Fall Banding Update: Week 8 (10/04 – 10/10)

By Laura-Marie Koitsch, 2018 Bander In Charge

Gray-cheeked Thrush underwing showing the distinctive (and characteristic of thrushes in the genus Catharus) pale bases to the flight feathers which appear as a pale underwing stripe in flight. © David La Puma

The eighth week of NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO) inaugural banding season saw mostly southerly winds and warmer temperatures in The Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows (The Meadows), and yet we had quite a few surprises and an impressive total number of birds banded overall. The night of October 3rd, the radar lit up and we prepared ourselves for a potentially huge day on the 4th. Quite to our surprise, it was a slow day; we banded 35 new birds of 16 species, including our first Blue-headed Vireo. We suspect that what we had witnessed on the radar the previous night had been a massive dragonfly migration as well as birds leaving the marsh. Research shows that if Northern Waterthrush find a favorable spot during migration, they will stay there for up to two weeks on average, fattening up before making their journey to South America. This is compared to other species that make small “jumps” along the way. Our recapture data supports this idea as we were seeing the same NOWA individuals quite frequently over a two-week period whereas with some other species of which we banded a similar number (such as American Redstarts) we rarely ever recaptured. On the 4th, we neither saw or captured a single Northern Waterthrush. Could our little buddies who we so enjoyed watching run around our boardwalks over the past few weeks finally have left us for their wintering grounds? If so, we were surely going to miss them!

The fifth was a bit cooler (temps only reached the low 70s!) with winds out of the NE. We banded 101 new birds of 14 species. This was the first day of the season that Yellow-rumped Warblers began to dominate the totals with 57 individuals banded. Towards the end of the morning, we saw the winds kick up and it started drizzling but we were able to keep most of the nets open for the standard operational hours. And for those of you wondering, it was the second day of not seeing or capturing any Northern Waterthrush.

We apparently had a nice movement of birds overnight on the fifth as the morning of the sixth we had a decent number of birds in our field nets, mostly Common Yellowthroats (COYE). We suspect that they had only recently arrived as the majority had little to no fat deposits and the COYE that we had been seeing the previous week, both new & recaptures, were all quite fat and undeniably ready for their journey south. Common Yellowthroats dominated the totals that morning with 54 out of the 179 birds banded. We suspect this might be the last time a species other than Yellow-rumped Warblers lead the daily totals for the season but, we shall see. We also banded 14 new Northern Waterthrush that, like with the COYE, showed little to no fat deposits again suggesting that they had only recently arrived in the Meadows.
October 7th was an exciting day! We had yet another foreign recovery, which is a bird that was banded elsewhere (ie, not by us). It was a Gray Catbird and at first we thought that it might possibly be from Mexico as the outside of the band had none of the familiar USGS markings on it. It turned out that it was actually an old US band that had been issued by the Bird Banding Lab (BBL) to a bander in NY and it was placed on the catbird this past June.

Our second banded-elsewhere Gray Catbird captured this season! The Bird Banding Lab indicated that this bird was originally banded last June on the Freshkills Landfill, State Island, NY. © David La Puma

The BIG excitement that morning stemmed from the fact that we placed LifeTags™, which are tiny solar-powered radio transmitters weighing about 0.35g, on our first three birds: a Carolina Wren and two Yellow-rumped Warblers. As many of you may recall, our banding project is a collaborative effort between NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, Cellular Tracking Technologies (CTT), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). This cutting-edge technology that we are extremely fortunate to deploy was developed by Cornell University researchers and engineers and then licensed and improved by CTT. You can read more about this tech and the research being done in a previous blog post entitled “A Major Milestone at the Banding Station.” Needles to say, it is such an exciting project of which we are extremely thrilled to be a part! Overall for the morning, we banded 93 new birds of 15 species. Yellow-rumped Warblers narrowly topped the totals with 22 banded (vs. 21 Common Yellowthroats and 20 Gray Catbirds). And yes, we had 6 new Northern Waterthrush but, still no recaptures.

The morning of the 8th we banded 101 new birds of 17 species, we placed two more LifeTags™ on Yellow-rumped Warblers, and we recaptured a NOWA for the first time in five days. No surprise Yellow-rumped Warblers (MYWA) dominated the totals with 57 newly banded. Although it was a little unseasonably warm (low 80s at closing), we were able to operate all 17 nets for the standard hours of operation.

On Tuesday, October 9th, this Bander In Charge got to witness history in the making and what was arguably one of more exciting things that she’s been fortunate to witness in a while. VultureNet, the joint project between CTT and Cornell that was ten years in the making was officially launched right at our banding station!! Their dream was to take the internet to the skies and place base stations on the backs of large soaring birds, such as vultures, which will pick up the signals from the passerines that we’re tagging and, together with the base stations and nodes on the ground, give us a better triangulation and thus a better sense of their local movements. Seriously, watching other professionals at work is exciting in and of itself but watching this team, our friends, realize a dream was something truly special. And, of course, we are grateful that we got to assist them and be a part of the launch of this project. Overall for the morning, we banded 77 new birds (58 of which were MYWA) of 10 species, we placed a LifeTag™ on a Northern Mockingbird (a species that we had been trying to trap for three days in a row!), and yes, we recaptured a few NOWA (all “newer” birds though).

Cornell University, Cellular Tracking Technologies, and New Jersey Audubon staff helping out with the launch of VultureNet. Here a high-resolution transmitter/receiver is being harnessed to a Black Vulture. © David La Puma

October 10th was the fifth day in a row to be dominated by southeasterly winds and so, yes, it was hot and humid. We had a record number of volunteers (13!) show up to help us so, we put everyone to work. As we knew storms were on the way, we spent the morning “preparing” the station via various tasks such as replacing the hair ties on all of the nets, building a new boardwalk under one of the nets, resetting net poles, mowing the net lanes, etc. We closed slightly early due to the heat and low capture rates, ending the morning with 47 newly banded individuals of 12 species.

The eighth week of banding here in Cape May was another amazing week, marked heavily by the excitement of placing LifeTag™ transmitters on six birds as well as the launch of VultureNet! We were able to open nets on all seven days for the second week in a row and for a total of 737 mist net hours (mnh). We banded 633 new birds of 37 species, which is our highest total week thus far. Yellow-rumped Warblers (MYWA) dominated the totals with 257 newly banded individuals, followed by Common Yellowthoats and Gray Catbirds which tied at 98 newly banded. We only had one “First of Season” (FOS) species, Blue-headed Vireo, of which we banded two individuals. We recaptured 33 individuals over the week, including one Red-eyed Vireo on three consecutive days, and had our third foreign recovery of the season. We suspect that there was a big movement out of the marsh earlier in the week which explains the lower recapture numbers as well as the disappearance of the Northern Waterthrush that we had been repeatedly recapturing over the past several weeks. The Meadows definitely saw an influx of new individuals this week as well as a new species dominating the totals. We suspect that going forward into the season, we will start to see a lot more MYWA in our nets and around the station.


Yellow-billed Cuckoo 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 1
Yellow-Shafted Flicker 4
Least Flycatcher 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
Blue-headed Vireo 2
Red-eyed Vireo 26 1(2)
Blue Jay 2
Carolina Chickadee 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 2 1
Carolina Wren 3 3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Veery 1
Gray-cheeked Thrush 2
Gray Catbird 98 9
Brown Thrasher 2
Northern Mockingbird 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Song Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 9
Ovenbird 1
Northern Waterthrush 33 5
Black-and-White Warbler 7 1
Nashville Warbler 1
Connecticut Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 98 5
American Redstart 13
Northern Parula 1
Magnolia Warbler 3
Yellow Warbler 7
Blackpoll Warbler 10
Black-throated Blue Warbler 2
Palm Warbler 12
Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler 257 5
Prairie Warbler 1
Northern Cardinal 6
Indigo Bunting 15 1
TOTALS 633 33

Recaptures in parentheses indicate multiple recaptures of the same individual over multiple dates

Total species this season: 79
Total birds banded this season: 3,943