October 25, 2014

Later this week, on October 25th, we will make the trek to Trussville, Alabama to say our final goodbye to Bob Sargent.  Bob suffered several health setbacks this past summer and finally succumbed on September 7.  We are looking forward to joining his “flock” in celebrating his life in his farewell ceremony on Saturday. For those of us who were training by Bob, there is no equal.  We carry on his legacy in our banding projects and I know that he smiles ever time a band is placed on a hummingbird’s leg.  Here is my farewell picture of Bob holding a banded White-eared Hummingbird in Davis Mountains of west Texas in 2007.

Bob w: WEHU Aug 2007

2014 banding year winding down

We only have a couple of months to go on the current banding year.  Migration was very slow this year and the annual totals will reflect that.  Look for the results in our annual report that will be posted in January 2015.  There were some great highlights that resulted from our efforts including the return of White-eared Hummingbirds.  Hopefully, November and December will bring an influx of Anna’s Hummingbirds and other winter species similar to the last two years–time will tell.  Read all about it in January.

Banded Rufous Hummingbird found in Idaho

The BBL notified us on Aug 18 that a Rufous Hummingbird we banded in the Davis Mountains of west Texas on 28 July 2011 was found dead in Shelly, Idaho on 25 July 2014.

Alaska again!

Posted below and also in the 2013 annual report above was the amazing recapture of a banded Rufous Hummingbird in Chenega Bay, Alaska on 4 July 2013.  Kate MacLaughin notified us that she was back and recaptured again on 24 June 2014.  It was amazing to have our Texas banded Rufous Hummingbird recaptured once in the far north, stunning that she was up there again this year at the very same location!

Lucifer Hummingbird milestone

On May 26th we banded our 500th Lucifer Hummingbird!

May 2014 news – Banded Rufous Hummingbirds recaptured in Louisiana; banded Black-chin hybrid found in Oklahoma

We were notified on May 5  that a Rufous Hummingbird we banded on 24 September 2013 at the Christmas Mountains Oasis was recaptured by Nancy Newfield crews in Covington, Louisiana on 27 December 2013.  This is our first recapture from the central Gulf Coast region of the US.

Then on May 24, we were notified by the BBL that a bird we banded 27 August 2013, also at the Christmas Mountains Oasis was found in Cement, Oklahoma on 15 April 2014.  Just so happens that this bird was an adult male hybrid Black-chin X Ruby-throat.  It is believed that this is the first ever foreign recovery of a banded hybrid hummingbird.

February 28, 2014 – Update and totals for the winter of 2013/14

The most recent versions of our recapture document and a “Guide to West Texas Hummingbirds” have been posted to this site.  We will be updating other documents in the near future as time allows.

So far, this winter has been a busy one for the Terlingua Ranch/Lajitas area of south Brewster County.  We will resume winter sampling on February 11 and continue to the end of the month.  Two month totals are as follows:

  • Blue-throated – 1/1
  • Lucifer – 1
  • Black-chinned – 1
  • Anna’s – 63/23
  • Costa’s – 1
  • Rufous – 21/14
  • Allen’s – 3
  • Broad-billed – 1/1

Total species – 8

Birds banded/recaptured – 92/39

Anna’s Hummingbird numbers continue to increase during this time frame.  Some of this increase is due to the fact that two additional study sites were added the past two years.  Otherwise, sampling efforts have remained the same.  Here is a compilation of all Anna’s Hummingbird totals since the study started.

 

July

August

September

October

November

December

January

February

2008/09

0

0

0

23/2

32/9

3/12

0

0

2009/10

0

0

8

21/10

18/2

3/3

1/1

0

2010/11

0

1

11/1

42/12

19/3

7/1

3/1

0

2011/12

0

0

8

16/2

9/3

12/3

0

0

2012/13

0

0

2

4

22/6

19/2

37/7

8/3

2013/14

1

2/1

4/1

5/1

8/3

12/11

50/12

 1

January 15, 2014 – Review of the previous year

We had a very successful year in 2013.  Although abundance and diversity were still down, likely lingering effects of the 2011 drought, environmental conditions were on the rebound.  In the end we banded 2,071 new birds and recaptured 280 previously banded birds of 10 species total.  For the project as a whole we have now banded 13,613 birds of 15 species, a major accomplishment in anybody’s book.  The highlight of the year and of our overall banding effort was the recapture of one of our Rufous Hummingbirds in Alaska.  You can read about that below or in our annual report found in the menu bar above under “activities and information“.  This report summarizes the year and highlights the major events that occurred as we moved forward with our sampling and banding efforts.

We look forward to 2014 and what the year has to offer.  Already there has been a change in pattern for the winter season, one that has us going down to Lajitas as often as we can.  As I write this there have been more than 50 birds of at least 6 species down in the lower desert country in the Terlingua/Lajitas area, with a noticeable turnover of individuals from week to week.  This year, a milestone will be realized at some point in May or June when we will band our 500th Lucifer Hummingbird.  We never dreamed we would be afforded the opportunity to catch and band that many Lucifer Hummingbirds, a borderlands species that is not well known.  At the end of the 2014 season for the Lucifer Hummingbird we will be compiling and publishing all of the data gathered on that species.  Finally, a big thank you goes out to all who have helped by supporting this project during the past year.

July 5, 2013 – RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD RECAPTURED IN ALASKA!

We were notified this day of the following.  A female Rufous Hummingbird wearing band number P05173 was recaptured the previous day, July 4, 2013, in Chenega Bay, Alaska by Kate McLaughlin.  Kate is a hummingbird bander way up there at the northern fringes of the Rufous Hummingbird’s breeding range.  We banded this little female last year as a juvenile bird, catching her on August 27th.  We encountered her while she was south bound on her fall migration into Mexico.  This recapture represents only the second exchange of a banded hummingbird between Alaska and the lower 48.  The other bird, also a Rufous Hummingbird and recaptured by Kate, was banded in Pensacola, Florida.  The distance between the Davis Mountains of Texas and Chenega Bay is approximately 2,870 miles as the laser beam flies!

June 26, 2013

Elsewhere on this website you will find a statement that I often use, “catching and banding hummingbirds is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get”.  Such was the case yesterday morning at the Christmas Mountains Oasis in the Terlingua Ranch area of Brewster County.  I was pressed for time but we managed to get in our sampling session at CMO before I had to head back home to Fort Davis, 95 miles north of CMO.  At 8:15 am we caught what appeared to be a banded adult male Lucifer Hummingbird.  Recaptures are a very important aspect of any bird banding operation and provide invaluable data.  On closer examination in hand a number of features were not quite right.  Very soon it was obviously apparent that the bird was a hybrid between Lucifer Hummingbird X Black-chinned Hummingbird.  Now here is the “rest of the story”.

I originally banded this bird as a HY M Black-chinned Hummingbird on July 24, 2011. My field notes that day said “Hybrid? slightly decurved bill and strong rufous on lower flanks, tail missing”. Had not the tail been missing I am certain I would have been able to record it as a hybrid the day it was banded based on hybrid characters in the tail.  Below are details of the hybrid characteristics and seven pictures for your examination.  I believe this is the first hybrid combination of these two species to be banded, measured and photographed in hand.

Please excuse the hand held pics.  Best I could get under the circumstances.  We all know that hummingbirds are not graceful in hand.

Measurements:

  • Wing – 41.15 mm, long for LUHU, OK for BCHU
  • Tail – 29.5 mm, short for LUHU, way too long for BCHU
  • Culmen – 19.35 mm, short for LUHU, OK for BCHU
  • Weight – 2.98 gm

Also, note the following:

  • P6 characteristics = LUHU not BCHU (Archilochus)
  • Tail characteristics = intermediate between LUHU and BCHU
  • Black in chin confined to the upper 20% of the gorget
  • The stripe between the gorget and post-ocular area is black (as in BCHU) not tan (as in LUHU)
  • Gorget lacks the extended tails in the corners of the gorget and the notch centered on the upper breast
  • Lacks strong rufous wash in the underparts typical of a male LUHU
Hybrid head

Note the slightly decurved bill and unusual gorget.

Hybrid gorget

Note the black chin and color of the gorget.

Hybird tail

Tail exhibits intermediate characteristics between LUHU and BCHU.

Hybrid tailfolded

The deeply forked tail is too short for LUHU, too long for BCHU.

Hybrid under

The underparts of this hybrid look more like BCHU than LUHU.

Hybrid upper

The upper parts of this hybrid are fairly normal.

Hybrid wing

The key character in the wing is primary #6 – like LUHU.

 

June 16, 2013

News arrived from the Bird Banding Laboratory in May and today that two of our banded hummingbirds have been encountered elsewhere.  The first one was a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird wearing band number L40671.  He was caught in a mist net (then released) by staff of the Colorado Bird Observatory on May 15, 2013 as reported by Ms Meredith McBurney.  The CBO operation is a songbird migration banding and monitoring station at Chatfield State Park just south of Denver, Colorado.  This bird was originally banded as an juvenile male on October 8, 2010 at our cabin in the Davis Mountains.  Therefore, this bird is three years old in 2013.  The second encounter was a male Black-chinned Hummingbird wearing band number L39547.  He was found dead by Mr. Ray Pawley in Arabela, Lincoln County, New Mexico on May 22, 2013.  This bird was originally banded as an adult male on September 1, 2011 in the Davis Mountains by Marc and Maryann Eastman, members of our banding team.  Thanks goes out to Meredith and Ray for reporting these encounters to the BBL and for contributing to our project and to our knowledge of these magnificent birds.

March 25, 2013

In August of 2006 when I was finishing up my training to band hummingbirds, Bob Sargent placed band no. E14593 on a juvenile bird at our cabin in the Davis Mountains.  When I first recaptured this bird in March of 2008, it was obvious the now adult male was a hybrid.  Hybridization between Black-chinned and Broad-tailed hummingbirds in the Davis Mountains is not uncommon.  Yesterday, I was up at the cabin restocking feeders and E14593 has returned for his 7th year!  I do believe this is a longevity record for a hybrid individual.  At the moment he is trying to defend all five feeders that are hanging.  In 2010 Dr. Chris Clark captured video of the displays of this hybrid individual and the results were published in The Condor 114(2): 329-340.  During that research a spectacular picture of this bird was taken by Anand Varma (below).  If you want to enjoy Anand’s photographic prowess, go to www.varmaphoto.com.  Other than the pic below my favorite hummingbird picture is the female Lucifer Hummingbird standing on the edge of its nest.  Thanks Anand for your beautiful photographic contributions.

IMG_0898

E14593 – banded Black-chinned X Broad-tailed hybrid hummingbird by Anand Varma.

February 26, 2013

It has been an amazing winter for hummingbird abundance and diversity here in west Texas.  I completed my January and February sampling rounds today.  The results were:

  • Lucifer Hummingbird – 1 return/recap; AHY male (originally banded Aug 2009 as an adult; first observed 2/23)
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird – 2, 1 SY male on 1/17 in the Christmas Mts.; 1 AHY female in the Davis Mts. on 2/3; very rare in winter.
  • Anna’s Hummingbird – 45 new birds banded and 10 returns/recaps (4 from Nov and Dec, 4 from Jan, 1 from Dec 2011, 1 from Nov 2011)
  • Costa’s Hummingbird – 1 AHY (adult) female on 1/14 (34th record for Texas if accepted by the TBRC)
  • Rufous Hummingbird – 6 new birds banded and 10 returns/recaps (all from Nov, Dec and Jan)
  • Allen’s Hummingbird – 3, new birds banded in Lajitas on 1/14, 1/28 and at CMO 2/26; 1 return/recap on 1/17 near Willow Mtn. (banded in Dec)

Total = 79 birds, 57 new birds banded and 22 returns/recaps

January 15, 2013

Problems with your hummingbird feeders?  See the article by Carolyn Ohl-Johnson under special links section to your left to fix just about every problem.

_DSC7793

Got bees?

January 10, 2013

2012 was the year of the post-drought blues.  Actually, the year started that way but ended with a very productive and exciting fall.  You can read all about it in our annual report located in the “Activities and Information” section above.  One thing is for sure, the drought of 2011 was severe.  It affected all bird populations, not just hummingbirds.  In this year’s report I have tried to provide comparative data to show just how it affected diversity and abundance as documented by our long-term study.

Drought killed pine next to the cabin coming down.

January 11, 2012

Three new features have been added under the “special links” section on the left hand side of the main page.  First, you can now download (through a link to the TPWD website) my regional checklist Birds of the Trans-Pecos, a field checklist.  Second, A Checklist of Texas Birds (seventh edition) is available for download via a similar link.  Finally, if you want to see some preliminary results from our banding effort you can take a look at my powerpoint presentation on Lucifer Hummingbirds given recently at the IBBA conference in Weslaco, Texas.  I am making this presentation available for personal use only.

In the next couple of weeks I hope to add one more important item to this section.  Again, based on the overall effort of our banding team, I have compiled an Identification, Aging, Sexing and Data Guide to West Texas Hummingbirds.  It is my desire that this document and the information presented within it be received as a important aid to hummingbird banders across North America as well as providing useful information to the general birding populace.

 

December 22, 2011

We learned something in 2011.  Primarily, we learned that if nature decides to become extreme then we have little choice but to hang on to the rope and ride it out.  The Trans-Pecos Region of Texas is situated in the northern portion of the vast Chihuahuan Desert and as such is subject to extremes at times.  However, in 2011 just about every aspect of our desert environment became extreme.  The lack of rain since the early fall of 2010 produced conditions that were perfect for devastating wildfires in April, May and June.  Over half a million acres burned in the region during this period.  Add to that the persistent heat, constant dry winds, and lack of water and insects; it was a recipe for disaster in both the lower desert and high mountains.  If the human inhabitants of the region were suffering just think about the wildlife.  The landscape that was their grocery store had little to offer, especially for animals that were considered primarily insectivorous.  At one point during the peak of spring migration I watched a Dusky Flycatcher move through the forest understory at our cabin in the mountains.  It stayed less than a foot off the ground and barely had enough energy to move.  It ignored a nice water source we had there, one that had a few flies and other insects hovering around it.  The instinctual drive to continue north was dictating its movements; however, I will bet you a million bucks it did not make it another mile before it died.  Unfortunately, such was the fate of thousands of migrant birds this year in the mountains and lower desert alike.

For hummingbirds, the key to survival was the sugar-water feeder.  Sugar-water solution provided the energy supplement that they needed to either scour the landscape for a few available insects (their primary food source) or move on out of the region to areas where insect populations were normal.  You would think that desert-adapted species would be mostly immune to the conditions we were experiencing.  Not so!  Even Lucifer Hummingbirds congregated at feeder stations in unprecedented numbers as you will see in our 2011 report.  Then they invaded the mountains.  Other species changed their pattern of occurrence as well.  One of the first indicators of this was a male Blue-throated Hummingbird that abandoned the higher mountains on May 8th and found Carolyn’s courtyard at her house in the Christmas Mountains Oasis (a desert habitat).  When first noticed, the bird was panting and its wings were drooping badly.  After drinking from the feeders for a few hours it looked totally normal and moved on that same evening.

Male Blue-throated Hummingbird at the Christmas Mountains Oasis on May 8th. (Carolyn Ohl-Johnson)

The Broad-billed Hummingbirds that were finally breeding in the Davis Mountains totally changed their patterns too.  Normally, congregated around Marc and Maryann Eastman’s house, a few were found elsewhere but only a lone banded female graced their yard.  She was finally caught on September 22nd verifying the fact that she was banded by us the previous year.  White-eared Hummingbirds were a total no-show, save a lone male that was observed and photographed by our neighbor, Barbara House, in early August.  So the question here was did they know it was a bad year in west Texas and decided to go elsewhere?  If so, how?  Did they arrive and then leave?  Of course, we do not know the answers.  Several Blue-throateds did find refuge in the Davis Mountains, where breeding has yet to be confirmed.  Then in July, another male was found at a desert location at one of our banding sites and was captured and banded.  We hope that he survived and will return in 2012 to find environmental conditions improved.  The sad fact is that breeding hummingbirds in the region had little to no reproductive success in 2011, even our most common species–the Black-chinned Hummingbird.  This same fate befell almost all other species of birds as well.

Male Blue-throated Hummingbird in Terlingua Ranch on July 10th. (Kelly Bryan)

Once fall migration began, hummingbirds were congregated at feeder stations in large numbers and our capture rate reflected that increase.  We caught record numbers of Calliope, Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds and you can read all about the success of the project in the report attached above.  In the end, it was our most productive year yet.

As usual we have made other improvements to this site.  An updated guide to west Texas hummingbirds has been provided via the link above.  Over the next month or so we will be updating the species accounts section, mostly with additional new pictures.  Although we have been banding hummingbirds here for five years now, this is the third year of comprehensive, systematic trapping and banding.  Each year has been different and the data reflect that.  What will we find in 2012?  Will the weather patterns producing the current drought continue as forecast?  Will hummingbird abundance and distribution change once again?  Tune in next year at this time to find out the answers.  We can’t wait to find out ourselves!  KBB