Taking the Long View: An inside look at the goings-on at the longest running avian ecology field station west of the Mississippi.

Point Blue Conservation Science: Monthly Banding Summary, December 2016

This summary was compiled by Point Blue’s Palomarin banding intern Anik Levac with help from Mark Dettling, Banding Supervisor.

About Point Blue: Our mission is to conserve birds, other wildlife, and ecosystems through science, partnerships, and outreach.

Our Vision: Because of the collaborative climate-smart conservation work we do today, healthy ecosystems will continue to sustain thriving wildlife and human communities well into the future.

Visit Point Blue’s website to learn more.

Exciting Captures and Observations:

Winter is coming. And so are Palomarin’s winter interns. As the fall crew slowly began to dissipate onto their new adventures, the “winterns” settled into a new home for the season. With a few more weeks of training under their belts, the group would soon fully fledge into independent work.

A true glimpse of working at Palo occurred on a brilliant day at Pine Gulch, when the group was lucky enough to capture 14 different species. Included in the profusion were 3 species of Sparrow, 2 species of Woodpecker, 2 species of Warbler, 2 species of Wren, and one species of Thrush, Hawk, Kinglet, and a number of Wrentits of course took attendance. To their disbelief a Red-shafted Flicker flew into their midst, who was much more mischievous than anticipated. A striking adult male Common Yellowthroat also made an appearance, showing off his remarkable black mask. A fortunate group of Point Blue members was able to observe and learn, as the interns did also, while the team processed this exquisite array of birds.

Winter Intern Anik Levac with Common Yellowthroat; Adult Male. Photo by Wesley Sparagon
Winter Intern Anik Levac with Common Yellowthroat; Adult Male. Photo by Wesley Sparagon

The 13th day of December was one of superstition indeed, as the team had an interesting encounter with a Ghost. On an early morning net run, while the mist was still disquieting, a spell of kinglets was teeming in one of the forest nets. The Palo team hurriedly extracted all of its tiny captures, ensuring the safety of each bird. Upon returning to the banding lab, they noticed something strange about one of the new birds. The little kinglet was apparently devoid of any characteristic olive hues as its typical counterparts show. Nor did it have any sign of its distinctive ruby-crown, although a female would of course lack this feature. Due to its atypical appearance, the team was unable to definitively age or sex the bird. In our data a bird species name is shortened to a standard four-letter code, for Ruby-crowned Kinglet that is “RCKI”, which we pronounce “Ricky”. Therefore, this pale individual was dubbed with the well-suited nickname of “Ghost Ricky”.

“Ghost Ricky” and a typical male counterpart Ruby-crowned Kinglets; Unkwown age, Unknown sex (left); Unknown age, Male (right). Photos by Nick Liadis.
“Ghost Ricky” and a typical male counterpart Ruby-crowned Kinglets; Unkwown age, Unknown sex (left); Unknown age, Male (right). Photos by Nick Liadis.
“Ghost Ricky”. Ruby-crowned Kinglet; Unkwown age, Unknown sex. Photo by Nick Liadis.
“Ghost Ricky”. Ruby-crowned Kinglet; Unkwown age, Unknown sex. Photo by Nick Liadis.

Over the course of the month the resident Ghost made its presence known to all staff and interns, being recaptured on several occasions for further examination. For the time being however, despite the expertise of Palomarin’s staff, the enchanting little creature’s true age and sex would undoubtedly remain unknown.

If one was ever captivated by the song of a bird, surely it would be that of a Thrush. From an early stage in the season this was established by the winter crew, although preference for which particular species certainly Varied. Before long the interns were introduced to the charismatic Hermit Thrush. Its decisive juvenile characteristic of showing buffy tips on the greater covert feathers was a favourite among some, but the song of the Varied Thrush captivated them all. Though a few glimpses and catches of tune alluded to its presence, the fowl eluded the Palo nets until the end of the month! A radio call signaling the capture of a special bird motioned everyone to the banding lab. On a weekend with no staff to help, the interns turned to their trusty Pyle guide to age and sex the lovely lady. She however was not keen on revisiting or recommending us to her friends, and thus far remained the only in-hand sighting of the species for the season.

Varied Thrush; Hatch-year Female. Photo by Wesley Sparagon.
Varied Thrush; Hatch-year Female. Photo by Wesley Sparagon.

Let’s Do the Numbers:

In 16 days (1878.51 net hours) of mist-netting at Palomarin in December, we captured 50 new birds and recaptured 91 previously banded birds. A total of 141 birds of 25 species were caught. Approximately 9 birds were caught per banding day.

At our other West Marin banding sites, we captured 97 new birds and recaptured 76 previously banded birds. A total of 173 birds of 20 species were caught over 8 banding days in December (457.34 net hours), an average of approximately 22 birds per day.

The highest capture rates at Palomarin and our other West Marin banding sites were on December 17th at Palomarin with 19 birds and December 30th at Pine Gulch with 61 birds.

At Palomarin the highest numbers were captured for the following species: Ruby-crowned Kinglet (60), Hermit Thrush (27), Wrentit (15), Anna’s Hummingbird (7), and Golden-crowned Kinglet (6).

Across all off-sites, the highest numbers of captures by species were: Yellow-rumped Warbler (57), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (30), Song Sparrow (24), Wrentit (15), and Hermit Thrush (14).

About these Summaries:

In an effort to share our science with the public, Point Blue interns and staff at our Palomarin Field Station (Palomarin or “Palo”) in Point Reyes National Seashore near Bolinas, CA produce these monthly bird-banding summaries. Our science interns create these summaries as part of their science outreach training.

Our Palomarin Field Station is open to the public.  Consider visiting us!  Learn how by visiting our mist-netting demonstrations web page.