2010 Report – A Year of Significant Recaptures

2009 was productive primarily due to a more consistent effort.  Last year we completed 80 banding sessions, caught and banded 2,363 birds of twelve species, and processed 302 recaptures of nine species.  The primary reason for our growing success was a team approach to the project.  My wife, Donna, tirelessly recorded the data as I gave them to her and our friend Carolyn Ohl-Johnson doggedly retrieved birds from the traps.  Hummingbird banding operations require three coordinated tasks.  First, the birds have to be captured and placed into holding bags.  Second, the birds have to be banded, inspected, measured and weighed while the data have to be recorded precisely.  We learned to keep the project efficient and productive in 2009 and a continuation of that team effort would achieve tremendous results in 2010.

Our first banding session of the New Year occurred on January 26th.   We ventured south to Terlingua Ranch to check on the female Costa’s Hummingbird still present there and try for a late Anna’s Hummingbird or two.  After considerable tense waiting on our part, the Costa’s finally shed the fear of a wire cage around her favorite feeder and was caught.  As expected, she was the same individual banded three months earlier and amazingly, she would stick around until early March.  Of two Anna’s caught that day, one was already banded, also in October.  We then put the project on hold for a while as we ventured back to central Texas to move our kids into a new house in College Station and my parents from their home of 55 years in Mart to a retirement center in Waco.  After that it was time to get back to work.

Spring was upon us and in a normal year the first Broad-tailed Hummingbirds arrive back in the mountains at the end of February and Black-chinned Hummingbirds in early March.  2010 was not a normal year; for most folks it was late March before any hummingbirds were seen at all.  Frankly, I had not observed this pattern previously in the twenty years I lived here.  Perhaps the weather had something to do with these overly tardy birds.  We had experienced an unprecedented wet (and colder than normal) winter and early spring.  The same could be said for northern and central Mexico where most of these birds winter and/or migrate through.  Were conditions too good to leave down south?  Did birds linger during migration due to great food resources along the way?  Or, did they simply know that warmer weather was still weeks away?  We can only speculate.  On March 24th we attempted one banding session at Terlingua Ranch where the first arriving Lucifer Hummingbirds were finally putting in appearances at our study sites there.  Of the eight birds caught that day (4 new birds and 4 recaptures of two species) one female Lucifer stunned us.  She was gravid (had an egg in her abdomen)!  So, what was she up to during migration from Mexico?  Amazingly, we would not catch another Lucifer until June.

The paucity of birds continued into April, so much so that we only attempted two banding sessions in the Davis Mountains and caught “zero” birds.  Overall, very few birds were being seen in our yard and most reports from around the region were no different.  Surely May would be much better; however, through the first half of the month we observed few changes to the existing pattern.  We were “skunked” two more times early on, once in the Davis Mountains and once in the Christmas Mountains but still managed to catch a few birds at various sites prior to the end of the month.  We got some fun relief in the middle of May when Dr. Chris Clark from Yale University made a visit to the area to try and obtain high-speed videos of the displays of Lucifer Hummingbird and other breeding species in the region.  Of particular interest was a hybrid male on a breeding territory at our Davis Mountains property (see the 2009 report).  This banded Black-chin X Broad-tail hybrid was now in his fourth year of life.  Chris and his group were successful in obtaining footage of his courtship displays and like many things in the world today, you can view them on YouTube!  Just go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGzqKgfGE0I&feature=related

Shuttle display by a male Lucifer Hummingbird in the Christmas Mountains on June 11, 2010 (Kelly Bryan)

Also in May, some very exciting changes occurred to the project.  We added an important location to our sampling sites and new bander-trainees, Marc and Maryann Eastman.  They decided to join the project and this brought a new dynamic to the overall effort.  For many years their yard in the Davis Mountains was well known to hummingbirds and hummingbird aficionados alike.  It is a known fact that long established feeding stations attract and hold more hummingbirds than those recently established.  It would not be long before some very important information would be gleaned from their yard, in spite of the fact that our first banding session there on May 6th produced only five birds (but a very nice female Broad-billed Hummingbird among them).  Our second session there on May 28th would produce a second Broad-billed (a adult male) among the fourteen birds caught.  News flash – the female was observed and photographed in April gathering nesting material!  Stand by for “the rest of the story”.

Adult female Broad-billed Hummingbird gathering nesting material on April 26, 2010 (Maryann Eastman)

Meanwhile, back to the missing birds saga.  For comparison, in 2009 we completed sixteen banding sessions through the first five months of the year and banded 354 birds of 7 species and caught 39 recaptues.  Thirteen sessions through the end of May 2010 had produced only 54 birds and 11 recaptures.  However, a wise old hummingbird bander who lives somewhere in the hills of Alabama told me, “be patient they will come”.  He was right of course.  It all started down south at the Christmas Mountains Oasis the last week of May.  All of a sudden Carolyn was reporting 40-50 birds in the lower desert, including a few Broad-tails.  We got down there on the 2nd and 3rd of June and caught 32 new birds and 16 recaptures; our second session there on the 22nd and 23rd of June produced an amazing 50 new birds and 23 recaptures, quite a change from May.  All other study sites showed similar increases and by the end June among six species we had banded 317 new birds and caught 67 recaptures (compared to 139 and 5 last year).  We caught 38 new Lucifer Hummingbirds in June but had an impressive 28 recaptures.  Folks, in many ways recaptures are just as important as newly banded birds.  The data gleaned from recaptures are extremely important and useful.

And now for “the rest of the story”.  On June 10th at the Eastman’s residence we confirmed our suspicions with respect to the status of the pair of Broad-bills in their yard.  There were now four of them!  Yes, on that day we caught two just fledged juveniles, one male and one female.  Why was this exciting?  This actually represented the first confirmed breeding record for the species in Texas.  So, after our best June since the project began, July was upon us and we were ready for fall migration to begin.

Just fledged juvenile male Broad-billed Hummingbird on June 10, 2010 (Kelly Bryan)

Just fledged juvenile male Broad-billed Hummingbird on June 10, 2010 (Kelly Bryan)

Juvenile female Broad-billed Hummingbird on June 21, 2010 (Maryann Eastman)

The first week of July was very wet courtesy of Hurricane Alex that came ashore on the gulf coast of Mexico a few days earlier.  In fact, it canceled our family’s plans to spend the day of July 3rd at our mountain property.  A break in the weather the next day prompted me, along with my brother-in-law and his wife to make a quick trip up to the pines to check the feeders.  It was slick and muddy but my jeep wrangler made the trip just fine.  We were rewarded that afternoon with a beautiful male Blue-throated Hummingbird, only our second record of the species for the property.  Unfortunately, we would not see him again in the following days.

Adult male Blue-throated Hummingbird in the Davis Mountains on July 4, 2010 (Kelly Bryan)

Another view of the male Blue-throated Hummingbird on July 4, 2010 (Kelly Bryan)

In many ways July 2010 was similar to the previous one with respect to hummingbird movements.  Fall migration began on time and it was not long before we were seeing migrant Rufous, Broad-tailed and Calliope Hummingbirds among our summer-resident species.  Fourteen banding sessions during the month produced 371 new birds and 42 recaptures of nine species.  Top species banded were Black-chin with 185, Broad-tail 102, Rufous 59 and Magnificent 10.  Remember what we said about the value of recaptures?  Hold on, we were in for a wild ride!  We were first notified near the end of the month that a male Calliope Hummingbird banded in Fort Davis on August 23, 2009 was recaptured on July 20th near Estes Park, Colorado.  This was the first hummingbird banded by us and caught by someone else, a notification every bander waits in eager anticipation for.  Shortly thereafter, the Bird Banding Laboratory notified us that a female Broad-tailed that we had banded last year on September 3rd was found, albeit dead, near Westcliffe, Colorado on June 14, 2010.

Then, our first Allen’s Hummingbird of the season turned out to be a recapture, an adult male caught at the Eastman’s house on July 30th.  We had banded him last year, on October 31th in Alpine, some 31 miles SSE of the recapture location.  Thirty-three days later he would return to the Alpine neighborhood near where he was originally banded in 2009 and over the next several weeks, while avoiding several attempts to trap him again, his band number would be meticulously confirmed by Carolyn’s photographs.  Another recapture near the end of July, on the 27th, would start a series of foreign recaptures that in the end were the envy of many other hummingbird banding operations.  I guess we were just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time!

Banded adult male Allen’s Hummingbird in Alpine on September 2, 2010 (Carolyn Ohl-Johnson)

An adult male Rufous Hummingbird wearing E72645 was trapped at 8:45 am at our Davis Mountains property.  We knew immediately that he was a foreign recapture, yet the band number was vaguely familiar to us.   Last year on August 19th we had recaptured E72682 in our yard in Fort Davis, also an adult male Rufous.  Since E72682 was banded in Dunster, British Columbia, guess what?  So was E72645!  He was originally banded on May 9, 2009 and was recaptured earlier this year there in Dunster on May 7th.  Folks that is two recaptures from the exact same location, 1,950 miles from the Davis Mountains.  Figure the odds!  It was not long before we hit pay dirt again.  While conducting a hummingbird workshop for the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center at the Davis Mountains Preserve on August 6th, another foreign recapture was caught at 9:09 am.  C41529, this time on an adult female Rufous Hummingbird, was originally banded on July 21, 2007 at Snoqualmie Pass, Washington.

We did not have to wait long for the next hit.  Two days later, after a really productive morning banding at our Davis Mountains property, an adult female Rufous Hummingbird flew into the trap at 12:16 pm and Carolyn asked, “do you want one more?”  I said “sure, why not”.  Turns out that bird was wearing H57858 and was banded on May 21, 2010 in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana.  Three foreign recaptures in thirteen days, not bad huh?

On August 10th we caught our first “white” hummingbird, a leucistic juvenile female Black-chinned Hummingbird at Carolyn’s CMO.  She first showed up on August 2nd and I managed to photographed her two days later.  After banding her she vacillated back and forth from CMO to Suzy and Terry Ervin’s house, one of our banding sites three miles away.  When she flew across our Chihuahuan Desert landscape, she truly looked like a tiny white fairy.  She was last observed on August 23rd.

Leucistic HY F Black-chinned Hummingbird on August 4, 2010 (Kelly Bryan)

Back in the winter I was thinking about the August 2011 Hummingbird Research Conference we agreed to host in Fort Davis and how we would organize the banding venues during the event.  The thought occurred to me to do a “test run” this August.  So, invitations were extended and dates were set.  Who better to critique my design than a cadre of close friends and colleagues?  Fred Bassett was already here, on his annual trip from Idaho back to Alabama; Bob and Martha Sargent drove in from Alabama; Sue Heath and Tad Fennell drove in from the Upper Texas Coast; and two banders flew in for the event, Doreen Cubie from South Carolina and Bruce Peterjohn from Washington, D.C.   Bruce is the director of the Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland and it was a real privilege to have him join in the effort.  From August 19th to the 22nd we divided up the sampling sites and tested the waters.  In four days we managed to capture and band 440 birds of 7 species and process 38 recaptures.  The best bird of the event was an adult female hybrid (Calliope X Rufous) banded by Fred Bassett on the second day out.  However, the 30 Lucifer Hummingbirds caught (11 new birds and 19 recaptures) thrilled the group the most.  For most of them it was their first experience handling a Lucifer.  August was in the books and for the month in twenty-four sessions (including the test run) we trapped and banded 1,304 birds of nine species and caught 106 recaptures.   Leading the list of species banded were Rufous with 490, Black-chinned with 440, Broad-tailed with 254 and Lucifer with 38.

Bruce, Doreen and Fred banding hummingbirds in the Davis Mountains

September brought higher diversity but overall abundance declined which is normal for that time of the year.  In twenty-two sessions we trapped and banded 581 new birds of 10 species and caught 33 recaptures.  Top species were Black-chinned with 165, Broad-tailed with 150, Rufous with 149 and Ruby-throated with 52.  We caught and banded our last Lucifer of the year on September 29th, our 101st for 2010; even more remarkably, we would recapture 97 previously banded Lucifers!  Surely, that is some kind of a record.  To me personally, the highlight of the month involved a species I have not mentioned much – Allen’s Hummingbird.  We were having a banner year catching this species and on September 13th there were four different individuals in my yard in Fort Davis (including an adult male that I banded last year).  Then, on September 26th there were five different individuals present at the same time in Carolyn’s yard in Alpine (including the adult male, previously mentioned, banded last year and recaptured earlier at the Eastman’s house in the Davis Mountains).  To my knowledge that is the most Allen’s Hummingbirds ever reported at a given location in Texas.  By the end of the year we would band 27 Allen’s Hummingbirds compared to 21 the last two years combined.

HY M Allen’s Hummingbird in the Christmas Mountains shortly after being banded on August 31, 2010 (Kelly Bryan)

Great news arrived on the September 8th while we were in Cloudcroft, New Mexico banding hummingbirds at Jackie Cates residence.  A male Magnificent Hummingbird, band number L07003, was recaptured in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona on September 4th.  We had banded him last year, on October 6th as a juvenile male at our Davis Mountains property.  This was the first conclusive proof that Magnificent Hummingbird populations of the Sierra Madre Oriental in the east and those of the Sierra Madre Occidental in the west interchange.

Yet another recapture was in the books on the 9th; a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird wearing band number L07995 was trapped also at our Davis Mountains property.  He was originally banded near Estes Park, Colorado on May 26, 2010.  Two other September highlights came on the 15th and then on the 17th.  While banding in the Christmas Mountains on the 15th we caught another hybrid, this time a juvenile male Archilochus with a few rosy-pink gorget feathers, almost assuredly a Black-chinned X Ruby-throated hybrid.  Then back up in the Davis Mountains in light rain on the 17th, we caught our first Blue-throated Hummingbird for the project, a juvenile female.  She stayed for about three weeks and it was a real pleasure to have her at my feeders.  The reality that migration was waning was becoming very apparent as October arrived.

October is a transition month.  Hummingbird banders up north have very little transition as almost all hummers have departed south due to impending winter cold.  For banders in the southeast it is time to start chasing those arriving “winter” hummers and see what is going to show up among the normal Ruby-throats, Rufous and Buff-bellieds.  In the far southwest (mainly California and Arizona) there are always resident Anna’s, Costa’s and Allen’s to be had among lingering migrants of other species.  Here in west Texas it is Anna’s time.  2008 was a very dynamic year for this species here, 2009 not so much.  We don’t yet know what is normal—the next two months would tell us how this year would stack up to the last two.  For the month, in thirteen banding sessions, we caught and banded 233 birds of 7 species and had 38 recaptures.  Top species were Broad-tailed with 121, Anna’s with 42 and Rufous with 27.

Yet another hybrid was captured on the 1st of the month, this time a Calliope X Broad-tailed.  But the event of October came on the 17th down in the Christmas Mountains.  While banding at Bonnie Wunderlich’s house, a small grey and green female hummingbird flew in and inspected the trap, once and then again.  As she flew up to a perch we could see a small triangle of purple in her gorget and a flash of a band on her leg.  Could it be that the female Costa’s Hummingbird that we caught and banded last year on October 29th, then recaptured this past January had returned?  Odds were that it was the same individual.  Not surprisingly, she had remembered the trap and would have nothing to do with it.  Carolyn started a photographic vigil to get that band number but that did not work, her legs were simply too short and her belly feathers constantly hid the band.  Naturally, we had to try to catch her, to verify she was the same individual.  It would take almost two months.

Time was speeding by and the year was drawing to a close; however, there were still some highlights to be had.  Since late September construction of our cabin on our Davis Mountains property had been ongoing and in early November Donna had some corrective surgery, which required considerable recovery time.  Free days for hummingbird banding were at a premium.  For the last two months of the year we managed ten sessions, banded 33 new birds of 6 species and had 8 recaptures.  Top species were Anna’s with 26, Rufous with 2, and Allen’s with 2.  The first highlight of the period came on November 10th in Marathon at the home of Heidi Trudell and Matt York.  There we caught a female Black-chinned Hummingbird, our latest record for the species.  We would catch her again on December 8th providing, to my knowledge, the first documented winter record for the species in west Texas.

Hummingbird central – our new cabin in the Davis Mountains

On the morning of November 11th we arrived at the Eastman’s house with great expectations.  A Violet-crowned Hummingbird had arrived a few days earlier and was still being seen.  I had tried to catch two other Violet-crowns with no success, one in Fort Davis and the other in Fort Stockton.  I must say that I had mixed feelings about trying to catch this rare Texas hummingbird.  After catching 3 Anna’s among 10-15 birds present that morning, the Violet-crowned finally made an appearance.  A couple of looks at that strange wire cage around his feeder did not deter him at all; he went right in to the feeder and was trapped.  Marc Eastman expertly placed the band on his leg and we determined the bird was a juvenile male.  Immediately upon releasing him we shut down the trapping operation and within an hour he was back feeding on the uncaged feeders along with the other hummingbirds.  He would stay until late December.

HY M Violet-crowned Hummingbird banded on November 11, 2010 (Kelly Bryan)

The Violet-crowned Hummingbird on November 20, 2010 (Maryann Eastman)

On December 10th we took one last trip down to Terlingua Ranch to target a few Anna’s and take another shot at the female Costa’s at Bonnie’s house.  We had a trick up our sleeve.  A couple of weeks earlier, Carolyn had installed a “trainer” trap on one of Bonnie’s feeders.  This was a wire trap with openings on the sides and in the top, designed to allow birds to come and go from the feeder within but never get trapped.  After a while, both Carolyn and Bonnie observed her using the feeder hanging in the trainer trap.  Upon arrival that morning, we closed all the openings with the exception of the front door and caught her in less than ten minutes.  Indeed it was the individual that we first banded in 2009 wearing band L06448, recaptured in January 2010 and returned to this location on October 17th.  All of this from a tiny hummingbird band on a tiny bird!

Female Costa’s Hummingbird in Terlingua Ranch near Willow Mountain on November 9, 2010 (Carolyn Ohl-Johnson)

In summary, 2010 was a very productive year with many significant recaptures.  We completed 107 banding sessions, caught and banded 2,886 new birds of 13 species.  We caught an impressive 14 species total and processed 305 recaptures (of 12 species).  Top species banded for the year included; Black-chinned with 1,059, Rufous 727, Broad-tailed 694, Lucifer 101, Ruby-throated 83, and Anna’s 81.  In addition, we logged 7,676 miles to and from our banding sites.

All of this could not be accomplished without the help and support of others.  First, the banding team comprised of Donna, Carolyn, Maryann Eastman and Marc Eastman.  Finally, there are our host sites that are so vitally important to this effort; there simply would not be a project without them.  These include: Patti and George True in El Paso; Mickey and Bill West in El Paso; the Desert Rain Community in Chaparral, New Mexico; Robyn Haymes in High Rolls, New Mexico; Jackie Cates in Cloudcroft, New Mexico; Heidi Trudell and Matt York in Marathon, Texas; Hugh Johnson (and Carolyn) in Alpine; Annie and Eric Faust in Alpine; Suzy and Terry Ervin in Terlingua Ranch; Bonnie Wunderlich in Terlingua Ranch; Evelyn Fulcher in Study Butte; Clem at the Terlingua Ghost Town; Carolyn’s Christmas Mountains Oasis; Cathy Hoyt and staff at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center near Fort Davis; Chris Pipes and Greg Crow at the Nature Conservancy’s Davis Mountains Preserve west of McDonald Observatory; Maryann and Marc Eastman in the Davis Mountains; Barbara and Sam House in the Davis Mountains; and Claire and Gary Freeman in the Davis Mountains.  We thank each and every one of them for supporting and contributing to the success of this project.  Now bring on 2011, we are ready!

Project totals through 2010 (new birds banded only):

  • Broad-billed – 7
  • White-eared – 16
  • Violet-crowned – 1
  • Blue-throated – 1
  • Magnificent – 153
  • Lucifer – 188
  • Ruby-throated – 210
  • Black-chinned – 2,130
  • Anna’s – 190
  • Costa’s – 2
  • Calliope – 180
  • Broad-tailed – 1,464
  • Rufous – 1,301
  • Allen’s – 49

Hybrids:

  • Broad-tailed X Black-chinned – 2
  • Anna’s X Allen’s – 1
  • Calliope X Rufous – 1
  • Calliope X Broad-tailed – 1
  • Ruby-throated X Black-chinned – 1