Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Project PROTHO's First Day Bandings

As noted yesterday, Project PROTHO has begun at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. The hunt for Prothontary Warblers (PW) (Protonotaria citrea) did not begin auspiciously. It took some walking around the 1.75-mile boardwalk before we found a singing male. However, after setting up the mist net (see first image), we were unable to lure the bird closer to the net even though we were playing a "rival" male's song through speakers under the net. In the second image, a foam ball thrown into the mist net shows how the net gives without hurting a bird before the bird drops into the net's pouch and becomes tangled.

After failing to capture our first target, we moved along the boardwalk and watched a Barred Owl (Strix varia) hunting crayfish. Perched above the water, the owl can see through the water to the crayfish moving across the bottom. The owl missed its prey during the only attempt we observed, but quickly took up watch on a nearby limb.

Just beyond the sign for the 1000-year-old cyress tree, we heard another male PW signing quietly. Watching us set up the mist net was a Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) basking on a fallen tree. Once again, the PW was not interested in the male calling from the iPod and we eventually packed up for the move down the boardwalk.

Finally, the setup on the way out to Goodson Lake captured a male Prothonotary Warbler...the first of 2009! Two PWs were banded before the birds migrated south last year. After removing the bird from the net, the aluminum identification number band plus the three color bands were placed on the the bird's legs. The aluminum band is issued by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Bird Banding Laboratory as part of the North American Bird Banding Program. The USGS is notified whenever a band is found or read from a captured bird. Any information associated with that recovery is shared with the original banders. Therefore, we may learn where Beidler Forest birds go on migration or what birds use Beidler Forest as a stopover during their migration. The colors each are assigned a number and are read from the lower left around to the lower right, so the first bird is A024 (A=aluminum; 0=purple/white; 2=pink; 4=yellow). The color bands are strictly for identifying PWs along the boardwalk at Beidler Forest without needing to recapture the individual birds. After having its wing measured, its feathers examined, its mass measured and its picutre taken, the bird was released. The male flew to a nearby branch and immediately began examining his new leg accessories!

Later captures were made near the first rain shelter at #9. Two male PWs, one female PW (not as brightly yellow as males), and a Northern Parula (Parula americana) were measured and banded. Only the PWs received the extra colored bands. While using the rain shelter as our banding station, we noticed two Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) snakes sunning themselves nearby.

Our final capture happened near #7 along the boardwalk. Two male PWs were harassing each other. After numerous passes under the mist net by both birds, one bird finally caught itself in the net. While we were banding the bird, the other male PW kept watch on a branch directly overhead...it even sang. As soon as we released the banded PW, the unbanded PW attacked and drove the banded PW into the water. Both birds then began a stare-off from perches within five feet of each other.

We would have enjoyed the opportunity to continue our observations, but the day was quickly coming to a close and the equipment needed to be put away before we headed home. Fortunately, like the 1000+-year-old cypress trees, the PWs will be here when we return. It is going to be an exciting season for Prothonotary Warbler-related activities!

Images by Mark Musselman

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