This migration season in Florida is fast coming to a close but it has not been without its high points. The Florida Keys Hawk-watch broke the world record for number of Peregrine Falcons recorded in a single day – a stunning 651 birds! And at the South Florida Birding Observatory we have been banding a few surprises over the past weeks. This research station is located on Key Biscayne and is providing interesting data on migration over the eastern Florida coast, an area with high human population density. Since 2002, the five most numerous species banded at the nets are as follows in descending order: Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ovenbird, American Redstart, Gray Catbird and Black-and-white Warbler. 2005 was a really interesting year with several notable rarities: Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Thick-billed Vireo and Townsend’s Warbler. This year there have also been several notable observations.
First up is the high number of Swainson’s Warblers that we have successfully banded. These really interesting warblers belong to the monotypic genus Limnothlypis and its not hard to see why these birds are the sole members of their genus. Their weird bills are used to flip over leaves as the birds forage on the ground. Swainson’s Warblers are seldom-seen and mostly uncommon so its great to see them coming through South Florida in healthy numbers. We have had a record season for these birds and have banded 27 to date this fall.
A nice Swainson’s Warbler in the hand. Note the long bill and drab plumage.
Robin from the South Florida Bird Observatory talks about a Swainson’s Warbler
The 17th of September yielded a strongly-suspected Yellow-green Vireo, a bird which is normally only recorded in South Texas. There have only been a couple of records for Florida so this is a particularly interesting record and is the first ever record at the observatory, if indeed this is what is confirmed. This bird is notoriously difficult to separate in the field from the similar – and much more common – Red-eyed Vireo. Useful identification features are the absence of a solid black border on the gray cap of the Yellow-Green, the less distinct white supercilium in the Yellow-green and the larger, pale bill and bright yellow undertail of the Yellow-green.
A Yellow-green Vireo in the hand
A few weeks ago we banded and released a Black-billed Cuckoo which was a really interesting record, especially as we have not banded any Yellow-billed Cuckoos this year, a much more common bird during migration in Florida.
A rare Black-billed Cuckoo banded in South Florida
Just 10 days ago we got another great surprise, a Philadelphia Vireo, only the third ever record for the observatory.
Note the nice bluish feet of this Philadelphia Vireo
Master Bander Michelle Davis talks about this nice Philadelphia Vireo
And, if like me, you never thought of bird banding as controversial read here for an interesting discussion.
Great post, James! I just started banding in the Netherlands. Isn’t it special? To hold a Goldcrest in the palm of your hand and to hear its little heart beating – that’s something else!
The discussion about banding is interesting. But a fundamental question remains: how can you ever prove a negative impact on the birds if you can’t compare with unbanded birds, for which of course there is no data?
Sorry, just wanted to put my last post in perspective. Reading it back it seems as if I meant to say that the awesome experience of being that close to a bird would in itself justify banding birds. That is, of course, not what I meant. Banding should have a justifiable scientific purpose. But this does not mean that the experience of handling the bird should not leave us in awe. Sorry to perhaps make the wrong impression.
Only a spoilt-rotten birder who spends a significant amount of time in the Tropics would call the plumage of a Swainson’s Warbler “drab”! 🙂 😉
Very nice post, James! Very nice. And I never noticed the blue feet of the Philly! Thanks for highlighting that amazing detail.
@Jochen: Yes, I guess I could’ve been more complimentary! Its amazing how much more you notice when you have a bird in the hand. Thanks for reading Jochen!
I am very interested in getting involved in bird banding. Do you know does the South Florida Bird Observatory, or any other place in south Florida offer training sessions? I have some preliminary experience from the Appledore Migration Banding Station earlier this summer as part of a field ornithology course.