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1-30 September 2018

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

One of the more notable and memorable occurrences in September at Hilton Pond Center and elsewhere in the Carolinas was the arrival of Hurricane Florence. The first drops of rain from the outermost bands of this monster storm fell on us at 7:46 p.m. on 14 September 2018 (See satellite image above. In a piece of bad but unavoidable timing, this turned out to be the day after resident bird bander Bill Hilton Jr. had radioactive seeds implanted for prostate cancer.) The hatches were battened down for high winds and an anticipated several days of precipitation; the forecast did not disappoint, and our rain gauge registered a little more than 3" as the hurricane finally departed--far less than that received by areas closer to the Atlantic Coast.

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

Aside from soggy ground (above) and LOTS of dead branches felled by wind gusts up to 40 mph, the Center was remarkably unscathed despite catastrophic damage done elsewhere. We did lose power for about 16 hours overnight on 15-16 September when a huge oak toppled and took out major power lines and transformers a mile away within the city limits of York. Despite a backup battery, the Center's computer network stayed up for only so long, meaning we had incomplete records from our digital weather station. Power was restored by 7:15 p.m. on 16 September--thanks to dedicated work by a crew all the way from Arkansas! (In these days of bigger and stronger storms, perhaps a gas-powered generator should be our next acquisition for Hilton Pond Center if funding is secured.)

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

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

As we sat at our computer desk on 16 September--still recovering from Hurricane Florence and the effects of that brachytherapy treatment on the 13th--wife Susan Hilton kept an eye on hummer traps outside the old farmhouse at Hilton Pond Center. Turns out setting traps that day was a pretty good idea: A young male Ruby-throated Hummingbird captured late morning became the 200th banded locally this year--making 2018 our 11th best season so far since 1985. At noon a young female was #201, but the real surprise came after supper when #202--a red-gorgetted adult male RTHU (see photo above)--entered a trap on the back deck. This was a remarkable and unexpected capture because he was later--by three days--than any other adult male banded at the Center in the past 35 years!

Adult male ruby-throats are first to arrive in spring when they hurry back from the Neotropics to set up breeding territories in the eastern U.S. and Canada. They're also first to depart in autumn, with some adult males--possibly exhausted from a summer of mating and defending resources--leaving as early as the first week in August. Most years, the majority of adult males are gone from the Center by Labor Day weekend. In fact, we've banded only 49 in September through the years, and none after 14 September until this year.

It's possible this individual--who appeared to be healthy and in good shape at 3.16 grams--was delayed a bit by Hurricane Florence as he started south, but we doubt that is the case. It may be global warming made this season just a few days longer for him this year and portends ruby-throats will eventually be spending a lengthier breeding time with us up north. Or maybe he was just one of those laggards--or "pioneers"--pushing the envelope and staying just a little bit longer before heading to his winter home in Mexico or Central America.

Regardless of cause, three days "late" might not seem like much but mathematically it is a significant deviation from the norm in our on-going long-term study conducted at Hilton Pond Center for more than a third of a century.

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

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

On 17 September 2018 we figured we had seen the last fully red-gorgetted Ruby-throated Hummingbird but on 23 September we were even more surprised when another adult male (above) entered a trap, making him NINE days later than our historical record set on 14 September in 2002 and 2014. Nine days later in a season that runs only about six months is a significant variation, especially when only 50 of 744 adult male RTHU have been banded at Hilton Pond Center in September since 1984. Again, it is hard to say what might have caused two exceptionally late adult male RTHU in 2018, but we do doubt Hurricane Florence was a specific major factor.

This very late adult male was also of interest because of his weight: He tipped the scales at a whopping 5.71 grams. This is far above the weight of adult males at midsummer when they typically come in between 2.5 and 3.2 grams. It's pretty obvious this bird had been spending a lot of time catching tiny insects he then converted into fat to fuel his long journey south to wintering grounds in the Neotropics.

To be honest, we don't know that fattening up this far north is a such good idea. It takes a lot more energy to propel a 5.71-gram hummer than one that weighs 3 grams, so this male seems to be carrying extra ballast as he flies from here to the Gulf Coast. It is believed that when migrating over land hummers fly only during daylight hours, which allows them to "short-hop" and refuel along the way. It would be only during a 500-mile trans-Gulf flight they would actually need to put on enough fat to fly non-stop for 20 hours.

In any case, this fat bird was a shining example of healthy adult maleness in a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (see photo): A complete iridescent red gorget, dark greenish flanks, and a forked tail with pointed feathers that were completely black. We mention the latter because white-throated female RTHU have rounded tails with round feathers, the outer three tipped with white--which just happens to describe the tail of young males that likewise have white throats or sometimes a couple of red throat feathers!

This all means recently fledged male ruby-throats at Hilton Pond and elsewhere closely resemble females and don't acquire their adult plumage until after they get to the wintering grounds. Such "gender mimicry" must give young males some sort of advantage while they're here in North America . . . but that's a story for another time.

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

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

Earlier this summer we were pleased to reconnect with Andy Shipley Hawkins (in pink in the photo above), an undergrad classmate from Newberry College days. She and colleague Susan Harrison (in blue) live in Newberry SC and do a monthly broadcast/podcast called "Off The I" for WKDK radio. Newberry is on I-26 not far north of Columbia, so during "OTI" segments Andy and Susan visit locations NOT on the interstate highway. In late July they traveled to York and spent part of their day at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, where we got to show them around and talk about some of the things that go on here.

Now that they've published the podcast on their Web site we thought followers of the Center who read our on-line photo essays might like to hear some audio. On the following link, select the episode entitled York: Donuts, a walkable downtown, and the smallest nature center with the longest name in the world. Introduction to the Hilton Pond interview starts at about the 14:00 mark.

Immature female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (above) visiting Trumpet Creeper
All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


To celebrate the banding of our 6,000th Ruby-throated Hummingbird (color-marked immature male, above) during the past 35 years of research, Hilton Pond Center is undertaking a fund-raising effort in support of "Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project." Our goal in the Summer and Fall of 2018 is to raise ONE DOLLAR for each of the 6,191 hummers banded locally through September of this year.

If you'd like to support our on-going study of hummingbird migration, site fidelity, longevity, and population dynamics here in the U.S. and in Central America, please click on one of the links below to send a tax-deductible donation. (You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.)

Payable via credit card

Payable to: funding@hiltonpond.org

Checks also 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

Don't forget to scroll down for Nature Notes & Photos,
plus lists of all birds banded or recaptured during the period.

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

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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). You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.

  • Raymond Coffey
  • Gordon A. Dressler Jr. (repeat sustainer supporter)
  • Jennifer Filipowski (repeat donor)
  • Peter Stangel (repeat donor)
  • Dr. Carmen Ward (repeat donor)
  • Mary & Gary Wolf (repeat donors; alumni of Operation RubyThroat Neotropical hummingbird expeditions)
  • Margaret & Robert Lloyd (repeat supporters for TEN consecutive years!)

    We are likewise grateful for the many followers of
    Hilton Pond Center's Facebook page who made on-line contributions in September as part of Bill Hilton Jr.'s Birthday Fund-raiser and/or our "$6,000 for 6,000 Hummingbirds" Campaign. These will be acknowledged in an end-of year installment.

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

Again this September, Dr. Rachel Pigg brought two groups of her Presbyterian College ecology students to Hilton Pond Center for an introduction to bird banding and discussions of hummingbirds and natural succession in the Carolina Piedmont. If your class or group--be it K-16 students, a garden club, an environmental organization, or even a family--would like to schedule a visit to the Center, please contact us at EDUCATION after taking a look at what we have to offer at GUIDED FIELD TRIPS.

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 1,800+ 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.

1-30 September 2018

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--
Northern Parula--1
American Redstart--2
American Goldfinch--5
Carolina Chickadee--2
Acadian Flycatcher--2
Eastern Phoebe--1
Black-throated Blue Warbler--1 Northern Cardinal--24
Summer Tanager--1
House Finch--5
Tufted Titmouse--1
Scarlet Tanager--2
Mourning Dove--2

* = new banded species for 2018

14 species
112 individuals

36 species (37-yr. avg. = 64.6)

906 individuals
(37-yr. avg. =
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 220

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
126 species banded
67,791 individuals banded

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 6,191

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1)
08/25/17--2nd year female

American Goldfinch (2)
02/04/13--7th year male
01/28/16--after 4th year male

Indigo Bunting (1)
08/14/17--after 2nd year female

Northern Cardinal (1)
09/29/17--2nd year male

Carolina Wren (1)
07/27/17--after 2nd year female

Tufted Titmouse (1)
04/26/15--4th year male

--New Ruby-throated Hummingbirds continued to appear at Hilton Pond Center in good numbers in September, bringing the yearly total to 220 by month's end--so far our seventh-best banding season in 35 years. We'll capture many fewer hummers in October; since 1985, only 79 have been banded locally during that month.

--Northern Cardinals started coming in from who knows where in September, with 24 banded. They were about evenly split between adults and hatch-year individuals, indicating both good survival and successful breeding.

--We recaptured a particularly old American Goldfinch this month--a male banded as a second-year bird in 2013; he's now in his seventh year. A second AMGO recaptured in September is now after-4th-year.

--As of 30 Sep, the Center's 2018 Yard List stood at 65--about 38% of 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (If you're not keeping a yard list for your own property we encourage you to do so, and to report your sightings via eBird.) New species observed this year during the period: Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about local Mammals. It is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #677.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

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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.