Friday, May 18, 2018

The Return of “Mr. Orange”

Greetings Everyone,
"It’s Mr. Orange!" Marc exclaimed today while trying to photograph one of our favorite birds, a Golden-winged Warbler in Geprag’s Community Park in Hinesburg. Through my binoculars, I could see an orange band on his left leg. We had heard he had returned but it was a thrill to find him ourselves. This bird has a very special place in our hearts.

Mr. Orange on May 18, 2018

While birding last year on May 12, Marc and I observed a beautiful Golden-winged Warbler singing his characteristic bee-buzz song. Marc photographed this rare songbird whose numbers have been declining. When we examined the photo we discovered that this bird had an orange band on his left leg and a metal band on his right. 

Mr. Orange on May 12, 2017

We frantically texted Margaret Fowle, a conservation biologist with Audubon Vermont, that we had located a banded Golden-winged Warbler! She texted back that her coworker, Mark LaBarr, also a conservation biologist with Audubon Vermont, was currently onsite and we rushed off to find him. 

Mark and graduate student Steven Lamonde were attempting to find and recapture banded birds as part of an Audubon Vermont Conservation Project. We found Mark and excitedly showed him the photo of the banded bird. He exclaimed "He has a backpack!" "A backpack?" we enquired. "Yes," Mark replied, "actually a geolocator strapped to the bird's back!".

Mr. Orange with Geolocator on His Back

A geolocator periodically records ambient light level (solar irradiance) to determine a location and is used in bird migration research for tracking. Mark, Margaret, and Steven were particularly interested in recapturing birds with these tiny devices for information as to where they spend the winter. Beginning in May of 2016, Margaret and Mark started the process of placing geolocators on a total of 19 Golden-Winged Warblers and 18 Blue-winged Warblers and now they were trying to recapture them to retrieve these devices. To read more about this project and how you can help go to

We took Mark and Steven to the location we had seen the bird and sure enough there he was singing his heart out to attract a mate. Margaret joined us and along with Mark quickly set up a mist net to capture the bird. To lure him into the net Mark used a decoy and an audio recording of a female.

Mark and Margaret Set Up the Mist Net

We all waited breathlessly for the Golden-winged Warbler to fly into the net. It didn’t take long before he fell for the bait and flew straight into the net! Mark gently untangled him and there in his hand was the first winged warbler with a geolocator to be recaptured!

The First Winged Warbler with Recaptured Geolocator!

The geolocator was carefully snipped from his back and put in a film canister for safe keeping.

The Geolocator Has Been Removed

I couldn’t believe how small and fragile this warbler was. How could a creature weighing only 8-10 grams travel such long distances not once but twice in a year?

A Golden-winged Warbler

The experience was so overwhelming that it brought tears to my eyes. Mark said that since I was crying that I could release this tiny migrating marvel! He gently handed him over showing me how to hold him. This little guy has been through so much that the last thing I wanted to do was hurt him.

I Get to Release the Golden-winged Warbler!

I opened my hand and in a flash, he disappeared hopefully to find a mate and start the next generation of Golden-wings.

We’d have to wait for months until the data contained in the geolocator was deciphered by a graduate student from the University of Maine. Nearly a year later on May 10, 2018, Mark and Margaret gave a talk entitled “There and Back Again, Migration Patterns of Golden-winged and Blue-winged warblers in the Champlain Valley”, finally revealing where this little guy had spent the winter. Our 8-10 gram dynamo had flown nearly 2300 miles all the way to the South American country of Colombia to spend the winter! Although not his exact route the map below gives a sense of the incredible feat performed by our endearing Golden-winged Warbler now affectionately dubbed “Mr. Orange” for the orange band on his left leg. 

Mr. Orange's Approximate Migration Route 

Today the story has come full circle with the return of Mr. Orange. Many people visit Geprag's Community Park to see the Golden-winged Warblers and now some take note of Mr. Orange. Our sincere thanks to Margaret and Mark for all their hard work to protect these imperiled birds and their habitat. I hope we see more of Mr. Orange throughout the summer and in years to come.

We hope all is well with everyone,
Peggy and Marc