Hurricane Irma and CFBS

As everybody has probably already heard, Hurricane Irma engulfed a majority of Florida and several other states in the Southeast US after leaving a swath of damage through the Caribbean. The closest approach of the eye to Cape Florida was in the lower Keys, but the storm was so massive that there was storm surge in Biscayne Bay, nearly 200 miles away. At this time the banding station is broken down and all of our volunteers are cleaning up the messes at our homes. Still, Irma could have been a lot worse. Facing down a Category 5 for days on end was, um, unpleasant, so I personally am very relieved that things weren’t worse for us. The site is probably still there and we should be able to get out there before the field season ends and start banding again, but we don’t know when that will be. The damage is probably similar to Hurricane Wilma from 2005, when we had to almost completely re-do the net lanes. But at least there should not be a complete overwash of the Cape. We will see.

We were having a slow but steady season up until we closed and broke down the station on Sept 6. Ovenbirds (above) and Worm-eating warblers were the most abundant captures, as is typical for early September. A couple of Louisiana waterthrush were also lingering. A Chestnut-sided warbler (below, left) banded on Sept 4 was a treat! Hooded (below, right), Prothonotary and Swainson’s  warblers added some diversity.


The trickle of birds in August was becoming a steady stream, and now in the days following Irma there are lots of warblers moving through Florida. We can hear them calling while we clean up debris. Local birds seem to have survived the storm well, which is surprising since there were winds of at least 40 mph for 48 hours with a few hours of gusts in the 90’s.

Irma breakdown crew on Sept 6. Note the sweatkini.

Pre-Irma Total (Aug 15 to Sept 6): 184 birds of 18 species

  1. Ovenbird: 47
  2. Worm-eating warbler: 26
  3. Black & white warbler: 25
  4. American redstart: 24
  5. Northern waterthrush: 24
  6. Blue-gray gnatcatcher: 7
  7. Northern cardinal: 5
  8. Swainson’s warbler: 4
  9. Louisiana waterthrush: 4
  10. Northern parula: 3
  11. Common grackle: 3
  12. Red-eyed vireo: 2
  13. Prairie warbler: 2
  14. Prothonotary warbler: 2
  15. Kentucky warbler: 2
  16. Hooded warbler: 2
  17. Chestnut-sided warbler: 1
  18. Black-throated blue warbler: 1


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Unusual species to start the Fall 2017 banding season

Our first day open turned out to be a nice day for mid-August, with 9 birds of 5 species banded. The very first bird out of a net was this Kentucky warbler, a species we usually only catch 1 to 3 times a year. Other birds on the move right now include Worm-eating warbler, Black & white warbler, Ovenbird, Northern waterthrush, American redstart and Red-eyed vireo. The numbers remain low, although we are hoping for some interesting weather interactions later on this week involving a weak front and a tropical wave. The unsettled weather could get some migrants to stopover in our area. We will see!

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It’s a wrap!

We ended the 2016 banding season today with a Gray catbird return from 2010 as our final capture. We were frustrated by a solid month of strong NE winds which killed any chance we may have had for big October movements. In fact, the busiest day between Oct 12 and Nov 7 was 24 birds on Oct 22. This time of year is usually when we can expect to get multiple 3-digit days, but not this year. We hope this weather pattern does not re-occur for a long time!


One of the consequences of the lack of strong fronts this fall is that there are migrants running late mixed in with arriving wintering birds, like the Eastern phoebe above. We banded 3 Red-eyed vireos and one Swainson’s thrush in the last week; these are September migrants that usually have completely moved through our area by November. Still, we were able to band record numbers of a few species this season, including Swainson’s thrush, Swainson’s warbler and Worm-eating warbler. Ovenbirds, Black & white warblers, American redstarts and Northern waterthrushes were captured in typical numbers. Gray catbirds and Black-throated blues were noticeably lower in numbers this year. Cape May warblers seemed to be having a good year and we saw a lot more around than we captured. In addition to the weather, our banding totals were affected by a lack of fruiting strangler fig trees in the netting area. These trees are a favorite source of food and fruiting trees draw in dozens of birds that can spend all day chowing down in a single big tree.

Here is an adult Red-shouldered hawk that escaped out of the net before we could grab it, but it left its iguana prey behind.


We presented a poster with some preliminary results from 14 seasons of banding at the Florida Ornithological Society meeting last weekend at Archbold Biological Station. Representing CFBS are Miriam, Nico, Michelle, Lucas and Mario.


Once again, huge thanks go to the fantastic team of volunteers that make the season happen! The Cape Florida Banding Station currently receives $0 funding, except for the generosity of our Adopt-a-Net sponsors that enable us to replace nets and other essential equipment. Thank you all!

 Total captures: 1930 birds of 62 species

  1. Ovenbird- 337
  2. American redstart- 276
  3. Black-throated blue warbler- 244
  4. Worm-eating warbler- 162
  5. Black & white warbler- 137
  6. Common yellowthroat- 106
  7. Northern waterthrush- 96
  8. Gray catbird- 92
  9. Swainson’s thrush- 54
  10. Blue-gray gnatcatcher- 49
  11. Swainson’s warbler- 41
  12. Painted bunting- 38
  13. Western palm warbler- 35
  14. Red-eyed vireo- 33
  15. Prairie warbler- 30
  16. Northern parula- 25
  17. Myrtle warbler- 14
  18. White-eyed vireo- 12
  19. Northern cardinal- 12
  20. Gray-cheeked thrush- 11
  21. Cape May warbler- 10
  22. Common grackle- 10
  23. Veery- 9
  24. Alder flycatcher- 8
  25. Yellow-billed cuckoo- 7
  26. Great crested flycatcher- 7
  27. Sharp-shinned hawk- 5
  28. Traill’s flycatcher- 5
  29. Magnolia warbler- 5
  30. Indigo bunting- 5
  31. Chuck-will’s widow- 4
  32. Eastern phoebe- 4
  33. Hooded warbler- 4
  34. Red-bellied woodpecker- 3
  35. Yellow-throated vireo- 3
  36. Prothonotary warbler- 3
  37. Louisiana waterthrush- 3
  38. White-crowned pigeon- 2
  39. Acadian flycatcher- 2
  40. Common ground-dove- 1
  41. Mangrove cuckoo- 1
  42. Eastern wood-pewee- 1
  43. Yellow-bellied flycatcher- 1
  44. Blue jay- 1
  45. Philadelphia vireo- 1
  46. Black-whiskered vireo- 1
  47. Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s thrush- 1
  48. Bicknell’s thrush- 1
  49. Wood thrush- 1
  50. House wren- 1
  51. Blue-winged warbler- 1
  52. Nashville warbler- 1
  53. Orange-crowned warbler- 1
  54. Yellow warbler- 1
  55. Chestnut-sided warbler- 1
  56. Bay-breasted warbler- 1
  57. Blackpoll warbler- 1
  58. Kentucky warbler- 1
  59. Connecticut warbler- 1
  60. Savannah sparrow- 1
  61. Blue grosbeak- 1
  62. Rose-breasted grosbeak- 1
  63. Bobolink- 1
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Very slow October

Strong northeast winds have been in place for nearly the entire month of October, and the forecast shows no signs of them abating before we close. We have had mostly single-digit daily captures for the past three weeks, when usually we should have a few 100 plus days mixed in. Persistent high pressure to the north of us has combined with low pressure in the Caribbean to increase the wind speeds to 25-30 mph over the last few days, so the station has had to shut down for now. The Saturday crew tried to band today, opening only the most protected nets in the forest, and were rewarded with one gray catbird for their efforts.


A few interesting birds did trickle in during the past few days. Here is a portrait of a female Sharp-shinned hawk. We banded three Sharpies on Oct 21, and hawk migration during those days was phenomenal! Every time we looked up into the sky while doing net runs we saw raptors; mostly Sharp-shins, Cooper’s hawks, Merlins, Kestrels, Broad-wings and a few Northern harriers and Short-tailed hawks.


A dry front passed that night, but few birds landed at Cape Florida. Several wintering species did arrive following the front, such as this Myrtle warbler.


This very cute Philadelphia vireo was banded on Oct 19.



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Birds and Hurricanes, Part II

The winds on the west side of Hurricane Matthew were surprisingly weak, and it only gusted into the high 30’s at the site with little rain. The banding area was completely unharmed, so we reopened the day after the storm passed. We have had a steady stream of migrants with new species for the season since then, but no huge numbers on the ground because the weather is so nice that the birds are flying straight through! A weak front passed a few days ago and it lowered the humidity while providing great conditions for migration. Since then high pressure has set in north of us and we have had steady, fairly strong NE winds, which are bad for getting birds at our site. This time of year is usually our peak for numbers since it normally is our first real cold front of the season, and the Black-throated blue warblers and Gray catbirds are moving through. We are getting antsy for a new weather pattern!


We have been asked several times about what happened to the migrating birds during Hurricane Matthew. The following is speculation based on radar observations and the condition of captures at Cape Florida. Large numbers of migrants used the NW and N winds on the backside of the storm as a tailwind, beyond the worst of the wind and rain. These birds were nowhere near the center of the storm and had a quick ride south. Few of them bothered to land at Cape Florida. In the radar image below from the night of Oct 8-9, the yellow is Matthew raining himself out over North Carolina while the green blobs are millions of birds heading south in the night sky.


Of the birds we did catch, most were fat and healthy but a couple were in horrible condition with no fat and most of their pectoral muscle mass consumed. One Ovenbird was so weak that it died shortly after capture. I had not seen a bird so emaciated in years! The other hard cases were able to fly off and resume foraging, so they should be able to fatten up again because of the abundance of food at Cape Florida. It is hard not to think that these individuals had a bad run-in with Matthew somewhere along their route south, but the majority of birds avoided the worst weather and are continuing their migration in great shape. Below is our first Wood thrush of the season.


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Birds and hurricanes

We have had some excellent days banding this week, finally breaking into the 3 digits with 119 birds banded of 20 species on the 4th. It was a nice movement of assorted warblers with some thrushes mixed in, and the season’s first gray catbird. Birds were still moving through in decent numbers on the 5th, when we closed early and then broke down the site in preparation for major hurricane Matthew who is forecast to sideswipe most of the eastern Florida coast over the next couple of days. We will just ignore for now the model runs that show Matthew going in a big circle around past the Bahamas and coming to get us again next week.


Yesterday we were able to catch  a long desired-for bird; a Bobolink! They fly over us by the hundreds every year, but they like open areas so we have never netted one. I suspect the reason we caught one yesterday has to do with the Peregrine falcons moving through right now. The bobolink probably dove to escape a raptor and ended up in one of our nets set in a relatively more open location.


This bird is a young female. Amazing to think she will use these wings to fly as far as Argentina and back this winter and spring!


Philadelphia vireos were seen over the nets this week but none were captured. Noah Frade, one of our volunteers, took this incredible photograph of one dropping off its branch to snap up an insect.


This year will likely be divided into pre-and post Matthew periods, although it is possible that the net locations will not need to be changed as dramatically as when Hurricane Wilma rearranged the study site in 2005. We shall see, but things look relatively good for Miami-Dade County at this time (230PM) as Matthew passes our latitude around 100 miles offshore. Interesting double eyewall on radar right now; don’t see that every day. Hard not to weather-geek out on this storm but really hoping for the best for everybody on the coast north of here.

 Pre-Matthew totals: 1422 birds of 42 species

  1. Ovenbird: 307
  2. American redstart: 220
  3. Worm-eating warbler: 160
  4. Black-throated blue warbler: 140
  5. Black & white warbler: 119
  6. Northern waterthrush: 91
  7. Common yellowthroat: 66
  8. Swainson’s thrush: 50
  9. Blue-gray gnatcatcher: 44
  10. Swainson’s warbler: 37
  11. Prairie warbler: 29
  12. Red-eyed vireo: 27
  13. Northern parula: 18
  14. Gray-cheeked thrush: 11
  15. Northern cardinal: 11
  16. Common grackle: 10
  17. Veery: 9
  18. White-eyed vireo: 8
  19. Alder flycatcher: 7
  20. Great crested flycatcher: 5
  21. Western palm warbler: 5
  22. Traill’s flycatcher: 4
  23. Hooded warbler: 4
  24. Painted bunting: 4
  25. Magnolia warbler: 3
  26. Cape May warbler: 3
  27. Yellow-throated warbler: 3
  28. Prothonotary warbler: 3
  29. Louisiana waterthrush: 3
  30. White-crowned pigeon: 2
  31. Yellow-billed cuckoo: 2
  32. Yellow-throated vireo: 2

And singles of the following species:

Common ground-dove, Mangrove cuckoo, Chuck-will’s widow, Red-bellied woodpecker, Acadian flycatcher, Blue jay, Black-whiskered vireo, gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s thrush, Gray catbird, Blue-winged warbler, Yellow warbler, Chestnut-sided warbler, Bay-breasted warbler, Kentucky warbler and Bobolink.

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Thrushes on the Move

We had an interesting first day of October. The weather pattern has been stagnant as a cold front that was originally supposed to make it at least to central Florida hung up over Georgia and Alabama. We could see the birds piled up behind it on the NWS Doppler radar, and most of those birds launched out across the Gulf of Mexico. They did not have strong tailwinds, but they also didn’t have strong headwinds and time is passing so they need to get going. We had a series of slow banding days to end September with, but it was not a bad month overall. dailytotals_sept_2016


Left: Veery   Right: Swainson’s thrush

Thunderstorms blossomed up last night in the Florida Keys and drifted northward, intercepting some southbound migrants over Cape Florida. The rain ended soon after sunrise, so we were excited with what the day might bring. The overall volume was not huge, with 46 new captures, but the proportions were interesting. Clearly, the longer-winged strong fliers had gotten out ahead of the mass of migrants finally reaching central Florida and the rain had put a few of them down on our site. We banded a season’s worth of Catharus thrush in one day and also captured a first-of-season Bay-breasted warbler, as well as a very late Louisiana waterthrush.  Seen onsite were Tennesee warblers, many more  Red-eyed vireos than were captured, and a Philadelphia vireo. The waterthrush, it turns out, had a healed broken leg so we wonder if recovering from this injury caused the delay in migration. Most Louisiana waterthrush pass through our area in July! The bird was in good enough condition to continue its journey.

Total: 46 new of 14 species

  1. Swainson’s thrush : 22
  2. Gray-cheeked thrush: 6
  3. Veery: 3
  4. American redstart: 3
  5. Red-eyed vireo: 2
  6. Common yellowthroat: 2
  7. Great crested flycatcher: 1
  8. White-eyed vireo: 1
  9. Northern parula: 1
  10. Black-throated blue warbler: 1
  11. Bay-breasted warbler: 1
  12. Swainson’s warbler; 1
  13. Ovenbird: 1
  14. Lousiana waterthrush: 1

We are watching major Hurricane Matthew with much interest as we do not know how close his passage to our location will be. The most likely solution at this time is he stays out to sea east of the Florida peninsula, but whether he will be close enough to affect our weather remains to be seen.

Overall totals: 1169 birds of 38 species

  1. Ovenbird: 259
  2. American redstart: 191
  3. Worm-eating warbler: 152
  4. Black-and-white warbler: 102
  5. Northern waterthrush: 84
  6. Black-throated blue warbler: 75
  7. Common yellowthroat: 50
  8. Blue-gray gnatcatcher: 43
  9. Swainson’s thrush: 33
  10. Swainson’s warbler: 30


Yadda yadda yadda…..

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