MAPS Banding: Day 8 – Final Session

“All good things must come to an end, even bird banding seasons,”

– Geoffrey Chaucer, 1374

Ok, maybe he didn’t necessarily write that last part. But so it was on August 5th, with the end of 2015 MAPS banding season at Crossways Preserve.

Before you succumb to the eternal sadness of that fact, take heart! Because in just 8 months, 3 weeks, and a few days, it will be time to open the nets again.


Pink, purple, and blue – colors to herald in a perfect summer day.

The weather was brilliant for the last day, and the sunrise might even have been the season’s most beautiful; a fitting end to the project’s first year.


We caught 24 birds total – not too shabby for banding in early August!

Here’s what we got:

Species banded New Recaps
House Wren 2
Common Yellowthroat 2 1
American Goldfinch 1
Gray Catbird 13
Song Sparrow 4
Carolina Wren 1
Total 23 1

As usual, the busiest rounds of the day were the first few:

A net full of... you guessed it! Catbirds.
Net o’ Catbirds
And a net with a Common Yellowthroat, a Song Sparrow, and a House Wren. Oh such diversity.
There was a Common Yellowthroat, a Song Sparrow, a House Wren, and a Catbird in this net.  I wonder if maybe they were all going to try to help each other… until the situation escalated.

By the end of a long summer, some of us humans are a little worse-for-wear; the sun exposure, the barbecues that may or may not have led to flame-engulfed pizza dough, the mentally challenging logistics of packing day trip coolers… Not to mention the high expectations of having an awesome time every second before it gets cold and we all become sad and pale again.

It’s kind of the same for birds – they, too, get a little worn out by the end of the season. Their feathers have been out in the sun every day (which causes them to fade), their tails have been scraping on nest edges and branches as they come and go, incubating eggs and feeding nestlings, and have been devoting all of their energy toward successfully breeding before the fall sets in. So by August, it’s time to molt into some sorely-needed new plumage.

Which is why some birds looks like this:

A molting male Northern Cardinal (aka, Tyrannosaurus Cardinalis). He’s still feeding nestlings – see the nice, juicy caterpillar he’s got in his beak? The size of that food item suggests his nestlings are fairly close to fledgling. So already, he is beginning to replace his body feathers.

And this:

 You might notice that this female Common Yellowthroat looks a little like maybe she had a long time... That's because she's working on replacing all of her feathers. Now that she's no longer nesting, she can devote her energy toward doing so, instead of caring for her young.

At first glance, you might wonder if these birds are simply hobos. But rest assured, they are just working on their post-breeding, pre-basic molts.

Since the above Yellowthroat is not taking care of nestlings anymore, she can work toward replacing all of her old, warn feathers – it’s kind of like when new moms finally have time to paint their toes for the first time after having a kid, except not at all like that because this is a bird.

On the last day of banding, we also had a group of visitors come by to see what we’ve been up to all summer.  (Photo by Steve Saffier)

We weren’t catching much by the time the group arrived at 9am (you know… because life) and I have to tell you, there is nothing more painful than having empty nets when people come to see banding!

But it was ok, because my silent prayer of PLEASE GUYS, FLY INTO MY NETS was heard by three birds.

Three birds for the group! (Photo by Ian Brehm)
YAY (Photo by Ian Brehm)
Including this gorgeous AHY, female Northern Cardinal. She had a brood patch of, meaning that she was no longer incubating, and that her nestlings likely just recently fledge. (Photo by Ian Brehm).
One of our three birds for the group: a gorgeous AHY female Northern Cardinal. She had a brood patch (BP) of 4, meaning that the excess fluid and increased vascularization that had developed on her belly to help her incubate and brood her young was receding, and the area was somewhat wrinkled and paler gray (as opposed to the reddish color is was during an earlier stage, when blood flow to the area was increased). A BP of 4 suggests that her nestlings likely just recently fledged. (Photo by Ian Brehm).
 Hatching Year Song Sparrow.
A Hatching-year Song Sparrow. These little guys can look exactly like young Lincoln’s Sparrows – enough to make the line between reality and dreams become blurred. But since we would only catch Songs at Crossways during the summer, there were no confusing species IDs for us. (Photo by Ian Brehm)
Our last avian visitor of the season, an After Second Year, female American Goldfinch.
Our last avian visitor of the season, an After Second Year, female American Goldfinch. (Photo by Ian Brehm)
On the last couple of net runs, we came up empty... except for this cicada. I wanted to band it but I controlled myself.
We came up empty on the last net run… except for this cicada. Which I really wanted to band but I controlled myself. (Photo by Ian Brehm)

Alas, it was time to close and take down the nets one final time…

Alas, it was time to close the nets one final time.
Net 8. Could there be a better woodland napping spot?! No.
Firstm the nets are furled, which means all the lower pockets of the net are rolled into the top pocket. This was nothing gets too tangled. It's also how I would set them up overnight the day before banding, so that no birds could fly in.
The nets are furled first, which means all the lower pockets of the net are rolled into the top pocket, so nothing can get tangled. This is how they were set them up the afternoon before a banding day, so that no birds could fly in and get stuck overnight.
Then I use some pretty fancy equipment - a plastic bag. Which I slip through the trammel loops to keep them in order.
Then out comes the fancy equipment – a plastic bag, which is slipped through the trammel loops to keep them in order.
The net is gathered and rolled into the bag. Voila.
The net is then gathered and carefully rolled into the bag, so it can be slipped off the pole.

I couldn’t take the nets down until the late afternoon, and by the time I got back to Crossways around 5 o’clock, the woods were lit by golden shafts of light, broken up by dark green, leafy shadows; the wind had picked up and rustled through the late-summer grasses, and the cardinals had started their afternoon chorus.


I almost could not handle life.


It made me think that to hear the birds singing at Crossways, and to see the native plants and butterflies flourishing there is, in a way, to witness a celebration of the fact that it is a landscape kept safe from human development – development both unfamiliar and unkind to the species that belong in such a place.

Crossways is, like all of WVWA’s preserves, a haven in which wildlife can live and thrive in a world that frequently forgets their importance.

Red-banded Hairstreak
Red-banded Hairstreak – a common June butterfly at the preserve.

And so it was a privilege to spend so much time there. Here’s to a fantastic first season! And to all of the truly awesome people who were so giving of their time and who came out to volunteer and to visit (and whose company I so enjoyed all summer), thank you!!! Already looking forward to next season. 🙂

In the meantime, data must be entered, graphs must be attempted in excel, and final summaries must be created – I will post all of that here in the coming weeks, so keep those eyes peeled.

And hey, keep your eyes peeled for warblers, because GUESS WHAT: fall migration has begun. Now there is something to get excited about.


Happy birding!


Red-spotted Purple
Red-spotted Purple

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