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11-21 March 2021

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Although we have limited training in mycology—the study of fungi—we're always on the lookout for mushrooms and their kin as we walk our trails at Hilton Pond Center. This week we came across an unfamiliar fungus in an unexpected place: Growing on a 12" dead twig (below) that fell from high atop a Shagbark Hickory tree behind our old farmhouse. We recognized the foliose form of some gray-green lichens, but the pale shell-like fungal structures were a bit of a mystery.

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

At first we thought the pinkish-lavenderish growth was some kind of bracket fungus with a concave cap, and with that perspective we took several photos like the one below. Turns out we were looking at it upside down, and the unusual feathery radiating lines were actually gills on the cap's UNDERside.

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

Flipping the twig over, we realized the top of the cap (below) was white and fuzzy. The inch-wide cap had no stipe (stem) and was produced by a hidden mycelium, an asexual root-like structure that is the real business end of the fungus; its role is to extend within the twig, secreting enzymes that break down complex woody cellulose into simpler organic compounds. These the fungus uses to grow and to produce the cap--the visible reproductive stage. The latter, in turn, yields spores that--after landing on the proper substrate--germinate under optimal (but poorly understood) conditions to produce a new "wood-eating" mycelium.

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

We got help on identifying our find from a Facebook group called "Mushrooms and Fungi of the Eastern United States," whose members agreed it was Schizophyllum commune, aka Splitgill Mushroom It is so-named because of the unusual way the gills under the cap split longitudinally as they dry out and sporulate, as shown in the mature specimen below. (Photo taken ten days after those above and after the cap had been moistened by rainfall.) The species is found worldwide (except Antarctica) and often grows in dense colonies rather than solo or in small clusters like those we found.

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

Our Facebook friends also cautioned us about breathing in the spores of Splitgill Mushroom. Although this particular fungus is edible, its spores apparently can germinate in one's respiratory tract--rarely growing into mushrooms in the sinus cavities of immunocompromised individuals.


If it seems nearly everything we've written bird-wise this winter has been about Pine Siskins (PISI, male, below), it's because we've had a record-breaking year for them. The first siskin of 2020 arrived and got banded at Hilton Pond Center on 17 October--two weeks before our previous early date--and was followed by 327 more through the end of the 2020 calendar year. Things certainly picked up again after New Year's Day, so by 21 March we'd handled a whopping 879 more, bringing the winter total to 1,107. (Our previous record was 780 PISI for the full winter of 2014-15.)

The odd thing was those first birds from October didn’t seem to hang around long. In fact, our banded siskins essentially disappeared in November--replaced starting in December by new unbanded ones, but leaving us to question where the earlier birds had gone. We got an answer to that query this week (at least for two of them) in a "Report To Bander" from the federal Bird Banding Lab (BBL) in Laurel MD.

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

This coordinated banding system works because a bird bander, after capturing a bird and applying a band to its leg, submits relevant data to the BBL in special format, including--at the minimum--the bird's species, its age and sex, and date and place of banding. These data are then loaded into the BBL master database. If someone finds a banded bird--perhaps because it hit a picture window or, heaven forbid, Fluffy brings it in as a prize--the finder can go on-line at ReportBand and submit the band number, date and location of the encounter, and the bird's condition. (Fellow banders at some other study site can report equivalent data and release a banded bird after recapture.)

Typically, the finder gets immediate on-line feedback about when and where the found bird was banded; the bander eventually gets a more detailed report about the "foreign encounter." This week, we happened to get info about TWO of our siskins banded in the past few months at Hilton Pond Center.

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

(Click on image above for a larger version in a new browser window)

The first Pine Siskin (#1590-96728) actually was banded quite recently on 7 February 2021. At capture, we determined it was an older, after-second-year individual that must have hatched in 2019 or before. Alas, the "Report to Bander" (see above) indicated on 5 March it hit a stationary object at the home of Jamie Queen in York SC, just two straight-line air miles northeast of Hilton Pond. (Ironically, the encounter location was barely 0.4 miles from "The Styx," a country home we Hiltons built and lived in in the 1970s before going to Minnesota for grad school. That's also where we all got started in birding.)

This short-distance York encounter was interesting and probably demonstrates that some Pine Siskins roam around a little after coming south for the winter, perhaps sampling fare at different bird feeders in a relatively small area. (Who knows what stimulated it to leave the budget-busting cornucopia of seed we offer at Hilton Pond Center!?) The second bird, however, provided information of even greater significance.

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

In this case, another Pine Siskin (#2870-24890) was banded as a hatch-year bird at Hilton Pond on 26 October 2020, just before it and most of its conspecifics mostly disappeared from the Center. So where did this siskin go? Why, southwest to Dallas, Georgia (west of Atlanta; see map above). There, it was found dead of unknown causes on 2 March by Amy Kobylarz--214 straight-line miles from the banding site!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Original map courtesy Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

It's hard to explain the behavior of our second Pine Siskin reported by Amy. This is a bird that breeds in the coniferous forest of Canada (map above), the very northern U.S., and in western states, and rarely migrates far in winter--almost always in irruption years when seed crops fail up north. In the case of this second siskin, it came south to Hilton Pond, got banded in October, and kept going WEST--nearly to the edge of its typical southernmost limit in Georgia--only to be found four months later. Had it survived, it's hard to predict which route this siskin would have followed when it headed back north to its breeding grounds this spring.

The Georgia incident is only our sixth Pine Siskin long-distance encounter (outside York County SC)--out of 4,510 siskins banded through 21 March 2021 at the Center; all the others occurred long ago, from 1985 to 1992. Of these, two were found dead in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (650 miles northeast) and Apsley, Ontario (700 miles north); one was stunned and released at Schomberg, Ontario (640 miles north); and two banded a year apart were recaptured an hour apart and released by bird bander Dennis Meyer at Duluth, Minnesota (990 miles northwest). We're hopeful with nearly 1,300 siskins banded this winter at Hilton Pond at least a few more will show up as foreign encounters at far-flung locales.

(NOTE: Special thanks to Jamie Queen and Amy Kobylarz for reporting their recent encounters with Pine Siskins banded at Hilton Pond Center. Without cooperation from folks like them we would miss lots of important data about bird migration.)

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

(from our on-going series)

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

Sunset over Hilton Pond (above), 11 March 2021

Photoshop image post-processing uses DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI , and other Topaz Lab tools

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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 Dr. 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 (; 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 11-21 March 2021:

  • Anonymous $50 (via Network for Good)
  • Abigail Cook * (via PayPal)
  • Susan Leavitt (via PayPal)
  • Lynn Moseley (via PayPal)
  • Southside Bird Club, Danville VA (fee for Zoom hummingbird presentation)
  • The following friends contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fund-raisers; some may be repeat contributors. Several have set up through Facebook to make a recurring monthly donation to benefit the Center.
    Heidi Stefan, Connie Uhrin, Kimberly Urban, Russell Rogers, Gretchen Locy, Corey Uhrin, Natalie Kent, Peg de Lamater

    * = past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition)
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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
to support the work of
Hilton Pond Center.

11-21 March 2021

Pine Siskin--52
American Goldfinch--48
Chipping Sparrow--1
Northern Cardinal--2
Brown-headed Cowbird--1
Purple Finch--46
Downy Woodpecker--1
Song Sparrow--2
Tufted Titmouse--1
Blue Jay--1
Mourning Dove--3

* = new banded species for 2020

11 species
158 individuals

20 species (40-yr. avg. = 63.7)

1,519 individuals
(40-yr. avg. =

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 173 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
73,321 individuals banded

6,644 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

(with original banding date, verified sex, and current age):
Carolina Chickadee (1)

06/08/20--2nd year male

American Goldfinch (3)
02/06/19--4th year male
02/10/19--after 4th year female
02/19/19--after 4th year male

Northern Cardinal (6)
08/20/19--3rd year female
10/23/19--after 2nd year male
06/15/20--after 2nd year male
08/06/20--2nd year male
08/13/20--2nd year female
09/04/20--2nd year male

Tufted Titmouse (1)
03/27/20--after 2nd year female
09/26/20--2nd year unknown

Downy Woodpecker (1)
03/22/14--9th year male *

Purple Finch (1)
02/14/19--4th year male

* New longevity record for species

--A male Downy Woodpecker banded in Mar 2014 was recaptured this week at the ripe old age of nine years--a new longevity record for his species at the Center. (Lists of birds banded and recaptured during the period are in the column at left.)

--As of 21 Mar, the Hilton Pond 2021 Yard List stood at 42--about 24% of 172 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, all 42 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 locally during the period 11-21 Mar: Brown-headed Cowbird.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about a colorful slime mold we thought was something else. It's archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #740.

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)

Please report your spring, summer &
fall 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.