Mad Island Banding

May 23, 2014 by Emily Cohen and Tim Guida


Our last bird of the season was a feisty female Painted Bunting. We closed our last net for the spring of 2014 on a windy May 10th. It's been a lot of fun and we are sad to have to pack up and move on. The final week saw some windy and rainy days which prevented us from banding at times, but there were still a few great surprises in store for us.

One bird we were especially excited to band was an Olive-sided Flycatcher, a much larger relative of the Eastern Wood-Pewee. The Olive-sided Flycatcher has an awesome migration, spending the winter as far south as the Andes of Bolivia and Peru, and breeding in the mountains and boreal forests of North America. The biggest surprise of the end of the season was a Yellow-green Vireo. We caught this tropical species last year and did not expect to catch one for a second year running. Quite rare in North America!

Left: olive-sided flycatcher; right: yellow-green vireo.

As we were taking the nets down, a pair of Magnificent Frigatebirds cruised overhead, our last addition to the species observed list. Walking the net lanes one last time, we encountered a Swainson's Thrush in the path, a long distance migrant still a very long way from its breeding grounds. The end of spring migration continues without us, but we are grateful to have been able to experience and document a piece of this massive phenomenon.

This year we captured the same number of species (84) but far fewer individual, 2137 compared to the 3160 birds we captured last year. We did see 18 more species this year than we did last year and we collected more ticks this year.

The tick infestation rate was very similar to last year (3 to 4% of migrants), but we collected more because we searched every individual we captured. The ticks we collected have all been delivered to our collaborator, Dr. Sarah Hamer at College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. She will molecularly identify them and screen each for pathogens. It is hard to say if this change in capture rate has anything to do with the numbers of birds migrating through.

We were not able to keep nets open as long or as often as last year due to frequent high winds at the site. Also, when conditions are good for easy flying, with southerly and no storm fronts, migrants often do not stop at the coast. After crossing the Gulf of Mexico, they head inland to stopover in more extensive forests.

Banding sites on the Gulf of Mexico.

Our sister site in Johnson's Bayou, Louisiana run by the Migratory Bird Research Group at the University of Southern Mississippi, had a similar season. Will Lewis, graduate student and site coordinator for Johnson's Bayou told us

"We still had a pretty decent season with 2614 birds of 79 species. It was quite a bit different from 2013, however, because we didn't have any weather-related fallouts."

During the spring of 2013, more birds were captured at Johnson's Bayou, 4547 birds of 84 species, since it opened in the spring of 1993.

Field crew from left to right: Sean, Tim, Trischa.

The field crew has moved on the summer positions in New Hampshire (Tim and Trischa) and Peru (Sean). The tissue samples from Mad Island and Johnson's Bayou are in the lab and in the mail, waiting to be processed by Emily at the Smithsonian's Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometry Facility.

Final Tally:

Birds captured: 2137
Species captured: 84
Species observed: 235
Birds with ticks: 60
Ticks collected: 94

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