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 2014Winter 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.
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 2014We 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.