June was Lazuli Bunting month with a total of 13 banded. LAZB
are among our favourite birds (although we seem to say that about
many species!) and are the iconic birds of Colony Farm Regional
Park. This year LAZB have been turning up in unusually high numbers
and we have received reports of sightings throughout the lower
Lapis lazuli is a
semiprecious rich azure blue gemstone, whose name came from Middle
English via Medieval Latin going back to Arabic and Persian words.
Lapis means stone while lazuli is the rich blue color diagnostic of
Although the fluorescent blue of most
adult males extends to the head and crown two of the adult birds
banded had an unusually extensive buffy-brown wash to their crowns
as can be seen in the photos below. This was particularly
interesting given that both birds were adults in at least their
third calendar year.
Buntings often have
an extensive 1st prebasic molt including all lesser, median and
greater coverts, carpal covert, alula, tertials, additional inner
secondaries and outer primaries. Members of the Cardinalis family
like Grosbeaks and Buntings where males have such contrasting and
distinctive plumages are very helpful for learning molt patterns and
especially helpful in looking for molt limits in females of the same
The wings below
show an adult (after-second year ASY) male left and second year (SY)
The wing of the ASY
male shows no discernible molt limits, all body and flight feathers
having been replaced in the birds definitive adult prebasic molt
following the breeding season last year. Note the blue edging to all
of the primary coverts and remiges (primaries and secondaries).
Our SY male below
right shows distinctive contrasts between 2 generations of feathers;
juvenal and first basic and illustrates the eccentric pattern of
replaced remiges common in this species.
In its 1st prebasic
molt following the breeding season last year this bird replaced
lesser, median and greater coverts, the carpal covert, alula, the
outermost primaries (pp 2-9; primaries are numbered distally away
from the birds body with p9 the outermost) and innermost secondaries
(ss 5 & 6) and all 3 tertials (ss 7-9). the retained innermost
primary and outermost 4 secondaries bracketed in the photo.
This particular bird also replaced the
outer 6 primary coverts - notice the washed out, worn and lightly
pigmented appearance of the retained juvenal feathers especially the
now very worn and tapered 3 innermost primary coverts (red arrow).
molt limits we talk about to age NA landbirds in the hand are
sometimes quite subtle and difficult to see with the untrained eye
but the super-macro photo of the primary coverts of a SY male LAZB
below clearly shows the difference between feather generations. In
this photo the innermost 6 primary coverts and innermost visible
primaries are retained feathers - notice again the lightly pigmented
appearance and brownish rachises of the retained feathers versus the
glossy black rachises of the replaced feathers.
Contrast the bright, fluorescent blue of the adult male above with
the drab greyish brown adult female LAZB below and it's easy to see
how they can be misidentified or missed altogether in the field.
after second year (ASY) female again showing no discernible molt
limits having replaced all flight feathers (primaries, secondaries
and retrices) in her definitive adult prebasic molt following the
breeding season last year. We've talked previously how tail shape
can be another helpful clue to ageing birds in the hand. It is
important not to use tail shape alone however as it is
generally not very reliable because of a) individual variation and
b) the possibility of accidental loss and replacement (called
adventitious molt). Tail shape is not helpful at all in ageing LAZB
as both adults and hatch year birds typically replace retrices.
same super-macro photography we talked about above allows close up
views of even the smallest feathers such as the carpal covert of
American Goldfinches (AMGO) which is a key feather in ageing this
Ageing AMGO is
easier than in many species as there are two ageing shortcuts
banders can use. First we look for a buffy tip on the carpal covert.
At this time of the year only SY
birds have a buffy fringe to the terminal edge of this feather -
adults lack this buffy tip to the carpal covert (although they can
show a white tip).
The photo below left clearly shows
a buffy fringe not only to the carpal covert (red arrow) but also to
all 3 alula feathers and under alula coverts which are all retained
And in spring/summer AMGO’s are the
ONLY birds where we can use the prealternate molt for ageing as only
SY birds molt their inner GC’s as part of their prealternate molt
which can be seen on the photo below right, the red arrow pointing
to the replaced glossy black inner greater coverts.
species of Empidonax flycatchers in one morning was a great test of
our Empid ID skills!
As we said in our
May 2011 Blog silent
Empidonax flycatchers are the birder's ID nightmare but Empids
in the hand although confusing are less of a challenge as we have
the opportunity to take biometric measurements and examine wing
morphology which usually allows us to make the correct
Four of the five Empids banded (in
clockwise order starting top left) below are: Least, Dusky,
Pacific-slope and Willow Flycatchers.
morphology refers to the shape of the wing and reflects 3 aspects of
the primaries; the lengths (or primary projection) and the
occurrence of notches on the inner web and emarginations on the
outer web. Wing morphology differs between species and allows
banders to (usually!) make the correct identification.
This wing shape affects the primary tip spacing and length of the
tips of the primaries in relation to the tips of the tertials.
Examples of this can be seen below showing the shorter primary
projection of Least Flycatcher (photo below left) to the longer
primary projection of Pacific-slope Flycatcher (photo below right).
||The primary tip
spacing on Pacific-slope Flycatcher shows a long gap between P5 and
P6 as can be seen in the photo left. This primary tip spacing
differs among all the Empidonax flycatchers allowing for accurate
identification of birds in the hand.
more visitors to the station this month which included a field trip
for 3rd and 4th year students from the University of the Fraser
Valley (UFV) taking an introduction to bird biology course. Despite
the drizzly day everyone had a great morning with lots of birds and
visitors from as far away as Washington, Philadelphia, Florida and
Hungary made it a truly international month for visitors!
Sandy Tassel and Craig Lee (above)
were visitors from Bellingham, WA just south of the border, Craig is
Executive Director of the Whatcom Land Trust and former director of
the international program at the Audubon Society.
Our good friend and BC birding expert
Dan Bastaja came back for a visit from Hungary where he now lives
accompanied by the Carelse family from Maple Ridge.
|We also had an
opportunity to visit Eric Demer's banding station in Nanaimo on
Vancouver Island. Eric has been training with us for the past
several years and has now set up his own operation in Buttertubs
Marsh in association with Vancouver Island University where he is a
odd pose was due the fact that the remote on his camera only had a 2
second time delay so there were several shots of him not quite
making it back in to position in time!
variety of wood warblers (well for us in the west anyway!) produced
Common Yellowthroat, Wilson's, Orange-crowned, MacGillivray's,
Yellow-rumped and this handsome after second year (ASY) male Yellow
Warbler, VARC's logo bird!
We discussed the prealternate molt in
Yellow Warblers in the
July 2011 blog when we
said that both first year birds and adults undergo a second molt
that occurs prior to the next prebasic molt - called the
prealternate molt it occurs in both first year birds and adults
during the late winter / early spring. In spring and summer first
year birds can show three generations of feathers but adults can
also show molt limits!
Such is the case with our adult
(after second year ASY) male below (the right wing of the bird
above). This bird again replaced all body and flight feather during
its definitive adult prebasic molt following the breeding season
last year. During its prealternate molt in the late winter / early
spring it has again replaced the innermost greater coverts and two
innermost tertials; the adult prealternate molt limits illustrated
with blue arrows.
Oddly this bird had one shorter
primary (p2 illustrated with the black arrow) and although this
feather was not in sheath (e.g. not growing) it was also not
symmetrical and likely just an anomaly.
record numbers of MacGillivray's Warblers - this nice after second
year (ASY) male with the bright white eye arcs was the subject of
image of the month for June!
Hummingbird monitoring continued with the first hatch year birds
showing up in our traps. This hatch year (HY) male Anna's
Hummingbird showing the sprinkling of magenta-pink feathers on the
crown and gorget was also well advanced in its first prebasic molt
replacing flight feathers (photo below right)
about ageing hummingbirds based on the deep grooves or corrugations
along the rhamphotheca (the horny covering of the bill) lateral to
the culmen and couldn't resist a super-macro photograph showing this
in the image below.
Operating our electronic hummingbird trap trippers requires extreme
concentration as can be seen from the photo of Kyle above right
anxiously awaiting the next hummer in the trap. Fortunately Mike was
there to help him maintain his focus!
Another month and another Bird Monitoring and Banding Workshop when
we welcomed a full house to the June course with attendees from as
far away as California this time! Another great group of people who
sacrificed an entire weekend to learn all about molt and ageing in
NA landbirds and as always their kind workshop evaluations can be
seen by clicking here:
June workshop evaluations
June is also the month for baby birds
showing all the characteristics of birds in juvenal plumage like
prominent gapes, streaked/spotted plumage, loosely textured feathers
and natal plumes showing through the head feathers and giving the
appearance of little horns as in the photo below of a hatch year
this precocious newly fledged Black-capped Chickadee!
our special species studies this year is on Band-tailed Pigeons
(BTPI) as little is known about the demographics of populations
because their habits and habitat make it impractical to locate and
observe or trap an adequate sample of birds and monitoring
information about population status is presently limited to annual
estimates of relative abundance through the harvesting of birds
primarily in the US. However, in the early 1970s the total
population size was approximately at 2.9-7.1 million birds in the
Pacific Coast region (estimated primarily from harvest reports) and
has shown a consistent decline in the species occurrence.
The single greatest challenge in the
monitoring and management of band-tailed pigeon populations is the
lack of reliable information on population abundance. Existing
surveys for this species provide only trends in abundance and no
information about absolute population size.
BTPI occur in large numbers (flocks
of 100 individuals or more) in the Park where they feed on the
abundant elderberry fruit and the addition of our J-Trap has
provided a unique opportunity to study this species.
BTPI can breed year round and
molting of primaries also occurs year round and in both age groups
making ageing and sexing difficult if not impossible in some
In adult males (photo below) the
crown, neck and head is deep pinkish/purple, the white nape band
broad, and the green iridescent patch on the hindneck extensive,
extending to the bends of the wing.
final weekend of the month we welcomed groups from the Young
Naturalists and students from Simon Fraser University making it our
busiest month ever for visitors to the station and as always it
would not be possible to entertain all of these individual and group
visitors without the help of our volunteers who at this time of the
year set their alarm clocks at ridiculously early hours to get to
the banding station for dawn on their weekends off!
to Mark Habdas, Kerry Kenwood, Carol Matthews, Jason Jones, Debbie
Wheeler, Mike Nutter, Kyle Norris, Louise Routledge, Monica Nugent,
Sara Legros, Christine Bishop, Kathy Elwood, Rufus Macintyre, Dev
Manky, Cyril Chan, Ivand Pulido, Kirsten Wilcox, Andrew Venning,
Kelly Palmer-McCarty, Marguerite Mousseau, Kaye
Simard, Lauren Orjala, Shannon LaFontaine, Eric Demers, Eleanor
Duifhuis, Kate Gibson, Robin Naidoo and Lois Schwarz for
their help with banding this month.
Avian Research Centre Society is a Registered Canadian Charity (#
82118 2656 RR0001)
Donations to a registered charity are of course tax deductible and
we hope that people concerned about avian environmental issues in
Vancouver will consider making a donation to further VARC’s work.
This can be done by simply clicking on the link below to make an
immediate donation. Thank you for your generous support – it really
is very much appreciated!