The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group. It is a place to note of any observations you have made of the world around you. Rain, sun, wind...insects, birds, flowers...meteorites, rocks...seasonal changes...all are worthy additions to the bucket. Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment. Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.This Black Oystercatcher was foraging on the beach at Barlow Bay, in the Salish Sea (Pacific Northwest U.S.) last month, on December 8:
(All photos by me. In Lightbox...click to enlarge)
I photographed an Oystercatcher on the same beach the next day (with a killdeer...can you see it?):
Usually, there's no way to tell one bird from another for me as a human, a casual observer and at a distance. But both these birds had leg bands, which are unique and documented. Based on my photos, the colored bands on these two birds were different, so I sought to answer the question for these two sightings: Which Oystercatcher is that?
(story continues below the tangle of seaweed...)
The first thing I learned is that bird banding, reporting, and data are standardized across North America, with the North American Bird Banding Program jointly administered by the United States Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service.
The purposes of documenting and tracking birds are many, which include: determining population, dispersal, survival, migration patterns and life span; to learn about social structure and behavior; for game bird hunting regulation. Since bird banding means capturing wild animals, it takes a great deal of skill and respect, requiring legal permits and standards of ethics. We have bird experts who write here at DK about their experiences (and as a newbie birder, I've been learning a lot about birds from my reading here!).
To identify my Oystercatchers just from the photos uses the information from the colored bands with visible letters, rather than the metal bands. These are "Auxiliary bands", they being easily visible at a distance so birds do not have to be recaptured or dead to get the information. The downside to Auxiliary bands is the limited information that can be displayed, and the inherent relative fragility of dye on plastic as compared to the etched aluminum of Primary bird bands. Nevertheless, for birds that stay or return to very specific places, these bands are useful since there aren't as many banded individuals.
After submitting my report - which included location, date, bird species, which leg the band was on, the colors and letters visible - I received an email response about a month later. Patuxent had forwarded the information through channels to the local Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Biologist in charge of bird banding in my area. Her reply:
"Thanks for photographing and reporting the Black Oystercatcher. This is a male who was banded with his mate on Iceberg Island in May 2009 as part of a winter movements study. It’s good to know he’s still around and that his red band is still readable."Iceberg Island is a small offshore island only about half a mile from the beach where the Oystercatchers were foraging!
She made no mention of the bird I saw on December 9, with what looked like a white band, so I asked about that. Her reply:
"Were you able to get a complete reading of the white band? HP was a female from Crab Island, HC was a female from Rim Island. Those were the only white bands we put out. The red RA bird you photographed was paired with a female with a red band with the letters RJ. They are remarkably good at picking the plastic coating off those bands so you may well have seen RA’s mate."The Dec. 8 bird's band was not HP or HC, so the question was whether it was RA again, or RJ the mate. Since December I've been on the lookout for any banded Oystercatchers and photographing them, hoping to get more information.
The band on the Oystercatcher identified as RA in the photo above reads "?(possibly A)R". The other photo from that day reads "R?(possibly A)":
A few days ago I got some pretty clear pics of RA on the beach (same beach...on an ebb tide there is plentiful food amongst the seaweedy rocks). Besides simply admiring this beautiful striking bird, I was able to see his band from all directions.
From the back, it appears the red has been scraped off the band where another "A" would be. It appears the colored band was originally red, with RA printed on it twice - I assume so the letter code is visible from any direction.
I observed an Oystercatcher on December 16, again at Barlow Bay. When he finally climbed out of the water onto a rock, his band also showed a missing patch after an R.
I conclude that all these photos are of the same bird, RA, the Black Oystercatcher banded in 2009 a very short distance away from this beach. I have not seen his mate, so far.
Black Oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) do not migrate, and stay near their nesting and feeding grounds. They form long-term pair bonds. According to Birdweb, there are approximately 400 of these birds in Washington state. Oystercatchers are not uncommon in the Salish Sea and I don't usually see them alone. I wonder where RJ is, and whether RA will mate this year.
Now it's your turn to share what's happening in your neighborhood. What are you observing in nature today?
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