2013 – She went to Alaska!

We were excited about the start of 2013 as we hoped the unusual winter activity we experienced the last two months of 2012 would carry over into the new year.  Our expectations were fulfilled as hummingbirds continued to move in good numbers in January and February.  Since the beginning of the current study we had tried to sample during the mid-winter season but with very limited success.  Frankly, we did not think that wintering populations were very dynamic—just a scattering of birds at various locations.  Most birds present, especially the Anna’s Hummingbirds, were previously banded in late fall and maintained a definite degree of trap shyness through the mid-winter months.  Therefore, it was a real surprise to see the diversity and abundance of unbanded birds that we encountered through the end of February.  From a broader perspective, it was our feeling that the effects of the 2011 drought were still being reflected in local hummingbird populations just like in general bird populations.  We were anxious to answer those questions pertaining to migrant and summer populations as the year progressed.

So, lets begin the 2013 story.  After getting the holidays out of the way and waiting out some bad weather, we made it down to south Brewster County on 14 January.  Actually, Carolyn was not able to make it that day and after catching 13 hummingbirds of 3 species at Lajitas and Study Butte combined, it was about noon and time to shut down the banding operation for the day.  As I approached the trap there at Far Flung Outdoor Center to take it down, a small hummer came in and perched on a yucca just behind it.  I knew immediately it was not an Anna’s—it was a female Costa’s Hummingbird.  As I backed off from the trap she left but I knew I had to wait her out if I wanted a shot at catching her and putting a band on her leg.  An hour later, after catching two more unbanded and one previously banded Anna’s, I caught her.  I was processing one of the other birds when I noticed a bird sitting on the feeder in the trap.  I closed the door, finished the other bird and discovered it was the Costa’s only as I approached the trap to remove it.  After being trapped and banded, she stayed at that location for another week and was photographed by at least two persons, including Carolyn, and observed by several other birders.

Adult female Costa's Hummingbird at Far Flung.  Photo by Carolyn Ohl-Johnson

Adult female Costa’s Hummingbird at Far Flung. Photo by Carolyn Ohl-Johnson

For January and February, we managed 7 banding sessions (days) at 17 different locations and caught 79 birds of 6 species including 57 new birds and 22 recaptures (returns).  Top species were Anna’s (45 new birds/10 returns), Rufous (6 new birds/10 returns), Allen’s (3 new birds/1 return), Black-chinned (2), Costa’s (1) and Lucifer (1 return).  Adding the December 2012 totals to the above to better reflect the “winter” season, we caught and banded/recaptured 124 birds compared to our previous winter season high of 22 birds.  The two Black-chinned records above were very important; the first was an immature (second-year) male at the Ervin residence in Terlingua Ranch on 17 Jan and the second an adult female at our cabin in the Davis Mountains on 3 February.  However, other than the Costa’s record profiled in the previous paragraph, the capture of a previously banded Lucifer Hummingbird on 26 February at the Christmas Mountains Oasis was my highlight of the season.  Carolyn first saw him on the evening of 23 February, an early spring arrival date for the species in the US (see http://www.cmoasis.blogspot.com/2013/02/not-best-laid-plan.html).  When we caught him three days later the rest of the story was revealed.  He was wearing band number H48590 and was originally banded on 16 August 2009 as an adult bird.  This was the fourth time we had recaptured him (in addition to 3 June 2010, 12 May 2011, and 23 Jun 2012); he is now at least five years old.

By the first of March all of the Anna’s left headed for the west coast and their breeding grounds.  I must say that March and April are now the slowest months of the year.  Early spring migration in this region is just not very dynamic and seldom includes any vagrant species.  You will find a few Lucifer and Black-chins in the lower desert and three species in the mountains including the latter, Broad-tails and Magnificents.  A few Rufous Hummingbirds are seen occasionally but their stay at any feeder station is very short-term (usually only an hour or two) as they are headed to their breeding grounds with haste.  The highlight of early spring occurred at our cabin in the heart of the Davis Mountains.  While refilling the feeders there on 24 March I noticed a very familiar bird coming in for a drink and he was already wearing a band.  E14593 was back for his 7th year.  This adult male Black-chin X Broad-tail hybrid appears in every report I have written on this web site and you can find several pictures of him as well in the species accounts.  In the past we have sampled at most of our study sites during this early spring time frame but came up empty as many times as we caught a few birds. This year was no different—we only caught 14 Black-chinned Hummingbirds for the two months.  Therefore, we were really looking forward to late spring (May and early June) when numbers typically increase.

News arrived from the Bird Banding Laboratory in May and June that two of our banded hummingbirds had 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 15 May 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 a juvenile male on 8 October 2010 at our cabin in the Davis Mountains.  Therefore, he was three years old at the time he was caught in the net.  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 22 May 2013.  He was originally banded, as an adult male, on 1 September 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.

June produced one other significant event.  But first to summarize, for the two-month, late spring period we managed to complete 8 banding sessions at 13 different locations.  We caught and banded 89 new birds and recaptured 51 previously banded birds.  It was one of the recaptured birds that set off fireworks.  Quite honestly, part of the thrill of trapping and banding is the fact that you never know what you are going to get.  Such was the case on the morning of 26 June at the Christmas Mountains Oasis.  Pressed for time, 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.  As stated before many times, recaptures are a very important aspect of any bird banding operation and provide invaluable data.  At 8:15 am we caught what appeared to be a banded adult male Lucifer Hummingbird.   On closer examination in hand a number of features were not quite right.  Very soon it was obviously apparent that the bird was a male hybrid between Lucifer and Black-chinned Hummingbird.

Now here is the ”rest of the story” for band number P00978.  I originally banded that bird as a HY M Black-chinned Hummingbird on 24 July 2011 there at the same location. 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 intermediate characters in the tail.  Below are the details of this bird and its hybrid characteristics.  I believe this is the first hybrid combination of these two species to be banded, measured and photographed in hand.

Measurements:

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

Also, the following details were noted:

  • 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 rufous wash in the underparts typical of a male LUHU
Adult male LUHU X BCHU hybrid.  Kelly Bryan

Adult male LUHU X BCHU hybrid. Kelly Bryan

Hybrid gorget

Note the extent of the purple on this hybrid and the limited black chin. Photo by Kelly Bryan

July had arrived and the start of fall migration would soon begin.  Would it be dynamic or would birds just trickle through as they had done a few of the years since I moved to Fort Davis.  One of the purposes of this study is to document these patterns and try to understand their cause.  The first Rufous Hummingbirds arrived on time but by the end of the month it was apparent that volume was well below normal.  For the month we completed 19 banding sessions at 28 different locations.  We caught and banded 378 new birds and recaptured 71 previously banded birds of 8 species.  Top species banded were Black-chinned with 215 new birds, Broad-tailed with 80 and Rufous with only 53.  Only one Allen’s (an adult female) and five Calliopes were banded prior to the arrival of August.  The best bird of the month was a female Anna’s Hummingbird caught and banded at our cabin on 12 July, a very rare encounter for that time of the year.  July was very special for another reason not related to the above data, as you will see below.  This foreign recapture will undoubtedly stand as the highlight of our banding efforts.

A female Rufous Hummingbird wearing band number P05173 was recaptured on 4 July 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. Turns out we banded this little female in 2012 as a juvenile bird, catching her on 27 August.  We encountered her that day while she was south bound on her fall migration into Mexico.  Banding her was a collaborative effort that day with Dr. Bruce Peterjohn, director of the BBL, having the honors of putting the band on her leg.  Of course, we did not know she would end up in Alaska—that is precisely why we do what we do.  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 also 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!  Yes, she indeed flew to Alaska, thus the value of having that numbered band on her leg.

Fall migration picked up considerably in August and it was a very good month for hybrid combinations.  First, we caught two more Black-chin X Broad-tail hybrids in the Davis Mountains, our sixth and seventh of that combination.  We also caught an adult male Ruby-throat X Black-chin hybrid at the Christmas Mountains Oasis, our second bird of that combination.  However, it was the next hybrid that we found most interesting; it was an adult male Broad-tail X Anna’s Hummingbird.  He was caught at Marc and Maryann’s house on 8 August; Mark had observed him a few days prior to the day we caught him.  Twice in the past five years the Eastman’s have hosted summering Anna’s Hummingbirds at their residence and it is our strong suggestion that this hybrid was produced locally.  There are few other areas in the US where these two species come in contact during the breeding season, foremost in the Sierra Nevada of California.  Adding to the intrigue with respect to the occurrence of Anna’s Hummingbirds in summer here, two more unbanded Anna’s were caught in August, one on 8 and another on 16 August.   Adding even more intrigue to this thread was the recapture on 28 August of the female we originally banded on 12 July, yet another piece to this growing Anna’s Hummingbird puzzle.

Adult male Broad-tail X Anna's Hummingbird hybrid on 8 August 2013.  Photo by Kelly Bryan

Adult male Broad-tail X Anna’s Hummingbird hybrid on 8 August 2013. Photo by Kelly Bryan

Note the color in the crown of this hybrid.  Photo by Kelly Bryan

Note the color in the crown of this hybrid. Photo by Kelly Bryan

For the month of August we completed 22 banding sessions at 29 different locations.  We caught and banded 862 new birds and recaptured 57 previously banded birds of 9 species total.  Top species banded were Rufous with 417 birds, Black-chinned with 251, Broad-tailed with 136 and Calliope with 26.

September proved to be a fairly normal month.  Movement by southbound hummingbirds continued fairly strong through the end of the month.  We completed 13 banding sessions at 23 different locations, catching and banding 514 new birds and recapturing 31 previously banded birds of 8 species total.  Top species banded for the month included Rufous with 147, Black-chinned with 126, Broad-tailed with 125 and Ruby-throated with 64.  On 6 September we caught an adult female Allen’s Hummingbird in our yard in Fort Davis.  Turns out she would stay until the ice storm that hit the area Thanksgiving week.  Until now only male Allen Hummingbirds had been encountered that late into the fall season.  One reason our September effort is smaller than August is the fact that we take a week off in the middle of the month to help out at the Rockport-Fulton HummerBird Celebration on the Texas coast.  We always enjoy attending this festival and banding large numbers of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrating along the Texas coast for the crowds of attendees there; however, it does impact, to a small degree, our west Texas data set.   Check out the festival offerings at: http://www.rockporthummingbird.com.

October always delivers a noticeable decline in migration volume.  With that comes a slightly reduced effort due to the fact that it is time to catch up with family matters, i.e. visiting our parents, kids and grandkids.  Other than the week surrounding the Fourth of July Holidays, it is normally nothing but hummingbirds for the entire three-month period prior to October.  We did have a few October highlights, the first sort of a mini milestone.  We had been seeing a couple of banded Lucifer Hummingbirds in late September at our cabin in the Davis Mountains.  Finally, on 2 Oct we caught one of them, an adult male.  Turns out he was banded the previous fall, also there at our cabin.  That recapture represented the first year-to-year return of a banded Lucifer in the Davis Mountains.  For the month we completed 8 sampling trips to 13 different study sites.  We caught and banded 111 new birds and recaptured 14 previously banded birds of 7 species total.  Top species were Broad-tailed with 57, Rufous with 19, Lucifer with 11 and Black-chinned with 9.  Another October highlight was a second adult female Allen’s Hummingbird caught and banded in Alpine on 20 October, adding another record of this age and sex class for late fall season.  The final October highlight also involved the Lucifer Hummingbird.  Environmental conditions for this late fall season were good, arguably the best since the fall of 2008.  We were speculating among ourselves that Lucifer Hummingbirds were still in a breeding mode even though all of the adult males had departed.  Confirmation came on 23 October when we caught 9 Lucifers that day.  One was an adult female and one was a recapture, but the other 7 were juveniles and 5 of those showed definite signs they were recent fledglings.  Those signs included fleshy gapes, fully grooved upper mandibles, very soft bills and very fresh plumage.  We had previously seen similar features in a single juvenile bird banded in mid-October of 2008.

Once again in November we spent more time on family commitments than on our project.  We did manage 8 sampling sessions at 14 locations and caught 36 birds, including 23 new birds and 13 recaptures of 4 species.  The one highlight of the month occurred on the twelfth at the Christmas Mountains Oasis, a day we got caught in the wind, cold, low clouds and mist.  Out of four birds caught that short morning was an Anna’s Hummingbird wearing band number R99072.  She was originally banded on 30 October 2008 as a juvenile female, making her five years old.  November marks the end of fall migration for most species and the beginning of the winter season for some.  What would our winter season be like?  Would it be as dynamic as last winter?

December held the answers but it started out slow volume-wise.  We were catching a few previously banded Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds from last winter, a sign that some of those birds had returned to the region again this year, but would we see the volume we saw last winter?  The first highlight of the month came on the third.  Bonnie Wunderlich had notified Carolyn and myself that a male Costa’s Hummingbird appeared at her feeders the week before Thanksgiving.  After returning from the holidays we made the trip down to her house and he was the first bird in the trap that morning.  He was a second-year bird in full adult plumage except for his crown and gorget.  This was our fifth Costa’s of the project.

Male Costa's Hummingbird.  Photo by Graham Floyd

Male Costa’s Hummingbird. Photo by Graham Floyd

The second highlight of the month came on the ninth.  We set up to band at the casitas located at Far Flung in Study Butte.  Volume had definitely increased at that location compared to the previous week when no birds were seen.  We had an audience that morning and one of the Far Flung staff members said that another staff member commented that he thought he saw a Lucifer Hummingbird.  Obviously, my initial thought was “nonsense!”  Good thing I did not say that out loud, as a little while later Carolyn said “there is a male Lucifer Hummingbird!”  This time I did say out loud, “please tell me he is in the trap and the door is shut!”  Sure nuf, he was.  He was an adult male in old, worn plumage but molting his primary wing feathers.  His gorget was more orange and pink than the normal purple and pink due to feather wear; otherwise he was in good shape despite the fact he had not molted his body feathers.  This species normally migrates in fall into Mexico by early November; however, adult males migrate sooner than females and juvenile birds and the latest record for an adult male is usually early October.  The fact is, we have absolutely no idea what the exact winter status of this species in northern Mexico is due to lack of observers across hundreds of thousands of square miles of sparsely populated lands.  Presently, documented winter records for this species in Mexico exist only as far north as the State of Sinaloa on the Pacific slope.  This record represents the first documented mid-winter record for the entire US.

Adult male Lucifer Hummingbird banded at Far Flung on 9 December 2013.  Photo by Kelly Bryan

Adult male Lucifer Hummingbird banded at Far Flung on 9 December 2013. Photo by Kelly Bryan

The third highlight of the month was not a bird we caught and banded but one that we observed while we were banding.  We arrived at Lajitas just before 8:00 am on 17 December and before we could even get setup, we found a male Blue-throated Hummingbird flying around and calling.  This is a species that is normally only a summer resident in Texas, and only in the Chisos Mountains of the nearby Big Bend National Park.  There was a definite increase in volume there and he was among the several birds flying around the feeders that morning.  After an hour or so it was apparent he had no interest in the trap and soon disappeared, not to return.  We did catch 8 birds that morning, for us the last banding day of the year.  Fortunately, Carolyn returned the next day and relocated him at the same spot.  This represents only the third documented winter record for Texas.

Male Blue-throated Hummingbird at Lajitas on 20 December 2013.  Photo by Carolyn Ohl-Johnson

Male Blue-throated Hummingbird at Lajitas on 20 December 2013. Photo by Carolyn Ohl-Johnson

In our 5 banding sessions at 12 different locations in December we managed to catch 45 hummingbirds of 5 species, including 26 new birds and 19 recaptures.  The holidays had arrived and banding was put on hold until after the first of the new year.  What would be waiting for us when we returned in January?  Would the Blue-throated Hummingbird stay or leave?  Would anything special show up at any of our study sites?  Sorry, you will just have to wait until 2014 to get the answers to those questions.

For information on Lajitas see: http://www.lajitasgolfresort.com

For information on Far Flung Outdoor Adventures see: http://www.bigbendfarflung.com

On behalf of our banding team including myself, Donna Bryan, Carolyn Ohl-Johnson, Marc Eastman and Maryann Eastman, thank you to every one for helping make 2013 a successful banding year!  And, a special thanks to Laura Gold-Brainard for helping out with the feeders at Lajitas and to the staff at Far Flung for maintaining feeders to attract birds.  We look forward to 2014 and what the year has to offer.  Our past accomplishments are many and the value of the data collected only gets better.  To date our results are as follows.

2013 results and project totals are as follows (project totals reflect new birds banded only):

Species New banded birds Returns/recaps Project totals
Magnificent  5  1 194
Blue-throated  0  0 3
Lucifer  72  79 482
Ruby-throated 77  1 429
Black-chinned  668  66 4,962
Anna’s  77  27 362
Costa’s  2  0 5
Broad-tailed  429  54 2,925
Rufous  660  38 3,644
Allen’s  18  7 114
Calliope  59  1 458
Broad-billed  0  0 10
Buff-bellied  0  0 1
Violet-crowned  0  0 1
White-eared  0  0 16
BCHU X BTLH hybrid  2  1 7
ANHU X ALHU  0  0 1
CAHU X RUHU  0  0 2
RTHU X BCHU  1  0 2
BTLH X CAHU  0  0 1
TOTALS 2,071 280 13,613