Final day of Spring banding

The last week of banding for the Spring 2021 season followed a similar pattern to the previous week. Banding was slow at the beginning of the week and picked up a little towards the end due to a brief wind shift to the west and then north. As has been the case all spring, the north and west winds didn’t last long so our biggest day was 42 birds. We had only one 100+ bird day the whole season, back on April 22. The biggest fruit crop we have seen in years from the native trees and shrubs largely fell to the ground uneaten.

Male Connecticut warbler (photo by Autumn Kioti Horne)

Where were the migrating birds this spring? Passing by our region to the west most likely, based on overnight weather radar images. Large numbers of spring migrants generally don’t put down in our area unless the winds are out of the west or north, causing them to pause their journey. Winds were east or southerly for the majority of the spring season, providing a tailwind for the birds. The bulk of spring migration generally is over the Gulf or around the western edge through Mexico and Texas. Fall migration is shifted east enabling us to catch more birds of a greater number of species and this is the main reason we have put our effort into maintaining a continuous fall banding presence since 2002.

Male Blackpoll warbler showing a very black poll (photo by Miriam Avello)

In spite of the lower numbers, we caught all of the species we expect to see more in spring than in fall. This last week added Bicknell’s thrush and Connecticut warbler to the roster, bringing the total to 963 birds banded of 33 species. 26 of these birds were banded in other seasons and were recaptured in 2021 either because they are residents (Northern cardinals) or wintering individuals that are using the restored habitat at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park year after year. The oldest of these was an Ovenbird that has been returning to spend the winter since 2012.

Young male (L) and female Blackpoll warblers (photo by Miram Avello)

Thanks to all of our fantastic volunteers new and returning! This project would not be possible without you.

Eddy, Miriam, Nico, Mario, Cinthia, Bianca and a Black-whiskered vireo

SEASON TOTALS, MAR 14 TO MAY 16 2021

SPECIESNEWRETURN
Yellow-billed cuckoo1
Chuck-will’s widow3
Blue-headed vireo1
Black-whiskered vireo1
Gray catbird954
Gray-cheeked thrush1
Bicknell’s thrush1
Hermit thrush1
Golden-winged warbler1
Northern parula15
Magnolia warbler1
Cape May warbler2
Black-throated blue warbler145
Western palm warbler7
Blackpoll warbler9
Black and white warbler634
American redstart217
Prothonotary warbler1
Prairie warbler442
Worm-eating warbler36
Swainson’s warbler4
Ovenbird584
Louisiana waterthrush2
Northern waterthrush76
Mourning warbler1
Connecticut warbler1
Common yellowthroat1361
Hooded warbler1
Summer tanager1
Northern cardinal311
Indigo bunting3
Painted bunting5
Common grackle1
  
TOTAL93726
 # BIRDS CAPTURED# SPECIES# NETSNET HOURSCAPTURE RATE (BIRDS/100NH)
SEASON TOTAL9633323781813.02
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Focus on Ficus

Ficus aurea, showing large red fleshy fruits that are the favorite for migrant thrush, vireos, warblers, tanagers, catbirds, etc… (photo by Michelle Davis)

One of the most important food trees for migrating songbirds is the Florida Strangler fig (Ficus aurea) and they are heavily in fruit right now on our site, although there aren’t too many birds around to take advantage of it and fruit is falling uneaten to the ground. These distinctive trees are known for sending tendrils around other trees that become roots in ornate patterns. They fruit year-round but seem to be especially prolific this spring. Watch for Black-throated blue warblers with the large fruit impaled on their bills while they eat it from the inside out, eventually dropping the husk on your head as you look up at them.

Park yourself under the canopy of a large fruiting ficus and watch the show as flocks of birds will collect in it on a good migration day (photo by Michelle Davis)

We had a burst of activity on Friday May 7 and Saturday May 8 associated with another brief westerly wind shift, and caught 40 then 35 birds each day. American redstarts in particular were abundant in this wave of birds, and we started to see more young males and females.

Young male American redstart with incoming black feathers around his eyes. He looked like he had huge cartoon eyes. These second-year birds will not get the classic black-and-orange plumage until the end of the summer. (Photo by Michelle Davis)

Southeasterly winds had returned by Monday and we were back down to an 8 bird day, despite passing showers overnight and during the morning. One was this beautiful female Blackpoll with an intricate black, yellow and white plumage.

Adult female Blackpoll warbler (photo by Marc Kramer)
One last Gray catbird. See y’all again next October! (photo by Michelle Davis)

TOTALS TO MAY 10 2021

SPECIESNEWRETURN
Yellow-billed cuckoo1
Chuck-will’s widow3
Blue-headed vireo1
Black-whiskered vireo1
Gray catbird954
Gray-cheeked thrush1
Hermit thrush1
Golden-winged warbler1
Northern parula14
Magnolia warbler1
Cape May warbler2
Black-throated blue warbler133
Western palm warbler7
Blackpoll warbler3
Black and white warbler624
American redstart158
Prothonotary warbler1
Prairie warbler442
Worm-eating warbler36
Swainson’s warbler4
Ovenbird494
Louisiana waterthrush2
Northern waterthrush50
Mourning warbler1
Common yellowthroat1111
Hooded warbler1
Summer tanager1
Northern cardinal311
Indigo bunting3
Painted bunting5
Common grackle1
  
TOTAL79626
 # BIRDS CAPTURED# SPECIES# NETSNET HOURSCAPTURE RATE (BIRDS/100NH)
SEASON TOTAL8223123700412.46

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Good Mourning!

Male Mourning warbler (photo by Miriam Avello)

The total number of migrants captured during the last week went back down but we had some highlights that added some interesting diversity. The most notable bird is this male Mourning warbler banded today; a very rare species in South Florida. We see them occasionally in the Fall but there are very few spring records. Mourning warblers almost entirely migrate around the Western Gulf up through Texas on their way to and from breeding grounds in Canada, so this guy is pretty far off course. They are somewhat similar to Common yellowthroats and also hang out in dense understory, but Mourning warblers are brighter yellow underneath and the adult male has a distinctive dark gray head with a black bib.

Same guy (photo by Miriam Avello)

Here are some of the other new species to come through in recent days:

Hooded warbler female (photo by Noah Frade)
Magnolia warbler female (photo by Noah Frade)
Golden-winged warbler female (photo by Michelle Davis)

Winds are forecast to be out of the south for the rest of this week with little rain, so we don’t expect any big numbers of migrants to settle in as the tailwind will likely carry them over us each night.

TOTALS TO MAY 2 2021

SPECIESNEWRETURN
Yellow-billed cuckoo1
Chuck-will’s widow3
Blue-headed vireo1
Black-whiskered vireo1
Gray catbird944
Gray-cheeked thrush1
Hermit thrush1
Golden-winged warbler1
Northern parula14
Magnolia warbler1
Cape May warbler2
Black-throated blue warbler121
Western palm warbler7
Blackpoll warbler2
Black and white warbler544
American redstart103
Prothonotary warbler1
Prairie warbler442
Worm-eating warbler36
Swainson’s warbler4
Ovenbird404
Louisiana waterthrush2
Northern waterthrush34
Mourning warbler1
Common yellowthroat861
Hooded warbler1
Summer tanager1
Northern cardinal211
Indigo bunting3
Painted bunting5
Common grackle1
  
TOTAL66826
 # BIRDS CAPTURED# SPECIES# NETSNET HOURSCAPTURE RATE (BIRDS/100NH)
SEASON TOTAL6943123601012.33

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Finally some decent movements!

Steffanie bands her first Yellow-billed cuckoo (photo by Miriam Avello)

This last week did prove to be much more active, and our overall total for the season jumped from 241 to 605 birds captured. We added Yellow-billed cuckoo, Gray-cheeked thrush, Blackpoll warbler and Summer tanager to the species list, and caught a lot more of species such as Black-and-white warbler, Black-throated blue warbler, American redstart and Common yellowthroat. Several fronts worked their way down Florida in the last week, causing brief windshifts to the west and bringing us birds. The overall volume of migration has been steadily increasing, with large pulses of birds coming up overnight from western Cuba or from the southeast through the Bahamas. There have been a lot of strong southerly winds this spring which have made for a quick passage through Florida; great for birds but less exciting for birders in deep South Florida. Still, we managed to have better days this last week and broke out of the 5 to 20 birds a day rut we were stuck in for the previous 5 weeks with 46 birds on the 21st, 142 on Earth Day, 60 on the 23rd and 72 birds today. All the new volunteers were finally able to practice their extraction skills and get up to speed.

Second-year male Summer tanager (photo by Miriam Avello)

Second-year male American redstart (photo by Miriam Avello). Both the tanager and redstart do not get their full adult male plumage until the end of their first summer breeding.

Sometimes excellent migration conditions take birds away from the Cape without replacing them. This happened over the weekend with the ripping southerly wind overnight on Saturday; all the singing Gray catbirds were gone as well as the lingering birds from the big movement on the previous Thursday. We caught 2 new birds on Sunday but were back up to 72 new birds today when the wind came around to the NW then W overnight. Flocks of warblers trickled in all morning, and they had collected in a couple patches of fruiting ficus and budding trees of other species by the afternoon. Black-and-white and Black-throated blue warblers as well as American redstarts were well-represented today. A Black-whiskered vireo sang his head off all day but never stumbled into a net. Blackpoll warblers have been noticeably absent so far this spring; I was expecting some to come in later today but nope! Usually they are moving through in good numbers by late April.

Left: male Black-throated blue warbler. Above: female Black-throated blue. This is the most sexually dimorphic warbler species. (photos by Miriam Avello)

TOTALS TO APR 26 2021

SPECIESNEWRETURN
Yellow-billed cuckoo1
Chuck-will’s widow3
Blue-headed vireo1
Black-whiskered vireo1
Gray catbird924
Gray-cheeked thrush1
Hermit thrush1
Northern parula14
Cape May warbler2
Black-throated blue warbler99
Western palm warbler7
Blackpoll warbler2
Black and white warbler494
American redstart86
Prothonotary warbler1
Prairie warbler442
Worm-eating warbler31
Swainson’s warbler4
Ovenbird304
Louisiana waterthrush2
Northern waterthrush32
Common yellowthroat671
Summer tanager1
Northern cardinal29
Indigo bunting3
Painted bunting5
  
TOTAL58124
 # BIRDS CAPTURED# SPECIES# NETSNET HOURSCAPTURE RATE (BIRDS/100NH)
SEASON TOTAL6052623525012.27

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New faces in town

We still are waiting for a big day of banding, but the weather remains mild. The winds have been mostly southerly all week and there has been little rain, so the conditions for migrating are excellent and birds are making as much distance as possible each night. Still, more are landing at Cape Florida and our daily captures are ranging from 10 to 24 birds instead of 2 to 7. Some new species are starting to show up:

male Cape May warbler (photo by Miriam Avello)
male Black-throated blue warbler (photo by Miriam Avello)
male Prothonotary warbler (photo by Miriam Avello)
Black-whiskered vireo (photo by Miriam Avello)

The Black-whiskered vireo is the tropical counterpart to the widespread Red-eyed vireo, and South Florida is close to the northernmost extent of its breeding range. This guy, unlike the other three warblers pictured, is probably going to stop in the area and set up a territory somewhere. They do breed on Cape Florida, but are mostly gone when we come back to band in the fall. One year we did have a male still singing on his territory around the banding station in August, so eventually we caught and banded him!

The forecast for next week calls for continued south to southwest winds and chances of rain most days. We will see if this weather interacts with the migrants to make more of them land at the Cape. The volume of birds passing over is increasing every night. Many of the ficus trees (strangler figs) have ripe fruit right now, so the buffet is set!

TOTALS TO APR 18 2021

SPECIESNEWRETURN
Chuck-will’s widow3
Blue-headed vireo1
Black-whiskered vireo1
Gray catbird664
Hermit thrush1
Northern parula2
Cape May warbler1
Black-throated blue warbler10
Western palm warbler4
Black and white warbler84
American redstart13
Prothonotary warbler1
Prairie warbler342
Worm-eating warbler19
Swainson’s warbler4
Ovenbird104
Louisiana waterthrush2
Northern waterthrush13
Common yellowthroat181
Northern cardinal29
Indigo bunting2
Painted bunting2
  
TOTAL21724
 # BIRDS CAPTURED# SPECIES# NETSNET HOURSCAPTURE RATE (BIRDS/100NH)
SEASON TOTAL241222341176.24

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Some new arrivals

New species rode the E and SE winds into the area, and we captured 18 birds of 8 species on Friday April 9. Common nighthawks arrived this week, and we have heard their ‘beent’ calls every night since. The Gray catbirds have not left yet while the local Northern cardinals are getting worked up for spring.

Second-year male Indigo bunting (photo by Michelle Davis)

One of the new species was this gorgeous second-year male Indigo bunting. We can tell the age of many birds by looking for molt limits; basically the difference between their original suit of feathers that grew in when they fledged and the adult feathers coming in. Many songbirds molt their body feathers in spring, giving them their colorful breeding plumage. In the case of this Indigo bunting, the juvenile feathers are brown and the new incoming feathers are turquoise.

Left: Louisiana waterthrush. Right: Northern waterthrush (photos by Elsa Alvear)

Northern and Louisiana waterthrush are two very similar species that overlap a little in migration and on the wintering grounds, with the Louisiana waterthrush migrating earlier in spring and fall. We had both species in the hand on Friday and were able to compare them. The Louisiana waterthrush is slightly larger with a longer bill, white throat, wider supercilliary stripe and more of a ‘milk chocolate’ color to the back. Northern waterthrush have a spotted throat, darker more well-defined spots on the breast and their underparts can be yellowish. They also have a ‘dark chocolate’ color to their upperparts and their call is more metallic than the Louisiana waterthrush.

Worm-eating warbler (Photo by Miriam Avello)

The quick rain line Friday evening disappointed us over the weekend, with fewer birds banded Saturday and Sunday than on Friday. Severe storms moved down the peninsula late on Sunday with 50 MPH gusts, and another round of storms came through overnight around 2AM or so. In spite of this rough weather we only banded 10 new birds today and recaptured an overwintering Gray catbird. Migrants were in the air according to radar, but they may have used the tailwind to get past extreme southern Florida before encountering the squall lines. This is great for the birds; weather like that would be very dangerous for birds still flying offshore.

TOTALS TO APR 12 2021

SPECIESNEWRETURN
Chuck-will’s widow3
Blue-headed vireo1
Gray catbird433
Hermit thrush1
Northern parula1
Western palm warbler3
Black and white warbler63
American redstart7
Prairie warbler262
Worm-eating warbler13
Swainson’s warbler4
Ovenbird64
Louisiana waterthrush2
Northern waterthrush5
Common yellowthroat81
Northern cardinal4
Indigo bunting2
Painted bunting2
  
TOTAL13317
 # BIRDS CAPTURED# SPECIES# NETSNET HOURSCAPTURE RATE (BIRDS/100NH)
SEASON TOTAL150182332854.87
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Signs of migration

Migrants are finally starting to trickle through the area! We had a front pass last Friday; a squall line passed late in the day and the winds shifted hard to the NW and N immediately afterwards. The timing wasn’t the greatest for getting lots of birds to fall out at Cape Florida, but there was a noticeable influx of Prairie warblers on Friday and Saturday and we banded nearly 20 of them.

Female Prairie warbler (Photo by Miriam Avello)

The wind then continued around to the NE and is now out of the E for the rest of this week, with a new front possibly coming this Sunday or Monday. As a consequence of the wind shift the bird activity dropped again to mostly the wintering species. Gray catbirds seem to be in no hurry to leave, and they are serenading us at sunrise with their beautiful songs. A few Swainson’s warblers and Worm-eating warblers are also on the move right now, coming up from points south. We also recaptured two Northern cardinals originally banded in Fall 2019 and Fall 2020. These are one of the few species that stay year-round at Cape Florida and breed here.

Gray catbird (photo by Miriam Avello)
Northern cardinal (photo by Marc Kramer)

TOTALS TO APR 7 2021

SPECIESNEWRETURN
Chuck-will’s widow3
Blue-headed vireo1
Gray catbird322
Hermit thrush1
Northern parula1
Western palm warbler3
Black and white warbler62
American redstart2
Prairie warbler202
Worm-eating warbler4
Swainson’s warbler4
Ovenbird44
Louisiana waterthrush1
Common yellowthroat41
Northern cardinal2
  
TOTAL8613
 # BIRDS CAPTURED# SPECIES# NETSNET HOURSCAPTURE RATE (BIRDS/100NH)
SEASON TOTAL99152326114.21
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Second week of spring banding

Old Ovenbird (photo by Luis Gles)

We continue to catch mostly birds that have spent the winter at Cape Florida, including this Ovenbird which has come back for 9 years at least; he was banded as an adult in 2012!

Chuck-will’s widow (photo by Mario Porcelli)

Male Chuck-will’s widows are on the move, and we have banded 3 so far. We hear them singing every morning in the dark while we open the nets. This is truly a bizarre bird, and don’t let the tiny beak fool you. Their mouth opens up to be half the size of their head like a feathery Pacman.

Blue-headed vireo (photo by Luis Gles)

Among the species getting ready to leave for the summer is this handsome Blue-headed vireo. They will head to forests across the Northeast US and Canada to breed. Some are singing already before they go.

Worm-eating warbler (photo by Miriam Avello)

We finally caught a migrating individual! This Worm-eating warbler was extremely fat, compared to the lean birds we had otherwise been catching. Fat is the fuel for migration, and the physiology of migrating birds changes to accommodate the extreme demands of the trip. The most important are the metabolic changes that make birds hungrier and cause their bodies to deposit these fat loads. Non-migratory birds usually do not carry large fat loads, so this is one way we can tell wintering individuals from those in-transit among species that winter here. The Ovenbird from 2012 was also fat, so he is getting ready to begin his migration. He is probably gone by now with all the southerly winds we have had over the last week.  

TOTALS TO MAR 30 2021

SPECIESNEWRETURN
Chuck-will’s widow3
Blue-headed vireo1
Gray catbird212
Hermit thrush1
Western palm warbler1
Black and white warbler31
American redstart1
Prairie warbler12
Worm-eating warbler1
Swainson’s warbler2
Ovenbird24
Louisiana waterthrush1
Common yellowthroat41
  
TOTAL4210
 # BIRDS CAPTURED# SPECIES# NETSNET HOURSCAPTURE RATE (BIRDS/100NH)
SEASON TOTAL5213231014.53.06
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2021 spring banding season begins

Hermit Thrush (photo by Miriam Avello)

The partnership between Tropical Audubon Society and the Cape Florida Banding Station is allowing us to begin regular spring migration banding for the first time in our 20-year history. We have had spring banding sessions previously in 2007, 2009-2011 and 2014 in cooperation with researchers that were using our site to collect data. Our very first bird banded this year was this Hermit thrush, an uncommon wintering species in the Miami area.

We technically have not banded an active migrant yet as it seems to be a little early. Instead we are getting an interesting sample of who has been spending the winter in the restored hardwood hammock habitat at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. This is important data, even though right now we only catch a couple of birds a day. Several of these birds were banded during previous seasons, including an Ovenbird which has been returning to spend the winter here since 2014. The waves of northbound migrants will increase all through April and peak in late April or early May. In the meantime our new volunteers have time to learn where the nets are, and we are all enjoying the beautiful spring temperatures!

TOTALS MARCH 14-23 2021

SPECIESNEWRETURN
Chuck-will’s widow2
Gray catbird143
Hermit thrush1
Western palm warbler1
Black and white warbler21
Prairie warbler1
Swainson’s warbler1
Ovenbird1
Louisiana waterthrush1
Common yellowthroat1
  
TOTAL227
 # BIRDS CAPTURED# SPECIES# NETSNET HOURSCAPTURE RATE (BIRDS/100NH)
SEASON TOTAL2910231014.53.06
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Final day of Fall banding

Last bird! take a guess as to what it is (photo by Miriam Avello)

(Nov 7) Since 2020 insists on continuing to be weird we are ending the season under a tropical storm warning. We were expecting to be taking the nets down in the pouring rain but it held off all morning, allowing us to band until we were ready to stop. The wind was up and the skies were overcast, layered and complex like they get when something tropical is coming. I heard a thrush call while I opened nets in the dark, and when I came back by the first net I had opened, she was captured already. A very small Catharus; she measured out as a pure Bicknell’s and was our second of the season, breaking records for yet another species that is usually migrating out over the open Atlantic.

Bicknell’s Thrush (photo by Mario Porcelli)
SPECIESNEWRETURNRECAP
Gray catbird5
Bicknell’s thrush1
Common yellowthroat1
Black-throated blue warbler1
Painted bunting3
 # BIRDS CAPTURED# SPECIES# NETSNET HOURSCAPTURE RATE (BIRDS/100NH)
DAILY TOTAL10523102.512.1210.73
SEASON TOTAL2313542310226.8026.42
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