Monday, September 21, 2015

When do the Phainopepla return to Shoshone and the Amargosa?
 Lots of people have been asking me. Well, they are beginning to return now.A lone Phainopepla will begin to be seen here and there. Their “wurp” call , a single soft human-like whistle may be heard long before they are seen. Then, mid October , Shoshone, Resting Springs, and China Ranch Wash, much of the Amargosa Canyon, and Chicago Valley should be fully saturated with Phainopepla, claiming territory fighting with white flashing wings over good patches of Desert Mistletoe. They are arriving from cooler mountain habitats where they depend on other types of berries, like Gooseberries, and Currant Berries.
Males and females will each defend their own territory of mesquite laden with mistletoe berries. 

In late February they will pair up and either join territories, if adjacent, or the female will join the male’s territory and abandon hers. Phainopepla are obligated to eating berries, and their digestive tract is adapted to handle over 1000 berries per day. Sometimes they abandon entire breeding areas or have mass nesting success or failure, based on berry abundance. In Shoshone in early 2015, for some reason, Phainopepla began nesting almost a month early, Late January in some cases.  Many eggs were laid in early February vs. the usual mid- to late March. Although I wasn’t able to monitor the 12 nests that I found in February, when I started monitoring in April, by the calendar, there should have been Phainopepla fledglings everywhere, and unlike any other April that I've seen, there were almost none, and almost no adults. Apparently a mass failure and territory abandonment had occurred. Could this have been because of a sub-par mistletoe crop? Could it have been due to a shift in nesting timing and its correlation to insect hatch timing? Phainopepla, as do most songbirds, feed their young insects, at least for the first week or 10 days.
More questions than answers, that’s the Phainopepla story.
        In 2012, Shoshone Village and US Fish and Wildlife Service co-sponsored a Phainopepla tagging project along with Death Valley Academy students. In 2015, the first nest I found, was of a male, color banded in 2012. Please report any color band sightings! Call 760-852-4284(that’s my number) if you see a Phainopepla with bands on the legs. Try to note the color combination. For example , orange over green, on the left leg. Each tagged bird has it’s own unique color combination that allows it to be identified without recapturing it. You can watch the video about color banding Phainopepla with Death Valley Academy students 

More coming soon on the arrival of Phainopepla on Shoshone Wetlands !

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoy the depth at which you share your experiences and observations. Phainopepla are truly spectacular creatures and are delight to watch! I sure hope they will have a better winter for these great winged beings!