- Established 1982 -


16-30 September 2023

Installment #814---Visitor #Visit counter For Websites

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A hatch-year male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (RTHU, below) trapped on 20 September was the 300th of his species banded here in 2023, only the second time we'veve reached that number in 40 years of studying hummers at Hilton Pond Center. That's a LOT of hummingbirds, but at this late date it's unlikely we will equal our phenomenal record total of 373 set in 2016. (NOTE: We banded 319 RTHU through the end of September this year.)

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

This latest young male ruby-throat had just two metallic red gorget feathers (one doesn't show in the image). In coming months he'll bring in more red while on his Neotropical non-breeding grounds and return next spring with a full gorget, ready to attract and mate with females. The newly banded bird in the photo has also been marked with temporary non-toxic green dye to avoid our recapturing him over and over in pull-string traps baited with sugar water. The band wouldn't be visible but the color mark is, minimizing wear and tear on any "trap junkie hummer" that enters the same trap repeatedly--sometimes dozens of times per day. The unique green mark also offers opportunities for folks elsewhere to spot one of "our" hummers during migration and to report them to us at RESEARCH.

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


Fall bird migration at Hilton Pond Center was well underway during September's second half. We banded 25 species (see complete list at the end of this week's installment), of which only six were certain to be year-round residents. Those included Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, House Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Downy Woodpecker. (Eastern Phoebe and Black-and-white Warbler were other possible permanent residents.) The remainder were all summertime breeders or pass-through migrants from points north--some of which we see rarely and for only a short period in autumn.

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

One of the Center's least commonly banded birds to show up this week was a Yellow-throated Warbler (YTWA, above), a species for which we've banded just 16 individuals since 1982--only six of them in fall. Through the years we've captured one female YTWA with a brood patch--indicating local nesting--but we suspect most of our encounters have been migrants. (NOTE: One reason we seldom catch Yellow-throated Warblers may be because they dwell high in the tree canopy, meaning they seldom come down to ground level where our mist nets are deployed. Maybe that's also why this species is always so squirmy, making it hard to get an in-hand photo!)

Some Yellow-throated Warblers coming through Hilton Pond Center may not be going far, since a relative few do overwinter on the South Carolina coast and down to Florida rather than flying all the way to Central America or the Caribbean. Going back north to breed in spring they barely get past the latitude of Chicago or Pittsburgh and are seldom seen at all in the Appalachian Mountains.

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


One afternoon this week we entered the kitchen of our old farmhouse at Hilton Pond Center and noticed an out-of-place dark object on the floor beside the stove. When it moved we quickly realized it was a snake and could tell right away the species.

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

The intruder, with its rectangular dark brown blotches against a gray background, was an immature Eastern Rat Snake, Pantherophis alleghaniensis, formerly known as Black Rat Snake, Elaphe obsoleta. People are forever wanting to misidentify these snakelings as venomous Copperheads, whose hourglass markings on a coppery background look nothing like a rat snake. The youngsters also don't resemble their adult parents that are glossy black with a white chin.

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

Lest this little intruder slither out of sight, we moved quickly to grab it without any fear of being bitten. A snake this small--about 10"--could hardly cause any damage even if it did clamp down on one's finger. It did demonstrate its inborn ability as a constrictor, wrapping tightly around our fingers as we admired its large head, big eyes, and slender neck.

We suspect this immature serpent is the offspring of much larger adult Eastern Rat Snakes that patrol our crawlspace and attic. In both locations we frequently find shed skins up to six feet long--a good sign these creatures are helping control White-footed Mice that inevitably come with having a farmhouse in the country. After capture, we took our snakeling to our outdoor compost pile for release; there it undoubtedly would find prey items attracted to table waste we also send back to nature.

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


When we approached one of our mist nets on 20 September we noticed a large-ish bird had been snared and was squirming around in the mesh. We moved quickly to extract it and realized immediately it was an immature yellow-billed Cuckoo--a species we rarely capture at Hilton Pond Center (only 58 banded in 42 years). As we carefully removed the fine strands from the bird's wings, head, and feet it started squawking loudly, at which point a second cuckoo swooped down and also got caught. Holding the first bird securely with one hand we were able to quickly extricate the second one, after which we hand our hands full of cuckoos. We suspect the second bird was a defensive parent come down to see what was messing with its offspring.

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

Back at the banding table in the Center's old farmhouse we transferred the second bird to a holding bag and got to work on banding the initial capture. Based on plumage we could tell it was an immature bird and confirmed its age by a pink lining to its upper mandible--black in breeding adults. In typical Cuckoo Family fashion (Culculidae) its white-tipped tail feathers were progressively shorter from inner to outer.

Most summers we hear a cuckoo's single-knock call repeated all day long dawn to dusk; less often it's that slow "cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck." It's hard to know just how many Yellow-billed Cuckoos there are any year at Hilton Pond Center, but we've watched one vocal individual move slowly across the 11-acre property from one canopy tree to the next--suggesting we may host only one breeding pair per season. (NOTE: We've seen the closely related Black-billed Cuckoo here a few times through the years and banded only two, one each in 1986 and 1991. Both our cuckoo species are in steep decline but things seem especially dire for the black-bill.)

Our late birding friend Jim Shuman always said--quoting the words of his own father Ruhl--that cuckoos "slurk around." It's hard to define this term but it seems to fit as the cuckoo's slumped posture and stealthy movement through the trees is almost serpentine.

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, 16 September 2023

For Amy Lou and Kimmy Sue, visiting from Shawnee Hills OH to celebrate the 77th birthday of Dr. Bill Hilton Jr.

Sunset over Hilton Pond, 26 September 2023

September brought some excellent sunsets like this one, with deep blue skies and clouds write in reddish-orange.

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.

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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.

We're grateful for the following donors who contributed through "Bill's 77th Birthday Fundraiser" on Facebook (listed chronologically based on donation date):
Carmon Ortiz
Laura Black
Cindy Stacy
Judith Haynes
Hollis Barnes
Elaine Connor
Chuck Curran
Laura Crompton
Ellen Templeton
Lawanna Stoeckel
Alice Oldham
Kathy Tinius
Cliff Tune
Rick Jones
Clark Cone
Karen Gilson
Rosemarie Wahaus*
Frank Voelker
Ann-Marie Rutkowski*
Steve Hendricks
Deborah Carnes
Karen Cheek Justice
Cindy Massey
Kim Beard
Guy Molnar
Rich Wolfert
George Johnson
Ben Lazarus
Kim Pierce Lascola*
Amy Girten*
Dallas DiLeo
Ed Saugstad
Marcia Brown
Larry Perry
Bob Olson
Mary Alice Koeneke
Joseph Gipson
Rebecca Stiegel
Ann Peay
Marcus Morris
Manella Calhoun
Sean Sands
Cathy Moorman*
Emily Carr
Halley Page
Roger Ford
Jane Griess*
Cindy Epps
Sara Blair
Brett Taylor

The following donors made contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 16-30 September 2023.

  • Robert T. Oesterle (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.
    --Gretchen Locy, J. Drew Lanham, Bill Pennington, Catherine Hutto, Richard Barnett

    * = Past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition

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16-30 September 2023

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--32
American Redstart--8
Northern Parula--2
Eastern Wood-Pewee--1
White-eyed Vireo--1
Carolina Chickadee--1
Common Yellowthroat--1
Eastern Phoebe--2
Acadian Flycatcher--2
Hooded Warbler--1
Yellow-throated Warbler--1
Black-and-white Warbler--1
Cape May Warbler--1
Red-eyed Vireo--1
Northern Cardinal--3
Wood Thrush--1
Carolina Wren--3
House Finch--1
White-breasted Nuthatch--1
Gray-cheeked Thrush--2
Scarlet Tanager--1
Swainson's Thrush--4
Downy Woodpecker--1
Yellow-billed Cuckoo--2

* = new banded species for 2023

25 species
76 individuals

68 species (42-yr. avg. = 66.1)

1,704 individuals
(42-yr. avg. =

319 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 173 species have been observed on or over the property.)
128 species banded
78,770individuals banded

7,509 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

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

10/05/22--after hatch year unknown

Northern Cardinal (1)
07/26/20--4th year male

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

--A Northern Waterthrush we banded at Hilton Pond Center on 15 Sep 2023 was recaptured on 29 Sep, tying our latest fall date for the species.

--As of 30 Sep Hilton Pond's 2023 Yard List stood at 94--about 54% 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 15-30 Sep 2023: Eastern Wood-Pewee, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Cape May Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about late and fat hummingbirds, first bird migrant, a mushroom, and a big ol' spider and is archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #813.

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.