Fall Begins

The month of September is always dedicated to banding the neo-tropical migrants that pass through west Texas on their way to their wintering grounds in the south. The month started of typically enough during the first 10 days of the month. We had good numbers of migrant orioles, flycatchers and warblers netted in our efforts at the old Myers Spring ( SPR) and along the South Concho River (SCR). Although numbers never approached those of the same period in 2011 and our species count was more limited, there was little to indicate this was anything but a normal migrant banding season. 
At the end of the second week of the month, we left for Rockport , Texas to be part of the Hummerfest Festival that his held there each September. We arrived there and found good numbers of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to band for the many guests that come to that festival.  We set up for banding to start the next morning but awoke the next morning to the sounds of thunder and heavy rain. Although the rain soon cleared , we found most of the Ruby-throats had been moved out by  the front that generated  the rain. We struggled to trap enough birds for demonstration purposes throughout the next three days but managed. It was a sharp contrast to normal years when we band typically band hundreds of these birds during this time.

We returned home to resume our migrant banding project and found that the number of migrants and the number of migrant species was well below what we had encountered when we left for Rockport. Either a large percentage of migrants had passed our stations while we were in Rockport or the drought  that took place during breeding season  in the central United States had taken a toll on many of the species that migrate through our region.

During the last week of the month, we had a program for a group of students from the ranch country around Sheffield, Texas. They were a delightful group that left home very early in the morning to arrive at the Hummer House in time for a banding demonstration. Although we had many nets around the South Concho River Station,  we did not have enough birds to continue the demonstration by mid morning. We relocated to the Hummer House and started demonstrating hummingbird banding to conclude the program.  A few days following that program, the Concho Valley received some of the heaviest rains ever recorded in September. The roads to our banding locations were impassable and many of our net locations were under water for several days. 

Various efforts were made during early October but almost all migrant activity had stopped by the time we were able to resume our banding efforts. With the migrants gone and very few winter birds on site, we had very minimal success except for resident birds. At the end of the month, one effort was made at the East Windmill Station to check for the arrival of winter residents. We did not expect  great success but found many winter residents already on site in good numbers. 

August Banding Activities

August is not usually a busy month for banding activities in West Central Texas . The first week in August always marks the end of the MAPS season and fall migration banding does not start in earnest until the end of the month . This year was a bit different due to a banner breeding season for many resident breeders. Painted Buntings, Summer Tanagers, Blue Grosbeaks, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers along with many other species had record or near record  breeding seasons on the Hummer House Ranch. We continued for find good numbers of hatch year birds throughout the month.

We took time away from the Hummer House to make our annual trip to the Davis Mountains where we worked with Kelly Bryan banding many special hummingbirds of that region as the migration season for the western hummingbirds started. Although our first efforts for the week started slow, we finished the week with  great numbers of most western species. Although we seldom have an opportunity to band significant numbers of Calliope Hummingbirds, we banded sixteen in a single morning. We returned home to find some of these same birds working their way south through west Texas. I traveled to Water Valley to band our first Rufous Hummingbird  in Concho Valley for the  season.  On our next trip to the Hummer House, we banded two Rufous Hummingbirds and one Calliope Hummingbird along with many Ruby-throated and Black-Chinned Hummingbirds. With the assistance of several guest banders who visited the ranch, we finished the month with seven Rufous Hummingbirds and two Calliope Hummingbirds. This is a record number of Western Hummingbirds banded there in a single season. As August passes, we anticipate an excellent migration season on the South Concho River.
July Banding Activities
With the passing of June, we completed most of the banding demonstrations and programs for school and camp groups that were part of our calendar during the spring season. In the month of July, we were able to focus our complete attention on the research projects that we are conducting at the Hummer House. In the early part of the month, we were delighted to have our friends, Bob and Barbara Ware of Arizona, return to the Hummer House and assist us for several days in the gathering of data for these projects. Shortly after they left, we were joined by Christian Walker of Austin who also assisted us in these projects. It is always good to combine banding with seeing old friends.
A great deal of our attention for the month has been focused on banding Painted Buntings at our station areas around the ranch. The East Windmill Station proved to be a great site for gathering data for these birds. Like many of the other species that had very little breeding  success last year, the Painted Buntings have had a good summer for breeding. We banded a large number of hatching year birds during the month and look forward to next spring and determining the rate of return for these young birds. We have observed a fairly large percentage of these hatching year birds with low weights and hunger bands indicating that many have had a difficult time finding resources once they fledged.
We also operated the South Concho River MAPS Station for two sessions during the month. We were happy to welcome a Boy Scout Group from San Angelo during the session at the end of the month. All of these scouts were working to earn their Birding Merit Badge. We demonstrated the data gathering techniques that we used for MAPS Stations and discussed the research goals for our station as well as allowing the scouts to see and identify the birds netted during that effort.

June Banding Activities
May is always a busy month as we work with many school groups at the end of the school term. June is usually a slower month as we concentrate primarily on our research projects.  This year was a little different as we had five scheduled demonstrations. Two of these were for adult interest groups and the other three were for students attending summer camps in our community.
We started the month with our third session of our MAPS program at the South Concho River Station and conducted a total of three MAPS sessions during the month. After the drought of last summer and the very poor breeding success experienced by birds the station last summer, we were gratified to find a great many hatching year birds this season as part of our results this season.

Our student demonstrations this month were for students enrolled in the summer camp sponsored by the San Angelo Fine Arts Association and a group of students whose parents were attending a state convention in San Angelo. As always we enjoyed meeting these young people and demonstrating bird banding for them.  We conducted demonstrations for two adult groups who visited the Hummer House during the month. We also had the opportunity to share our love of birds with members of two local service groups that serve our community.

It was our pleasure to assist Bob and Martha Sargent of Alabama for two days during the month while they were training hummingbird banders at the Hummer House.  It is always good to combine bird banding and meeting old friends.  We also traveled to Kimble County where we continued our multiple year study of hummingbirds at the Allen Ranch. Edith Allen has been feeding hummingbirds at that location for many years and has a large population of hummingbirds.  Hummingbird banding at that location is always an event with many guests who are interested in our work there. We are happy to report that the Black-chinned Hummingbirds at that location are also recovering from the drought of last summer and have had a good nesting year.

In the merry month of May......
     May was  a very busy month with lots of programs and banding events.  A total of 57 species of birds were banded during the month. We started the month at HEB Camp with Ballinger and Bronte students and then Camp Discovery with Christoval students.  More detailed information of the camps and photos are below. We welcomed the wonderful rain even though we had to cancel a couple of scheduled demonstrations for school groups.  The second season of the  MAPS station started on May 12th with a nice array of birds. The second session of MAPS was on May 22nd. More information about the MAPS sessions is on the West Texas Avian Research, Inc. web site. During the months of May and April, we have presented programs for more than four hundred school kids and numerous adult groups.
On Monday, May 14th, the first and second grade students from San Angelo Academy came to the Hummer House for a morning of bird banding demonstrations. They were a delightful group and were able to release banded birds.

Later that week, we did a program for a large tour group from Mississippi who were on a Mystery Tour. They had no idea of what they were going to see but upon leaving, they assured us that the trip to the Hummer House and bird banding was the highlight of their trip. Sixty one birds of twelve species were handled during the presentation.

On Saturday, May 19th, a group from First Christian Church of Lubbock came to the Hummer House for a private banding program. Cathy and some of the banders were surprised to see people in this group that they had previously known many years before in different locations. It was a great day for all with lots of observations and learning.  Seventeen species of birds captured at the spring and orchard were banded during the morning.

A large group of students from Water Valley stopped at the Hummer House for a bird banding presentation on May 21st. Even though they were on the way to HEB camp, they still showed an interest in birds and the banding process.  

Camp Discovery at Hummer House Ranch
     After much planning and preparation, the first annual Camp Discovery for the 4th Grade students of Christoval Elementary was held at the Hummer House on May 7th. Dan and Cathy Brown  hosted a group of knowledgeable and experienced naturalists who gathered to present programs for the field day. Students were placed in groups with parent sponsors and rotated through the stations set in separate locations. Dan Brown presented a program about rocks and minerals. Kelly Bryan banded and taught about hummingbirds. Toni Gallucci brought an impressive collection of reptiles to the field day and taught about them. He also provided the lunch entertainment for students and staff.  Henry Dusek  made a presentation of local history and Kay Thompson led a discussion of native plants. Christy Youkers presented a program on water conservation. The Concho Valley Bird Banding group banded and discussed song birds. We thank Master Bird Banders, Fred Bassett and Don Connell, for volunteering their help with the banding demonstrations. Based on the comments from students, parents, presenters and teaching staff, the day was a tremendous success. and a good time was had by all.  We are already in the planning stages for a second edition of Discovery Camp next spring.  More information on the Discovery Day Camp is available by visiting the West Texas Avian Research Inc. website that is linked to this site.

HEB Camp

During the first week of May, we were privileged to return to HEB Camp at Leakey, Texas to provide banding demonstrations for Ballinger and Bronte  4th and 5th Grade students during their annual spring outdoor learning camp. This camp has been one of the highlights of our spring educational efforts for several years. We always enjoy meeting old friends and new students in one of the most beautiful places in the Hill Country. We had reason to be concerned this season due to the drought that had affected that area as much as our own and were concerned about having sufficient birds for all the groups . We did have fewer birds than we had in previous years but managed to net good birds for most groups.  As always, we had great groups of interested students that met under our shade shelter while we banded and learned about the birds of that area. Birds have wings and can fly where ever they want but we were surprised to net an adult male Black-headed Grosbeak in that setting. We also were fortunate to band a Green Kingfisher, a Yellow-throated Warbler and other unique birds.  We always enjoy going to camp and appreciate working with the students and staff of these schools.
April Banding Events
During the month of April, the attention of many bird banding researchers turn to the migration of birds returning to their summer breeding grounds. April is also a wonderful month to share our research and banding techniques with a wide range people. At the Hummer House and other locations across west Texas, we are often able to accomplish both tasks at the same time. We were able to provide banding demonstrations for about 300 students and 100 adults during the month at three different locations across the area while we continued our research. From a research perspective, it became evident that the extended drought across the region has had devastating results for both permanent resident birds as well as the many migrant species that travel across the region.

Wall High School Garden Club

Ambleside Kindergarten

Christoval Christian Home School Group

We were able to schedule banding demonstrations at the Hummer House for forty students from Wall High School Garden Club, the Christian Home School Association, Ambleside School and Eldorado Elementary School. The highlight of our month was a trip to San Saba, where we conducted a banding demonstration for students from San Saba, Cherokee, Lampasas and the San Saba Christian Home School Educators group. This event was sponsored by the San Saba Birding and Nature Club at the San Saba Nature Park. This park is a 40 acre park built by the Lower Colorado River Authority and opened in November 2011. It has a mile and half of wide concrete trails meandering through the park beside the river and creek. Volunteers from the birding club went above the call of duty to make this an outstanding experience for all concerned. Students rotated to the bird banding station, a bird feeder making station and a journaling station.

San Saba Nature Park

Eldorado 4th Grade

Ambleside 4th Grade

Between all of the events described above, we were able to assist Kelly Bryan of Ft. Davis as he provided hummingbird banding training for banders from south and east Texas and hosted three separate adult groups in banding demonstrations. While we have managed to have sufficient numbers of birds for all these events, we are banding about 30 percent of the birds banded at this time last year.

Hummer House Special Event
Spring Begins

During the last half of March, we made a few limited banding efforts to determine the movement of any migrating birds across our station areas at the Hummer House ranch.  Although these efforts are often unproductive, they offer an opportunity to determine the populations of resident and holdover winter species while we check for migrant movements.   The severity of last year’s drought in the area had raised concerns as to the number of these birds that found sufficient resources to survive over the winter in this location. We found these concerns to be well founded as we recorded far fewer of these birds than we have in previous years and the number of birds netted per hundred net hours was a small percentage of 2011. Although the birding discussion forums  continued to discuss the possibility of an early migration for several species, we saw little evidence of the species discussed except for the presence of several Golden Crowned Kinglets.  By the end of the month we noted the appearance of several migrants at the expected time. We made one effort at Twistflower Ranch on the far western edge of the Concho Valley. The number of migrants encountered at that location was very limited. Permanent and winter resident birds were found there in a small fraction of the numbers previously experienced there. We have had good spring and late winter rains across our banding area. The region is alive with wildflowers and the insects are having a good spring. We have encountered several female birds that are already showing signs of nesting . Perhaps  they can make up for last year.

We started the month of April with a banding demonstration for the Christian Home School Association at the San Angelo Nature Center Trail. Although we anticipated a shortage birds for this demonstration and set more than our normal number of nets, we experienced far fewer birds that we would normally expect at this location. Resident birds were present in reduced numbers and the number of migrants were also limited. We banded White-crowned and Lincoln Sparrows, White-eyed Vireos, Spotted Towhees, and Common Yellowthroats along with several permanent residents. One song bird was taken from a net by a Great Horned Owl that tore through the net to escape and a Sharp-shinned Hawk was netted while attempting to harvest another song bird.  The raptors must be having a difficult time finding  prey.  We had a great time with the students  of the home school association and we are getting prepared for a busy spring migration season.
Winter Hummingbirds
Winter hummingbird projects have been conducted  for  several years  throughout the southeast United States and along the coastal bend of Texas. Banders cooperating in these projects have developed a network of contacts throughout a region and travel to the site where wintering hummingbirds are reported by their network. These hummingbirds are banded if possible and data is collected. Over these past years, much information has been gathered about  the migration patterns of these birds. With these efforts, the number of wintering hummingbirds has  proved to be many times greater than number  previously expected.
Although wintering hummingbirds have been reported across this area of the Concho Valley in past years, reports were rare and  mostly undocumented.  With the encouragement of some our colleagues from other regions, we attempted to investigate any reported sightings this winter.  During this first season, our network was not well developed but we listened and checked  sightings.  However, we did find an opportunity to travel to Uvalde County in January where we investigated winter hummingbirds with  the guidance of our friend Bob Rasa. In a matter of hours, we banded five winter hummingbirds representing four species. We banded two Allen's Hummingbirds, one Rufous Hummingbird, One Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and one Anna's Hummingbird. We look forward to expanding our network in that area and continuing our efforts there next season.  In January,  we were able to locate three hummingbirds when hummingbird hosts contacted Cathy Brown at the Hummer House. We banded one Rufous Hummingbird at a residence west of Christoval and another Rufous Hummingbird on the west side of San Angelo.  These two were the first wintering hummingbirds  ever banded here.  An Anna's Hummingbird was located in a third location but the property owner was not comfortable with the bird being banded.

Without an established network in the Concho Valley, these three birds were well above our expectation for the first season.  With proper publicity, we hope to encounter greater numbers for the second season of our local effort.
December Banding Activities
During the  month of December, the permanent resident birds of the Concho Valley are usually joined by a number of winter residents that make banding  slow but interesting.  We started the month attending the Inland Bird Banders  Association meeting in Weslaco, Texas.  We certainly enjoyed meeting banders from all across the central United States and Mexico. We enjoyed the presentation of recent research projects and taking part in the banding demonstrations conducted by local banders in the Rio Grande Valley.  Congratulations to Mary Gustafson and Mark Conway and others that hosted an outstanding conference.

We returned from that conference to find the weather in West Texas had taken a wintery turn.  The remainder of the month was a mix of cool weather, wind and light precipitation with an occasional nice day mixed in the mix. We made two efforts during the month. The first  effort was rained out but we made a good guess on the second effort and we had a good day of banding between the wet, windy days that dominated the month. On the second effort, we returned to the East Windmill Area where we set up our sparrow trap to band these winter visitors.

We banded White Crown Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, Lark Buntings and Field Sparrows. along with Pyrrhuloxia, Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged Black Birds and a Red-shafted Flicker. It was a good day of banding to end an outstanding year at the Hummer House. We completed this year with 99 species of birds banded at the Hummer House this season. This replaces the old record of 84 species banded in a single season. We also added nine species of birds not previously banded there. A more extended discussion of this year's banding efforts  is included below the photo slideshow.

Hummer House Banding 2011

During the fall and winter of 2010-2011, the Hummer House along with most of the state of Texas was in the grasp of a historic drought and there was little hope that the drought would be over soon. With food and water in short supply across the area, many species of birds that are normally residents in the winter season were either present in very small numbers or totally absent from the ranch. So few winter birds were present that we concentrated our early season bird banding attempts on permanent resident birds and used the efforts as training opportunities for our banding team. Against this background, few knowledgeable birders could have predicted a long and successful banding season in 2011.

Along with these factors, our research goals for banding passerine birds at  the Hummer House required that we shift most of the emphasis from banding at the headquarters to banding stations located at remote locations across the ranch.  It was assumed that the total number of birds banded during the year would decrease dramatically since at least 80% of the passerine birds banded at the Hummer House in the previous fifteen plus years were banded at the feeding station near the headquarters and represented disproportionate numbers of seed-eating birds that gather at the feeding site. Although limited educational demonstrations during the current year involved banding at the headquarters, more than 95% of passerines banded this year were banded at our remote stations.
These locations were the focus of three data gathering efforts.  We began operation of a MAPS Station at the South Concho River Location (SCR-1) during the summer breeding season. We conducted migrant banding at the large spring  (SPR) during spring and fall migration. The East Windmill area (EWA) was used as a banding site for late season migrants and winter residents. We collected data from all three locations for use in our Painted Bunting study. Although several years of data will be necessary for our research, we are confident that the number and species of birds banded during this year are more reflective of the populations residing in or migrating through this habitat. We also believe that we can begin to separate populations of target bird species residing near these stations.

The East Windmill Area will be further developed and become a primary banding site for our Painted Bunting Study during 2012. The SPR site has been expanded for the beginning of spring migration with the addition of a three level aerial net and three additional ground nets downstream from headwaters of the spring.
As expected, the total number of birds banded this year was well under the average for the past five years. This year's total of 2500 birds was approximately 1300 birds below the average. However this year's total consists almost entirely of birds banded randomly within the natural habitats of the ranch.  The selection of our banding sites seems a larger factor than the effects of the drought on the total number of birds banded.

This deviation from the historical average was  primarily caused by two separate factors. We were unable to band hummingbirds during the first two thirds of the banding season as we waited for approval of our Hummingbird Banding Permits.  Although Kelly Bryan, Fred Bassett, and Bob Sargent  banded hummingbirds during this time and helped us in our preparation, they were not present often enough to overcome the shortfall caused by our lack of a hummingbird banding permit.  We banded 320 fewer hummingbirds this year than the five year average.
Ninety-nine species of birds were banded at the Hummer House during this banding season. Fifty-four species were banded in numbers exceeding the previous records for these species on the ranch. Thirty-four species were banded in numbers equal to or above the historical average for the ranch. Eleven species were banded in numbers well below the historical average. Eight species were seed-eating birds that in the past have been banded almost exclusively at the headquarters feeding grounds. This year, they were banded in small numbers at the remote banding stations.  We banded 1470 fewer of these eight seed-eating species as compared to the five year average. Two of these eleven species were hummingbirds whose numbers were impacted by the permit factor discussed above and one species was the Northern Mockingbird that does not commonly reside in two of three station areas.

The drought was probably a major factor in our banding this year but not in the manner anticipated.  We started our year with the migrant banding study that is conducted at the large spring north of the headquarters (SPR).  From the first, we had higher numbers of birds  than we had previously experienced at that location. We  also added new species of birds to the Hummer House banding list and encountered larger than expected numbers of previously rare species. In early May we opened the South Concho River MAPS Station (SCR).  MAPS stations are designed to thoroughly sample the breeding birds in a confined area and typically produce limited  records of banded birds. Less than one hundred birds per season is a typical number of records.  We banded 53 birds in the first session and this trend continued throughout the summer.  We finished the MAPS season with 320+ birds. The number of birds encountered during the fall migration season continued the trend. More often than not the nets at the SPR station had to be closed when our banding crew  was unable to handle the volume of birds in a safe manner.
Throughout migration and the summer breeding season, many more birds than normal relied on the riparian corridor near the SCR and SPR stations for food and water. With two out of three of our banding stations in the corridor, we banded more birds than could have been anticipated even in the best of years. Throughout both migrations seasons, we caught 89.7 birds per hundred net hours at the SPR station and 49.4 birds per hundred net hours at the SCR Maps Station. Both of these banding ratios are impressive by any standard. The number of birds per hundred net hours at SPR in 2010 was 52 and was 39 for 2009.

In addition to the numbers cited above, the variety of species was also well beyond what might have been expected. Ninety-nine total species were banded on the ranch during this banding season. This compares to a previous record of eighty-four species in 2009. That total included one cowbird species and  three non-native invasive species that live on the ranch. No invasive species or cowbirds are included in this year's count. During this year, nine new species were added to the birds banded on the ranch and brings that total to one hundred and forty six. Twenty-eight species that were banded this year began the year with fewer than five specimens banded on the ranch during the past fifteen plus years. Eleven species had more specimens banded during this season than their grand total for the past fifteen plus years. Six more species missed this standard by a very small margin.
Prior to this year, ninety-eight percent of all the birds ever banded at the Hummer House were members of the thirty-eight most common species banded there during the past fifteen plus years. In last year's terms, that left two percent of the birds banded to be spread over the remaining 98 species that had been banded there during this time. In plain words, a lot of birds have been banded there over time, but a large percentage of these were repeated bandings of the most common species.  During this season we banded all of these most common species except the Inca Dove, Mourning Dove and the Mountain Bluebird. Due to the drought, there were very few Mountain Bluebirds present during winter and fall of this year. The Inca Doves and Mourning Doves  have shown a decline  in numbers over the past few seasons but we should have banded these species if we had spent significant effort at the feeding ground.  The only White-winged Dove that we banded this season was banded at the feeding ground. Including the new species that we encountered this season, we banded 64 species of birds that until this current season were part of the two percent that were seldom banded. Sixteen of these 64 species breed on the ranch and several others are winter residents. Our systemic efforts within these natural habitats have given us an entirely new picture of the birds that reside within and migrate through these environments.

Given the chicken and egg nature of this season, one must ask the obvious question: were the numbers cited above caused entirely by the drought or did they result from the new emphasis on systematic banding efforts in remote areas of the ranch? It seems logical that the drought accounted for some of the shift in species populations and thus changed our results for this season. However, I believe that our systematic banding efforts throughout the season in three established station locations accounted for a significant percentage  of our positive results.
Although attempts were made to be consistent in all our efforts throughout the season, we did vary our schedule somewhat when we banded with Kelly Bryan in the Davis Mountains and when we were involved with hummingbird training at different times during the spring and summer. Line graphs involving catch rates for various species readily identify those times.  Most unusual species were not netted in sufficient numbers to statistically analyze.  However, it seems logical that if we fail to net expected numbers of more common species because of missed efforts,  we also fail to establish records of unusual species during these times. Some species do not have an extended migration period. Failing to make efforts during a limited migration period could eliminate records of those species completely.

While the drought may not have been totally responsible for our banding records described above, it was the primary factor in the limited breeding taking place on the ranch during this season and will be a factor on the number of birds banded for years to come. The data gathered from our MAPS station is designed to measure the nesting success of our summer resident birds. Once nesting is completed, data is gathered to predict the survival rate of the offspring. The data from last summer indicates an extremely poor year for the reproduction of most birds. Based on our banding of hatching year birds, hummingbirds seem to have been the most successful of our breeding populations.  Species such as Painted Buntings, Summer Tanagers, Lark Sparrows and some species of vireos were mostly unsuccessful. We have concern for the species within the next few years.  The MAPS station is located on some of the most favorable habitat available for these birds. If they were unsuccessful there, the more arid habitats were also unsuccessful. Many  breeding species stopped their breeding efforts and migrated out of the area well ahead of normal migration patterns. The seed-eating species that feed  at the headquarters may have been more successful.
There were two other notable records during the banding year.  There are no previous breeding records of Black-and-white Warblers in the Concho Valley.  During this breeding season, ten members of this species were banded at two of our stations. Adults and hatching year birds were banded throughout the summer giving a strong indication that these birds are making attempts at breeding in this area. The second event was the banding of five Baltimore Orioles during the fall migration season. Previously only one of this species had been banded within the previous twenty years. We banded five of these birds this year over an extended period in the fall migration.  Reports from across  the state indicate that many member of this species migrated in a more westward pattern than normal years. The drought was surely the primary cause of this shift. The trends that we established for Painted Buntings will be addressed in a separate report.

It is my sincere belief that the efforts undertaken this season at the Hummer House represent a true snapshot of the populations and movements of birds that are part of the ranch. We have attempted to make each effort a systematic effort that can be correlated mathematically and logically to the each of the other efforts made during the season. We anticipate continued successful efforts in the months and years to follow.