Friday, July 24, 2009

A Day for Rattlesnakes and Hummingbirds, not together

July 17, 2009

We have a four day break, so I am doing some extra banding in Sequoia National Park. We banded at Zumwalt Meadow and got 38 birds, a high for that site. We had ten Rufous Hummingbirds today! I extracted and processed three of them, but the mature male with breeding plumage was nowhere to be found. I did get a nice hatch year male with a developing gorget. He was beautiful.

Hummingbirds can be tricky business, but it is so much fun. We don’t band them, but we can record age and sex. Age can be determined by examining the bill for corrugations that disappear as the bird grows older and by plumage. Sex and species can also be determined by a combination of plumage characteristics, usually the tail feathers (R2 and R4).

I really like working with hummingbirds; I might want to continue working with them in a specialized hummingbird banding program or in graduate school. I’ve decided I want to add the Peterson Guide to Hummingbirds to my wish list. I got to peruse it in the bookstore at Mono Lake two weeks ago. It has beautiful pictures of every species in North America for both genders and every age class as well as great range and life history information. In the back there is a picture of an albino Ruby-throated Hummingbird. That’s what I need to see!

I also saw my first Western Rattlesnake today. He was massive (>3 feet), but I think the Timber Rattlesnake I almost stepped on when I was a kid was larger. We found him crossing the path, and he went into a thicket near where we have some of our nets. We were able to get really close to him (not within strike distance), and he didn’t coil-up or exhibit defensive behavior. I was a little paranoid when checking nets for the rest of the day; a snakebite is NOT what I need right now. I wish I knew more about reptiles (I loved them when I was little); maybe I will take herpetology in the spring. I would love to be able to handle snakes safely.

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