Friday, July 5, 2013

Banded Northern Waterthrush Revisited

  On May 10, 2013,  I photographed this Northern Waterthrush on the east beach at Magee Marsh in Crane Creek State Park, Ohio. 

     The fashion statement this bird is making with its legwear is that it has been part of a Northern Waterthrush population study.  The colored legbands enable researchers to identify an individual bird without having to recapture it.  Interestingly the colors that the bird is wearing are Red over Aluminum on the right leg and Yellow over Blue on the left leg are similar to the school colors of neighboring state rivals Ohio State University (scarlet and gray) and University of Michigan (maize and blue).   To take things a step further the historical climax of the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio was the Toledo War of 1835-36 .  This bird was photographed very near if not on the actual strip of land that was disputed in that war.

   Anyway.  With the distinct color bands I thought that I should be able to find some information about this bird's story.  Luckily before I left the beach that morning I ran into Kim and Kenn Kaufman who were leading a birding tour.  Kim is the Executive Director and bird bander at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory at Crane Creek.  She explained the significance of the colored bands.  When I got home I fired off emails to two bird banding friends of mine Julie Craves of the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan-Dearborn  and Allen Chartier, they both sent me a link to the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) to submit my sighting.  Online I also found a study of overwintering Northern Waterthrushes in Puerto Rico that used colored bands. I contacted Joseph A. Smith from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center but he said that he had used only two bands per bird.
  At the time I filed my sighting I was given a timetable of 4-6 weeks for the report to be processed.  On June 25, I received an inconclusive reply saying no match had been found.  Taking the matter into my own hands I did a Google Image search for banded Northern Waterthrush and came up with a promising photo of a similarly color banded  Northern Waterthrush  from a study in Wisconsin.  I emailed the researchers involved,  Pat Heglund of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Dr Paul Rodewald and Dave Slager of the aforementioned Ohio State University.  They also had only applied two colored bands per bird. 
  This past Wednesday after this series of deadends I emailed Julie Craves again, asking her if she had any ideas on how to find out more about this bird.  She said she would post to a birdbanding listserve and see if she could find the bander involved. Two days later she had the details.

Here is the reply she received: 


I can probably claim this bird.

It looks like:2690-99221  R/A  on right leg , Y/B  on left leg, The color bands would be 2.30 mm Darvic bands from Avinet, Red, Yellow and Medium Blue.

    This bird was banded on 8 January 2013 at our site at Jobos Bay, on the south coast of Puerto Rico (17°57'04''N 066°14'49''W) in our interhabitat corridor site, moving between mangrove and dry forest.  She was banded by my subpermittee Ivelisse Rodríguez-Colón, who is both  my doctoral student and the Coastal Train Program Coordinator at the NOAA/PRDNRA  Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (JBNERR).

The season's  data are being edited now and should be submitted via Bandit to the BBL very soon.

Fred C Schaffner

(21719)Universidad del Turabo, Puerto Rico

   Here is a map of this bird journey, courtesy of Google Maps.

  The route as the Waterthrush flies was 1919 miles( actually it was most likely further, because it is doubtful that it made landfall on the U.S. in North Carolina). 

Thanks to everyone who expressed interest and helped tie up loose ends on this bird.  Special thanks to Julie for going the extra mile when I had given up hope.


  1. Glad I could help (finally)! It's a great story.

    1. Thank you for help us to complete this story!!!

  2. Hi Every one!! I'am Ivelisse Rodríguez-Colón the sub-permittee of Dr.Fred Schaffner, who banded those amazing birds in Jobos Bay NERR, Puerto Rico. I'am a doctoral student in Environmental Science, actually studying the Northern Waterthrush.

    My dissertation seeks to focus on studying these phenomena on the Northern Waterthrush, specifically in the social dynamics of who may stay in the mangroves each morning and who must leave the mangroves each morning in a daily basis, making local “diurnal migrations”. The principal goal of my research is to determine the relationship between breeding origin, arrival and departure dates and how this is related to habitat use, behavior and movements of Northern Waterthrushes in their wintering habitat.

    I just want to thank you! for your great effort, you did a great contribution to my study and I am really excited about that. Thanks July Crave for all your help too.

    I will be waiting to see these guys again in Puerto Rico!!!


    1. After years of photgraphing anonymous birds, it was exciting to cross paths with a bird that a had a traceable story. I'll definitely be taking a close look at every Northern Waterthrush that I see in the next couple of years, hoping to encounter this remarkable bird again. Good luck in your studies Ivelisse.