- Established 1982 -


11-17 March 2023

Installment #802---Visitor #web counter

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Be sure to check out Hilton Pond Center's
on YouTube for the latest videos of vulture nesting behavior. (Incubation still underway in "Chez Vautour Noir" as of 20 March.)
Black Vulture Snippets


Despite three chilly nights in the mid-20s this week, Flowering Dogwoods at Hilton Pond Center continue to bud out. We see no signs thus far they were affected by freezing temperatures.

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

Most members of the Dogwood Family (Cornaceae) do things in opposites and in even numbers. For example, twigs are opposite on the branch and tender green leaves (above) point upward in pairs as they erupt in spring. Tiny yellow dogwood flowers are too small to be seen in the photo above, but white bracts (below) carry on the family's even-numbered scheme with four per inflorescence.

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

We find it remarkable and maybe unexplainable how two same-age Flowering Dogwood trees pictured above are growing right beside each other but look so different this time of year. One is literally covered with blooms and bracts, while the other bears nothing but leaves--not a blossom to be seen. It's hard to imagine spending a whole year making foliage but no flowers (or berries!) is a sound evolutionary strategy. Maybe it's just a freakish thing this spring. We'll make a note to check next year to see if the same thing happens with these two dogwoods.

NOTE: Almost everyone who likes trees, took a botany course, or did a high school leaf collection knows Flowering Dogwood as Cornus florida. Alas, the Cornaceae are a long-time source of disagreement and discussion among plant taxonomists; based on genetic and evolutionary studies the family has been "re-arranged." Among other changes, C. florida is now known as Benthamidia florida. (We send our regrets.)

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

Incidentally, not far from our Flowering Dogwoods a tall Wild Cherry tree was also coming into bloom this week. In a sun-drenched branch overhanging the road in front of Hilton Pond Center we spied the silken nest of Eastern Tent Caterpillars (above). This larval assemblage started building their communal structure at least a week ago--well ahead of the time we usually see them in early spring.

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


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

Although late February 2023 saw record-breaking high temperatures on several consecutive days, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (RTHU) in Central America don't watch The Weather Channel and have no way of knowing it was unseasonably warm up here in the Carolina Piedmont. Nor did they know this week we had a cold snap with temps in the mid-20s. Thus, RTHU spring migration should be right on time, triggered by a change in photoperiod in the Neotropics rather than weather in the U.S. When days get to the right length, they'll be northward bound.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
(Click on map above for a larger version in a new browser window)

As our usual reminder, we again post our Operation RubyThroat Migration Map (above à la Sheri Williamson), showing average dates for the earliest RTHU arrivals across the eastern U.S. and Canada. A relative few ruby-throats overwinter along the Gulf and South Atlantic Coasts, but the vast majority are migrants that spend colder months from Mexico to western Panama.

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

Although we recommend maintaining one sugar water feeder year-round in case winter vagrant hummingbirds of different species show up from out west, most folks take their feeders down by Halloween. So when come spring should you break out feeders for the return of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (spring male above and below)?

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

Here at Hilton Pond our earliest RTHU date is 28 March in four different years, although the first half of April is a more likely time. Based on our 42 years of observation (and as suggested by our map above), we recommend folks in the Carolinas hang a feeder not later than St. Patrick's Day--17 March--to be sure sugar water is available to quench the thirst of any early arrivals. No need to put out ALL your feeders that soon or fill them more than halfway, but still change out the juice every week until warm weather arrives. In hot weather, as least twice weekly freshening is a must. You can save a bunch of money on sugar and eliminate lots of feeder-cleaning elbow grease if you provide just enough artificial mix for the hummers to drain in 3-4 days.

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

Regardless of our weather here at Hilton Pond and elsewhere across North America, the ruby-throats are coming--maybe even one of our banded males (above)--so get those feeders ready!

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


After hosting 50+ Purple Finches on numerous January days at Hilton Pond Center, numbers have plummeted the first half of March 2023:

1 Mar--12 PUFI banded
2 Mar--10
4 Mar--1
6 Mar--2
8 Mar--2

We banded no Purple Finches after 8 March. On 9 March we recaptured one banded brown second-year bird of unknown sex (below) and observed none at our feeders on days after that. Such early "spring" departure from Hilton Pond would be unusual; in most past winters our final PUFI bandings occurred the last week in March or first half of April. (All-time PUFI late date: 24 Apr 1983.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
(Click on chart above for a larger version in a new browser window)

The winter of 2022-23 is now our fifth-most productive for Purple Finches in 42 years with 537 bandings. We may still capture a few more as spring approaches, but it seems unlikely we'll reach the next mark of 558 set in 1985-86. If there are still PUFI in the area, a few days of below-freezing temperatures predicted regionally for mid-March could bring them back to feeders (and our traps and mist nets)--although increasingly abundant tree and flower buds might be a nutritious distraction.

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

Interestingly, House Finches (adult male, above) became more prevalent at Hilton Pond feeders as Purple Finches waned. This winter we’ve banded a below-average 201 HOFI, well under our record high of 976 in 1983-84. The vast majority of these HOFI (84%) were captured prior to the PUFI incursion in early January, so we wonder if the abundance of Purple Finches kept most House Finches away until now. PUFI do seem to be more aggressive than HOFI. In fact, the two species are easily differentiated in-hand because Purple Finches typically nip the bander--sometimes painfully, we might add--while House Finches almost never bite.

Among our other two "winter finches," we've banded just ONE Pine Siskin--a far cry from the 1,316 in the winter of 2020-21. American Goldfinches come and go and are well below average, with just 189 banded for the current winter period. (We banded 974 AMGO in 2007-08.)

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

(from our on-going series)

"Never trust a person too lazy to get up for sunrise
or too busy to watch the sunset."

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

Sunset over Hilton Pond, 13 March 2023

What with Daylight Saving Time the Sun wasn't sure
what time to go down this evening . . . ..

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

Sunset over Hilton Pond, 15 March 2023

Through the trees for the Ides of March.

Don't forget to scroll down for lists of Hilton Pond supporters and of all birds banded and recaptured during the period.

Photoshop image post-processing for this page employs
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"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, fellow scientists, and the general public. Please scroll below to the blue section 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/Vimeo (; 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 donors made contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 11-17 March 2023.

  • None this week.
  • The friends below contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fundraisers; some may be repeat contributors. Several have set up through Facebook to make a recurring monthly donation to benefit the Center. Many are much-appreciated long-time and/or repeat donors.
    --Gretchen Locy
    * = 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 timeless 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 paperback volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original print edition--plus lots of new color photos.
All sales go to support the work of
Hilton Pond Center.


11-17 March 2023

Chipping Sparrow--2
Eastern Bluebird--1

House Finch--1
White-throated Sparrow--1

* = new banded species for 2023

4 species
5 individuals

23 species (42-yr. avg. = 65.0)

751 individuals
(42-yr. avg. =

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 173 species have been observed on or over the property.)
128 species banded
77,816 individuals banded

7,190 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

(with original banding date, verified sex, and current age):
Pine Warbler (1)
01/26/21--after 3rd year unknown

Carolina Chickadee (1)
07/06/21--3rd year female

Carolina Wren (1)
06/07/22--2nd year unknown

** Notable local longevity for species
*** Longevity record for Hilton Pond

--This was a short week at Hilton Pond Center. With the near absence of feeder birds plus rain and unusually cold weather, we banded very little this week.

--A banded female Carolina Chickadee recaptured at the Center on 16 Mar already had an incubation patch--about a week ahead of the norm.

--As of 17 Mar, Hilton Pond's 2023 Yard List stood at 46--about 27% of 173 avian species encountered locally since 1982. Our record for one calendar year is 111, reached in 2020 & 2021. (Incidentally, all species so far this year have been observed from windows, porches, or the yard around 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, where you, too, can be a "citizen scientist!") New species observed locally during the period 11-17 March: Red -shouldered Hawk

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about the Center's Black Vulture nest cam and is archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #801.

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.