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.