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Local birder finds proof of hummer migration

Twenty-four years after capturing his first ruby-throated hummingbird for banding, Bill Hilton Jr. had his finest “hummingbird jubilation.”

In late June, Hilton spotted a post from Bob Sargent on Humband, a private Internet group for hummingbird banders. The subject line was “6000-C51599,” and the message read, “If this is one of your bands would you contact me privately.”

Hilton looked up the number and found that it was one of the birds his group had banded at a winter study site in Costa Rica on Jan. 26. His records showed that it was an adult female that had hatched in the summer of 2007, if not earlier.

Hilton contacted Sargent and learned that someone had found the bird, tightly tangled in spider webs, outside a car dealership in Baxley, Ga. The bird was exhausted and could not fly, and it soon died.

Five months after having been banded in Costa Rica's Guanacaste province, the bird had arrived in Georgia – 1,500 miles “as the crow flies,” but the hummingbird undoubtedly took a less direct route.

So why the excitement? According to Hilton, this was the first ruby-throated hummingbird – and possibly the first of any hummingbird species – to be banded in the tropics and then be seen later within its North American breeding range. You have to take into consideration the tiny size of the birds, the distances they migrate, and how few are banded.

“Bird people are dancing the aisles,” Hilton said. “It's the first real proof we have that hummingbirds migrate, the first concrete evidence of them migrating from Central to North America.”

Hilton started banding birds at the Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History in 1982.

He and other birders have banded almost 52,000 birds, 4,000 of them hummingbirds, and 164 species altogether. It's the most active bird-banding station in the Southeast.

Hilton also leads field trips (the center is open only by appointment) for students, nature groups and clubs.

On the field trips, you'll see “birds, bees, flowers and trees, all of natural history,” Hilton said. Check out his Web site, www.hiltonpond.org, which Hilton calls “the best place to learn about all the plants and animals of the Piedmont.”

When Hilton captures a hummingbird in York, he marks each with a nontoxic green dye on its upper breast and throat. What should you do if you see a color-marked hummingbird? Don't try to trap the bird (it's against the law, unless you have a permit). But do call Hilton at 803-684-5852.

If you find a dead banded bird, call 800-327-BAND or notify their reporting Web site page at www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/.

Each winter, Hilton leads excursions to observe hummingbirds in their wintering grounds on Costa Rican aloe vera plantations. In five expeditions, they've banded 267 birds.

The expeditions are open to the public; in the past, teachers, “citizen scientists” and birdwatchers have gone along to help with field work.

There are still openings for the trips in February. If you'd like to go, details are available at www.hiltonpond.org/CostaRicaAnnounceMain09.html.

Surplus auction sale

The sign is up, and the vehicles are ready.

It's time for the York County annual surplus auction sale. The auction will be Saturday at 9 a.m. on the lot next to the animal shelter on S.C. 5 in York.

Some of the items up for auction are:

30 Crown Victorias from a 1997 model with 136,693 miles to a 2004 with 20,334 miles.

Champion 710-A Motorgrader.

John Deere mower with fewer than 1,089 hours.

Ford F-350 flat dump truck.

For the complete list, go to www.yorkcountygov.com /purchasing/08weblist.pdf.

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