- Established 1982 -

HOME: www.hiltonpond.org

1-11 March 2015

Installment #615---Visitor #AmazingCounters.com

Subscribe for free to our award-winning nature newsletter

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)


Itineraries and prices for our 2015 trips to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala (Nov 2015) and to the
Orosi Valley (Ujarrás) in Costa Rica (Dec 2015)
are now on-line
. Sign up today!

— Click on logo above left for itinerary & trip details —

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


According to weather folklore, when March comes in "like a lion" it will go "out like a lamb." Some claim this concept comes from the belief everything in nature must be balanced; if the first day of March is blustery, the the month must end on a milder note. This year 1 March wasn't particularly blustery at Hilton Pond Center--temperatures ranged from 31.8° to 40.6° F, winds averaged 0.6 mph with a top "gust" of 5 mph at 8:58 a.m., and we did get 0.29" of rain (a little of it frozen)--but we'd hardly call this a leonine beginning for the third month of 2015. What WAS ferocious about early March was the continued incursion of a bird species we don't see every year: Petite Pine Siskins, Spinus pinus (above), that arrived in horde-like quantities and attacked our thistle and sunflower feeders with ravenous intent.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

These gregarious little brown-streaked birds--slightly smaller than their more colorful congeneric American Goldfinches, S. tristis, but with very sharply pointed bills--typically breed in Canada's boreal forests and irrupt almost unpredictably in the lower 48 states and as far south as Mexico. Most years the Center gets zero or few siskins, but some winters we host so many we can hardly keep our feeders filled. We had good numbers in the late 1980s (see chart above), essentially none for 15 years or so, and then got bombed in the winter of 2010-2011. After a little blip in 2012-13 came this year's ALMOST unprecedented wave of siskins that has kept us hopping at the banding table from December through early March 2015.

By 11 March we had banded 632 Pine Siskins for the current winter season--just one shy of our all-time record from four years ago--and there appears not to be an end in sight. Interestingly, on 4 March one siskin was our 3,000th--just our fifth species to reach that level since we started banding in 1982--and another PISI that day turned out to be our 62,000th banded bird in 32 years! (Alas, we will have to wait until we return on 22 March from our scheduled Operation RubyThroat hummingbird banding expedition to Belize to find out if this year will set a new record for banded siskins. We hope they haven't all returned north by then.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

One other interesting tidbit associated with 1 March this year: It was the day we banded our 1,000th bird of 2015 at Hilton Pond Center--a brown after-hatch-year Purple Finch of unknown sex (above). At this time of year a brown PUFI could be either a second-year male or a female of undetermined age; males take two full years to acquire their raspberry-red plumage.

Reaching the one-thousand mark this early in the year is a welcome change from 2014 when we banded only 1,204 birds during the entire 12-month period. The goal for 2015 is to exceed our current 34-year average of 1,820 birds--including 200-plus Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The third day of March 2015 brought a second-year male Pine Warbler (above) to Hilton Pond Center. This is one of a few Wood Warbler species that winter in the Carolina Piedmont, the other most common ones being Palm Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler. (The vast majority of the 35 Wood Warblers we've encountered locally head south in autumn.)

Pine Warblers are distinguishable by prominent white wing bars, white outer tail spots, and a broken yellowish eye ring. The intensity of yellow body plumage varies greatly among individuals, males typically being more brightly colored than females. (Incidentally, we caught the male PIWA in a sunflower seed trap, and a little while later caught a second-year female in the same device! We suspect they were gobbling protein-rich seed fragments left behind by siskins and other finches.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

You could tell 4 March was an unusually warm day at Hilton Pond Center because there were a couple of bats chasing insects over the pond at sunset! (Today's high: 69 degrees at 5:17 p.m--rather late in the afternoon for a high temp.) The flying mammals were probably Eastern Pipistrelles, Pipistrellus subflavus (our file photo above)--which we believe to be our most common local species. We've also confirmed Red Bats and Big Brown Bats in-the-hand at the Center, although we find some chiropteran species quite difficult to identify.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

A cold front barreled through Hilton Pond Center on 5 Mar with a brief burst of torrential rainfall, resulting in one of the steepest, fastest temperature changes we've ever witnessed anywhere (see graph above). In just 31 minutes (12:59 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.) the digital thermometer dropped a remarkable 17.4°, from a daily high of 67.7° to 50.3° F. Here are the actual readings in roughly five-minute intervals during that oh-so-short but chilling half-hour period:

12:59 p.m.----67.7°
1:04 p.m.-----63.8°
1:09 p.m.-----57.2°
1:14 p.m.-----53.8°
1:19 p.m.-----51.9°
1:25 p.m.-----50.8°
1:30 p.m.-----50.3°

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We finally got our 40th Yard Bird for 2015 on 6 March, the first new one at Hilton Pond Center since a Fox Sparrow on 20 February. This time it was an Sharp-shinned Hawk (above), harassing Pine Siskins at the feeder. It was an especially small sharpie, meaning it was likely a male; females are about a third larger.

The bird's tail was notched, separating it from the round-tailed Cooper's Hawk that is generally larger. We also knew it to be an immature because of a yellow pupil and dark brown vertical streaks on its breast; mature SSHA have red irises and horizontal rusty-red breast barring. Note the skinny legs and thin toes typical of an accipiter; buteos such as Red-shouldered Hawks that sometimes hang around feeders have much heavier tarsi and digits. The hungry hawk perched on a Shagbark Hickory limb for several minutes eying the feeders but flew off WITHOUT any of our banded (or unbanded) birds in his talons.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The Center's "Bird of the Day" for 6 Mar was NOT the Sharp-shinned Hawk sighted that morning. No, that honor goes instead to a subadult Red-winged Blackbird (above) we captured late in the afternoon. Why, you ask, should a common flocking species such as RWBL deserve such special recognition? The answer is because this was only the 25th we've banded locally since 1982. (If you're wondering, we've caught 39 sharpies.)

Although red-wings are widely distributed, in South Carolina they breed most commonly along the coast and closer to the mountains; they're also far more abundant in the Midwestern U.S. Note the buffy edging on many of this bird's contour feathers; these pale margins will wear off--or perhaps be preened away--so that when breeding season arrives his head and body will be jet black.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

If we take an astronomical approach, that old phrase of "March comes in like a lion and exits like a lamb" has nothing to do with weather. Instead it relates to March beginning just as constellation Leo (the Lion, above) crosses toward the meridian. While Leo moves away toward the end of the month, constellation Aries begins to rise higher in the night sky. Since Aries is the Ram, he's bound to sire many lambs for a fitting end to March our hungry Pine Siskin horde probably won't even think about as them overwhelm the feeders at Hilton Pond Center.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Payable to: funding@hiltonpond.org

Checks can be sent to Hilton Pond Center at:
1432 DeVinney Road
York SC 29745

All contributions are tax-deductible on your
current-year income tax form

See list of recent supporters below

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

Please refer "This Week at Hilton Pond" to others by clicking on this button:

Follow us on Twitter:


Comments or questions about this week's installment? Send an E-mail to INFO. (Be sure to scroll down for a tally of birds banded/recaptured during the period, plus other nature notes.)

Click for York, South Carolina Forecast
Click on image at right for live Web cam of Hilton Pond,
plus daily weather summary

Transmission of weather data from Hilton Pond Center via WeatherSnoop for Mac.

You may wish to consult our Index of all nature topics covered since
February 2000, or use our on-line
Hilton Pond Search Engine:

For your very own on-line subscription to "This Week at Hilton Pond,"
just click on the image above. It's guaranteed fat-free!

Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us, among other things, to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond" with students, teachers, and the general public. Please see Support or scroll below if you'd like to make a gift of your own.

We're pleased folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making donations. Those listed below made contributions received during the period. Please join them if you can in coming weeks.

Gifts can be made via PayPal (funding@hiltonpond.org); credit card via Network for Good (see link below); or personal check (c/o Hilton Pond Center, 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745).

  • No new individual contributions this week. :-(
If you enjoy "This Week at Hilton Pond," please help support
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.
It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!

(Just CLICK on a logo below or send a check if you like; see Support for address.)

Make credit card donations
on-line via
Network for Good:
Use your PayPal account
to make direct donations:
If you like shopping on-line please become a member of iGive, through which 1,500+ on-line stores from Amazon to Lands' End and even iTunes donate a percentage of your purchase price to support Hilton Pond Center. ..Every new member who registers with iGive and makes a purchase through them earns an ADDITIONAL $5 for the Center. You can even do Web searches through iGive and earn a penny per search--sometimes TWO--for the cause! Please enroll by going to the iGive Web site. It's a painless, important way for YOU to support our on-going work in conservation, education, and research. Add the iGive Toolbar to your browser and register Operation RubyThroat as your preferred charity to make it even easier to help Hilton Pond Center when you shop.

The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of newspaper columns that first appeared in The Herald in Rock Hill SC. Optimized for tablets such as iPad and Kindle, electronic downloads of the now out-of-print volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
to support the work of
Hilton Pond Center.

1-11 March 2015

Pine Siskin--168
American Goldfinch--101
Pine Warbler--3
Chipping Sparrow--9
Dark-eyed Junco--3

Song Sparrow--1
Northern Cardinal--1
Purple Finch--38
House Finch--5
White-throated Sparrow--1
Red-winged Blackbird--1
Blue Jay--1
Mourning Dove--2

* = New banded species for 2015

13 species
334 individuals

18 species

1,328 individuals

(since 28 June 1982, during which time 171 species have been observed on or over the property)
126 species
62,214 individuals

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

Chipping Sparrow (4)
04/08/13--after 3rd year unknown
02/14/14--after 2nd year unknown
02/10/14--after 2nd year unknown
03/23/14--3rd year unknown

American Goldfinch (12)
02/17/10--after 7th year male
02/15/12--5th year male
01/26/13--4th year male
02/09/13--after 4th year male
02/09/13-- after 4th year male (2 birds)
02/10/13--after 4th year male
03/22/13--after 4th year female
03/28/13--4th year male
01/30/14--after 2nd year female
02/07/14--3rd year female
02/19/14--after 2nd year female
02/13/14--after 3rd year male

Carolina Chickadee (1)
03/23/14--after 2nd year unknown

Northern Cardinal (1)
09/27/11--5th year female

Eastern Tufted Titmouse (2)
08/16/09--7th year female
09/05/14--2nd year unknown

White-throated Sparrow (3)
01/13/14--3rd year unknown
02/08/14--3rd year unknown
03/27/14--3rd year unknown

--A "winter finch" blitz that started at Hilton Pond Center in early Feb 2015 continued through the first week of March, with 168 more Pine Siskins banded during the period. American Goldfinches were a tad behind with 101, followed by Purple Finches (38) and House Finches (5). (See complete list above left.)

--Among the Center's more venerable banded birds retrapped during early March were an after-seventh-year male American Goldfinch banded in 2010, a seventh-year female Eastern Tufted Titmouse banded as a recent fledgling in the summer of 2009, and a fifth-year female Northern Cardinal banded in 2011. (See complete list of returns/recaptures below left.)

--As of 11 Mar the Center's 2015 Yard List stands at 40--nearly 25% of the 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. New yard birds during the 11-day period: Sharp-shinned Hawk.

--The immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was a mostly tongue-in-cheek effort to replace the Palmetto as South Carolina's NEW state tree. The write-up is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #614.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Oct 15 to Mar 15:
East of the Rockies please report your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds

(immature male Rufous Hummingbird at right)

Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)

Back to "This Week at Hilton Pond" Main

Current Weather Conditions at Hilton Pond Center

The Center's backyard Web cam at Weather Underground

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