Spring and Summer of 2015

MOTHER NATURE THROWS A PARTY AND NOBODY COMES

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.