Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hawk Ridge October Banding Summary, 2015

Hawk Ridge October Banding Summary

October Passerine Banding Report by Dave Alexander

With the exception of one five day period, October was again warm. This slowed and spread out the passerine migration. Despite the unusual weather conditions, we were able to band passerines at the main station for portions of 12 days in October.  101 birds were banded including 20 species. Our only new species for the month was Hairy woodpecker. The most numerous species were Ruby-crowned kinglet, Hermit Thrush, and Slate-colored Junco. We had late records in mid-October of Nashville and Orange-crowned Warbler, and American Redstart.

October Passerine Banding Report at the Hawk Ridge Overlook by Margie Menzies

October banding at the Overlook yielded 48 birds in 6 days of banding. 11 species were captured including 5 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 1 Golden-crowned Kinglet, 18 Black-capped Chickadees, 7 Slate-colored Juncos (Dark-eyed Juncos in your bird book), 1 Myrtle Warbler (Yellow-rumped Warbler in your bird book), 1 Blackpoll Warbler, 1 Red-breasted Nuthatch, 2 American Tree Sparrows, 9 White-throated Sparrows, 1 White-crowned Sparrow, and 2 Downy Woodpeckers. 22 birds were recaptured. October was slightly better than September for overall numbers, a little over half the birds banded at the overlook, and weather was more favorable for mist nets in October, particularly in the last couple of sessions.

A total of 85 birds were banded at the Overlook in September and October during 13 days. 20 species were represented including 7 species of warblers: Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Tennessee, American Redstart, Western Palm, Myrtle, and Blackpoll Warblers, 5 species of sparrows: White-throated, White-crowned, American Tree, Slate-colored Junco, and Fox Sparrow. Other birds banded included Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chicakdees, Downy Woodpeckers and Swainson’s Thrush.

This year the Black-capped Chickadee was the most numerous species captured at 27 individuals, with the White-throated Sparrows taking second place with 23 birds. Third place is a tie between the Ruby-crowned Kinglets ad Slate colored Juncos at 7 each, 3 Downy Woodpeckers took fifth.

There were 30 recaptures through the season, but some birds were recaptured multiple times, including one over-achieving Hatch Year Chickadee, who was captured 4 times during the season! In the end there were 20 individual birds recaptured, 19 of which were Black-capped Chickadees and 1 Red-breasted Nuthatch. Of the 19 Chickadees recaptured 10 were birds banded at the overlook in 2015. 9 birds were from previous years or from the main banding station.

Margie Menzies by Karen Stubenvoll
Many thanks to the dedicated overlook passerine banding volunteers: Katie Brey, Brianna Borka, Deborah Faul, Andy Witchger, Ben Glisczinski, and Eliza Grames, I couldn’t do it without you all!

October Owl Banding Report by Ryan Steiner

The early part of October marked the peak of Northern Saw-whet Owl migration.  Easily the busiest part of the fall migration in the owl banding shed, it is expected that even on nights when the wind is coming up from the south we would still catch over 30 owls while nights with good winds meant getting over 100 saw-whets was possible.  With so many Northern Saw-whets coming through the station, you start noticing the differences between each individual.  With variable amounts of white on the face, throat, and chest each saw-whet looks a little different from the last and every once in a while a beautiful bird with buffy or rusty plumage will stand out from the rest.  As each of these owls were banded and released, we saw our season total rise in leaps and bounds as the month progressed and ended October having banded 1,409 Northern Saw-whet Owls.  
A large chunk of this total was caught on October 6.  The wind was blowing from the northwest that night so I knew we should rack of a good total, but as we checked the nets the first few hours we barely caught anything at all.  The wind speed was high and it seemed the owls weren’t moving.  Finally, at 10:00 the winds suddenly dropped off to almost nothing and the owls began to move.  On the next two nets runs we caught 9 owls, a good but easily manageable number.  On the next net run we walked out expecting a similar number but were shocked to find 46 owls had been caught in the last half hour!  The night took off from there.  I found myself stuck in the banding shed processing owls as quickly as I could while all those who could came out and extracted birds from the nets, walking the loop with almost no break and coming back with armfuls of saw-whet owls!  When dawn came and we released the last owl back into the forest we were exhausted but excited to have caught 238 Northern Saw-whet Owls in a single night, one of the best single night totals ever at Hawk Ridge!

Reed Turner recording molt data photo by Miranda Durbin

Northern Saw-whet Owls photo by Ryan Steiner

As October has come to a close the saw-whet peak has come and past, and now these small owls are only coming through as a trickle of late migrants.  Replacing them however are the Long-eared Owls.  Our first Long-ear was caught in the morning hours of the big saw-whet night on October 6 and we haven’t looked back since.  Although they have a much worse temper than the mild mannered saw-whets, the Long-eared Owls with their beautiful mottled and barred plumage have to be my favorite.  Watching them stream overhead on their long wings as the first light touches the eastern sky is incredible, even knowing we are missing many of these difficult to capture birds.  Each night of favorable winds sees Frank Nicoletti out at the owl banding station with us on a mission to capture 30 Long-eareds in a single night, a difficult feat.  Although we came close many times, it wasn’t until the very end of the month, on October 29, that we were finally able to reach this goal.  Even on that night we found ourselves stuck at 29 for a few hours until we found the last bird caught in front of the caller on the very last net check.  At the end of October we have caught 98 Long-eared Owls for the season, within striking distance of the 100 mark with a little luck in November.

Long-eared Owl photo by Ryan Steiner

It would be impossible to give the highlights of October without mentioning Barred Owls as well.  This season has been an incredible year for this species at Hawk Ridge.  The previous record for captures of this species was 9, a number which we have shattered, having doubled that number by catching 18 individuals by the end of October!  The most exciting of these was the Barred that tied the old record, who we found sitting on a branch next to the net, unable to fly away as we ran up and grabbed it due to tangle of net that had ensnared three of its toes.  From Barred Owl records to big Northern Saw-whet Owl and Long-eared Owl flights, October has been an exciting month.  In the coming month we hope to add to our already big season totals (and get over a hundred Long-eared Owls) for a strong end of the season in the first part of November.

Ryan Steiner with a Barred Owl photo by Miranda Durbin

October Raptor Banding Report by Frank Nicoletti

Hawk banding during October was slow and conditions were unfavorable to capturing hawks and resulted in only 394 birds banded, luckily enough owls kept us all busy. No real cold front and thus no northwest-west winds came which kept raptors often high and off the ridge. The one exception was a strong front 13-17 of the month which produced the majority of the Northern Goshawk and Red-tailed Hawk for the month. There were some highlights;  season first Rough-legged Hawk, banded at Moose Valley, forth Bald Eagle of the season and an adult borealis x harlan's Red-tailed Hawk.

Adult male Northern Harrier photo by Frank Nicoletti

Rough-legged Hawk photo by Miranda Durbin
"Northern" Red-tailed Hawk photo by Kate Nicoletti
borealis x harlan's Red-tailed Hawk photo by Karl Bardon

Hawks banded during the month 394, and season totals (2098) are as follows: Bald Eagle-1 (4), Northern Harrier-20 (48), Sharp-shinned Hawk-256 (1728), Cooper's Hawk-2 (37), Northern Goshawk-47 (54), Broad-winged Hawk 0 (15), Red-tailed Hawk-52 (88), Rough-legged Hawk-1 (1), American Kestrel-3 (34), Merlin-11 (78), Peregrine Falcon-1 (11).

Frank Nicoletti
Banding Director

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Meet our banding crew!

by Karen Stubenvoll, HRBO board chair and banding station volunteer

Now that the season is winding down, we would like to introduce you to the team that has been working tirelessly in the background since August 15, banding raptors and providing data for ongoing research projects at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory.

First and foremost, our Banding Director, Frank Nicoletti:
 Frank first came to Duluth in 1991 as the hawk counter to study Northern Goshawk irruptive cycles. His hawk counting created an upward "blip" in the graphs of raptor totals, dubbed the "Nicoletti Effect", both for his skill & keen eyes at identifying hawks, and also for the increased hours & days of hawk counting. Frank moved here permanently in 1996, and eventually became our banding director in 2011. Frank is well-known in raptor circles for his expertise, and leads raptor ID field trips at Braddock Bay, New York. Frank also guides winter birding field trips in St Louis County MN  and Douglas County WI, and he volunteers for the Raptorthon (a fundraiser for the Hawk Migration Association of North America) every year.
It's difficult to pin him down on one favorite raptor. The Northern Hawk Owl is the "ultimate" raptor, in Frank's opinion, a very special bird, and in fact Frank travels to the bog areas of northern Minnesota in the wintertime to band Northern Hawk Owls. Another of his all-time favorite raptors is the Red-tailed Hawk, because each RTHA is different and uniquely beautiful.

Photo from the archives of Frank Nicoletti with Red-tailed Hawk (by Karen Stubenvoll)

Next, someone who is rarely seen in the daylight hours -- our owl bander, Ryan Steiner. Although it's his first year at Hawk Ridge, Ryan has been banding owls for several seasons, including with Scott Weidensaul at Hawk Mountain PA. He also has been involved with ornithological research projects in Borneo and Australia.
What's cool about owl banding: "Owls, but particularly the Northern Saw-whet Owl, are extremely charismatic and cute but are very rarely seen.  During peak migration, while banding owls I can see 50 to over a hundred owls in a night and get to hear all of their amazing calls that otherwise I would never get to hear.  The realization that there are over a hundred owls in such a small area really brings the world of these secretive birds in perspective.  It blows my mind that there can be so many owls on the landscape that I must be walking past every day without noticing!"

Ryan Steiner with Barred Owl (by Alex Lamoreaux)

Raptor bander Miranda Durbin is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife. She started as a volunteer with Hawk Ridge, then became a naturalist with Peregrine Watch, then a banding station volunteer, and now with her expertise, has gained a sub-permit and is running a banding station under Frank's supervision. She bands hawks, owls, & passerines, but is concentrating this season on diurnal raptors. She & her husband Joe also run a business,
What's cool about raptor banding: "I really enjoy the opportunity to see the birds up close.  Their eye colors and feather patterns are gorgeous and fascinating.  That's something you can't see from a distance.  I also enjoy watching them come in, seeing and learning the different methods each species takes when approaching." For instance, "watching an adult male shin come to a dead stop (with the help of the wind) when it got up to and saw the net, then fly around it."

Miranda Durbin with male Merlin (by Valerie Slocum)


This year we have had 2 banding station trainees, Alan Moss & Reed Turner. Requirements of being a trainee include "no raptor banding experience", and willingness to work hard & learn.  Both of them have been fantastic to have in the banding station, and made exponential progress in their skills:

Alan Moss is from the Florida panhandle, and is a graduate of Florida State University. He has done ornithological field work at various locales, including the Chiricahua Mountains of New Mexico. What cool about raptor banding: "Being able to see raptors stooping all day. It's something that you only rarely get to see when out birding."

Alan Moss with Northern Harrier (by Karen Stubenvoll)

Reed Turner of Minneapolis decided on a career change. He left sustainable agricultural, and is pursuing his passion, which is birds. In addition to his banding station duties, he helped out on the count platform with the big landbird migrations. He has been an avid birder for quite a few years & a volunteer with the Western Great Lakes Owl Monitoring Survey, and is looking forward to competing in next year's St Louis County Birdathon!
What's cool about raptor banding:"While a raptor banding station is primarily a research facility, you cannot ignore the sheer awesomeness of witnessing a hawk dive into the station. From the moment their eyes see the lures, set their wings and go into a stoop, it is quite the sight to behold. Even those birds that elude capture are amazing to watch, as they weave and dart around the station, avoiding nets at the last moment with seemingly impossible ease. Besides being a thrilling experience, banding allows for a detailed understanding of raptors that even the most powerful binoculars cannot offer. For example, by examining various sharp-shins in-hand, we can study their molt pattern and assign specific ages to the birds. I am continuously fascinated by the differences in feather wear, eye color and plumage between HY, SY and ASY sharpies, observations that would be near impossible by other means. Also, saw-whets are way cool little creatures."

Reed Turner with hatch year Broad-winged Hawk (by Karen Stubenvoll)

And last but not least, our volunteer raptor & passerine bander David Alexander! David works a regular job at Essentia Health as a radiologist, but when he can take vacation in the fall, he spends it at Paine Farm or Moose Valley banding station. He has been hooked on raptor banding since the Great Gray Owl irruption of 2003-2004, and also has taught passerine banding both at Hawk Ridge & at Braddock Bay in New York. In the wintertime, he drives through the bog areas of northern Minnesota to band Great Gray Owls and Northern Hawk Owls. We couldn't manage without you Dave!

David Alexander releasing Merlin at Moose Valley (by Amber Burnette)
Thanks to our banding team for a fantastic season!