24 May 2019 – Louisiana Waterthrush

Every day there is a casualty discovered is cause for a twinge of sadness. Some are worse than others, however, especially when our personal biases are affected. My internal monologue on noticing any dead bird is a classic Midwestern ope, but today it escalated to motherf****r! as I got close enough to see what it was lying in front of a glass entry on the northwestern corner of the Noble Research Center. Yep, it was the pinnacle of avian evolution, a Louisiana Waterthrush.

I would be remiss not to mention the unusually rainy, cool spring we’ve enjoyed here in the Southern Plains, and this week flooding has turned deadly. Here in Stillwater, we topped 7″ of rain on Tuesday, with roads and schools closed. But our saturated soils didn’t result from one super storm. Check out these 30-days totals:

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In fact, we’re a solid 20″ above average for the year:

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This is a pattern of rainfall that often washes out waterthrush nests, built along the banks of streams. Having returned at the end of March, it could easily be the case that our local waterthrushes have attempted to nest, and been flooded out, at least three times. Perhaps a scenario like that might explain how a second-year (check out the feather wear) female (she at least attempted nesting – check out the brood patch) Louisiana Waterthrush ends up outside its territory in unfamiliar habitat to die at a window on the 23rd/24th of May? Is this a local movement to find a new territory less prone to flooding and give it another go? Is this a bird that has given up for 2019 and was on her way to molt and prepare for southbound migration while other birds are still streaming north? These intimate details of birds’ lives provide endless fascination for me and, of course, can lead to new and interesting directions for research that can help these birds better survive their forays into human-dominated landscapes.

Besides the feather wear and brood patch, there were a couple of other interesting things about this bird. It had fat in the furcular hollow! Floods don’t keep waterthrushes from foraging well, despite their threat to nests. Still, actually accumulating fat is hormonally influenced, and it strikes me as odd for a bird to accumulate fat outside of migration. This bird also showed obvious trauma to the tip of the bill, indicating a window strike at full speed. I can’t quite tell if the mark on the right pectoralis major is a contusion from collision or the beginning of the progression of brood patch loss. Many questions . . .

23 July 2018 – Painted Bunting

All carcasses remain in place, and I was saddened to discover this new one: a second-year male Painted Bunting at the main north entrance.

As the molt sequences in this species defy my ability to explain in a coherent fashion, suffice it to say that this was a male Painted Bunting born in 2017. He spent his first winter somewhere in Mexico or Central America and returned to the Great Plains to attempt his first breeding season this spring & summer of 2018. Along the way, he molted some feathers, but he had not taken on the dazzling blue and scarlet and citron of an older male, i.e., one more than two years old. He looks to have been beginning that process, however: Check out the blue feathers coming in on the face and crown and the contrast between the green-edged secondaries that have grown in more recently and the dull browns of his primaries that were the set he grew while in the nest last year.

This poor guy was probably on his way to northwestern Mexico where he would take advantage of the monsoon-driven flush of productivity to give him the fuel to finally replace those primaries in August and September. Then he would head down further south to spend the actual winter before coming back here next May.

Alas, he didn’t make it – all because of a stupid window.

 

7 May 2017 – Indigo Bunting and trapped Yellow Warbler

With special guest stars James O’Connell and David Mallen, today’s survey turned up a male Indigo Bunting and a trapped Yellow Warbler at the main north entrance. (No photo of the warbler; it was a male.)

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Let’s take a closer look at that Indigo Bunting:

 

The multiple obvious molt limits on this bird illustrate two generations of feathers on the same individual, some of which grew in last summer and some which have come in quite recently.  This confirms the age of the bird as second year (SY).