Spring and Summer of 2015


After several years of drought and dwindling numbers of birds and species, the winter of 2014/2015 resulted in the fewest number of winter birds and species banded since we started our work at the Hummer House. We entered 2015 with high hopes but not knowing what we might expect during the spring migration and early summer breeding seasons. What followed was the wettest spring in many years for the Concho Valley. In a short few months, more moisture was received than the annual totals for the drought years. It was often difficult, if not impossible to reach our banding areas near the south Concho River because of impassable roads. However, we made valiant efforts to band there by walking into that area and carrying our banding equipment. Not a single result was worthy of our effort. We have consistently banded the fewest number of passerines that we have ever banded during the spring migration at the Hummer House. We finished spring migration with less than half our normal number of migrant species.

Not only were passerine numbers and species in short supply, the hummingbird numbers at the Hummer House were well below average for that site. Passerine banding efforts at sites in the Concho Valley were very similar to those at the Hummer House and the hummingbirds at those sites were well below average. In contrast to the Concho Valley, the Burditt Ranch in the Hill Country was the site of swarms of hummingbirds for entire spring. It seemed as though all of the missing hummingbirds in the Concho Valley stopped there and never came north.To this date, our best and most important records are the hummingbirds that we caught at the Burditt Ranch during the spring migration that were originally banded at the Hummer House. These records offer further evidence of migration routes used by some of the Black-chinned Hummingbirds as they pass through west Texas.

With even common birds present in reduced numbers across the Concho Valley, we have a puzzle unlike others that we have encountered in our banding experience. It could be that the cumulative effects of our extended drought have finally resulted in these numbers. It could also be true that populations are at or above numbers seen during the drought years.  It is possible that the lush vegetation, plentiful insect populations, and scattered water sources from the record rainfall have allowed those populations that have been restricted by the drought to spread out across the region into areas not covered by our banding stations.

The  true answer probably lies somewhere between those extremes. Inspection of nest sites and the number of hatching year birds encountered indicate a smaller than average population.  However, the presence of nesting sites throughout  the environment indicates a scattering of the populations. Just when you believe that you have all the answers, you realize the questions are not nearly as simple as first indicated and many things factor into the equations that you have never considered. 
2014 Comes To An End

After five years of designed systematic banding at the different banding stations located at the Hummer House Ranch, it can be safely said that while we remain consistent in our efforts, the weather and birds have been anything but consistent. We started 2014 with almost no measurable rainfall for the first six months of the year. This was followed in late May by a ten inch deluge over the South Concho River watershed that flooded the river and some of the flood plain. The remainder of the year received near normal rainfall and we entered the fall with great food resources waiting for fall and winter migrants. Mother Nature gave a party and almost no one came.
We had good numbers of summer breeding birds but when these birds migrated very few came to replace them. We finished the season with over 600 Painted Buntings for our research but the main fall migration of 2014 was almost absent.  We banded the fewest fall migrants since I have banded there. We have grown accustomed to the arrival of winter migrants in November, however this year they were mostly absent. A few bluebirds were present in November but they soon left for other places. We waited patiently for the winter birds and most never came.

We were short some fifteen species of otherwise common migrant birds that were not encountered in the year.  Our yearly total was nearly 1000 birds below our total for 2013 when the effects of the drought seemed worse and resources were more limited.  Our one shining moment in the fall came with the banding of the first Swamp Sparrow ever banded at the Hummer Ranch. Although these birds are common migrants and good habitat exists in several places on the ranch, none had ever been encountered there. This brings the total species banded on the ranch to 157 species and two hybrids. Much of the shortfall in numbers and species for the year were the result of the limited number of birds and species present in the fall and winter.
Words from Charles
Every so often, bird banders are asked to name their favorite bird or asked to name the rarest bird they have ever banded. I always reply to the first question with a simple " the last one". The answer to the second might be easy if a bird bander's experience was limited to a few birds or limited to a specific habitat but that is seldom the case. Banders that can identify and band eastern species birds in their sleep are suddenly challenged and mystified by a western species that is common in the west but rare in the east. Rarity is often a geographic issue. Even though we often post photos of eastern birds that are rare in west Texas, or western birds that do not often travel this far east, they are usually common somewhere.
The best and most relevant bird banders are those that confine their banding to specified locations and habitats over a period of years. They normally band hundreds or thousands of the same bird species to  develop a data base that can be used to establish movements, populations, breeding success and a host of other details about that species. Within this process the birds, the species, and the relative rarity of birds fade into a fog  with specific memories blurred not by time but by repetitions of similar events.  The same must  be said about the many banding demonstrations, the many  programs, and the kind people that we meet along the way. Therefore, we cannot often hang on to any specific day or specific bird. Instead, we have to be content with meeting and cherishing new friends, gathering the information needed to advance our understanding of the birds and sharing our lives and banding with those that are with us on that day.  We have little time to dwell on the past, we are too busy with the business at hand.

As we arrive at this conclusion, we have selected some of our events from  these past days that we hope will be of interest to you and increase your understanding of the birds that cross your life.

Winter  2014
Winter is not the most active time for banding even though we encounter some of our most interesting birds during this season. Our first effort of the year was a quick trip to Reagan Wells in Uvalde Country where we were able to band two Rufous Hummingbirds and one Allen's Hummingbird that were overwintering at that location. This was our second time in three years to band wintering hummingbirds there. Our second effort was a trip to Lajitas where we joined Kelly Bryan for a very cold morning of hummingbird  banding at the Lajitas Resort. In spite of the cold, we banded seventeen Anna's Hummingbirds along with six Rufous,  and one  Allen's Hummingbirds. We also recaptured a Blue-throated Hummingbird  and a Broad-billed Hummingbird that Kelly had previously banded.  It was a great day for us as we were able to gain experience with all these species and have our first experience with a Blue-throated Hummingbird.  At the Hummer House, we continued to net and band Western Bluebirds throughout the month of January. These birds are seldom seen or banded outside the Trans Pecos but we were fortunate enough to band several.
Spring 2014
In March, we joined the Biology Department of Angelo State University in their Biology Blitz Field Event for the Biology students that were there. We were privileged to net and band several nice birds that were of interest to the group. We also conducted our second year of Birding 101 and Hummingbirds 101 programs at the Hummer House and made preparation for a busy spring. Our winter weather was extremely dry and we entered the spring with doubts as to resources available for spring migration

April was an extremely busy month for our banding crew as most days during that month were scheduled for student/adult banding programs, camps, festivals and other presentations. Early in the month of April, I banded an adult female Red-Bellied Woodpecker at the Hummer House. This  raised our species total for that site to 156 species and two hybrid forms. This was the first Red-bellied Woodpecker banded in the Concho Valley. This female was present for some time in the area. Visual sightings were reported into late summer and raises the possibility of hybrid Red-bellied/Golden-fronted individuals  at the site. The remainder of April and early May were filled with demonstrations and festivals. The Hill Country Nature Quest at Concan, HEB Foundation Camp with Ballinger and Bronte Schools, Discovery Camp with Christoval students at the Hummer House, San Saba Nature Park Festival with San Saba students and many others kept us in constant motion for more than a month.
Summer 2014
We started our Summer MAPS program in mid-May with the weather still extremely dry and with concerns for all the bird life in our area. That concern was quickly replaced when more than nine inches of rainfall occurred in a short period of time during the last week of May. Many of the MAPS net lanes were washed away and others were underwater through the end of July. The flooding and heavy rainfall took a heavy toll on most nesting species along the river corridor. These drastic effects were evident when we attempted to band for the second session at our MAPS Station. The first effort produced 46 banded birds at the station and the second produced two banded birds and one recapture. Banding results in June and July were greatly reduced as birds rebuilt and attempted to nest  after the losses caused by the rain.

We continued our efforts throughout this time but found that the number of birds moving through many parts of the Hummer House Ranch were well below average for this season of the year. We spent several days banding  Black-chinned Hummingbirds at the Hummer House and at the Burditt Ranch near Leakey.  Efforts were also made to band Painted Buntings in the same time frame. This is normally the time that large numbers of hatching year birds swell the populations of both species to incredible numbers  at the Hummer House. We found very few hatching year birds in our efforts and we were ready to accept what seemed to be a very poor breeding year for these species.
More than two weeks later than one would expect in a normal year, we started to encounter very large numbers of hatching year birds representing most summer breeding species at the site. The one exception to this recovery was the MAPS Station which continued to have extremely low numbers of breeding adults and hatching year birds. With water and resources abundant over the  ranch after the big rains, the river habitat seems to have temporarily lost its importance for many species.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of our late summer banding was the presence of  record numbers of hatching year Blue Grosbeaks in the East Windmill Banding Station. They are always been present in good numbers on the ranch but this year, we doubled the previous record for this species in a single year at the ranch.

We head into the fall migration season with mixed feelings. This year has not been normal from a banding standpoint from the first of January to the start of fall migration and we do not expect this season to normal either.
The End of the Year
The end of 2013 marks the completion of our third complete year of regular, systematic bandings of passerine and near passerine birds in the three station areas of the Hummer House Ranch. The results continue to be quite different than the results compiled during the first sixteen plus years of bird banding at that location since most of our banding is in the natural habitats of the station areas. We completed this year having banded 3051 birds of 91 species. We had hundreds of returns of birds that were previously banded in other years at the Hummer Ranch. It is easy to be overcome with emotion as you consider all the miles, the dangers, and the God-given skills that allow the bird to arrive at a point within feet of the first encounter year after year. The returns give us much knowledge about the various species that inhabit the Hummer Ranch. We believe these three years of banding reflect the true status of the birds that live on and move through the ranch. To read more of the 2013 banding analysis for the Hummer Ranch, please click on the button above, “Hummer House Banding Records”. Links on the left show the summary records for 2013. We hope that you will enjoy the information of the Painted Bunting research analysis that has been added.
2013 Fall Migration
Last year's fall migration season produced far fewer numbers and species than expected at the Hummer Ranch. We reasoned that the drought in the mid-western states was the cause of this shortfall and hoped for better results in 2013. Although 2013 produced good results in many respects, those results could not be considered typical for the ranch. Many warbler species were later than normal in arriving and several species were quite reduced in numbers or failed to make an appearance. However, some species appeared in record numbers. We banded only one Orange-crowned Warbler in September. In previous years, we averaged about 40 Orange-crowned Warblers in the fall. At the same time, we banded record numbers of Yellow Warblers and Wilson's Warblers. Although smaller numbers of some species continued through October, they were still well below average numbers. The warbler data from the 2013 season will be unlike any of the data that we have recorded in the past six seasons.

Empidonax flycatchers appeared in good numbers early in the season and continued to be banded throughout September. Record numbers of Willow Flycatchers and Least Flycatchers were banded during the season. We also banded our first Acadian Flycatcher on the ranch and recorded our second Alder Flycatcher for the ranch during this time. The total number of these small flycatchers was higher than at any time that banding has been conducted on the ranch.

After an unusual fall migration season, we did not have high hopes for banding during the fall and early winter. The number of migrants drops dramatically during October and few birds are encountered until the arrival of wintering and interruptive species that often visit in November and December.  Although our numbers for this season are never large we have encountered several interesting species. Blue Jays have only been present at the ranch one year out of the past twenty-five but arrived in late October and we have banded several. In late October, we also managed to band our first Brown Thrasher on the ranch which raised our total species banded on the ranch to 153. In early November, we encountered a third Common Ground-Dove for the year, our second Fox Sparrow for the year and two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers along with our first winter sparrows. We were glad to recapture Song Sparrows, Lincoln Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Spotted Towhees that were originally banded in the 2010-2011 seasons. All of these were netted in the same areas where they were originally banded.  In late November, while banding winter birds at our East Windmill banding station we banded an adult male Western Bluebird. Although this species is sometimes seen at the ranch, this was the first of this species banded there and raised our total species on the ranch to 154 species and two hybrids. Unless we have unexpected success in the next few weeks, we will finish the year with 3150 birds of 92 species at the Hummer House. The total number of birds banded at the Hummer House now stands at 49230.

2013 Painted Buntings
The month of August always signals the end of summer breeding season, the end of our MAPS season, and the arrival of the first fall migrants at the Hummer House. At the end of the summer breeding season, we always turn our energies to banding hatching year Painted Buntings before they depart for their winter grounds. A large percentage of Painted Buntings raised on the ranch will return in future years to nest and raise their own young in that habitat. Recapturing these returning birds yields excellent data as to Painted Bunting survivability and the status of the breeding population on the ranch. As we compiled records for our study of this species in late August at the Hummer House, we banded our 6000th Painted Bunting at that site. We ended the season with 641 banded for the year and a total of 6035 since the first of this species was banded there some 19 years ago. This number represents about one-third of the Painted Buntings banded in the United States during this time period and nearly half the number of this species banded in Texas. Since we started our study some five years ago, more than two-thirds of Painted Buntings in Texas have been banded at this site. It was a good year for this species and many other breeding birds as they enjoyed excellent reproductive success after the historical drought of 2011. Such species as the Vermilion Flycatcher, Blue Grosbeak, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Bell's Vireo have experienced notable recoveries this season.