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1-7 July 2005

Installment #276---Visitor #AmazingCounters.com

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Join us for another
Winter Hummingbird Expedition to Costa Rica
in November/December 2005 or February 2006


Very early on the morning of 2 July we boarded a commuter jet at Charlotte NC and eventually wound up in Bangor ME, where we drove a rental car north for three hours through a nearly uninterrupted and beautiful stretch of spruce, birch, and maple forest. Far from Hilton Pond Center and the Carolina Piedmont, we were en route to St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, and the Fairmont Algonquin Hotel, home base for the National Wildlife Federation's 2005 Family Summit. We had visited Canada briefly on a couple of occasions with old friend Jim Shuman--who lives along the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York and sometimes drives to Ottawa just to dine or shop--but we'd never spent any real time across the border and looked forward to our six-day stay. We were especially looking forward to being among 700 like-minded conservationists of all ages "K through gray," each attending the NWF's largest Family Summit ever in the 35-year history of the program.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

St. Andrews is in southernmost New Brunswick, just over the border from Maine where the St. Croix River flows into Passamaquody Bay and, in turn, connects to the Bay of Fundy. Fundy is most famous for its huge tidal fluctuations; at St. Andrews, there can be a 27-foot difference between high and low tide, the latter of which exposes vast mud flats and large rocks--such as between the mainland and Navy Island in the distance (above). Elsewhere along the Fundy, tides vary as much as 50 feet twice a day, every day--and sometimes even more when the Moon and planets line up just right. During late summer, hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds visit Fundy's intertidal flats and gorge on nutrient-rich worms and crustaceans critical to their long annual journey from the Arctic to Central and South America.

Since we were invited to the NWF Family Summit to serve on faculty, our visit to St. Andrews was to be a "working holiday" during which we'd explore New Brunswick and lead field trips and workshops about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds--a focus of our research since 1984 at Hilton Pond Center and elsewhere. In anticipation of our trip, last winter we contacted New Brunswick observers about ruby-throat abundance in and around St. Andrews and were pleased to learn the species was rather common from late spring through late summer. Canadian banders Brian Dalzell and Tracey Dean said they even capture a few ruby-throats in their mist nets every now and again. We also E-mailed Steven Smith, a bird painter who owns Crocker Hill Store and whose logo (above left) is a Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on an artist's brush. Steve's wife and business partner Gail took the challenge of locating local homeowners who maintain feeders and might welcome small groups to observe hummers and to watch us trap and band these tiny birds. Scouting out Canadian hummingbirds from faraway Hilton Pond wouldn't have worked without the help of all these friendly Canadians.

Gail also got us in touch with Andreas Haun, manager of Kingsbrae Garden--a delightful 27-acre botanical site within short walking distance of Family Summit headquarters. Kingsbrae is an interesting combination of formal English and rambling American garden and includes a northern forest nature trail and ornamental and native plants galore. Andreas agreed to let us run traps and mist nets at Kingsbrae and, prior to our arrival, even set up a sugar water feeder at in the Monarda bed beneath a spreading Horse Chestnut tree (below). His garden staff had seen hummers in past years in the Monarda--a mint also known as "Beebalm" or "Oswego Tea"--and suspected returning hummingbirds would quickly find the feeder. With all this advance groundwork in place, we felt pretty confident we'd be able to observe and capture ruby-throats in St. Andrews, so we applied to the Canadian Banding Office for permission to band hummers in the province.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The office was wonderfully cooperative and we received our permit in short order, but we should have paid closer attention when Louise Laurin--Canada's senior bird banding administrator--mentioned in passing that "Regarding the banding of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in New Brunswick, there were only 22 RTHU banded from 1959 to 1997."

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

When we arrived in St. Andrews late in day on Saturday, 2 July, we immediately went to Crocker Hill Store to meet Steven and Gail Smith. Gail told us she had just checked with Kingsbrae Garden and that staff there--and at private homes in St. Andrews--had been seeing hummingbirds all week long, so we made plans to use the Garden as our main site for banding and observing. The following morning (Sunday) was devoted to a four-hour workshop in which we instructed folks in our hummingbird observation protocols for Operation RubyThroat and The GLOBE Program, and after lunch it was off to Kingsbrae to meet garden manager Andreas Haun and for our first attempt at Canadian hummer trapping. Since Andreas again assured us his staff had seen hummers the previous week, we set up our portable hummingbird trap in the Monarda bed (above) and began to talk about hummingbird natural history with the enthusiastic field trip participants assembled on convenient benches in the shade of the Horse Chestnut tree.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

To make a long story short, during the two-hour trapping session on Sunday afternoon we talked a lot about hummers and responded to some great questions from Family Summit participants, but not once did we see hide nor feather of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Nor did we see one during our four-hour morning field trips to Kingsbrae and private homes on Monday or Tuesday, or on the two-hour workshops in and about St. Andrews on those same days. It wasn't the slightest bit helpful that New Brunswick--like most of the rest of eastern North America--experienced a cold, wet, windy spring in 2005 and that the Monarda, as well as many other nectar plants, had yet to flower. We eventually got a report from a Family Summit youth group that a girl had spotted TWO hummingbirds in another part of Kingsbrae where some colorful Trumpet Honeysuckle vines had begin to blossom (above), but after several hours of observation there we still saw no hummers.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

A really bizarre event occurred during one of our excursions to Kingsbrae. As usual, we went to the Garden, set up our trap, and assembled trip participants on the benches under the chestnut. As we began our introductory remarks, we handed the pull-string for the trap to Tom Fuller, a physician from Lakewood OH. We instructed him to keep a tight grip on the fishing line that led to the trap; letting go would allow the trap door to swing closed. At that moment "Harry Potter"--rescued as an abandoned kitten by Kingsbrae gardeners--came wandering down a gravel path and leaped into Tom's lap (above). For some unknown reason, the cat swiped at the fishing line, grabbed it with his paws, pulled the monofilament toward his mouth, and chewed through the string--causing the trapdoor to swing shut. Needless to say, everyone who witnessed this sudden event--including Rosa Perez (niece of NWF's chief naturalist Craig Tufts) and string-holder Tom Fuller--was stunned and almost speechless. This strange happening is ominous news to those of us who like wild creatures. It appears not only do wandering cats have sharp claws and teeth with which to catch birds, but now they're learning how to run pull-string traps to snare hummers! (We hope Harry's as wise as his namesake and won't actually use his new trapping trick or pass it on to other felines.)

Another of the NWF Family Summit groups--the hard-core birders who got up at 5 a.m. and explored woods adjoining the mudflats in the top photo on this page--on Monday and Tuesday mornings reported brief glimpses of a hummingbird flying toward a nearby subdivision, so on Tuesday afternoon we toured the area and discovered that a retired Anglican priest had a well-maintained sugar water feeder hanging on his back deck. With the blessings of the Rev. Eric Leighton, we led yet another field trip to his backyard early on Wednesday morning and set up our pull-string trap with his feeder inside.

After about an hour of trap-watching, a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird finally appeared, took one look at the contraption, and was off like a shot. We didn't catch her, but we could now confirm at least one ruby-throat in St. Andrews! As we waited another hour, the priest came out to take photos of our field group and mentioned--as did almost everyone we talked with in St. Andrews--that more hummingbirds had been feeding in his yard up until the week we were trying to trap them. Finally, about two-and-a-half hours into our Wednesday morning field trip, an adult male ruby-throat with bright red gorget approached the trap, hovered around it, looked really interested in the feeder inside, and then zipped away in the same direction taken by the female. The Bottom Line: Despite three four-hour morning excursions and five two-hour trips to Kingsbrae and private homes, we saw only TWO Canadian hummingbirds and trapped and banded NONE.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Fortunately, we made many new friends at the National Wildlife Federation's Family Summit but, teaching nearly dawn to dusk, only got to see a little of New Brunswick. Some of our best hours were spent eating great food in the Fairmont Algonquin dining room and talking with folks from around the country. And one pleasant evening, as the Hiltons sat facing east on the historic hotel's long veranda (below left), we watched as one high-altitude passenger jet after another flew northward and left a contrail in the darkening Canadian sky (above). All these jets--bound overseas for Europe--take the same northern route along the south coast of New Brunswick before veering east across the North Atlantic toward England or France or Germany. Prevailing westerly winds pushed the vapor trails in that same direction, making a series of parallel lines against the blue. These "persistent contrails" provided indirect but accurate evidence the atmosphere at jet-height was already saturated with moisture that condenses and freezes on particulate matter--our scientific analysis of human-induced clouds that nonetheless made for an aesthetic panorama.

Hummingbirds don't fly or make contrails at 25,000 feet, of course--not even on the backs of Canada Geese--but WE did so on Friday morning after we drove back to Bangor airport and jetted our way toward the Carolinas and Hilton Pond Center. We were disappointed NOT to capture any Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in New Brunswick near the northern edge of the species' breeding grounds--especially because we had banded some last winter in Costa Rica at the southern limit of their wintering range--but it was still a fine trip. We'll blame our lack of Canadian banding success on three factors we've described in recent installments of "This Week at Hilton Pond": 1) All those desctructive hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico last year during hummer migration; 2) A dismal New Brunswick spring that slowed this year's flower production and perhaps even killed some early migrant hummers; and, 3) That traditional early summer lull that seems to affect Ruby-throated Hummingbird activity wherever they occur. Had we been a week later, we might have fared better; the Beebalm at Kingsbrae Garden began blooming the day we departed, and Brian Dalzell tells us the ruby-throats in New Brunswick are becoming more active with each passing day in July.

What with getting skunked on Canadian hummer banding this summer, we now have incentive to return to New Brunswick to try again someday, and if time allows to teach at the National Wildlife Federation Family Summit next July. The 2006 encampment will be at Snowbird near St. Lake City, Utah (above right), so we certainly wouldn't be catching any ruby-throats, but maybe some of the Black-chinned, Costa's, Calliope, Broad-tailed, or Rufous Hummingbirds out there would be a little more cooperative than their Canadian counterparts, eh?

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Photo of Kingsbrae Garden Windmill © Kingsbrae Garden
Photo of Snowbird © Snowbird Resort
Photos of Hummer Trap Set-up & Potter the Cat © Paul Ebel
Thanks to Lin H. Chambers for helping us appreciate the science of contrails

NOTE: As always we're interested in the distribution of Ruby-throated Hummingbrds in Canada. Please see the Reporting Form on our Web site for Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project

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Be sure to scroll down for an account of all birds banded or recaptured during the week, plus other nature notes of interest.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written & photographed
by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

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1-7 July 2005

American Goldfinch--1

* = New species for 2005

1 species
1 individual

44 species
872 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
124 species
46,179 individuals

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

--Due to our New Brunswick trip 2-8 Jul
(see above), we banded only one bird at Hilton Pond Center this week.

--We ended the first half of 2005 with 871 birds and 44 species banded at the Center. Details are on these three pages: Table of Birds Banded in 2005, Cumulative Banding Totals 1982-Present, and Species with More Than 400 Bandings.

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)


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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.