News from the Grasslands

BT.Steve, Andrea, Ryan

MDC Area Manager Steve Cooper (center) with MRBO assistant Andrea Ambrose and MRBO volunteer Ryan Steffens at Bruns Tract Conservation Area banding station.

by Veronica Mecko

For the 2015 spring migration season, MRBO set up nets for the third year at Mora Conservation Area and for the second year at Bruns Tract Conservation Area. With about a week remaining for spring migration monitoring at these two sites, here are some of the observations and captures made since early April.

In the first week we observed that some of the earlier migrating species, such as Le Conte’s Sparrow and American Tree Sparrow had already moved on from the sites as we didn’t capture or observe these species. At Bruns Tract the Henslow’s Sparrows arrived on April 7, one day earlier than in 2014, and they’ve been singing since throughout the site. And at Mora, the Field Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows have been heard singing since the first week of April.


MRBO’s grasslands project assistant Andrea Ambrose with the first bird she ever banded, a female Red-winged Blackbird.

As in 2014, the first week of this year’s spring migration banding and observing started out very wet, however, this year both sites continued to be very wet and almost swamp-like for most of the month. All the slogging through the puddles has been worth it, though, and we’ve observed several Soras on both sites since April 14, and on April 23 we captured a Sora in one of the nets at Mora. And in the early hours, before sunrise at Bruns Tract, while opening nets we’ve seen or heard an American Bittern on four different mornings since April 16 when we observed two and heard a third one.


A female American Goldfinch showing a feather pattern indicative of a Second-Year age class.

At Mora we’ve captured and observed many more American Goldfinches than in the past two years. In 2013 we banded 4 goldfinches, in 2014 we didn’t band any and this year so far we’ve banded 30 of the little yellow gems in the second half of April. At Bruns Tract we recaptured a female goldfinch that we banded in September of last fall where they were also abundant. Nearly every one of these goldfinches is molting body feathers and head feathers and several of the males have the covert feathers of the wing molting in. The Savanna Sparrows are another species that molt their body feathers and central tail feathers during spring migration and we’ve observed this the past three years.

In the past week the Bell’s Vireos and Dickcissels have been observed on both sites. A Grasshopper Sparrow has been singing at Bruns Tract and the Yellow-breasted Chats, Gray Catbirds and Lincoln’s Sparrows have arrived at Mora. We’ve enjoyed watching out for the small groups of Blue Jays that have been flying over Mora the past week, with about 100 observed in the morning hours throughout the week and 45 of those on May 1. We’ve also had one Ruby-throated Hummingbird come through Mora on May 1. A big surprise in the past week was to find a Northern Bobwhite in one of the nets at Bruns Tract. Most mornings we hear these secretive birds at our sites but this is the first time we’ve ever captured a quail. A few more of more unexpected observations have been a Prairie Warbler and Nashville Warbler at Mora and a capture of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Bruns Tract.

So far we’ve observed 62 different species of birds at Mora and 42 different species at Bruns Tract and we’ve banded 16 different species of birds at both sites. And the Field Sparrow that we banded April 28, 2013 and we recaptured on April 7, 2014 has returned another to Mora CA and was recaptured on April 17.

May 5th was a big day at Bruns Tract. We captured 25 birds, including a Sedge Wren, Savannah Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrows, and many Dickcissels. We also observed two small flocks of singing Bobolinks flying over the area. Migration is definitely in full swing and breeding season is beginning!

Comments are closed.