- Established 1982 -


16-31 October 2019

Installment #703---Visitor # website counter

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


As October 2019 progressed, Hilton Pond Center saw fewer and fewer Neotropical migrant birds, i.e., those that breed in North America and spend our winter months in Latin America. Local summer resident neotrops like spot-breasted Wood Thrushes (above), Gray Catbirds, and Acadian Flycatchers began disappearing, while species that nest in Canada--especially warblers and thrushes--came through early in the month and dwindled to near zero by Halloween. In fact, during the first half of October we banded 38 birds of 14 Neotropical species, but from the 16th through the 31st only ten neotrops from three species hit our mist nets. (We might have caught even more birds early in the month had it not been for that unavoidable ruckus caused by roof, deck, and gutter work on the Center's old farmhouse.)

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

Interestingly, the latter half of the month also saw a local influx of Canadian (or Appalachian) breeders that typically come only as far as southeastern states to spend a relatively balmy winter: Yellow-rumped Warbler (above), White-throated Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Winter Wren, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet (male, below).

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

With all these overlapping avian movements in mind, "This Week at Hilton Pond" we take a look at some of our banding captures during the last half of October--both Neotropical pass-throughs and winter residents.

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

After two-plus weeks of intensive work on the Hilton Pond Center's old farmhouse, it was time on 21 October to once again open our mist nets. This proved to be quite productive, getting us 24 individuals from seven species (list below).

1 Carolina Chickadee
3 Black-throated Blue Warblers
2 Yellow-rumped Warblers
13 Northern Cardinals
1 Tufted Titmouse
1 Carolina Wren
3 American Robins

The most startling result was those 13 new Northern Cardinals (NOCA) in one day, suggesting there must be a redbird factory somewhere nearby! The current influx of NOCA (female above) at the Center continued during the last fortnight of October with a two-week total of 28 banded--following 15 from the first half of the month. Nearly all those 43 NOCA in the just-completed month were young-of-the-year, indicating a pretty good Northern Cardinal breeding season.

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

Through October, that's 119 Northern Cardinals banded in 2019--our fifth best year since 1982. (See chart above. Our NOCA record is 157 from 1993--perhaps within reach at the current rate.) We take this recent cardinal resurgence as a good sign, considering much smaller numbers occurred many years at the Center from about the mid-1990s onward.

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

The two "butterbutts" (Yellow-rumped Warblers) this week were our first of the season. As we banded them a small flock of American Robins was fluttering about, visiting a water feature to bathe and drink (above) while making short work of our Flowering Dogwoods--stripping every twig of its bounty of scarlet berries (below). The back deck of the old farmhouse was littered with dogwood seeds expelled soon after the birds' fast-acting digestive tracts absorbed whatever nutrients might be in the pulp.

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

Of particular note this week were three Black-throated Blue Warblers (BTBW), if only because we caught two females and a male that allowed for comparison. Among Wood Warblers (Parulidae), BTBW have the greatest degree of external sexual dimorphism, sharing only one noticeable characteristic. In fact, the genders are so different in appearance that early North American ornithologists from Alexander Wilson to John James Audubon considered them to be separate species!

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

The male Black-throated Blue Warbler (above) has striking slate-blue plumage and a black mask, while the female (below) is mostly dark yellow-green with a white superciliary line. Study the two photos and you can probably figure out what field mark they DO have in common.

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

Give up? It's the white wing patch--very obvious in the male but sometimes quite tiny in females. If you see a greenish-yellow warbler in fall you can't identify, look for that white spot halfway down the folded wing and you'll know you're watching a female Black-throated Blue Warbler like the one above from Hilton Pond Center.

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

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

We had nine mist nets deployed at the Center before 8 a.m. on the morning of 23 October and within 15 minutes had our hands full. Here's the tally from just the first net check at 8:10!

10 American Robins (see photo above; likely male with dark head)
2 Swainson's Thrushes
1 Song Sparrow (first of season)
1 White-throated Sparrow (first of season)
1 Northern Cardinal

Oddly, after those 15 bandings we caught only two more birds--both cardinals--in ten hours before shutting down at dusk. Hard to explain.

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

Folks are often surprised when we report the fall season's first Song Sparrow (SOSP, above, with central breast spot), one of the most common of all North American sparrow species. Nonetheless, for SOSP the southeastern edge of the breeding range almost seems to stop at the Broad River just west of us on the border of the Center's home county of York. We have very few summer records out of 463 SOSP banded, and in 38 years here have never found a local nest or captured either a recent fledgling or a breeding female Song Sparrow with a brood patch. (That said, we wouldn't be surprised if some sharp-eyed observer has seen summering Song Sparrows in Fort Mill or Rock Hill SC, just 10 miles east of us--and maybe even knows of a nearby nest. If so, let is know at RESEARCH.)

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

One LBJ ("Little Brown Jobber") we'd never expect to see in York County during the breeding season is the White-throated Sparrow (WTSP), which breeds almost exclusively in Canada (barely into New England the the Great Lakes States). Our earliest-ever in autumn at the Center is 4 October, while a spring individual was very late departing on 27 May. One exceptional WTSP we banded at Hilton Pond on 15 April 1990 showed up just 15 days later in Lake à la Ligne, Quebec--970 miles away--only to be killed by a free-roaming cat!

White-throated Sparrows come in two morphs--dull and bright. The one in the photo above is the latter, although even dull morph WTSP have at least a hint of yellow on the lores.

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

We got a "red flag" when we first tried to report to eBird a Swainson's Thrush (SWTH, see photo above) we banded at Hilton Pond Center on 25 October, apparently because eBird's historical record suggests this buffy-faced Neotropical migrant should be gone from the Carolina Piedmont by that date. (Two SWTH we reported just two days previous on the 23rd did not warrant a similar "rejection," but you might guess two banded even later on 28 October really got eBird's attention!) The Center's previous late record for SWTH was 25 Oct 1994, although McNair & Post (1993) cite an extremely late one on 20 November 1990 in Anderson County SC.

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

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

We only caught 11 birds of eight species on 25 October 2019, but three of those are worth mention because they have been banded rarely at Hilton Pond Center during our 38 years here:

1 Winter Wren (15th in 38 years)
1 Bay-breasted Warbler (17th ever)
1 Hairy Woodpecker (38th ever; male above)
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
3 Yellow-rumped Warblers
2 American Robins
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
1 Northern Cardinal

We really like members of the Picidae, so the male Hairy Woodpecker (photo above; our 38th since 1982) was a treat to hold--albeit we had to be careful not to get pecked. (We also banded a male Red-bellied Woodpecker and recaptured two banded Downy Woodpeckers, all while a couple of Pileated Woodpeckers tore up a dead branch high above our mist nets. Jackhammer heaven!)

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

A locally uncommon Bay-breasted Warbler (above) was great to see this week, especially since was only our 17th of its species banded locally since 1982. This particular immature male had only a hint of "bay" on his lower flanks and will look very different when he acquires his full breeding attire.

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

Even though Hairy Woodpeckers and Bay-breasted Warblers are both rare at Hilton Pond Center, our "Bird of the Day" on 25 October had to be a diminutive Winter Wren--its short tail (above) cocked high in characteristic pose. This tiny member of the Trogodytidae seems barely half the size of our big lunker Carolina Wren, so the photo above includes more of the bander's fingers than usual to give a sense of scale.

As its name implies, the Winter Wren appears in the Carolina Piedmont only during colder months, having spent the breeding season in New England and much of Canada. (CAVEAT: There's also a population that breeds at high elevations down the Appalachians into North Carolina.)

On his breeding grounds, the male Winter Wren is an energetic master builder that constructs several nests to which he leads a prospective mate. If she "likes" what she sees, she chooses one, mates with the male, and moves into the home that met her instinctive standards. The one we netted on 25 October was just our 15th WIWR; curiously, we caught another--in a trap baited with sunflower seeds--five days later.

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

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

We didn't run nets on 27 October because of much-needed overnight and morning rains, all accompanied by gusty winds that continued until early afternoon. The following day yielded sparse results for our banding efforts, with only nine individuals of five species captured--and none of them could really be considered "Neotropical":

3 Yellow-rumped Warblers
1 Northern Cardinal
3 American Robins
1 Blue Jay (above)
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (below)

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

Even so, it was a good week for woodpeckers, including our first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (YBSA) of the season (above). This colorful member of the Picidae was a hatch-year male--females don't have the red chin--and like most woodpeckers he was quite vocal in-hand. He also scratched pretty well, using strong toes and sharp, decurved claws to inflict superficial wounds on the bander's hands.

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

Despite its name, observers seldom see a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker's pale lemon-yellow underside (above) that stays tight against tree trunks as the bird forages. This week's individual had particularly bright and lustrous plumage, a sure sign he was well-fed and likely to survive the winter unless taken by a Cooper's Hawk or some other avian predator.

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

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers breed from New England across Canada and into eastern Alaska but move south come winter. (A few breed at high elevations in the mountains of North Carolina and the Virginias.) Interestingly, some Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers actually ARE Neotropical migrants that end up as far south as western Panama; in fact, we were quite surprised one January in Costa Rica during an Operation RubyThroat expedition to find Cecropia trees (above) riddled with those familiar horizontal rows of quarter-inch holes made by this sap-feeding species Who would have expected a woodpecker hatched in Canada's boreal woodlands to end up in tropical dry forests of Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica?

We doubt the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker we banded this week--just our 48th locally since 1982--will be going to faraway Central America. After all, we have a dependable sap-making Pecan tree in Hilton Pond Center's front yard that has hosted hungry sapsuckers every winter for at least 38 years. No need to fly to the land of Cecropias when local fare will do.

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

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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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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 (; 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.

The following made contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 16-31 Oct 2019:

  • Margaret & Robert Lloyd (repeat major donors in each of the past 11 years!)
  • Johannes Stratmann (via PayPal)
  • The following friends contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings; some may be repeat Facebook contributors. Anita Clemmer, Dallas Dileo, Bob Placier, Dennis Walden
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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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16-31 October 2019

Winter Wren--2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet--1
Carolina Chickadee--1
Black-throated Blue Warbler--5
Yellow-rumped Warbler--8
Bay-breasted Warbler--1
Northern Cardinal--28
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker--1
Tufted Titmouse--1
Carolina Wren--1
Song Sparrow--1
White-throated Sparrow--1
Swainson's Thrush--4
Hermit Thrush--3
American Robin--18
Hairy Woodpecker--1
Red-bellied Woodpecker--1
Eastern Towhee--1
Blue Jay--1

* = new banded species for 2019

19 species
80 individuals

65 species (38-yr. avg. = 65.0)

1,425 individuals
(38-yr. avg. =

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 162

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
69,555 individuals banded

6,355 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
American Goldfinch (1)
05/03/15--after 6th year male

Northern Cardinal (2)
09/23/17--3rd year male
9/26/18--after 2nd year female

Downy Woodpecker (2)
06/07/16--4th year male

09/26/17--3rd year female

Song Sparrow (1)
01/18/18--3rd year unknown

Carolina Wren (1)
01/18/18--after 2nd year female

White-throated Sparrow (1)
02/08/16--5th year female


All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

--Hilton Pond Center experienced one of its driest autumns on record in 2019. Following slight rainfall in mid-August, there was absolutely none in September, with the first droplets of the season not occurring until 5 Oct when we got a measly 0.01". The 13th finally brought 0.65" of much-needed moisture, but we didn't see really significant amounts until the last week of October when 6" accumulated over several days. Vegetation and the soil itself were parched, and things greened up immediately and remarkably after the first inch fell. One side effect: Dead and withered leaves were knocked from our trees (above), many of which were destined to land on the back deck (and new roof!) of the Center's old farmhouse.

--A female White-throated Sparrow banded at the Center in Feb 2016 was recaptured this week as a 5th year bird (see list of recaps/returns below left). We had one additional recapture in Apr 2017, so we suspect she has spent the past four winters here--even though we didn't catch her in 2018. This is a nice example of site fidelity in a winter resident species that flies north in spring and returns in fall.

--As of 31 Oct, the Hilton Pond Center's 2019 Yard List stood at 90--about 53% of 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, all 90 species so far this year have been observed from the windows or porches of our old farmhouse! 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. You, too, can be a "citizen scientist.") New species observed during the period: Hairy Woodpecker, Bay-breasted Warbler, Winter Wren.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about fall migrant warblers and thrushes. It's archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #702.

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.