4 April 2017 – trapped Song Sparrow

No casualties yet, but I’m up to the 3rd trapped bird of the new year: a Song Sparrow in the northwest alcove.  This one was stunned – or exhausted – but before I could get any closer than about 3m it flew away strongly – good sign!

 

This bird was likely riding a wave of migration that really lit up the radar last night (as linked from Paul Hurtado’s birding page). Check out the big blue blobs in Oklahoma from a little after 11 pm last night:

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Keep your eye on that slug of rain and storms (the green, yellow, and red) in the OK Panhandle, though.

Now check out the line of rain and storms that moved in overnight and set up shop on the Kansas border.  This is from a bit before 6:00 am, and nobody moving north through our state kept on moving through that!  This is a classic setup for a “fallout” of birds.  More storms today followed by strong north winds tomorrow will likely keep some staging migrants around for a few more days.

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20 August 2015 – Yellow Warbler

Yesterday’s powerful cold front gave us this morning’s Octoberish morning, and a big flight of migrants last night. Check out this explosion of migrants in the Plains from around 10:30 last night:

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At least one of those migrants, a HY-U (prob female) Yellow Warbler, made it no farther than Stillwater last night.  She was in great shape with fat = 2.

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12 September 2014 – Northern Waterthrush and possible (trapped) MacGillivray’s Warbler

Today I found at least one, and very likely two, new species for the study.  In any other study this would be cause for celebration.  Not so, here.

First, I encountered a trapped bird at the north main entrance.  I could tell immediately that it was an Oporornis – now Geothylpis – warbler, and Mourning is the most likely candidate by far.  This bird was sprightly and flew strongly as I attempted to steer it away from the NRC.  I was unsuccessful as it perched in the trees near the entrance, but at least from that location the bird would be more likely to detect the barrier that the building presents and less likely to build up sufficient speed to do any lasting damage.  I ruled it a “trapped” bird for that reason, and I really hope that it’s gone by tomorrow . . .

I couldn’t get close enough to catch it, but it was perched in rather open spots on the ground and in the trees so I fired off some photos.  My examination of the photos led me to believe that this bird was actually a pretty darn rare one this far east: MacGillivray’s Warbler.  It looks to me to be a AHY female, judging from the whitish throat and the two, broad eye arcs above and below the eyes. I have shared the photos with our state birds record committee coordinator.  Until I hear definitively from him, I’m reserving final ID on the bird.  I do think it’s MacGillivrays.  What do you think?

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eBird records for MacGillivray’s Warbler in the Southern Plains, Aug.–Nov., 2004–2014.

The eBird distribution above illustrates how unusual an occurrence a MacGillivray’s would be this far east.  It’s certainly the first one I’ve seen in Oklahoma, and I think the only one I’ve ever seen east of Las Vegas.

Next, I found a dead bird at the south entrance, and this was the penultimate pinnacle of avian evolution, the Northern Waterthrush.  It was an AHY bird with fat = 2, and in truly gorgeous shape before meeting its untimely demise.  This is the 50th species I’ve found dead at the NRC, and the 186th casualty.

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27 October 2013 – Four Lincoln’s Sparrows; 2 dead, 2 trapped

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:

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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.

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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.

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This is the bird that hit the brick wall:

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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:

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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.

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This is how things ended up:

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5 October 2013 – Grasshopper and Lincoln’s sparrow

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).

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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:

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The cold front and its line of storms are clearly visible on this image from about 9:20 last night, but note the heavy movement of birds behind the front in Kansas.

 

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By about 1:00 am the storms were finally getting to us in Stillwater, with the heavy flight continuing behind the front.

 

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Now by almost 7:00 am, the storms are well to our east, but that big movement of birds in Kansas has now shifted south, and we see a big movement in Oklahoma. At this point, it is still dark in Stillwater.

 

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By about 8:00 am the movement of migrants has fallen apart as birds on the move overnight have sought a place to put down by daylight. I checked the NRC just after 8:30 am.

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.