Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Bird Banding - Episode 2


28 August 2016

     It was barely light when Miriam and I arrived at SpruceHaven, but Kevin was already out setting the nets, along with John Lichty who had arrived earlier than us. It was not long before we were joined by Jim Huffman and Francine Gilbert, along with their friend Bashar, all keen to observe the operation, as well as to get to know SpruceHaven a little, and get brought up to speed on our Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica colony.
     The first haul from the mist nets was substantial, and we already had secured new species, a scenario destined to repeat itself in the weeks ahead as the pace of migration accelerates.
     We trapped two Magnolia Warblers Setophaga magnolia which provided a fine opportunity for everyone to examine their autumnal plumage close up. Anyone owning a field guide to North American birds will be familiar with the pages called "Confusing fall warblers" - indeed they can be!

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler


     Kevin mentioned that he has banded Blackburnian Warblers Setophaga fusca relatively infrequently, so it was a great surprise when we retrieved six from our nets. Obviously SpruceHaven is a significant migratory pathway for this species.


Blackburnian Warbler


     Our first vireo to be caught and banded was a Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus - hardly surprising.



Red-eyed Vireo

     Last week we counted ourselves lucky when we captured a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Empidonax flaviventri, and this week we netted two Traill's Flycatchers - more to be expected over the nest few weeks. A word of explanation is in order about Traill's Flycatcher, which is a bit of misnomer these days. There are two species of Empidonax flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher Empidonax trailli and Alder Flycatcher Empidonax alnorum, which were formerly considered one species, Traill's Flycatcher. The two species are virtually identical morphologically but their song is distinctively different from one species to the other. In the spring when the males are singing it is easy to tell the two apart, and habitat also provides a clue, but in the fall it is impossible to know which is which, even in the hand. Thus, autumn bird banders still lump the two together as Traill's Flycatcher.

Traill's Flycatcher
      The other tyrant flycatcher we caught, Eastern Wood Pewee Contopus virens is shown below.



Eastern Wood Pewee


Eastern Wood Pewee

     Francine and Jim had brought coffee and croissants, and Miriam and I had coffee and an ample quantity of her delicious zucchini bread, so we were well provisioned that morning.
     In addition to birds there have been some other interesting sightings of late as the following pictures reveal.


Silver Spotted Skipper Epargyreus clarus:








     This individual kept returning to the bird droppings, so I assume it was obtaining some kind of mineral enrichment from it.


Eastern Tailed Blue Cupido comyntas:






 Northern Crescent Phyciodes cocyta:



Common Ringlet Coenonympha tullia:


Giant Swallowtail Papilo cresphontes:


Black Saddlebags Tramea lacerata:


     Stay tuned for other exciting species still to come.

All species banded: Eastern Wood Pewee (1), Traill's Flyycatcher (2), Red-eyed Vireo (1) Black-capped Chickadee (1), American Goldfinch (5), Magnolia Warbler (2), American yellow Warbler (1), Blackburnian Warbler (6), Chestnut-sided Warbler (2), Song Sparrow (9).  Total individuals: 30

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Westmount Golf and Country Club, Kitchener, ON - No. 2

22 August 2016

     Many regular readers will recall the account of a visit we made to the Westmount Golf and Country Club in April this year: 
     It was with a good deal of pleasure that we accepted the invitation of our friends Ron and Thelma Beaubien to accompany them on an early morning walk once again. The course is tranquil at 06:00 and a lovely place to walk and enjoy nature. As a sure sign that fall is approaching the temperature when we started off was a mere 11°.
     Although the sheer diversity of birds was not as great as during our previous visit there was an interesting variety, and a couple of noticeable highlights. Having seen a pair of Wood Ducks Aix sponsa there in the spring, we had been wondering whether they bred at the club. Given the number of undisturbed tracts of woodland it certainly seemed likely that a suitable cavity would be present. We had our confirmation. Two young males, on their way to acquiring adult plumage were seen and they were quite confiding. I am sure that they are well habituated to human activity given that they have been raised in the vicinity of a very active golf course.



     The pictures above were taken in poor light but it is important to include them since they are the two birds that we saw, and in some ways the murky light is quite atmospheric.
     Here is what they will look like when they are in full regalia.


     Ducks the world over display a stunning range of plumage; few, however, are more handsome than a Wood Duck.
     Ron had been chatting to us about the number of Red-tailed Hawks Buteo jamaicensis he had been seeing on the course this year as he played golf, sometimes three at a time. I suspect that these were birds of the year having fledged from this nest that we located.


     Red-tailed Hawk is the most common raptor in our area and is in fact widespread over the entire continent. It comes in a mind boggling range of plumage from almost chocolate brown to a pale cream.


     The common feature on adult birds is a red tail whence the bird takes its name.


     The presence of Red-tailed Hawks at a golf course should be cause for rejoicing. These efficient birds of prey will render valuable service in keeping the population of rodents under control.
     The final very interesting observation we made was of a female Common Green Darner Anax junius which had somehow gotten stranded on the grass. Perhaps it was too heavily laden with dew to take flight, or perhaps it was waiting for rising temperatures to facilitate flight. In any event it gave us a great chance to photograph it up close.



     Our thanks go out again to Ron and Thelma and to the management of the golf course for having an enlightened attitude towards wildlife and permitting us to roam the course before the day's golfing gets underway.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

A Successful Morning's Banding

20 August 2016

     Last week we launched our mist net operation at SpruceHaven, but did not have an auspicious start, due to heavy rain at the outset and the fact that we had to set up the nets before starting to band birds. At most we got in an hour of actual banding, so today was effectively the first day's activity.
     As usual, Kevin Grundy, our distinguished and highly professional bander was in charge, and we were impressed (and very happy) with the results we had. Kevin's friend, George Hentsch, came to help us this morning and we appreciated his assistance.
     Song Sparrows Melopsiza melodia have obviously had a very successful breeding season and, as expected, they predominated in captures. This hatch year bird was retrieved from the first circuit of the nets.


     American Goldfinch Spinus tristis is a common resident bird and they are still breeding, spurred on by the prolific crop of thistle seeds.


     One of the ways we determine the sex and breeding status of a bird is to examine it for the presence of a brood patch, that area of bare skin whereby the incubating female transfers body heat to the eggs.
     The brood patch is very evident on this female American Goldfinch.


     We know that House Wrens Troglodytes aedon bred successfully since they fledged young from one of our nest boxes, and we were not surprised to capture young birds fresh from the nest.


     We were delighted to capture a migrating Black-and-White Warbler Mniotilta varia and here Kevin consults the bird bander's bible to check on the finer points of aging and sexing.


     Black-and-White Warbler is quite distinct and is impossible to confuse with any other warbler. In habits it mimics a nuthatch.



     In addition to capturing juvenile Song Sparrows we also netted several adults, all of which now carry identifying bands, their vital statistics having been measured and recorded.



     A Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophaga pensylvanica was the second species of migratory warbler we captured this morning.



     We wish this first year female favourable winds on its journey south to as far as northern Ecuador.
     A Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea, captured and banded, is a cause for celebration, although in the fall the males do not feature their stunning and highly distinctive breeding plumage.




     We captured the first Empidonax flycatcher of the season and were very happy that it was a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Empidonax flaviventri, a species banded relatively infrequently.


     
     Baltimore Orioles Icterus galbula have been a fixture at SpruceHaven since spring, so it was no surprise when this bird was captured.



     Our last capture of the day was a Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus on our final round of the nets to close them up. This bird has two colour variants - Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted - and it is easy to identify this bird as a Yellow-shafted Flicker.



     Rare among woodpeckers, the flicker feeds primarily on the ground, on ants, and it is clear from the mud on this male's bill it has been digging in the soil in search of food.


     This was a great start to our bird banding operation at SpruceHaven and as the seasons moves along and the pace of migration increases we have only bigger and better successes to look forward to.

All species banded: Northern Flicker 1), Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (1), Black-capped Chickadee (3) Barn Swallow (1), House Wren (3), American Goldfinch (2), Black-and-white Warbler (1), Chestnut-sided Warbler (1), Baltimore Oriole (1), Song Sparrow (16), Scarlet Tanager (1). Total individuals: 31


Friday, 12 August 2016

House Wren (Troglodyte familier) and Cedar Waxwing (Jaseur d'Amérique)

10 August 2016
Hullett Marsh, Huron County, ON

     We had planned a visit to Bayfield and left ourselves enough time stop by Hullett Marsh on the way - and it was a couple of hours well spent.
    Many nest boxes have been located throughout the property and this year House Wrens Troglodytes aedon seem to have claimed squatters' rights.


     They are aggressive little birds and able to defend their territories pugnaciously against all comers.  This individual perched atop his nest box and uttered his rollicking song as though to challenge those who might dare to interfere.



     It was curious behaviour in a way, because the bird would enter the nest with food in its bill, obviously feeding young, and then come back out to take up its position on top of the post and sing loudly.
     Perhaps in complete disdain of us it turned its back!


     Cedar Waxwings Bombycilla cedrorum were actively flycatching and had found the rails of an old bridge very convenient perches.



     This is a very handsome species indeed and one that never fails to be appreciated by visitors who have never seen it. It is a year round resident and with a little diligence can be found at any time of the year. It is primarily a frugivorous species and even feeds its young a principally fruit-laden diet, supplemented by a few insects.
     The following picture shows a close-up of the waxy tips on the wings giving the bird its name. I remember my grandmother used to seal the string on parcels to be mailed with sealing wax, looking very much like the bright red wingtips of a Cedar Waxwing.


     From any angle this species is one of our most enigmatic residents.



     Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca is at the peak of its inflorescence in August and it was seen throughout.



     Milkweed is vital in the life of a Monarch Danaus plexippus and they were present, although in small numbers; this year does not seem to be a good year for Monarchs.
     It always strikes me as amazing when I see butterflies with a large part of their wing(s) missing, yet they still are able to fly proficiently. This Monarch flitted from flower to flower without any problem that we could ascertain, whereas one would think it would be aerodynamically unbalanced.


     Hullett Marsh, in all its seasons, always holds delights in store for a visiting naturalist, and there are many more treasures waiting to be discovered on subsequent visits. We will look  forward to it!