- Established 1982 -


1-21 December 2023

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The first three weeks of December 2023 were extremely slow for bird banding at Hilton Pond Center; winter finches had not arrived and despite near-daily deployment of mist nets few other birds were captured by comparison to previous years. It's not unusual for our first Purple Finches to wait until after the first of January to appear, so we're hopeful that will happen--even though this winter is not predicted to bring a particularly significant finch irruption in the southeastern U.S.

Speaking of winter migrants, each autumn millions of Yellow-rumped (formerly Myrtle) Warblers--better known as "Butterbutts"--depart breeding grounds in the northeastern U.S. and most of Canada and descend upon more temperate (even tropical) portions of North America, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Some cold-hardy individuals hang as far north as the Great Lakes and Newfoundland. Most years we get good numbers of them at Hilton Pond--they are our seventh most commonly banded species with 2,754 in 42 years--and this winter looks like a good one with nearly a hundred handled locally through early December.

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

On 6 December while running mist nets at the Center we banded four new Yellow-rumped Warblers but were much more intrigued to capture one with a band already on its leg (above). A quick check of the number revealed we caught this bird as a youngster back on 23 December 2021, making it now a third-year individual. This was exciting because we almost never recapture Butterbutts from previous winters AND because this was now the oldest of its species we've observed at Hilton Pond. For a bird that may have flown a thousand miles one-way, we view this as a remarkable demonstration of site fidelity.

Equally amazing, at the very next net check we caught ANOTHER already banded Yellow-rumped Warbler--one whose number showed it was originally recaptured just two days before the previous bird and was also in its third year!

Did these warblers arrive together at Hilton Pond three years ago prior to getting banded? Have they traveled together since, perhaps nesting in the same location up north before returning to a familiar wintering ground that is our tiny 11-acre property in the South Carolina Piedmont? It's a fascinating question for which we'll likely never get an answer, but it's still fun to speculate on and marvel over the life history of these phenomenal long-distance migrants with yellow rumps.

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


Cedar Waxwings (CEDW) are more common than usual this fall at Hilton Pond, where they're dining on dried up Pokeweed fruit and berries from namesake Eastern Red Cedars. On average over the past 42 years we've banded eight annually and already have 20 in 2023. One (see photo) captured on 9 December was kinda special because it was the 79,000th bird banded at the Center since 1982!

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

Based on overall plumage, this particular waxwing was an adult and we determined it was male because of extensive dark coloring on its throat. Many waxwings we band--especially youngsters--lack red waxy tips on their secondary wing feathers, but this one had three that were barely visible--one on the left and two on the right.

Cedar Waxwings are considered "nomadic" in that they wander in flocks from place to place during the non-breeding season, always looking for berries on trees, shrubs, and vines. Those that eat fruit from native species have yellow tail tips, while nestlings whose parents feed them berries from non-native plants like Tatarian Honeysuckle (and perhaps Pyracantha) typically end up with orange tips.

In winter CEDW occur throughout the continental U.S, Mexico, and Central America, with a summer breeding range across the U.S. northern tier (north of South Carolina) into southern Canada. South Carolina does have scattered breeding records and the species may nest more commonly in the Carolina Piedmont than is understood. Where Cedar Waxwings DO breed they are sometimes "semi-colonial" nesters, with two or more pairs in the same large tree.

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


Hilton Pond Center got its first Purple Finch (below) of the new winter season on the morning of 20 December 2023 The last one observed this year was back on 30 March.

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

If history is an indicator, Purple Finches (PUFI) will continue to dribble for the rest of the winter, giving us a total of a few hundred banded before they depart in March or April. In five winters (see chart below)--we had no PUFI at all--while in seven others the banding total exceed 500.

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

The winter of 2003-04 must have been preceded by a very good Purple Finch breeding season followed by a collapse of winter food sources up north, bringing 1,056 individuals to our banding table. Every year is different, so it remains to be seen whether we'll get a ton more seed-gobbling PUFI in the winter of 2023-24 at Hilton Pond Center.

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, 04 December 2023

With crystal-clear skies this evening, I wandered a ways up
the road that runs in front of the old farmhouse to look
back at our property across a neighboring field. From
there I could see a sunset suitable for The Goddess,
my one and only, whose natal date was today in 1948.

Sunset over Hilton Pond, 20 December 2023

It's almost winter. Contrails, as usual when it's clear and
cold and humid at flying altitude.

Sunset over Hilton Pond, 21 December 2023

The Winter Solstice arrived in the Northern Hemisphere.
No spectacular sky tonight, just the promise that days will
start getting longer as the Sun appears to creep back north.

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
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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 direct contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 1-15 December 2023.

  • Anonymous (recurring $17 monthly contribution via PayPal)
  • Mary Kimberly* & Gavin MacDonald* (long-time Top Tier supporters)
  • Liz Layton* (recurring monthly donor)
  • PayPal Giving Fund
  • Frances Pope (Top Tier repeat supporter)
  • Robert M. Tobey (repeat supporter)
  • Donald Woodward (repeat 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.
    --Sue Bulsza, Lynn Biasini McElfresh, Kathy Mayfield-Smith, Cindy Epps, Frank Voelker, Cathleen Kress

    * = 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.


1-21 December 2023

Ruby-crowned Kinglet--2
Golden-crowned Kinglet--1

Yellow-rumped Warbler--23
American Goldfinch--1
Eastern Phoebe--1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker--1
White-throated Sparrow--3
Downy Woodpecker--1
House Finch--3
Cedar Waxwing--6
American Robin--3

* = new banded species for 2023

11 species
45 individuals

75 species (42-yr. avg. = 66.3)

1,957 individuals
(42-yr. avg. =

321 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 173 species have been observed on or over the property.)
128 species banded
79,024 individuals banded

7,511 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

(with original banding date, verified sex, and current age):
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)

10/14/22--2nd year female

Carolina Chickadee (2)
09/24/21--3rd year female
04/02/22--after 2nd year male

Yellow-rumped Warbler (2)
12/21/21--3rd year unknown**
12/23/21--3rd year unknown

Brown-headed Nuthatch (1)
09/14/21--3rd year female

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

Hermit Thrush (1)
11/05/19--5th year unknown**

Tufted Titmouse (1)
07/03/22--2nd year male

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

--A Hermit Thrush banded in Nov 2019 at Hilton Pond Center has returned in every year thereafter. It is now in its fifth year. (See column below left for a list of all recaptures this week.)

--As of 21 Dec Hilton Pond's 2023 Yard List stood at 100--about 58% 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 1-21 Dec 2023: Belted Kingfisher

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about mimic thrushes, a winter moth and vireo, and missing snowbirds. It's archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #816.

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)

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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.