Field Notes From Borneo

Black-and-red broadbill

Teaching Banding at Danau Girang Field Centre by Suzanne Tomassi, PSBO Vice President 

Every year or so, I head off to another continent to participate in research or teaching with bird species I don’t get to study here – birds of lineages often entirely unrelated to what we encounter in the US.  I can always count on a great learning experience. In the tropics in particular, there are still so many questions to answer: with little variance in photoperiod, what triggers reproduction?  When seasons are not clearly defined and resources do not fluctuate in the regular patterns they do in temperate climates, which species migrate and why? When reproductive and migration energetic “expenses” are not on a strictly defined cycle, where does molt fit in?

This year I headed to Malaysian Borneo to seek out research opportunities for the future.  I was very lucky to be able to assist with instructing the misting netting and “ringing” component of a tropical biodiversity field course out of Cardiff University.  The University runs the Danau Girang Field Centre in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary on the river of the same name.  The river is home to a magnificent and rich avian community, including broadbills, pittas, hornbills, kingfishers, and countless other species, along with orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, clouded leopards, crocodiles, and so many other fascinating critters.

During the course, I taught university students how to mist net, ring and measure birds, and collect vital rate data; later, I offered guidance to the students as they conducted their own short studies, including one investigating whether a relationship exists between birds’ eye size and when they begin singing in the morning.  Following the course, I traveled to the Danum Valley Conservation Area and scoped potential study sites around Danum Valley Field Centre.

I’ve included a handful of my favorite photos from the trip. Enjoy them, and please drop me an email if you’re interested in visiting Sabah or learning more about the area.


Morse MAPS July 20, 2013 Field Report

Report from the Field : Morse Preserve MAPS July 20, 2013
By Don Norman, PSBO board member

The July 20th session was just me and 1 other bander – Dana Acevedo, who escaped her 2 kids to try and get the rust out of her fingers. And she was fast! She covered 7 nets while I did 9, 7 and 8. It was a still day but stayed foggy for the entire morning, making the data sheets wet. But the stillness also kept the number of birds down, so we were able to check out the individual differences present on each bird.

I had a juvenile Robin with about 10 strands of net around the back of its tongue right at the trammel line.  It was one of those times when you wish there was a better extractor around, but, darn, it’s me!  So, once again, I kicked myself for not being prepared with a crochet hook like Clarice always has. I had to lean down and find a stick and slowly lift the loops over the tongue, only to find that some were twisted.  It’s never easy.  Plus, the Robin wanted to help with its feet and another Robin caught in the net nearby kept squawking.  Finally, after getting several loops off, I tried the ‘sliding the threads over to side of the bill’ trick and voila! The bird did the work and the last loops were off. Whew!

We did catch another mystery bird.  If you saw the one from last week, that’s a good hint.

'Mystery Bird'. Check last week's post for hints. Photo by Don Norman.

We caught 2 adult male Western Tanagers – one Second Year and one After Second Year – and though the face look similar on both birds, the difference was apparent by the molt limit in the tertials, as well as the clear difference in the retrix color and shape.  The SY bird’s was brown and worn and clearly pointed on the tips while the AST was very dark and full with truncate tips.  Just to keep things interesting, the left side has a retained T1 while the T2 and T3 were molted but on the right side all three molted.  You can see the fresh tertials that molted in the spring compare with the juvenile retrices and the unmolted T1 tert.

Second year Western tanager. Photo by Don Norman.

We also captured a dad and junior Black-headed Grosbeak.  I wish I had a picture the fuzzy headed juvenile grosbeak, but I got distracted by the abundance of fat on the vent and rump of the male grosbeak.  It was hard holding the bird, blowing, and taking a photo, but you can see the yellowish fat.

Black-headed Grosbeak ASY Male showing lots of rump fat. Photo by Don Norman

We also had a nice example of the molting Robin that shows the formative molt coming in.

Juvenile American Robin showing the formative molt. Photo by Don Norman.

We also had a very interesting Steller’s Jay that was very fluffy and with some juvenile like plumage but the roof of the mouth was completely black!  But we were very distracted by the bird of the day. This male sharp-shinned hawk is the first ever capture of this species at Morse. Watch out for those talons!  Each one draws blood!

Male sharp-shinned hawk - first ever capture at Morse. Photo by Don Norman.

Since we did not have Pyle #2, we just took measurements, tail, tarsus and bill. Along with the excitement we almost forgot the cardinal rule – watch for hawks when you are banding noisy birds, like robins and grosbeaks. We spotted another hawk nearby, and it got close enough to us for us to see that it was un-banded.

And finally a fun photo.  Hawks are actually easily weighed.  You just pop them into a can and they calm down.

Weighing a sharp-shinned hawk

The last MAPS banding session will be August 3. Hope you can join us!

Morse Field Report: Banding on July 14, 2013

Field report by Don Norman, PSBO Board Member

Well it was like “old times” with Clarice Clark and I the only ones at Morse on a still, sunny day.  We still had a nice steady day with 37 captures of 12 species.  There wasn’t much time to gab and visit the tower, as we always were late to start net runs.

Having set up the Morse MAPS in 1996, it holds a very special place in my heart and my feet, having tromped the net runs many many times over the years.  I ran the station until around 2002 when Ilon Logan and Tom Rohrer began running it. I do not remember when we transitioned the bands over to Dan Froehlich, under which Ilon and Tom were sub-permitted, as I continued to run the Fort Lewis Station and worked on trying to set up a station at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island.  Suzanne Tomassi took over from them and now runs the station at Morse.

So why are we banding there?  Well, the MAPS program is the longest standardized “vital rates” constant effort banding being run in the US.  I really like Dave DeSante’s story about what really made him realize that such a project was critical to understanding changes in bird populations.  Dave was running the nets at the Palomarin station as they had been for many years, and he witnessed an amazing reduction in the foliage gleaning bird productivity at the time when the radioactive I-131 cloud from Chernoble came over the area.  I don’t really know if anyone ever figured out what the actual levels of I-131 were in the caterpillars on the leaves that received a dusting of fallout, and whether it was a lethal dose to baby vireos and not adults (which makes sense from Iodine toxicity), but the point was that Dave realized that there needed to be a way to monitor birds across the landscape to capture such events, and to do it all the same way.  That was in the mid-1980’s and now there are some 500 stations across the landscape in the US.

So back to our day of monitoring…

The most interesting bird of the day is a ‘mystery bird’ that had us stumped for a while!  Here is a series of 4 photos, with the 3rd giving away the species and the 4th the age.

Photo 1

The 1st photo makes one think of a hatch year (HY) flycatcher, which at Morse would be willow flycatcher (WIFL) or Pacific slope flycatcher (PSFL).

Photo 2

The 2nd photo can fool you into thinking it is a HY bird, except both species have really buffy wingbars.

Photo 3

The 3rd photo shows a faint eye-ring, and without looking at the wide bill and P6 emargination, one could think a Hammond’s flycatcher (HAFL). However, a careful examination of the eyering finds it to be tear-shaped, and thus a PSFL.

Photo 4

The 4th photo surprised me, as I was still leaning HY, but the full brood patch made me look at the feathers more closely and saw too much wear in the primaries and retrices for a newly fledged HY.

This Swainson’s thrush also had us scratching our heads a bit.

Swainson's thrush

Some very visible retained lesser coverts on this Swainson’s Thrush confirm that this bird is a SY.  Most of the tips on the greater and lesser coverts are worn off, but this situation was not that visible on this bird; however, the lesser coverts were.

Finally, the mystery finch.

Mystery solved for this PUFI

Gape and 2 wispy juveniles feathers on the skull indicate a HY bird, but the face pattern is clearly a purple finch (PUFI).  Several checks of the bill and tail indicated that it was indeed a PUFI.  We had 8 captures, possibly an all time high for the site.

Other species:

SPTO (3)
AMRO (5)
RUHU (2)
BEWR (2)
COYE (!)
CBCH (2)
BCCH (1)
SOSP (2)
OCWA (1)
SWTH (7 recaps)
1 Mystery Bird

July 4 MAPS Banding at Morse

Turned out to be a pretty good day at Morse with a total of 33 birds. Thanks to all the folks who turned out to help!

Here’s the summary:

American robin = 1
Swainson’s thrush = 8
Bewick’s wren = 1
Oregon junco = 1
Western tanager = 1
Orange-crowned warbler = 1
Black-headed grosbeak = 1

Song sparrow = 3
Western tanager = 1
American robin = 1
Black-headed grosbeak = 5
Orange-crowned warbler = 1
Pacific-slope flycatcher = 2
Oregon junco = 2
Black-capped chickadee = 1
Purple finch = 3

Watch bander extraordinaire Clarice Clark band a black-headed grosbeak.

Click on an image to see it full size…


September 2013 Weekend Bander Training

PSBO is pleased to announce a local two-weekend bird bander training class. Training will be held at the Northwest Stream Center, just off Interstate 5, between Seattle and Everett. This non-resident (for commuters) will take place over two weekends and is for beginner banders or those who have had some training but want to hone their skills.

Topics include netting and trapping techniques, removal of birds from mist nets, proper handling and processing of birds (including biometrics, ageing and sexing, skulling), data management, relations with the public, and banders’ ethics. At the conclusion of the weekend training, attendees will be assigned an experienced PSBO bander mentor for four follow-up training sessions between October 2012 – April 2013 at one of our winter color-banding stations in Shoreline or Lake Forest Park.

Days 1-4
Thursday September 5th, 7-9pm
Friday September 6th, 8am – 4pm
Saturday September 7th, 9am-4pm
Sunday September 8th, 8am-3pm

Days 5 and 6
Saturday September 14th, 9am-4pm
Sunday September 15th, 8am-3pm

Cost: PSBO members: $500; non-members $550. Pyle Guide included in fee.

2012 MAPS at Morse winds up

Brown Creeper (c) Emma White

Yellow Warbler (c) Emma White

I say it every year, but I can’t believe another MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) season has already come and gone!  If you don’t already know, this is a yearly mist-netting and banding program that we run at the Morse Wildlife Preserve in Pierce County.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, where spring comes late. we begin banding in Period 4 of 10 standard MAPS periods.  MAPS targets breeding birds, so we start late to avoid wintering and migrating birds.  MAPS is most useful (and quite unique) in that it is a nationwide effort to monitor vital rates (survival, productivity and recruitment).  The great advantage of collecting data as we do for MAPS is that it can be used to determine bird population trends that simple census data cannot: to infer spatial and temporal patterns in survivial rates; to understand the relationships between wintering and breeding populations; to identify the proximate (demographic) causes of population change; to understand migratory patterns; to draw connections between weather and climate factors and populations; and countless other ways to focus future research efforts and guide conservation.  As well, we often collaborate with other scientists and research programs and in this way have contributed to studies of avian flu, stable isotope collection for distributional studies, and molt strategy and feather wear research.

We couldn’t band year after year if not for our trained volunteers, who got up at 3:30 AM week after week to help net, measure, and band.  Lots of other visitors and volunteers came out to “scribe” for us, take photos, and observe.

Some of the measurements we take and observations we use to age and sex birds are:

feather wear:

Very fresh feathers, no wear.

Molt limits:

Western Tanager with molt limits (created by feathers from different generations, they are a key to aging)

Every year brings something unexpected and fantastic.  Check out our training and volunteer information to find out how to get involved.

Wilson's Warbler (c) Emma White

Anna's Hummingbird (c) Emma White

Red-breasted Sapsucker (c) Emma White


Bander Mike Walker with Pileated Woodpecker

Bander training in pictures

Created a collage of pictures showing basic steps of banding.  Bander training will go into details.


Winter Color Banding Report – Saunders Site, March 25

A very beautiful, but slow day.  We only banded a total of 6 birds.  But we had good company, with a great turnout of volunteers: Polly, Kim, Charlie, Natalie, Jason, and Emily.  We continue the trend of catching varied thrushes.

New Captures: pine siskin (1), black-capped chickadee (2), varied thrush (1)

Recaptures: black-capped chickadee (1)


Winter Color Banding Report – Saunders Site, March 11

A typical day at the Saunders Site.  We continue to get varied thrushes nearly every banding session.

New captures: Oregon junco(1), varied thrush (1), pine siskin (2), black-capped chickadee (3), red-breasted nuthatch (1), chestnut-backed chickadee (1)

Recaptures: Oregon junco (1), black-capped chickadee (1), chestnut-backed chickadee (1)

Thanks to the volunteers Natalie, Polly, Kim, and new volunteer Ross.


Banding Report, 3/10/12

Written by Kira Wennstrom, edited by Mary Huff

Though the day started a little damp, the site was very active today.  We caught 32 birds, though only 31 were banded (we released a Pine Siskin due to a shortage of size zero bands.)  Here are the tallies:

5 new Oregon Juncos and 2 recaptures
2 new Black-capped Chickadees and 2 recaps
1 new Chestnut-backed Chickadee and 1 recap
2 new Fox Sparrows and 1 recap
4 new Song Sparrows and 1 recap
1 new Red-breasted Nuthatch and 1 recap
the site’s first Purple Finch (1 male)
2 new House Finches
2 new Golden-crowned Kinglets
1 new Spotted Towhee
1 new Ruby-crowned Kinglet
and perhaps the best bird of the day was the Varied Thrush (only the second we’ve caught at SHCC)

Thanks very much to Cindy and Mark who banded all those birds.  I had four students from my zoology class visit today and they really enjoyed it when you quizzed them on the birds!  They’ve got a test this week 🙂