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1-7 November 2018

Installment #680---Visitor # website counter

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

We were going to write a long note about a spectacular sunset at Hilton Pond Center on 6 November 2018 but decided to let the photo above try to speak a thousand words. A storm had just passed through and dark clouds to the northeast provided a perfect contrast to tall Tulip Trees whose golden-yellow leaves formed glowing spires. Red Oaks still held their leaves in the canopy, while deer-browsed Flowering Dogwoods in the low understory sported foliage of deep scarlet. Ah, autumn!

And now on to some bittersweet information about two banded birds from the Center.

In the U.S., researchers are authorized by the federal Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL, below right) to catch and band wild birds. Master Banders report their activities to the BBL and provide information such as band number, banding date and location, and species and age/sex of each banded bird. Historically, data were submitted on handwritten or typed paper sheets; these days a proprietary computer application appropriately called "Bandit" enables banders to transmit everything electronically.

Although banding birds is fun, fulfilling, and scientifically productive, the ultimate joy of banding comes whenever the BBL sends out an e-mail entitled "Report to Bander." When one of these comes in, the Master Bander gets understandably excited because it indicates someone has found or recaptured a banded bird elsewhere. Such was the case recently when we got word a bird from Hilton Pond Center had been encountered in far-off Saguenay, just north of Quebec City, Canada (see "Report to Bander," below).


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


The "Report to Bander" uses shorthand codes that are probably unfamiliar to non-banders, so we'll work through the report left to right, starting with Banding Information. Some categories are obvious, including the Band Number and the Banding Date--the latter in this case being 1 April 2017. "Reg" is Region (South Carolina), while Latitude/Longitude pinpoint the banding location. Each bird species gets a four-letter code from the American Ornithologists' Union (Aou); PUFI is short for Purple Finch. Then come the bird's Age and Sex at banding (5 = second year bird that hatched in 2016; 0 = unknown sex at time of banding). The final column under Banding Information is the bird's Status; 300 means it was banded as a normal, free-flying, wild bird.

The right half of the report includes the Encounter Information. Our finch was found on 9 June 2018 at Saguenay, 14 months after banding; Quebec's Region is 676, with the corresponding Lat/Long for the capture locale. For this particular Purple Finch, the How Obtained code is 00 (found dead); a Who Reported of 21 means it was reported by the finder (rather than by another bander or a wildlife officer); PC is Present Condition of 05 (band was removed); and Report Method was 07 (via the BBL's Web site at reportband.gov). The finder's name is Eric Wilmot, whose e-mail and address were also on the report. (For privacy's sake we deleted the latter from the image above.)

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

Since we had Eric Wilmot's e-mail address we decided to contact him directly for more details about our wayward but now dead Purple Finch. Eric responded almost immediately via Facebook Messenger, sending a photo above of the band he removed from the bird. He isn't a bander but as an avid birder knew the importance of reporting a dead banded bird.

The most important question we had for Eric was the color of the Purple Finch when he found it. When we banded it last year as a second year bird it was brown--which in Purple Finches means it could have been a female OR an immature male; i.e., male PUFI don't get their full raspberry plumage until after their second summer.

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

Eric responded to our query with a photo (above) he had taken of the dead finch with band still intact. The bird was indeed red, indicating our Purple Finch was now a third year male. PUFI occur only in winter at Hilton Pond Center, returning to more northerly climes for nesting. Since the finch was encountered in June in Quebec, we suspected he very likely was on his breeding grounds up there; Eric verified such likelihood by mentioning he has observed Purple Finches nesting in the vicinity of the encounter.

One further note: Eric told us he found the Purple Finch dead inside a shed at a neighbor's house, and that the neighbor has cats. Evidence is circumstantial but based on the appearance of the bird in the photo above, it does appear to have suffered the kinds of damage that might have been caused by a free-roaming feline. In fact, "Killed by Cat" is one of the more common "How Obtained" categories for dead banded birds reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory. Need we say more?

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

Thanks a bunch to Eric Wilmot for reporting this long-distance foreign encounter to the BBL, and for providing additional details and photos of our far-flying Purple Finch he found in Saguenay, Quebec (see map above). That's approximately 1,062 straight line miles away from Hilton Pond!

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

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

While we're talking about foreign encounters of birds banded at Hilton Pond Center, we should mention we also recently heard about another finch species that showed up elsewhere--although not nearly as far away as our Purple Finch found in Quebec.

On 24 May 2018 at the Center we banded a very young brown-plumaged House Finch (HOFI) of unknown sex that couldn't have have fledged more than a few days prior. (See our file photo above of a trio of typical fledgling House Finches begging from their male parent.) Amazingly, this HOFI was found dead only a month later on 21 June by Paula Rieck in Matthews NC, barely across the state line about 30 straight-line miles northeast of Hilton Pond.

Although post-breeding dispersal (or, more accurately in this case, post-fledging) is a common behavior among young birds, we find it remarkable so young a finch would travel so far so soon after leaving its nest. It seems more likely a fledgling would hang around its natal site for a longer period, begging from its parents as it grows in strength and learns the ways of the House Finch world.

A report like this one brings up almost as many questions as it answers, but every encounter of a banded bird helps us understand avian behavior and ecology just a little bit more. We're grateful Paula Rieck took time to file a report on this wayward young Hilton Pond House Finch via the Bird Banding Lab's Web site at reportband.gov.

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

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

In the 1-31 October 2018 installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond," we described an unusual phenomenon that occurred here at the Center: A "Hilton Pondbow." When we looked put at the pond on 5 October we could see a definite rainbow on the surface of the water (photo above), replete with the visible spectrum from red to violet. We speculated an oily sheen from a layer of Rootless Duckweed on the pond caused the pondbow, much like the "rainbow" sometimes seen when oil leaks from a vehicle onto a paved parking lot.

At the end of our note we asked for other possible explanations for the pondbow and got an authoritative response from none other than life-long friend Dr. Jim Shuman, who majored in astronomy at Carleton College and just happens to be president of the Board of Trustees for Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History. Jim included a photo (uncredited, from the Web) and provided this explanation:

My best guess is that you have photographed a “reflected rainbow.” Here’s why:

--It’s not possible for you to see a rainbow unless the sun is behind you. Your photo shows shadows on the pond, which indicate the relative position of you and your camera to the sun, and it’s not “behind you.”
--If you could turn in the direction that the shadows are pointing so that the sun would be at your back and then look at the sky (i.e., if you were outside), you would most likely have seen a rainbow extending in an arc covering 40 angular degrees from the point opposite the sun. In short, I’ll bet it was raining then, or perhaps foggy; i.e., the atmospheric conditions in the morning were conducive to having water droplets in the air cause a rainbow. The colors of the rainbow produced by those droplets would have shown red on the top (the outside of the rainbow’s arc) and blue/violet on the bottom (inside the rainbow’s arc).
--The left-most part of that rainbow would have been heading into the ground to your left (i.e., roughly opposite where you were looking at the pond. Down near the earth on that side, the colors would have been red to the left and blue/violet to the right.
--The surface of the water, even though clogged with duckweed, was still a level surface. It would reflect the colors of the rainbow in the sky: Red to the left and blue/violet to the right. Essentially all wavelengths bouncing off the water would be polarized, helping assure the consistency of the colors as they entered your camera lens.
--A “reflected rainbow” is always seen below the horizon, not above it (for obvious reasons).
--If there were droplets of water (or possibly oil) hovering above the surface of the pond, you wouldn't be able to see a rainbow unless the sun was behind you (which it wasn't).

It would be hard to discount Jim's scientific details, so we consider his hypothesis as an alternative explanation for the Hilton Pondbow. Thanks, Jim, for your input! Any more thoughts out there? If so, please send them to INFO.

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

Immature male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (above) with incomplete gorget
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 from now through the end of 2018 is to raise ONE DOLLAR for each of the 6,193 hummers banded locally through since 1984.

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.

  • Nancy Krause (via Network for Good)
  • Meret Wilson (alumna of our Jan 2018 Operation RubyThroat hummingbird expedition to Costa Rica)

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

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!

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Make credit card donations
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Use your PayPal account
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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
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Hilton Pond Center.

1-7 November 2018

American Goldfinch--10
Northern Cardinal--
Purple Finch--2
House Finch--16

* = new banded species for 2018

4 species
29 individuals

48 species (37-yr. avg. = 64.8)

1,064 individuals
(37-yr. avg. =
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 222

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
126 species banded
67,949 individuals banded

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 6,193

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
American Goldfinch (2)
02/15/16--4th year male
11/02/17--2nd year female

House Finch (2)
06/23/17--2nd year male
03/03/18--after hatch year female

--Without "winter finches"--some of which undoubtedly have been here since the summer--we would have banded few birds the first week in November 2018 at Hilton Pond Center. Our list is at upper left.

--As of 7 Nov, the Center's 2018 Yard List stood at 72--about 42% 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 week of 1-7 Nov: None this week.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about a locally busy fall bird migration--plus a remarkable bird longevity record. It is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #679.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

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.