A Happy Halloween today, with no casualties.
Amazingly, no Lincoln’s Sparrows (or feather piles) this morning. There was a small flock of juncos flitting nearby the NRC this morning.
There was a dramatic scene at the Noble Research Center this morning, as I tried to steer a small flock of Lincoln’s Sparrows away from the building. Our story presumably began with the heavy flight of migrants last night in the Midwest. Here’s the scene from about midnight last night:
I checked the NRC on this bright morning at about 8:15 am. Following a north, west, south-to-north route, I didn’t encounter any birds until I approached the main north entrance. From the low shrubs I heard some rustling, and at least one sparrow pitched itself about 5′ from its hiding place into the window before turning around to flush north away from the window. Three others followed, and 4 birds perched in an ornamental tree in a little courtyard seating area just north of the main north entrance to the NRC.
From there, I crept around the tree to get a better look and identify the sparrows, but they were tough to see and all flushed and flew northwest before I could confirm the ID. The first one flew to the southeast alcove where it flew directly into the brick wall before falling to the ground below. These “trapped” birds were clearly exhausted or otherwise impaired from one or more collisions.
This is the bird that hit the brick wall:
The other 3 birds flew to the NE alcove. As I approached there, one bird was frantically flapping against the window that faces east (and looks like a clear passage to the other side to the west), and I watched it bump twice into the north-facing window on the south side of this alcove, right in the corner. This area is above an emergency exit stairwell, and that’s where the poor little guy ended up:
Remarkably, this bird righted itself a few minutes later, and I actually left it alive at a secure location on the east side of the building where it should have no trouble navigating away should it survive. I fully expect, however, to find its remains tomorrow morning, and I am counting it as a casualty. As mentioned in earlier posts, it is often difficult for me to assign a categorical end to some of these birds that are alive but clearly compromised. This bird was awake enough that I elected not to euthanize it, but I doubt that it will survive and I am counting it as a casualty.
One of the other birds in that NE alcove perched in a tree there and ultimately flew back toward the courtyard trees. That’s where it was (with the first bird that hit the brick wall) when I left. The 4th was not so lucky. This bird apparently flew right into the east-facing window of the NE alcove when it first flushed.
This is how things ended up:
The Clay-colored Sparrow from Oct. 13 has been removed after 9 days.
After missing my chance to check on the 19th (on the road for the Fall Technical Meeting of the Oklahoma Ornithological Society), I was back at the NRC this morning and found nothing but Homecoming Weekend tailgating trash lying about.
The Clay-colored Sparrow remains remain, and I will now stop mentioning them in my posts until they are no longer apparent.
Clay-colored Sparrow remains.
Deteriorating Clay-colored Sparrow remains.
Clay-colored Sparrow still there.
Clay-colored Sparrow remains.
Clay-colored Sparrow still there.
It was another big night for migrants here in the Southern Plains. I found dead Clay-colored Sparrows at the northeastern and southwestern alcoves, and a trapped Grasshopper Sparrow at the northwestern alcove.
Clay-colored Sparrow #1 was heavy with fat (=3) and looks to be a HY bird.
Clay-colored #2 had a fat score of 2, and some tiny red ants had colonized it by the time I found it. I left that one in place to check the removal rate.
The Grasshopper Sparrow was trying desperately to fly east from the northwestern to the northeastern alcove. It was really wearing itself out. Thankfully, it was easy to point in the right direction, and it flew well away from the building.
After warming back to 88F by yesterday afternoon, another Friday night brought another cold front (though no rain), and we are breezy and 50s this morning, with the wind out of the north. Again, the juniper hedgerow on the north side of the Noble Research Center is loaded with birds – several dozen in my estimation. Here’s the NEXRAD radar composite for about 6:50 this morning:
At the north entrance to the NRC I found one confused and trapped Clay-colored Sparrow. This Lincoln’s Sparrow (fat = 3) was dead at the northeast alcove.
I found a Good Samaritan carrying something in her scarf when I rounded the corner of the southwest alcove this morning, and I flagged her down to see what she had. It was a feisty Orange-crowned Warbler (fat = 2) that looked to be in pretty good shape. I took it to a nearby tree where it could just about perch, but then I decided it would be a bit safer at ground level so I moved it there beneath the tree. At this point the bird looked to be in worse shape and it was a lot less feisty. It was a toss-up for me to count this bird as a casualty or not; just to play the odds I decided to count it as a trapped bird rather than a casualty. About 5 hours later, it was gone.
We’ve flirted with one or two cold fronts so far this season, but last night’s was by far the most powerful. It was part of a storm system that brought tornadoes to Nebraska and more than a foot of snow to the Black Hills. While we won’t see any flurries today, the breezy 50s out there right now are a huge contrast to the breezy 90s from yesterday afternoon. Boom. It’s autumn now.
I assumed there’d be a good number of birds moving either ahead of or just behind this front. I was right, and in a moment I’ll illustrate that the answer was “behind”.
This morning I weaved my way among the bundled sports fans preparing for a crisp day of tailgating and football, and found a Grasshopper Sparrow at the main north entrance and a Lincoln’s Sparrow at the northwestern alcove. This was, as everyone before them, a sad end to these two birds, the official 149th and 150th casualties I’ve documented at the Noble Research Center since August of 2009. Both birds were in immaculate condition, fresh and dry, with fat scores of 3 (Grasshopper) and 1 (Lincoln’s).
The birds’ great condition made it plainly clear that they were traveling behind the cold front that passed through around 2:00 am with thunderstorms, heavy rain, and wind. NEXRAD radar images from last night suggest that these two birds were part of a huge movement through the Plains. Here’s a sample:
So the radar composites seem to confirm my supposition that birds were moving behind this front and put down wherever they could once daylight dawned. As if the two birds I found dead weren’t enough, the tiny strip of juniper hedge on the north side of the NRC held a mixed species flock of probably 50 birds this morning. They looked to be Grasshopper, Lincoln’s, and Clay-colored sparrows, plus at least one warbler that looked like it was probably Orange-crowned.
The Canadian journal Avian Conservation and Ecology has just released a special issue with a number of papers addressing anthropogenic mortality in birds in Canada.