Neighborhood Nestwatch

Over the last two years, our family has had the great privilege of participating in Neighborhood Nestwatch. This citizen science program involves us in monitoring the nesting activity and site fidelity of eight target bird species, which include Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Gray Catbird,  Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, House Wren, Carolina Wren, and Song Sparrow. Each year,  Nestwatch team members come spend a morning in our yard. During their visit, they set up 3-5 mist nets, and survey the yard for nests and other bird activity.  When a target bird is captured, it is sexed, measured, weighed, aged, banded and released.

An American robin getting its leg bands.

An American robin getting its leg bands. June 2012.

Since 2012, the first year of the program, we have captured and banded 12 target birds, including one chickadee, two robins, six catbirds, two mockingbirds and one cardinal.  We have caught and released  several non-target species as well, including several chipping and house sparrows, a house finch, a downy woodpecker, an oven bird, and a cedar waxwing!

In addition, we have monitored six nests for the program over the last three years. We are currently monitoring the nest of the male Northern Mockingbird we banded in 2013, and successfully banded his mate today during our annual visit. We look forward to seeing which birds return in the days, months and years to come, and to banding and observing more birds and nests to better understand the lives of backyard birds.

This male returned to the yard the following spring.

This male American robin, banded in 2012, returned to the yard the following spring.

 

 

My son, Aidan with the banded mockingbird, 2013

My son Aidan with a male mockingbird, July 2013. This bird returned to the yard in April 2014.


 

Getting ready to release the male Northern cardinal, 2013

Getting ready to release a male Northern cardinal. July 2013.

Sara measures a gray catbird, July 2013

Sara measures a gray catbird. This was one of three catbirds we banded in July 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cedar waxwing from Nestwatch 2014.

A cedar waxwing from today’s visit 6/25/14.

Aidan records measurements of a gray catbird for  Evangeline. June 2014

Aidan records measurements of a gray catbird for Evangeline. This was one of three catbirds banded today 6/25/14.

This male mockingbird was recaptured today, 6/25/14. He is successfully nesting in the yard this season.

This male mockingbird was recaptured today, 6/25/14. He is successfully nesting in the yard this season.

A Week of Wildlife

The first week of spring, though it had its ups and downs weather-wise, brought with it some exciting wildlife sightings that reminded me that even subtle changes in light, temperature, humidity, plant growth etc. trigger changes in animal behavior and distribution.

The first skunk of 2014.

The first skunk of 2014.

This past week, the first red-winged black birds, brown-headed cowbirds and common grackles arrived at my bird feeders. We heard our first wood cock of the season as well. Reports of black bear activity, prompted us to start bringing in our bird feeders at night. One night, as we prepared to do so, we encountered our first (very white!) skunk of the season, foraging for seeds around the feeder poles. It returned a couple of nights later for more!

A yellow-spotted salamander migrating to a vernal pool.

A yellow-spotted salamander migrating to a vernal pool.

On Friday March 28, I got a call that the annual migration of spotted salamanders, wood frogs and other amphibians was anticipated to begin on this warm, wet night.  I spent a couple of hours with close to 50 other volunteers, monitoring the road around the tunnels on Henry St. in Amherst, where we saw a few yellow-spotted salamanders, wood frogs and spring peepers begin to make their way to the vernal pools on the opposite side of the road.

Finally, this morning while I watched sleet and snow coat the ground, ushering March out like a lion rather than like a lamb, a beautiful male cardinal collided with our sliding glass doors, despite the many hawk silouettes we have up to prevent this.  He flew off a short distance into the middle of the yard, and proceeded to roll over on his side, clearly stunned.  We quickly scooped him up into a box and brought him inside to recover in warmth and safety.  Within 15 minutes, he was alert and active again, and we released him back outside, where he promptly returned to gobble down the seeds at our feeders.

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These early wildlife encounters are the harbingers of spring for me, regardless of what the weather may be doing. I look forward to many more as the spring progresses.