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1-31 August 2015

Installment #625---Visitor #AmazingCounters.com

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


PROLOGUE: At 7 a.m. on 30 June 2015 my trusted orthopedic surgeon tried to undo the ravages of too many years of osteoarthritis when he replaced both my knobbily, wobbily knees with titanium prostheses. We elected for simultaneous bilateral replacement out of concern my "bad" knee (which I had repaired after a college Frisbee accident 'way back in 1967) might fail while I was rehabbing my "good" left knee (which has been paining me for several years due to torn menisci, bone spurs, defective cartilage, and a shredded ACL). The bottom line: I was hospitalized for about a week and in a residential rehabilitation facility for another fortnight. I returned home to Hilton Pond Center at last on 20 July and was on a walker for a few weeks, doing daily home rehab (including my recumbent exercise machine, above) and outpatient physical therapy thrice weekly.

So far the knees appear to be mending well, although complications from swelling and mysterious pain in my right ankle slowed progress. They also strapped me down a bit too tightly during surgery, resulting in numbness to my right (dominant) hand that has interfered somewhat with banding and computer dexterity. (Nonetheless, I did start running hummingbird traps on 1 August 2015 and added two sunflower seed traps on the 16th, as described below.) Now I am walking "normally" on level ground and able to navigate stairs, but it will be a while before I'm able to wander trails or run mist nets at the Center. Until my overall physical condition, stamina, and mobility improve there will be no "full" installments of "This Week at Hilton Pond"; the current one is mostly expanded versions of the Center's Facebook postings for the past month.

I'm grateful wife Susan faithfully maintained all our hummingbird and seed feeders in my absence so I would be able to get back to banding most local ruby-throats before they head south this fall. Although I'll be doing some limited banding, visitor activities are suspended at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History for the time being, with the goal of reopening in late fall. (Our Operation RubyThroat hummingbird expedition to Costa Rica-East is still scheduled for 5-13 December 2015 and we anticipate no problems in implementing it.) I'll welcome your positive thoughts and healing vibes until I've mended well enough to start banding and teaching and writing, and I look forward to being strong enough to ride my trusty road bicycle through scenic byways of the Carolina Piedmont by next spring. See you soon--in person or on the Internet!


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

1 August 2015

Following my bilateral knee replacement procedures, I had post-surgical difficulties with a swollen and painful right ankle; we're still not sure what caused THAT, but it slowed my progress in learning to walk again. I also had a problem with my dominant (right) hand. Apparently when they immobilized me for the knee surgeries a strap on my ulnar nerve was too tight for too long, meaning the nerve was traumatized and now all the fingers on my right hand are weak and tingling all the time--like when your hand goes to sleep. At times this is just irritating, while at others it is downright painful; worse yet is that I can't really grip things very well. I can't hold a pencil correctly, for example, and have trouble opening things and working my computer mouse. My greatest concern is that I won't be able to manipulate my banding tools, especially when handling those tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that have been the focus of my work for more than 30 years here at Hilton Pond Center. I guess I will not know until I try. (Rest assured I'll do nothing that might hurt the hummingbirds.)

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

3 August 2015

Some good news to relate from Hilton Pond Center! After reporting the problems I've been having with damaged nerves in my dominant right hand following knee replacement surgeries, I decided to put myself to the test. Wife Susan moved three of my Dawkins-style hummingbird traps (see photo) to the handicapped-accessible back deck on the Center's old farmhouse and I sat back to wait. On Saturday/Sunday (1-2 Aug 2015) I broke my one-month non-banding drought and caught nine new Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. It was pretty slow going--and exhausting--but muscle memory and three decades of hummer banding experience allowed me to safely apply bands to each of those nine RTHU! Fortunately I had a backlog of bands--cutting and forming the tiny pieces of aluminum is actually the hardest part of hummer banding--so that made things go a little smoother. Incidentally, three of the RTHU were adult males, one of which weighed 3.59 grams. Typically, adult males weigh about 3 to 3.25 grams at mid-summer, so I suspect this guy was already preparing to head south for the winter.

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

10 August 2015

Following my return home from knee replacement surgeries I have indeed been banding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Hilton Pond Center, albeit slowly. On 1 through 8 Aug 2015 I handled 35 new RTHU, bringing this year's total to 99--still well ahead of my 32-year average (74 birds) despite taking off all of July for the knees. This week I also had six returns from previous years, including a fifth-year female banded in 2011. Of those 99 new hummers, 49 have been adult males (above)--interesting because the previous high for that age/sex class was 46 and the annual average since 1984 is only 22! (Don't ask me what this all means. There are far too many variables to make any conclusions, especially since we still have two months to go before our RTHU have gone south.)

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

14 August 2015

At mid-August hungry House Finch fledglings are STILL begging food from their father (above) at Hilton Pond Center. How long can this breeding season continue? (To answer the rhetorical question, it's likely over by now--even for HOFI pairs that double-brooded in 2015.)

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

17 August 2015

Four weeks after my 30 June surgery I was well enough to start running hummer traps on the handicapped-accessible back deck. by mid-August I could safely (but carefully) navigate the deck's steep back steps and felt comfortable operating two nearby sunflower seed traps. Yesterday and today those two traps yielded one Carolina Chickadee, one male American Goldfinch (still in breeding condition with prominent cloacal protuberance), five Eastern Tufted Titmice, and 13 fledgling House Finches. Although most of the latter were still wearing brown juvenal plumage, a couple had a few red feathers partly in quill (see photo above)--indicating they are males that by this fall will have full raspberry-colored outfits. One of those HOFI became the 2,000th bird banded locally in 2015; this number is quite acceptable--especially since we have more than four months to go this year. (Average number of annual captures for 34 years at the Center is 1,852.)

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

20 August 2015

This afternoon at Hilton Pond Center I re-trapped an adult female Ruby-throated Hummingbird banded on 29 Aug 2014 as a hatch-year bird. Such second-year returns aren't all that unusual except that this particular individual tipped the scales today at 5.38 grams. Last year she weighed 3.65 g. Her weight increase had nothing to do with age; instead it is an indicator this bird was putting on fat in preparation for southbound migration. Yes, indeed, it's mid-August and our hummers are already moving south; by about 1 Oct 95% of them will be gone from the continental U.S., and less than 1% will remain until mid-October. Six weeks is all you have, so enjoy them while you can! (P.S. Be looking for my Hilton Pond RTHU color marked with green on the throat, as shown in the attached image. If you see one, please photograph it and let me know immediately.)

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

This evening at the Center I trapped a female American Goldfinch with a very well-developed brood patch, i.e., the belly was naked, edematous, and vascularized (above)--indicating she is has either eggs or chicks. Pretty interesting. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are already departing in fall migration and the goldfinches are just now breeding!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Group photo above courtesy Rachel Davis

22 August 2015

Back when we scheduled the annual New River Hummingbird festival in Fayette County WV, I wasn't sure I'd be recovered enough from knee surgeries to make the trip and conduct hummer banding demonstrations that are always such a hit with program attendees. Thanks to wife Susan Hilton's strong support, chauffeur services, and trap-tending efforts I was able to travel to Honeysuckle Hill Gardens in Oak Hill and a terrific morning of banding and information exchange for an appreciative audience of more than 60 hummingbird enthusiasts. (The event was held on behalf of New River Birding & Nature Center and Fayette County Education Fund.) Despite early fog, we were able to capture all the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds we needed to show the banding process--including how to differentiate the various age and sex classes of this species. Rachel Davis provided logistical assistance, and life-long friends Rick and Joanie Cochran Walker helped with set-up and take-down after an at-first-foggy morning (see photo above) that turned out to be both invigorating and exhausting. I'm quite certain we'll be holding this festival again next August in the Mountain State at the very same location, where master gardener and nurserywoman Terri Johnson maintains all the flowers and feeders a hummingbird could possibly want.

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

27 August 2015

As mentioned a few postings back, since my bilateral knee replacement surgeries I've been able to run hummingbird traps on the back deck of the old farmhouse at Hilton Pond Center and have done pretty well. Also have two sunflower seed traps just off the deck that I can get to now that I can navigate stairs. This evening one of the traps held a trio of birds--one of which was a bit of a surprise. The three captives were: A recently fledged House Finch, a female American Goldfinch with active brood patch, and a hatch-year male Summer Tanager (above). (If you're guessing, the tanager was the least likely to be captured using sunflower seeds as bait.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Photo above courtesy Susan Hilton

Our two granddaughters McKinley Ballard Hilton (age four) and Hadley Reid Hilton (almost two) were on hand at the Center to observe the banding procedure and release the birds. In the process they learned young male SUTA often have bright orange-yellow undertail coverts. This time next year the male will be all red with that heavy bone-colored bill. (NOTE: I wish and hope that each of you who is a nature-lover or birder could spent just 15 minutes each week with a son or daughter, grandchild, or neighborhood kid instilling that same appreciation for the out-of-doors that you have. In these days of 24-hour television, cell phones, and computer games, ALL our young people need real-time, hands-on exposure to the wonders of nature, and they're not going to get it unless adults provide the encouragement and opportunity. Don't be too busy to do your part! You can also make a contribution to Hilton Pond Center as we try to spread the word about nature to all audiences, K- through gray.)

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

29 August 2015

This evening I added two new species to Hilton Pond Center's "2015 Yard List"--Chimney Swift and Great Egret (above, with yellow bill and all black legs and feet)--bringing this year's total to 67. (That's about 39% of the 171 species seen locally since 1982.) Both were flying over the pond near sunset. The swifts were catching aerial insects and the egret undoubtedly was looking for a place to roost for the night.

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


By the end of August it had been eight weeks since those full knee replacement surgeries. My surgeon, physical therapists, and I have been pleased with the healing and my progress; I'm still weeks ahead of where they had expected me by now after what turned out to be complicated bilateral procedures. I am walking well, although I still need to work on balance and strength that will allow me to safely navigate the trails at Hilton Pond Center. Fortunately, sensitivity in the fingers of my right hand is gradually returning, so handling and banding birds gets a tad easier day-by-day. My next local goal is to be able to deploy a few mist nets around the old farmhouse as fall migrants make their way south through the Carolina Piedmont. Stay tuned for updates on that endeavor and my eventual explorations of other fauna and flora on our 11-acre reserve--including the Common Elephant's Foot, Elephantopus tomentosus (above)--beginning to flower this month in grassy areas around the Center. Thanks once again for your well-wishes as I recover from surgery, and Happy Nature Watching!

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

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1-31 August 2015

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--94

Carolina Chickadee--2

American Goldfinch--7

Northern Cardinal--1
Summer Tanager--1
Eastern Tufted Titmouse--5

House Finch--26

* = new banded species for 2015

7 species
136 individuals

42 species (34-yr. avg. = 65.6)

2,088 individuals
(34-yr. avg. =
158 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (32-yr. avg = 163)

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
126 species
62,974 individuals
5,212 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (7)
08/19/11--5th year female
07/15/12--after 4th year female

08/01/13--3rd year male
08/02/13--3rd year male
09/07/13--3rd year female
07/27/14--after 2nd year female
08/22/14--2nd year male

American Goldfinch (1)
08/27/13--after 3rd year female

--Following dual knee replacement surgery on 30 Jun 2015 the resident bander resumed limited bird banding activities at Hilton Pond Center on 1 Aug by deploying hummingbird traps on the handicapped-accessible back deck of our old farmhouse. (No banding occurred from 30 Jun thru 31 Jul.) We added two sunflower seed traps to the mix on 16 Aug. Captures and recaptures are listed above and below left.

--Despite no banding activity during the entire month of July, by the end of August the Center's 2015 tally for newly banded Ruby-throated Hummingbirds stood at 158, our third highest total by that date in 32 years of hummer banding; this was exceeded only by 167 last year and 165 in 1995. In our best year (2010, with 239 new RTHU by season's end) we had only 119 by this date.

--As of 31 Aug Hilton Pond's 2015 Yard List stands at 67--about 39% of the 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. New yard birds during the period (in order of appearance): Summer Tanager, Chimney Swift & Great Egret.

--The immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was a placeholder inserted for continuity because of the resident bander's knee replacement surgery. It is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #624.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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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.