nets (ceruleans, Blackburnian etc.) because of their typical high-feeding behaviors, that we really need canopy nets to get any serious, extensive, non-accidental data from them. 
 
At least the ruby crowned kinglets and indigo buntings came in.  The little ruby-crowned's (only hummingbirds are smaller) have wintered as far south as Mexico and Guatemala.  Most of them are passing through now, looking for the coniferous or mixed coniferous/deciduous forests of the North to breed (you can see them nesting from Alaska all the way across Canada, up to wherever the treeline ends and the tundra begins.) 
 
Now the Indigo bunting is always a show-stopper, (you almost need sunglasses to look at it on a bright day!) with an electric blue plumage that the painter/printer just can't do justice to in a field guide.  It has an OOH!-AAHH!  iridescence that radiates when the sun hits it.  (Can you tell we REALLY like this bird?)  They're coming here all the way from the Caribbean, and southern Mexico down to Panama.  (It never ceases to amaze me that so many species stop their winter migration just short of entering Colombia and the rest of northern South America -- like there's a natural stop sign down there, just a chip-shot beyond the Panama Canal.)  What's the reason that a lot of other species, very similar in so many morphological features, don't see this "stop sign" and continue  down the Andes or into Amazonia? --(like red-eyed vireos, yellow warblers, Blackburnian warblers, Blackpoll warblers, Cerulean warblers, American Redstarts, Northern Waterthrushes, Veery's, Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes?  This continues to be an intriguing mystery to me and ornithologists who revel in these puzzles.  (Our last warbler to go extinct, probably sometime around 1970, the Bachman's warbler, died out because it could ONLY winter in Cuba!!!!!!!  -- In life, the more flexible you can be, the easier it is to survive.) 
 
The next ten or so days are historically the best banding days of the year.  We've got some friends who have thus far not been able to enjoy the great migration, but don't despair:  the best is yet to come. 
 
The forecast for the next week is for periods of showers (we've done well with that forecast so far, early this May), with Wednesday looking like a possible monster day, -- a big break of sun --;   and Thursday is looking potentially decent.  We've been fooled badly once this spring (to our benefit), so hopefully some of those showery days won't have the East/North East wind curse that they brought today.  But even on this bad day, we caught a couple jungle jewels. 
 
Mark Blazis

5/11/07

Happy Mother's Day, to all who are entitled to the honor!  And it was a happy Mother's Day morning for the research team and its guests.  In what has been an unprecedented week of continuous good luck and good flights, we ended with another surge.  Lincoln's sparrow, with its pepper-spotted white throat, passed through on its way to the tamaracks/spruce bogs up in Maine or Canada.  They won't breed here, but they regularly stop at the Auburn Sportsman's Club to refuel.  Additionally, seven yellow-throats were the number-one capture species of the day, surpassing by one our tally of gray catbirds.  By the way, this habitat is PERFECT gray catbird habitat:  we regularly catch several HUNDRED each year (perennially leading our list of captured species).  We've recaptured a good number of individual catbirds SEVEN YEARS IN A ROW:  an improbable statistic, considering the hazzards of storms, raptors and other predators (especially feral cats).  The classic Wisconsin study concluded that in that state alone, each year 17 to 30 MILLION song birds are killed by house cats.  From that data, it's estimated that our country loses anywhere from 100 to 300 MILLION song birds each year to house cats,.  This is an unnatural, totally-human-introduced predator that surely is taking its toll on the population of neotropical migrants, which have enough trouble surviving their perilous journey.  When we consider their declining numbers, we can look to house cats as one major contributing factor.  (One Audubon Society hero in California took it upon himself to kill a wild house cat that was decimating the shorebirds in his area AND WAS ARRESTED for his actions, facing jail and fines.   
 
Ovenbirds, blue-winged warblers, black-and-white warblers dominated our neotropical migrant capture numbers, along with Baltimore orioles.  This next week is my favorite of the year for spring migrants:  it is the week we expect the gorgeous, much-anticipated and seldom-seen Baybreasted and Cape May warblers .  They're headed to their preferred spruce-fir forests of the far North to breed, but will stop over here to fuel up on our abundant caterpillars.  Remember they always migrate at night, feeding and resting during the day.  Their numbers have been low, probably a result, at least in part, of their preference for spruce budworm larvae.  Commercial forestry practices up north, including cutting and spraying to kill the budworms have greatly disrupted the cycle of the big budworm eruptions in populations, (spruce budworms may be great for these warblers, but they cut into the profits of the timber industry) cutting down the populations of these jungle jewels.  A capture of either of these colorful species, as well as the drab, nearly mythical (considering its rarity) orange-crowned warbler would be a cause for major celebration at the research station.  We have NEVER captured the Bay-breasted or Orange-crowned warblers in spring, and Cape Mays only a handful of times.  
 
Today was spectacular in terms of our educational goals (which often are far more important than our research):  besides the perfect weather, over fifty people visited the station:  from 6-year olds to an octogenarian; and even the Westboro Garden Club.  Myrt Morin and Dr. Reich, our computer geniuses, have conquered the problems presented by the flawed, not-user-friendly new computer program (BANDIT) mandated by the federal Birdbanding Labratory.  Noteworthy:  Auburn Junior, David Sheridan, has tirelessly continued his apprentice progress to the point that next winter, we will apply to the federal government, on his behalf, for his personal federal birdbanding permit.  (He's worked five years to get this far!)  In addition, it was great to see our School Committee Chairman, Janie Bouges, working side-by-side with the students, taking over the documentation of records.
 
In the blood/sweat/ and tears department, Keith MacAdams cut new lanes and set up new net locations that we hope will add to the productivity of the station.  Setting up a new net site is a chess game; you're trying to anticipate where birds are going to be moving during their morning feeding activity.  We've been, thanks to a lot of experience, very successful in our guesses in recent years, but we still make some surprising mistakes.  Our problem at the Sportsman's Club is that much of the habitat is mature forest.  This means that in those areas, primarily shaded, there is little dense, low undergrowth.  Our nets are all about 8 feet high, hardly reaching near the canopy.  We are always most successful when we can find a location of low, dense vegetation, preferably near water, where arthropod activity is high, attracting hungry migrants.  If we can place the nets, additionally, with an orientation that keeps them out of the sun (so they won't be visible) and out of the wind ( so the birds won't detect their movement), we usually have a winning piece of real estate.  Location, location, location.
 
Mark Blazis   

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5/10/08

To all my team-mates:
 
I was TOTALLLY WRONG!  The weather forecast was supposed to be brutal: East/North East/North winds and torrential rain last night.  I wasn't expecting an even mediocre day.  But it never rained inland as hard as forecast, and the 30 mph winds never materialized. We had an EXCEPTIONAL day.  This was fortunate, as we had a large number of visiting guests, including students from the April Amazon team, which had driven down all the way from Cape Cod, arriving by about 7 am, in time for our first release of captured birds.  This time of year, capturing 40 or so birds, if conditions are at all decent, is par for the course.  Anything over that starts to get good.  At last count, we were around 50 birds.  
 
Highlights included woodthrush, unequivocably the most beautiful singer of the eastern mixed deciduous forest (it is a bird that is diminishing in numbers:  the Robinson study in Illinois has documented a 90% decline in numbers due to development and fragmentation of wild habitat.  If you go into farmland in Illinois, you may be shocked at how much has been converted to corn production, with little forest left standing.  These birds don't do well with just edges remaining; the cowbirds find their nests easily under those conditions, parasitize their nests, and wipe out their populations.)  Every woodthrush we capture and release is a cause for joy.  This bird wintered either in Mexico or Central America, down to about the Panama Canal.
 
Warblers were in surprisingly good numbers, with our capturing of our first Nashville warbler of the season being a highlight.  You could see the young male's reddish cap ostentatiously standing out.  Its bright yellow breast and bright white eye rings make for a spectacular jungle jewel. Here's another species that favors Mexico in the winter, but ranges as far south as Guatamala.
 
Orioles were also captured, and their wintering grounds were anywhere from Cuba and Mexico down to Colombia and Venezuela.  Yellow-throats (which coincidentally occur in pretty much the same wintering grounds as the orioles) and black-and-white warblers were moving in good numbers.  Those little "zebra" birds, as one young student labeled them in awe, also prefer that same winter range, but fly farther down the Andes into Ecuador and Peru. 
 
One lesson from these and other neotropical migrants we captured today:  "OUR"  birds require for their continued existance, not only conservation of wild land up here in North America, but also conservation of wildland in Mexico, the Carribean, Central America and South America.  For these birds to continue this phenomenal migration in future generations, there will have to be dedication to the protection of the remaining wild lands not only here, but in the lands of our southern neighbors.  This is troublesome because of economic issues that we have no control over in those countries.  It's a great benefit to us and "our" birds when organizations and individuals buy/safeguard wintering habitat in the neotropics, while that land is still relatively inexpensive.  Any conservation organization that is buying land to preserve it forever is doing the most for wildlife and deserves our support.  In some cases, those vulnerable wintering grounds are MORE crucial to their survival than is some of our vast breeding grounds here in North America.
 
It was great to see Keith Macadams taking over the research table for the actual processing of birds.  Usually he's out there in the swamp taking birds out of the nets, and handling problems with water and beavers.  His handling of these 10-gram jungle jewels was flawless, and he once again demonstrated what a fine teacher he is.  Matti Vandenboom was back again from her wildlife biology studies at UMASS, do everything at the station, including teaching birdsong of the species that we captured.  Helen Blazis was in her natural niche, explaining the subtleties of identification and making sure all our apprentices got plenty of hands-on training.  It was great to see them and Mary Sharkey, Gary Hetel, Janie and Abbey Bouges, and David Sheridan showing the large number of flyfishermen at the club each of the captures before we released them.  You could see the members took pride in knowing their club was a valuable link in the migratory route these special birds are traveling through.
 
MOTHER'S DAY:  Tomorrow morning, we'll be birdbanding.  The weather should be even better.  The next dozen or so days -- any of them-- are capable, with the right wind conditions at night, of producing the magical hundred-bird banding day.  If you think your mother would find it a treat to join us tomorrow, by all means invite her and bring her along.
 
Mark Blazis
 
p.s.  I don't have 100% faith anymore in weather forecasts.  You NEVER know what life is going to bring until you live it.   

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5/9/08

To all my team-mates:
 
The winds changed last night.  When I walked out the door at dawn this morning, the amount of bird song had diminished much from the three previous mornings.  The only migrant clearly singing was a northern parula.  I knew numbers would be down immediately. 
 
Fortunately, the winds hadn't totally shifted yet to the East/North East.  (They will tonight!).  Today was not without its rewards.  Gary and Mary (and Ken for a short time:  unfortunately he had to work at the Fire Station today) opened early, as usual.  Today was the day for Fly catchers.  An important lesson for all:  look at the wing morphology of this family of birds to help you identify them.  You must know that each species of bird has a primary feather pattern (we're talking about the relative lengths of each of the primary feathers).  It's like a hand print.  If you look at your hand, your fifth finger is shortest; your fourth finger is shorter than your middle finger; and your index finger is shorter than your middle finger.  (Check whether your index and fourth fingers differ or are equal; there is a significant difference between our two sexes of humans, in this characteristic, in general, though there are exceptions.)  This is what we have to do to help identify fly catchers.  We spread the primary wing feathers open like the fingers of a hand and check out their lengths and shapes. 
 
Tricky banding lesson for our advanced banders:  Each primary feather on the wing is numbered:  the outer-most primary feather on the wing being number 10.  As you move inward, you come to 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 etc.  We had a mystery bird.  We needed to actually look at the length and SHAPE of these individual wing feathers (NOT COLOR OR PATTERN! -- as you would ordinarily expect!)  We were trying to determine whether this particular bird was a Least flycatcher (our smallest); or a Willow or Alder flycatcher, which look IDENTICAL!  (If you hear them sing, they're easy to distinguish.  They also breed in different habitats; but on migration, they travel together and it's a major headache sometime to distinguish them.  90+% of the time, we can't!  They are so close in terms of having split on the family tree in evolutionary time that without hearing them sing or seeing them in their breeding territory habitat, it's almost impossible to determine their exact species, so we lump them into one double-species grouping:  TRAILL'S FLYCATCHER.  But to determine they weren't Least Flycatchers, we looked at primary feather #6.  (This is just like detective work/forensic work).  If you look at any primary feather, it has a shaft, with barbs sticking out on both sides.  The barbs can be all the same length, so the feather edge runs parallel to the shaft.  Or it can be EMARGINATED, with a slight indentation of the edge silouhette.  On a Least, primary #6 is EMARGINATED.  Our mystery bird was not, so it was determined accurately to be a Traill's Flycatcher.
 
SATURDAY PREDICTIONS:  We're supposed to have BIG tides at the Cape, North East winds 30 to 50 mph.  BAD!  Inland, conditions will be mitigated, but still far from ideal.  The only good part of the prediction is that the rains should be over by dawn, so we can proceed with banding.  As for variety and numbers of migrants, one would expect them to be relatively low, considering they're not going to blown here from over the ocean.  Remember, we ideally want South/South East winds to bring migrating birds up from the Tropics;  in September, we'll look forward to North West winds to conversely bring birds down this way from the North.  I would LOVE to be wrong with this prediction!  Let's see what happens.  One great bird can make the morning worth while.  In any case, you'll be with some of the top bird banding minds in the region.  
 
We'll have one complication tomorrow; the fishermen at the Club are having a fishing derby and will not appreciate any interference with their fishing, so please stay away from them and the pond area. 
 
Let's see what we net!
 
Mark Blazis
 
p.s.  Keith will be wanting to set up some additional nets tomorrow and will be able to use as much help as possible EARLY.  -- even if it's raining.     

 

5/8/08

To all my team-mates:
 
Today it happened:  THE HUMMINGBIRDS ARE BACK!  We always expect them sometime during the first week in May.  Get your sugar water mixed and set out to your feeders now!  It was exciting to capture Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the mist, which seems to make them quite active. 
 
We were a little concerned about the weather today.  We had light sprinkles much of the morning.  But those conditions are often exceptional, as long as they  aren't accompanied by East or North East winds, which carry birds AWAY from us in migration.  For three straight nights, winds have either had a southerly or westerly component, bringing large numbers of migrants to our research station.  Mary Sharkey took out her FIRST hummingbird:  a landmark event for a bander.  (We never let anyone handle such a delicate bird without several years of previous experience.)  Mary, Lois Kolofsky, Ken Dion, and Gary Hetel ran the station.
 
Warblers were the primary captures this morning:  black--and-whites, yellow's, blue-winged's, northern waterthrushes, yellow-throats, and American redstarts (among others.).   Orioles have been in already, but today was our first capture date.  Interestingly, we've been hearing and seeing many Parulas, but have yet to band any.  Species that are primarily canopy dwellers are less frequently captured in our nets.
 
Our tick studies have been producing a good number of specimens from birds of low, shrub/brush habitat.  This morning, several yellow-throats had the grain-of-pepper-sized nymphs around their eyes and under their bills.   
 
We are guessing that Friday could be a washout.  (We won't really know until dawn.)  Saturday could be very good, though we won't be able to set up the nets pre-dawn if it's raining heavily.  The precipitation is expected to end early (keep an eye on the forecast for Auburn), after which there could be an explosion of captures.  Our peak capture dates are usually from May 10 to May 22 or so.  Many springs we're handicapped by rain, which can sabotage us for many days and diminish our numbers.  Sunday looks good, but the following week could go either way.
 
One tip on photography:  we need to document photographically a good part of our research, and the use of digital cameras has started to dominate.  A pro photographer joined us today and helped us eliminate a problem of flash wiping out/making too bright some of our macro shots.  Simply, using the macro setting, powering up the telephoto to 3X power, we were able to place the camera far enough away from the subject (using a BLUE, soft, absorptive cloth background), and get tack-sharp, color-perfect exposures.
 
The breeched beaver dam has seriously lowered the upstream marsh/pond, greatly benefitting our net sites.
 
Mark Blazis 

 

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5-7-08

 
To all my team-mates,
 
The Tropics are emptying out!  The migrants are arriving!  For the second day in a row, a HUGE wave of neotropical migrants passed through our region. Night-time flying conditions have been perfect.  This is bad news for a lot of forest-munching caterpillars!  (We are thus far avoiding East and North East winds, the bane of the migration).   As I walked out my door in Grafton this morning, I heard five species of warbler singing all around us, the greatest numbers being parulas and black-throated greens.  Baltimore orioles joined the chorus.  I knew we would have another big day banding. 
 
And so it was.  Black-throated blue warblers, magnolias, yellow-throats, northern waterthrushes, veery's, towhees, blue winged warblers, myrtle warblers, etc., etc.  This is THE time to be in the field.  (I heard warbling vireos and yellow warblers, but they evaded our nets.)   
 
Educational accomplishments:  What made the day most spectacular and indelibly memorable was the presence of a class of minority students from the city (mostly 15-year-olds), headed by a former colleague, Russ Anderson, who is trying to run an environmental program for these nature-starved children.  To share our passion with those kids who would never experience anything like this was a great privilege.  One walked on a beaver dam for the first time, getting soaked up to his waist.  They all released multiple migrants after processing.  And they wanted to come back!  We affect a lot of suburban populations, but to get into the hard hard core of the city and  to spark a totally new interest in those deprived kids was as good as it gets.  With great regret, I lament the inability of Auburn students to come during the week because of a complete focus on passing MCAS tests.  This is a perennial problem for them; I don't see them ever being able to get out of school for special events like the migration, as long as that narrow focus continues to be mandated.  Whoever set up the MCAS test schedule was no ornithologist, wildlife biologist, or naturalist.  (Why couldn't they test in early June?)  Although those kids will miss Spring, you don't have to, considering what's possible this weekend.
 
Gary Hetel, Mary Sharkey, and Ken Dion were once again magnificent in their work at the nets and their work with the kids.  Mary, driving up every morning from Connecticut to assist us, has proven herself a very special friend and dedicated researcher and teacher.  It's a killer for all of us that we can't take you all out of school or work during the week when conditions are bursting.    
 
Friday looks like a rainout.  (Some of the research team deserves a little sleep, anyway.)  But that could be great for us on the weekend.  Fronts like this frequently stop, temporarily, the flow of birds flying north, and when the flights resume, they're often like the bursting of a dam, with potentially an enormous fall-out of big numbers.  The weekend looks especially productive.  But as always, we're not dealing with a zoo; there are many additional variables that affect the flights.  That's partially what makes it so exciting.  In science, we're always trying to be able to acquire some control of a pretty hard-to -handle world, by understanding it, seeing, patterns, and using those historical patterns to predict the future.  Sometimes we're fooled, but with the conditions I'm seeing right now, this weekend shouldn't be missed.
 
If you have a lot of other natural interests besides birds, there will be other temptations.  The light, increasing temperatures and other factors are influencing the emergence of wildflowers (some of which bloom ONLY during this early period); the migration of squid, herring, mackerel, shad, stripers, and whales.  The mayflies are hatching and the trout are rising.  It's hard to do and see everything that I want right now!
 
See you this weekend,
 
Mark Blazis
 
p.s.  The breached beaver dam has lowered water levels considerably and upstream rifle-range nets may be operable, boosting our potential numbers this weekend.  The swamp nets have been fairly quiet:  we need more days of sun, emergent folliage, and insects to get that system hot. 

5/6/08

To all my team-mates:
 
THIS was the day that we had been waiting for:  the FIRST BIG WAVE OF JUNGLE MIGRANTS TO ARRIVE IN NEW ENGLAND (they flew in last night on south winds).  It was wonderful to see the jungle jewels return, the warblers, orioles, and thrushes in particular.  We even got a bird from the Amazon, the veery. 
 
It will be very interesting to see what happens this week with winds and weather.  Wednesday should be good.  But Thursday will be of special interest:  the winds again will be from the South at night (perfect); there are supposed to be showers.  Those conditions can put down birds that are flying at night in massive numbers.  It will be a little tricky.  Light showers are very doable, and have provided some of the mega-days of banding.  RAIN ends it, though (unless you're trying for hummingbirds; even in the jungle, rain brings out the hummingbirds in big numbers.)
 
Today proved the importance of knowing bird anatomy very well.  We were able to precisely age many birds only by being able to refer to the specific group of wing feathers known as primary coverts.  Their possessing buffy edgings and being truncate (flattish); or having no buffy edgings and being pointy, were often the key clues to help us.  If you're already a serious member of the birdbanding team, be sure you pay attention this week for briefings on those subtle anatomical clues that are critical for us to age birds more precisely.  
 
One discouraging factor:  The resident beavers have clogged up the water at the end of the pond, building up the water level around our up-stream rifle range nets.  Some of that dam had a big leak in it this morning, and I wouldn't be surprised if the water went down 6 inches to a foot in the next day or so (if the beavers don't hear the noise of the leakage and start frantically repairing it, as they usually do, in the middle of the night), possibly opening up one of our premiere banding locations.
 
I look forward to banding with you in the next two to three weeks, when all of the tropical migrants move through here.  You should all see something you've never seen before, learn a lot, and have some good camaraderie again. 
 
Keith, Mary, Lois, and Ken were fabulous in their banding and teaching skills today, working with a very promising young bander from Connecticut,  16- year-old England native, Hannah Hargrave.  She could be a great bander.  UNFAIR  that the one man who has worked as hard or harder than anyone at the station to prepare us for the research season had to miss the first big wave of migration because of.....................WORK!  (Sorry, Keith!)
 
Lastly, notable research-wise, were the nymphal deer ticks which we removed for the Yale School of Medicine, our teem-mate in our Lyme disease project.  We captured numerous swamp sparrows today, and many of them had the Ixodes scapularis ticks around their eyes.  Just an update for you on this Lyme disease:  upwards of 20,000 people/year are reported to come down with the disease.  Many more probably don't report it or are mis-diagnosed, as symptoms can vary greatly, from being like arthritis, with swollen, painful knee joints, to Bell's palsy, a parlysis of nerve muscles in the face, overall stiffness, numbness, constant fatigue,  extreme changes in moods, and inflammation of spinal and brain tissue.
 
This is obviously serious stuff:  fortunately 90+% of cases, treated right away with doxycyline, are cured totally. 
 
Many people don't check their body/shower right after being in the bush.  Many don't put insect repellent on their boots and clothing.  Only a fraction of the victims will see the famous bulls-eye rash that can be anywhere from one inch to twelve inches in diameter.   Many just don't notice it, and in some people, it just doesn't show up at all, even though they can be infected. 
 
It's surprising how the reports are for the disease in other countries.  Canada is averaging 12,000/year; Mexico, over 38,000!  England :  22,000!  Germany: 30,000.  South Africa: 16,000.  Tanzania:  13,000, and the champion(?)................CHINA with 477,000!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
Our work with Yale is very important.  But always be careful with your clothes and your body afterwards, just in case.  In all the years that we've been researching, NO ONE has had a problem.  (It would be a vastly different story if we were banding at Nantucket, Block Island, or other places at the Cape or North Shore, where the disease is exponentially more serious.) 
 
Years back, when Helen and I volunteered to work with the team developing the first Lyme disease vaccine, we put ourselves at risk (along with many other people) and wound up with a vaccine that is only 80% effective.  We decided we didn't want to take it ourselves, as once you do take it, 1. you're not granted 100% immunity; and 2. you will always test positive for the disease.  We're still waiting for the next generation vaccine that will be nearly 100% effective before we take it ourselves.  In the meantime, we spary our clothing that we constantly use in the field with DURANON, a chemical for clothes only!  NOT SKIN!  You want to put it on you clothing and let it dry thoroughly.  It's good for many washings.  Bonding with your clothing, it has no carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects on your skin.
 
See you banding this week, I hope! 
 
Mark Blazis
 
p.s.  I expect at least TWO MORE HUGE WAVES OF JUNGLE JEWELS TO MIGRATE HERE FROM THE TROPICS BEFORE MAY 22.  I'm listening outside my window and at the moment am hearing Paulas, black-throated greens, an oriole, and a yellow warbler.  When this happens in my Grafton Center patch, I KNOW we're in migration!!!!  (Let's just hope we don't have many nights of East or North East Winds:  they are Horrible for migration and actually push everything to the west of us.)