Birds and rattlesnakes at the Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary

July 20th, 2012 · by Garrison Frost

Our colleagues at the Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Orange County always find interesting stuff when they do bird banding. But last week, they outdid themselves. Not only did they find some cool birds, but they also encountered a serious reptile. We’ll let Jennifer Wilcox, the sanctuary’s ornithologist tell the story from here:

Hi Everyone!

Friday the 13th is always thought to be an unlucky day according to North American superstition, and MAPS just so happened to land on such a day.  But rather than an unfortunate series of events, the banding station was witness to some extraordinary happenings!

Last Friday began on the damp side.  After a night of heavy (and unseasonal) rain, we crossed our fingers that the superstitions of Friday the 13th wouldn’t come true.  Amazingly, the rain clouds moved out of the canyon and gave way to a beautiful, albeit muggy, day.

The first few runs yielded no birds, but things picked up around 8 with our first of the season Hatch-year Pacific-slope Flycatcher (pictured above and directly below).  Four more youngsters followed, along with an after second year (AHY) recaptured Pac-slope which offered us a great opportunity to compare adult vs juvenal feather characteristics and molt limits.

Later in the morning we captured a hatch-year Rufous-crowned Sparrow, a second year male Lesser Goldfinch, and one after-hatch year Wrentit.  The Wrentit had a small cloacal protuberance and was molting it’s brood patch so we were unable to determine the sex of the individual.

We recaptured two male Lesser Goldfinches the first of which was banded back on June 15th of this year, the other was aged AHY when it was banded on May 26, 2011.  We were revisted by a male  SY PSFL that we banded on June 11.  A California- and Spotted Towhee were processed later in the morning – the CALT was an AHY female banded June 11, 2011, the SPTO was banded as a HY on November 12, 2009 making her three years old!

And if 15 birds wasn’t exciting enough, earlier in the morning one of our volunteers came back breathless, “There’s a huge rattlesnake at net 15!”.  Of course we all rushed off to see the biggest Red Diamond Rattlesnake I’d ever seen.  We promptly called Scott Gibson, Starr Ranch’s Assistant Director of Research and Education and herp specialist.  He managed to pick up the grumpy snake, who wasn’t quite warmed-up after the night of cool rain, and gave us a nice look at the handsome fellow.

If the snake wasn’t the cherry on our sundae, around the same time Scott was wrangling up the rattler, a young Barn Owl fell out of a tree and clumsily flapped nearly to our feet.  I acted quickly, jumping into a thick, shiny bush of poison oak to capture the owl.  His feathers were water-logged which made it difficult for him to fly, so we took him to the raptor house to dry off.  The BAOW was so small that once his feathers were dry, he slipped through the bars and took off down the canyon (witness by Pete and relayed back to me later that day).

Categories: Audubon California · Birding · Starr Ranch Sanctuary · Wildlife photos and video

3 Comments so far ↓

  • gfrost

    That’s a good question about the banding. It is a standard practice — it helps us learn more about the birds that visit the ranch. The mist nets that we use do not harm the birds and they are sent on their way unharmed.

  • Robin

    Why are you catching the birds and banding them? Is this an ordinary practice for study? research?

  • Vicki

    I want to be on a repeat of that day but I’ll pass on the adventure with the poison oak…..