- Established 1982 -


1-15 September 2023

Installment #813 (BHBD)---Visitor #Visit counter For Websites

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On 4 September 2023 at Hilton Pond Center we trapped for banding an adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (RTHU). Adult males have been especially scarce this year at the Center, with this individual being just the 17th--compared to our 40-year average of 21 and an amazing high of 60 back in 2015. (NOTE: This year we also recaptured 19 adult males banded here in previous years.)

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

It's also been unusual for us to capture a new adult male this late in the season. Since 1982 we've banded 32 on or after 4 September--just 4.6% of our 843 total adult males. Today's bird easily could be the last adult male ruby-throat of the year, although immatures of either sex may linger on until mid-October.

As shown in our photo above, this latest hummer looked a little haggard--to be expected after a long, hard season of territorial defense and high-speed courtship. His gorget included feathers worn and splitting, and some appeared bronzy rather than ruby in color--the result of wear and solar fading. This male is undoubtedly headed toward the Neotropics where he'll replace nearly all his plumage, including his signature throat.

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


On the morning of 7 September we were honored at Hilton Pond Center to host and capture for banding his royal rotundity Big Fat V, great-great grandson of the notorious Big Fat I (founder of SOHBIG--The Society for Obese Hummingbirds Bound for International Grounds). His Excellency Big Fat V comes from a long line of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds too big for their britches.

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

It is difficult to convey in a photograph (above) the actual girth of Big Fat V--an immature male--but it was quite a strain on our hand muscles as we carefully extracted him from a mist net. Let's just say he FELT big, and WAS; he tipped the scales at 5.70 grams, nearly twice the estimated 3.0 grams he weighed before putting on bulk for his long migratory flight to the Neotropics. He seemed almost spherical and even his cheeks were fat--which showed off his first four metallic red gorget feathers quite nicely.

In full disclosure, today's capture was NOT the most corpulent ruby-throat male we've encountered at Hilton Pond. Nay, that honor goes to his great-grandfather Big Fat II, who actually broke the scales at a massive 5.95 grams--nearly big enough to show up on radar as he cruised south. That bird was banded here almost exactly 20 years ago on 9 September 2003.

Keep your eyes open for Big Fat V as he makes his way to ancestral non-breeding grounds in Central America. You will be able to recognize him flying over as he darkens the sky, and if he lands on your hummingbird feeder it will sway violently side to side. Our advice is to stand back as he takes off, lest you get sucked into a powerful vortex in his wake.

Safe travels, O Portly Royal Hummer. See you next year when you've slimmed down a bit.

DISCLAIMER: The comments above should in no way be misconstrued as fat-shaming an obese hyperphagic Ruby-throated Hummingbird preparing himself for the arduous migratory trip ahead.

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


During the first half of September 2023 at Hilton Pond Center we banded--among others--quite a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, a couple of White-eyed Vireos, two Hooded Warblers, an Ovenbird, and a Northern Parula. Any or all these could be migratory birds heading south to the Neotropics, but all might just as easily be resident birds since all have locally bred (or could have). On 8 September, however, we captured a species we can say is our first for-certain pass-through fall migrant of the year--a plump Northern Waterthrush (NOWA, below) loaded with yellow fat.

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

Unlike the closely related Louisiana Waterthrush (LOWA) that nests on-site, NOWA for the most part breed further north, overlapping little with LOWA. Specifically, NOWA nest at higher elevations of West Virginia north to New England and across southern Canada to Alaska. Eastern-nesting LOWA stay south of Maine and the Great Lakes States and are more common in the Southeast.

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

These two brown-streaked waterthrushes are similar in appearance, the NOWA tending to be more yellow and with a buffy superciliary line plus throat streaking (see photos above). LOWA (below) are a bit larger and stockier with a wider white superciliary and usually a clear throat. Both species forage primarily on the ground for invertebrates and bob their tails while walking.

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

Louisiana Waterthrushes are among our first warblers to arrive in spring and are first to depart at summer's end; we've never had one at Hilton Pond after 20 August. On the other hand, this year's Northern Waterthrush on 8 September was our second-earliest of its species and quite a bit later than our record early banding on 2 August 1990; our latest NOWA was on 29 September 1984.

This most recent Northern Waterthrush capture confirms without doubt that annual fall migration was underway at the Center in early September. Who knows which migrant species each day might bring this month and next.

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


We didn't identify this tiny one-inch diameter mushroom button just opening but include it below for aesthetic reasons. Sometimes it's rewarding just to gaze at nature without having to apply a category or name. (Even so, if you have an I.D. for it, please let us know at INFO.)

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


Nature is where you find it, sometimes in unnatural and unexpected places. Such was the case this week at the Culp Dental offices in Rock Hill SC.

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

When we entered the office of Wendy, our dental hygienist, we noticed a window shade was drawn to keep the bright morning sun from blinding her as she conducted our semi-annual tooth cleaning. Silhouetted on the translucent shade was the unmistakable shadow of a large spider and her stabilimentum--a thick mass of silk likely at the center of her circular web. We were pretty sure we could identify this spider even to species and asked Wendy to open the shade for a better view.

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

Sure enough, as the shade went up we were treated to a close look through the glass of a fully grown Black-and-yellow Argiope, Argiope aurantia, sometimes called a "writing spider" because the stabilimentum fancifully includes letters and words that spell doom and/or misfortune. As its name suggests, however, this structure serves to stabilize this big orb-weaving spider's enormous web while also providing a hiding space as she hangs head down. Some arachnologists suggest the stabilimentum keeps birds from flying through the web, requiring frequent re-building by the spider. (NOTE 1: It's worth mentioning larger members of the Orbweaver Family--Araneidae--have been known to snare hummingbirds and have them for lunch. Same for hapless small bats, lizards, and frogs and a multitude of insects that make up the spider's more usual fare.)

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

In the enlarged image above, it's easy to see the Black-and-yellow Argiope's eight striped legs and her pedipalps--two smaller leg-like appendages that help manipulate food into her mouth. Also visible is her cepahlothorax--a fusion of head and thoracic region--plus her enormous abdomen which will swell even further as eggs develop therein. Come late summer a single female Argiope may lay several silk-covered egg cases, each producing up to a few hundred spiderlings. Although male Black-and-yellow Argiopes usually die shortly after mating, females are long-lived; some even make it through the winter to survive for a second year of reproduction. (NOTE 2: On the tips of the two forelegs in the photo above you can see tiny tarsal hooks. These allow the spider to manipulate silk strands and to traverse the web without herself getting stuck in the web.)

Thanks to our favorite dental hygienist Wendy Howell for being equally enthralled with the window spider and for not demanding the maintenance folks tear down the web. The spider caused no problems and undoubtedly provided plenty of conversational fodder for dental patients throughout the first half of September.

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


Allow us a personal note about Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History:

At his surprise 77th birthday on 15 September 2023, Bill was enthusiastically informed by South Carolina state senator Mike Fanning (at right in photo below) that in October Bill would receive an award from the Governor recognizing his lifetime of work in science education, natural history research, and environmental conservation. In preliminary recognition, Sen. Fanning presented Bill with a sealed and signed document (below) from the S.C. Senate stating:

On motion of Senator Mike Fanning this certificate is presented to Dr. Bill Hilton Jr. to congratulate you on your upcoming presentation by Governor Henry McMaster as the next recipient of South Carolina's highest civilian honor--The Order of the Palmetto. Your tireless efforts and contributions to your community, and beyond, are notable and we are pleased to honor you.

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

We were more than a little surprised and were indeed honored by to learn of the award. We look forward to meeting the Governor on 3 October at the statehouse in Columbia.

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."

Sunset over Hilton Pond, 08 September 2023

After numerous early September days of either clear skies or complete cloud cover, on the 8th we finally got this
photogenic tableau.

Sunset over Hilton Pond, 11 September 2023

A few wispy clouds hung on at dusk and disappeared shortly thereafter on the 11th--but not before we snapped this photo.

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

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
DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI, and other Topaz Labs tools

"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 1-15 September 2023. (Donors through "Bill's 77th Birthday Fundraiser" on Facebook will be listed in the next installment.)

  • Ann Foster (Operation RubyThroat membership)
  • Nancy Krause (repeat donor, via Network for Good)
  • Elizabeth Layton* (long-time supporter)
  • Johannes Stratmann (long-time donor, via PayPal)
  • The friends below contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fundraisers; some are 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.
    --Fred Schroyer, Cheryl Ervin Hill

    * = Past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition

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If you like shopping on-line please become a member of iGive, through which 2,000+ on-line stores from Ace Hardware to Zappo's Shoes and even L.L. Bean 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 for the cause! Please enroll by going to the iGive Web site. There's even an iGive app for your phone or tablet. It's a painless, important way for YOU to support our on-going work in conservation, education, and research. Register Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project 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 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.


1-15 September 2023

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--44
Hooded Warbler--1
White-eyed Vireo--2
Northern Waterthrush--4
Northern Cardinal--3
Carolina Wren--2

* = new banded species for 2023

8 species
57 individuals

62 species (42-yr. avg. = 66.0)

1,613 individuals
(42-yr. avg. =

287 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 173 species have been observed on or over the property.)
128 species banded
78,679 individuals banded

7,477 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

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

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

--As of 15 Sep Hilton Pond's 2023 Yard List stood at 90--about 52% 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 1-15 Sep 2023: Common Nighthawk.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about Mississippi Kites and unusual ruby-throats and is archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #812.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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.