Tuesday, May 05, 2009

She's Back!

Monday, at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, was spent banding Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) in support of Project PROTHO. After a month of once-a-week banding, we have banded 29 new Prothonotary Warblers to go with the two birds banded at the end of last year's season. Below are the Twitter updates sent from the boardwalk that winds through the old-growth swamp with this blog's comments in italics. We were out from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm with volunteers coming and going during that period. Note that there was no lunch break this time as our banding manhoods were called into question after the last banding session.

TheSwampThingMale prothonotary at #104 plus 2 white-eyed vireos

The Prothonotary Warbler received the metal USGS bird lab band with the 9-digit identification number and three colored bands for identification at Beidler Forest without the need to recapture. The White-eyed Vireo pair (male and female) received only the metal USGS identification band after flying into the net as we banded the Prothonotary Warbler.

TheSwampThingTerritorial dispute at #135. Net going up.

This spot appears to be at the edge of two banded birds' territories, but there was also an unbanded male accompanying an unbanded female. The males were too busy harassing each other and did not respond to the recording of a male Prothonotary Warbler singing.

TheSwampThingSaw 1 of 2 prothos banded last yr! First time!

At the "T" in the boardwalk near #142, there has been plenty of action. This appears to be prime Prothonotary Warbler territory as it was the first place the birds appeared and remains densely populated. Territories appear to be much smaller as there are more birds competing for space in this area. With all the Prothonotary Warbler activity, both banded and unbanded, we have actively observed and netted in this area and volunteers/guests have submitted numerous observation data sheets for this area. Therefore, it is puzzling as to whey A002 has yet to be observed and identified.

A002 is special because she is one of two birds banded at the end of the last season before the Prothonotary Warblers migrated to Central America and northern South America! This is the first bird sighted in a subsequent year. A002 was captured on 7/28/08 on the fire lines that separate the dense, recently-logged (approx. 10 years) land from the upland forest that surrounds the nature center. There are no Prothonotary Warblers in that area at this time of the year. A002 weighs less than a dozen raisins, flew 1000-2000 miles south and then the same distance to return to Beidler Forest!

TheSwampThingProtho pair feeding chicks near #144.

Only the female was banded and she was banded on the first day of this banding season. The male was already accompanying her, but he eluded capture. Repeated attempts on subsequent banding days failed to capture this male. It appeared that he could see the mist net and made distinct maneuvers around the net. However, with a nest and chicks, we hoped he might get careless and fly into the net.

TheSwampThingMale protho finally in net! Wily! Nest pair banded.

The banded pair at the nest are female = A028 (pink over orange) and male = A057 (red over black). This is the first nest pair banded. The male, A057, did not make it easy. He was interest in the recording of a male Prothonotary Warbler singing, but he simply perched nearby and looked at the CD player on the handrail of the boardwalk. The mist net was set up directly under the nest, which is approximately 12 feet off the ground in the cavity of a thin snag. Once we put a museum specimen into the net, even though it was a female Prothonotary Warbler, the unbanded male made closer and closer passes. However, it remained apparent that the bird either saw the net or suspected the trap as it hovered and moved in slowly. As it turned out, too slowly to fall into the pockets of the net and he was able to disengage himself and fly off. This happened three times before an aggressive pass trapped him in the net's pocket.

If possible, we will band the chicks after their legs have reached adult size, but before they can leave the nest. Due to the nest's height above the ground and the likely weakness of the thin, rotted trunk in which it is located, it may not be possible to safely reach the nest.

TheSwampThingFemale protho taking nest material 30m up! What?

TheSwampThingCorrection: 10m or 30ft

Lesson learned: text slowly and proofread before hitting the "send" button. The nest in the bend of a tupelo gum tree was 30 feet or 10 meters above the ground (red dot in image). Even though the initial message reported an erroneous height, 30 feet (10m) is still much higher than we thought Prothonotary Warblers would nest.

We first observed the unbanded female seconds before she mated with a banded male, A024 (pink over yellow), near #148. After mating, the female began gathering nesting material and flew high into the canopy. We lost sight of her, but assumed that she flew some distance, because Prothonotary Warblers don't nest that high! However, we observed numerous trips to gather nesting material under the watchful eye of male A024 and return trips to the same cavity high in the tupelo tree. She remained in the cavity for extended periods of time, so one can assume that she was making something out of the materials she carried there. We'll be looking into Prothonotary Warbler research to see if there are other reports of high-nesting birds of this species. We can say with certainty that we will not be banding any chicks raised in that nest!

TheSwampThingBarred owls hooting. Unbanded male protho at #167

This unbanded male was a surprise as this marginal territory at the edge of the swamp appeared to be claimed and well-defended by another banded male. We decided to set up the mist net and see if we could entice the unbanded male bird into the net.

TheSwampThingProtho in net less than 10 sec after cd played!

Jeff, director of bird conservation for Audubon South Carolina, had not even cleared the net after turning on the CD player when the unbanded male Prothonotary Warbler flew into the mist net! Easily a new record for capture speed.

Another day of banding and more questions generated than answered! You can help answer some of these questions by taking a Project PROTHO observation sheet along with you as you tour the boardwalk. Any data that you can collect will help us determine the size of the birds' territories at various locations along the boardwalk, help us identify nest sites, and help us identify relationships between birds. Soon you will also be able to check on any banded bird by visiting that bird's webpage!

Images by Mark Musselman

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