Mad Island Banding

May 13, 2013 by Pete Marra

The 2013 banding season at Mad Island Marsh has officially ended.

According to many, this was the best year for viewing and capturing migrants in the last 20 years! Birders reported staggering numbers of migrants all along the Texas coast. For example, a birding team from Cornell broke records with 294 species observed in a single day! The number of birds captured were exceptional this year, both here and at our sister site run by the University of Southern Mississippi in Johnson's Bayou, Louisiana. We more than doubled last year's numbers and sampled an impressive number of focal species.

Friday was our last day of banding and we caught a nice array of species, most notably two Golden-winged Warblers, American Redstarts, Chestnut-sided warblers, Yellow warblers and Black-and-white warblers. We even had a late Lincoln's Sparrow show up in one of the nets, and a pair of Magnificent Frigate birds flew overhead. Once we were finished banding it took several hours to take down the site. Before finishing, we took one last stroll down the now empty net lanes and observed some of the last banded birds of the season quietly foraging.

Left: Trisha with a temporary bird holding box. Right: Gunnar with a captured bird.

This busy season was full of highlights. The diversity of birds seen and captured was incredible and there was always the feeling that we might catch just about anything. Even at the end of the season, we continued to capture new species. Our last new species was the Long-billed Thrasher. Southern Texas is the only place in the US to observe this bird, and we are at the extreme northern tip of its range here at Mad Island Marsh Preserve.

Working at a migration banding station is a wonderful way to experience the phenomenon of migration. Seeing the ebb and flow of migration around us, we couldn't help but venture guesses as to the combinations of weather, season, and geography that brought a particular bird to us. And while we worked hard, there was never a morning we were not excited to get out to the site and see what was arriving. But now we have to prepare to migrate ourselves. We are all dashing north to observe the next phase in the life cycle, joining the birds on their breeding grounds.

Once again, we want to thank Helen DuBois for making this happen and The Nature Conservancy for letting us band and stay on their wonderful property. We also want to personally thank Nature Conservancy staff Julie Sullivan and Billy Ward for making our days here memorable. Being able to spend over two months in such a great area for birds was awesome. We enjoyed getting to know this unique place and all of its residents. We may never again live in a place where white-tailed hawks and roseate spoonbills can be seen from the back deck or alligators and rattlesnake run-ins are a regular occurrence. This place is definitely a wild and wonderful one and the three of us will sorely miss working and exploring Clive Runnels Mad Island Marsh!

Left to right: Chesnut-sided Warbler, Eastern Kingbird, Cerulean Warbler

Left to right: Scarlet Tanager, Blackburnian Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo

Written by Trishcha Thorne, Gunnar Kramer, and Tim Guida; Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Spring migration banding crew 2013

Number of Captures: 3,160
Number of Species Captured: 84
Number of Species Seen: 253
Number of Birds with Ticks: 57