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1-30 November 2015

Installment #630---Visitor #AmazingCounters.com

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At Hilton Pond Center it always seems like November can't quite make up its mind whether it's the end of autumn or beginning of winter. Daytime highs were about 60° F for most of the month, and it was up to 71° on the 29th. Even so, the thermometer dropped to a sub-freezing overnight low of 31.7° at mid-month--cold enough to warrant coat and hat when we filled our seed feeders.

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

The big weather news in November, however, was rainfall. The first three days of the month brought 3.92" of precipitation to the Center--3.21" of that during a "frog-strangler" on the 2nd. This was far more than enough wet stuff to make the trails soggy and sloppy. Direct rainfall plus run-off and ground seepage brought pond levels up by at least a half-foot by in three days (see "gray day" photo above from 3 November). In fact, the pond was only about 15" shy of full--much better than being four feet low as it was at summer's end when the movable dock (held afloat by white barrels visible above) was sitting flat on a muddy bottom. Despite this glut of moisture, we had a hunch more rainfall would come by month's end.

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

We got more rain--2.91"on 6-10 November, the bulk of it (1.78") during another downpour on the 9th. This was good news for the pond, which came up another half-foot or so and was within just 3"-4" of being full. This is always a great way to start the winter because it provides more room for ducks such as Blue-winged Teal (male and female, above)--and for fish that were getting pretty crowded when the water was low!

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

Despite this year's November rains and high water, duck populations at the Center have declined through the years, undoubtedly in large part because the area around the pond--once open and allowing a good flight approach--is now hemmed in by tall trees. Wood Ducks (above) still find their way, however, so we'll be looking for them come February.

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

For the record, our 34-year waterfowl Yard List includes ten species: Snow Goose (one flyover sighting, during a Piedmont snowstorm!), Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck (male, above), Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye (one sighting, actually on the larger lower pond), and Hooded Merganser.

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

As November comes and goes, so do the last of the obligate tropic-bound migrant birds. Warblers are essentially gone--we have a few Pine Warblers all winter and the Yellow-rumped Warblers are out and about--but they are being replaced by winter residents from up north. The 17th of November was a particularly pleasant day for mist netting, with afternoon temperatures in the 60s and overcast skies that made the nets less visible. (Alas, there was just enough breeze to shake numerous oak leaves into the nets, but that's a necessary evil when it comes to autumn banding.) In addition to four House Finches, we banded: Two Chipping Sparrows (common here in spring, nearly absent in fall); two White-throated Sparrows (pale morphs); six American Robins; and the "Bird of the Day"--our first Cedar Waxwing of the year (above). This was a female CEWA, as determined by the relative lack of black feathers on her chin (see photo); males have a much blacker throat. Based on tail feather shape and other plumage characters, she was a second-year bird. Unfortunately, the other 30-plus waxwings in her flock missed all our nets!

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

Had our mist nets been open at 7:30 a.m. on 20 November we might have caught 50 or more Cedar Waxwings as a flock of two or three times that many descended to drink from a small water garden outside our old farmhouse. We did get the nets open shortly thereafter and captured eight CEWA by day's end, one an immature female with a bi-colored tail (see photo above). "Normal" Cedar Waxwings have tail tips of bright lemon-yellow--the result of a pigment from fruits and flower petals they eat.

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

Historically, CEWA consumed native wild berries that had lots of carotene pigments that are yellow; their diet changed significantly as humans imported and propagated non-native berry-bearing flora such as Morrow's Honeysuckle, Pyracantha, and Tatarian (not TARtarian) Honeysuckle (above). Apparently, rhodoxanthin pigment from these ornamentals is different enough that at least some waxwings dining on their fruits end up with tails "discolored" by this purplish-red pigment. We surmise red from rhodoxanthin blends with carotene's yellow to produce orange tail tips.

The young waxwing whose tail appears in the photo is especially interesting because her parents must have fed her lots of non-native berries that led to orange juvenal feather tips. Since fledging, however, she somehow lost two of those "baby" rectrices and brought in yellow-tipped "adult" ones; this suggests she now dines on native fruits instead. We find it fascinating that one can discern a bird's diet by looking at its feathers.

During November we banded only 26 birds of six species--a slow month to be sure--in part because all that rain kept us from running mist nets. And, for good measure, as the month ended the skies squeezed out just a little bit more moisture, with 1.5" of precipitation falling on the 29th and 30th. That gave us a monthly total of 10.18"--about a quarter of the rainfall we normally expect for the ENTIRE calendar year.

Wet? Yes, November 2015 most certainly was.

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


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1-30 November 2015

Chipping Sparrow--2
Carolina Chickadee--1
House Finch--4
Cedar Waxwing--9
White-throated Sparrow--3
American Robin--7

* = new banded species for 2015

6 species
26 individuals

51 species

2,322 individuals

246 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (32-yr. avg = 166)

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
126 species
63,208 individuals
5,300 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

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

Carolina Chickadee (1)
10/08/14--2nd year unknown

Eastern Tufted Titmouse (1)
08/16/09--7th year female

Downy Woodpecker (1)
04/01/14--3rd year male

White-throated Sparrow (2)
01/13/14--3rd year female
01/02/15--2nd year female

--A rather elderly Eastern Tufted Titmouse recaptured this month at Hilton Pond Center was banded locally in Aug 2009 as a recent fledgling; she's now in her seventh year.

--The immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was a collection of nature observations from October 2016. It is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #629.

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)

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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.