Posts Tagged ‘Common Yellowthroat’

Daily bird walks are conducted at 7am, where we identify every bird we observe by sight or sound. So far, we have documented 37 bird species on Ship Island. Below are a few photos of the new species saw this week, including Common Yellowthroat, Wilson’s Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.

The last few days we have been intensively pulling garlic mustard. Garlic mustard is an invasive weed that grows in what seems to be large clusters here on Ship Island. We have scoured the island, pulling all of the flowering plants and spraying the base as well as the rosettes with vinegar. Our efforts over the last two days have filled 7 large trash bags.


Olivia pulling garlic mustard

Today, we spent a few hours over on Bar Island to document a shell midden found two years ago. On the island we searched for any sign of mammalian predators, finding very few raccoon tracks and scat. While walking the beach we also found a Lion’s Mane jellyfish that had washed up in the tide.

We look forward to the nesting season and hope to find eggs within the next few days!

Your 2018 Ship Island Crew                                                                                                                  ~Olivia and Bailey

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Our efforts on Ship Island focus so heavily on tern monitoring, that we seldom mention the other species that spend their summer on the island. We made an earlier post about migrants, but I’d like to outline some of our everyday, non-tern sightings.

Two species of warbler are our brightest residents, their brilliant colors visible even through the growing foliage. Yellow Warblers, as their name implies, are a fantastic yellow hue throughout, with some red or brown markings on the breast. We have at least one pair in the grove, where the female was gathering nest material earlier in the season. A few Common Yellowthroats’ “Wichety-wichety-wichety” can be heard around the island, with them making an occasional feeding foray just outside the cabin window.

Male Common Yellowthroat outside our cabin window

Male Common Yellowthroat outside our cabin window

While not as striking as the warblers, three sparrow species make their homes on Ship, with at least two of them breeding here. Our two dozen or so Song Sparrows are one of the most common streaky sparrows found throughout much of the U.S. and Canada. Their reddish caps and tails set them apart from our equally numerous Savannah Sparrows. Savannah Sparrows are smaller and have a bright yellow spot right above their eye. A more recent arrival has been the Nelson’s Sparrow, of which we have seen only two. Smaller even than the Savannah, the Nelson’s have a strange call somewhere between a hiss and a sigh that we can often hear near the small wetland in the middle of the island.

Nelson's Sparrow calling from atop our solar panel

Nelson’s Sparrow calling from atop our solar panel

Terns are often lauded for their aerial acrobatics, but we have at least one pair of nesting Bank Swallows which can match them zig for zag. Much smaller than the terns, the swallows zip around the island gulping up small flying insects and turning on a dime. Their nest is near the top of the bluff, where they have excavated a small hole.

Several shorebird species make use of the island’s tideline for foraging, but only one species, the Spotted Sandpiper, nests here. Their peeping call and constant tail-bobbing set them apart from other species. We have found two nests and suspect that there are at least three more, hidden under tufts of grass.

Spotted Sandpiper nest with 4 eggs

Spotted Sandpiper nest with 4 eggs

No island bird post would be complete without mentioning our Mallards. A well-known and common duck throughout North America, we have at least three females currently roaming the island with clutches of ducklings.

Female Mallard with her ducklings

Female Mallard with her ducklings

Until next time!


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While our terns are busy incubating their eggs, I thought I’d take some time to fill everyone in on some of the other birdlife here on Ship Island.

Although they might be the most numerous, Common Terns aren’t the only birds that nest on Ship.  In fact, Jill and I usually wake up to the sounds of song birds, not sea birds. Six species in particular call Ship their summer home:  three sparrows, two warblers, and a swallow. Many local birders will find most, if not all, of these to be familiar Maine residents.

First up is the melodious Song Sparrow. Although they may lack the sleek elegance of a tern, they make up for it with a distinct voice. We estimate there to be about six pairs nesting on Ship, although they’re loud enough to be heard on every part of the island.

Our second sparrow is the sonorous Savannah Sparrow.  At first glance they look quite similar to a Song Sparrow, but they sport some flashy yellow eyebrows (technically called the supercilliam). Again, we believe we have about six pairs nesting on the shrubby interior of Ship Island. We often see both Savannah and Song Sparrows chasing each other around the island.

A Savannah Sparrow

Our third sparrow is the more elusive Nelson’s Sparrow.  We’ve only spotted two of these on the island so far, but we’re hoping to find more. Compared to the warbles, cheeps, and trills of the Savannah and Song Sparrows, the song of the Nelson’s Sparrow is quite distinct: a sharp hiss, which reminds me of a burger being dropped onto a hot grill.

A Nelson’s Sparrow

Besides those three sparrows, our most numerous non-tern residents are warblers: Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers.

With their distinctive black masks, Common Yellowthroat males are quiet striking. They’re also far from the secretive tree-top dwellers many birders think of when they hear the word “warbler.” Our Yellowthroats are most often seen perched on the top of a bramble or other shrub, singing their hearts out like the fellow below. We’ve got at least three pairs nesting on the island.

A male Common Yellowthroat

Yellow Warblers are usually the first bird I hear in the mornings, probably because we’ve got a pair nesting right next to the cabin.  We’ve got perhaps four or five nests of these flashy little, and it’s not uncommon to see pairs of males chasing each other around the middle of the island.

A male Yellow Wabler

Our final bird for today is a change-up from the first five birds I’ve listed. Our seven resident Bank Swallows are in almost constant motion. They’ve set up shop under the bluff of the high side of the island. Presumably, they have a burrow there, but we haven’t managed to spot it. We’re keeping our eyes open, though. Until then, we’ve been enjoying the gurgling calls and acrobatic maneuvers of these zippy little birds. So far, they’ve proven faster than my camera, so here’s a shot of where we suspect they’re living:

Here’s the bank, but where are the Bank Swallows? So far, they’re too fast for my camera.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Seabirds, Shorebirds, and other Swimmers!

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Well, now that the excitement and anticipation for the first tern chicks has subsided, we thought it was time for a little landbird interlude.  Below are some of the featured species captured during our spring migration monitoring on Metinic this year.

The second year (SY) male Rose-breasted Grosbeak pictured below, aged by the contrasting black and brown feathers on the wing, was just one of a few of its species banded this season (SY means it hatched out last summer).  Unlike most other passerines where it is strictly the female that incubates the eggs, male Grosbeaks often help with this aspect of parental care.  Among passerines, males are typically the song-makers, however, female Grosbeaks will also sing their robin-like song quietly when changing places with the male on the nest.

While every bander hopes to have a bird they banded captured elsewhere, that is not the main purpose of most modern day banding efforts.  It is the data collected during the banding process that provides details about each individual that is especially valuable.  This kind of information cannot be obtained through other methods.  For example, identifying age and sex ratios enables us to structure demographics of populations, and body mass and fat measurements provide information about the condition of each bird at the time of capture.

Our first foreign recap! This SY male Common Yellowthroat shows off his band.

With that said, every bander still hopes to find that needle-in-a-haystack, and on May 31st , WE DID!  It was not surprising to walk up to a net on Metinic and see a Common Yellowthroat, it was not surprising to find it had already been banded (there is actually quite the population of breeding Yellowthroats on the island), but it was surprising, and I recognized instantly, that we had not banded it!

This foreign recapture (i.e. a bird captured more than 90 miles away from the location of its original banding) was originally banded on Plum Island, Massachusetts (a station run by Parker River NWR) on May 21st.  Ten days and 110 miles later, he found his way into one of our nets on Metinic Island.  Only future recaptures would tell us for sure, but it appears as though he may have been setting up a breeding territory on Metinic.  I noted a developing cloacal protuberance, which indicates that a male is in breeding condition, and he had dropped from 11.0g at original capture to 9.7g, suggesting he was no longer in a migratory state.

A handsome shot of “George”, affectionately named by his original captors.

Because of their prevalence on the island, we would expect Common Yellowthroats to be the number one species banded, but they were surpassed this year by Magnolia Warbler(93 to 90).  While Magnolia Warblers breed in Maine and at higher elevation sites throughout New England, more than 50% of their global breeding population is dependent upon the boreal forests to our north.  Because these habitats are especially sensitive to changes in climate and are increasingly threatened by timbering practices and oil and natural gas development, it is important that we closely monitor boreal dependent species.  With their populations largely occurring in remote, inaccessible areas, it is important that monitoring efforts continue where concentrations of these birds occur during migration.  Through the partnership between the Refuge and the University of Maine and a number of other network collaborators, we are doing our part to study and conserve these species throughout the Gulf of Maine.

The Magnolia Warbler (SY male pictured above) was once called the Black-and-Yellow Warbler. Interestingly, the current name came from an observation made of this species in a magnolia tree during migration. Other than now sharing a name, there is no connection with this species’ life history and its namesake.

Finally, when we caught the male and female Blackburnian Warblers pictured below together in the net, we just couldn’t pass up on this great opportunity for comparison, and photo taking!  The male’s flame orange throat is probably this species most striking and unique feature.  It is actually the only North American warbler with an orange throat.  As with many of the other migrants banded this spring, Blackburnian Warblers are considered neo-tropical migrants, meaning they breed in Canada or the U.S. during our summers and winter in Mexico, Central, or South America.  Months prior to being captured on Metinic, these two birds departed from South America, and possibly from as far south as Peru or Bolivia.

A male (left) and female (right) Blackburnian Warbler. As with most dimorphic bird species, the males are more brightly colored and conspicuous than females.

Authored by Adrienne J. Leppold with Courtney Viall (and special guests Charlie Walsh and Jennie Wiacek).  All photos by Adrienne J. Leppold.

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