Saturday, 29 April 2017

First Bird Banding of the Spring at SpruceHaven

29 April 2017

     We were eagerly looking forward to getting started with our mist netting operation this spring (last year we banded only in the fall) and Kevin and I were excited about having help from a couple of young biologists who have prior experience banding at the Ruthven station in Cayuga, ON.
     Please join me in welcoming Heather Polan and Daina Anderson, who no doubt are destined to become valued members of our team.

Daina, Heather
     They came out last night to help set up the nets and were there before 06:00h this morning to get started on their first day of banding at SpruceHaven. Not only that, they had baked banana chocolate chip muffins and brought them out for us all to share - quite divine with my coffee. 
     The first two birds we banded were a Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula and a female Red-winged Blackbird.
     I still need to get into the flow of our activity and I forgot to take a picture of the kinglet, so the image below is lifted from last year's banding operation.

    Heather seems quite mesmerized with the Red-winged Blackbird as she held it for a picture.

     The shot below nicely shows some of the exquisite plumage details of this species, which breeds prolifically at SpruceHaven.

     As might be expected, it wasn't long before we trapped an American Robin Turdus migratorius. In fact, this individual, a female, was particularly heavy, leading us to speculate that she might be carrying an egg inside her.

     A male Red-winged Blackbird was a little feistier than the female we had banded earlier - but Kevin's hands are tough!

     Heather was pleased to display a Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia right after she removed it from the net.

     And here is a closeup of the same bird.

     We caught only one Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus today and once again I forgot to photograph it, so here is a shot of this bird from the archives.

     We did not catch any Northern Cardinals Cardinalis cardinalis at all last year and Daina was carefully watching Kevin as he handled this species, doing his best to keep his fingers away from that powerful bill.

     I think that Heather and Daina were quite content to let Kevin hold the bird for a photograph!

     When we had closed the mist nets for the morning we went to check on a nest box which I knew was occupied by a pair of  Eastern Bluebirds Silaia sialis. We disturbed the female only briefly and Daina was able to get a photograph with her cell phone of six eggs.

     This is very encouraging for us. Bluebirds have been on a slow path to recovery over the past decade or two, almost entirely due to the installation of nest boxes, and to rapid intervention by dedicated bluebird enthusiasts to prevent marauding House Sparrows Passer domesticus from driving the bluebirds from their homes. A typical clutch is four or five eggs so six in this box is significant. We can only hope that the pair is able to raise all six offspring to adulthood.
     Despite fairly cool conditions and a little wind we had an acceptable start to our spring season and are looking forward to other opportunities.

All species banded (in order of abundance) - Red-winged Blackbird (10), American Robin (4), Song Sparrow (2), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1), Black-capped Chickadee (1), Northern Cardinal (1).
Total birds banded - 19

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Installation of a MOTUS Tower at SpruceHaven

26 April 2017

     Late last year Dave Westfall agreed to fund the installation of a MOTUS tower at SpruceHaven with a view to radio tracking our Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica on their journey south. Not only would this enable us to monitor the progress of swallows breeding at Sprucehaven it also provides a critical link in facilitating the tracking of other species fitted with appropriate devices. Our tower will plug a gap in the existing network of towers enabling more precise data to be gathered.
     It truly doesn't get much more exciting than this!
     Zoe Crysler of Bird Studies Canada and her sidekick, Sean, made an appointment to come and install the tower, and along with Sandy, I was happy to greet them and show them where the tower was to be located. The following picture of Sean, Zoe and Sandy memorializes the event.

     The ground behind them would soon be transformed.
     Zoe and Sean began to transport the various components from their van to the site and it became obvious from the getgo they had done this before.

     In no time at all the main support structure was erected. At this stage it looks like a giant tripod!

     Work continued apace with every sequential operation performed with alacrity and skill.

     A recalcitrant bolt slowed down the operation for a few minutes, but between them Zoe and Sean managed to get it free so that the assembly could continue. You can see the determination on Zoe's face.

     I was happy to watch the assembly take place and Zoe was always willing to answer any questions I had and to explain the various components and their role in the overall operation of the tower.

     Sean took care to carefully position and drive in the stakes which will ensure that the tower remains upright, even in the event of high winds. Zoe mentioned that they have only had two towers ever go over. As a precaution towers are lowered before the onset of winter storms.

    We were now at the stage where the components vital to the receiving aspect of the tower could be installed.

     Zoe seems to be in her element making sure all this technical wizardry is installed exactly as it should be.

     Finally all was completed.

     We will be getting a brand new, state-of-the-art computer for our tower and Zoe will be returning next week to install it.
     For all who are involved in this operation, this is a unique opportunity afforded to few, to get involved in monitoring endangered aerial insectivores with the aim of discovering opportunities to help their populations to recover. We will know where the birds go in real time and will learn myriad aspects of their feeding strategies and opportunities, obstacles encountered in migration and a whole host of other facts, some of which we may not yet be able to conceive.
     Dave, Sandy and Jamie have already become conservation heroes; this can only serve to enhance their status as champions for wildlife. I salute them all.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

March for Science

Earth Day
Waterloo, ON
22 April 2017

     Scientists in the United States are feeling under threat from all sides as the Trump administration becomes entrenched, with its cadre of moronic climate change deniers filling key cabinet positions. Mining companies are once again legally permitted to dump their effluent into rivers and streams, the very existence of the Environmental Protection Agency is in jeopardy, clean air regulations are being abandoned, international treaties are not being respected, emission standards for vehicles are being weakened, coal mining is being revived....and so it goes.
        It is not so long ago that Canada, under the anti-science Harper government, was faced with these kinds of challenges, where science became a political tool for the ruling party and researchers were forbidden from public statements about anything that would challenge the government's position. Science had become a tool of ideology. And if you think that smacks of totalitarianism you are absolutely correct.
       At that time, the scientific community in the United States became a staunch ally of embattled Canadian scientists, and supported them in myriad ways, out of reach of the Harper government as it were, and it was time for us to reciprocate. In fact, in major cities all over the world, people came out in droves to March for Science in support of embattled American scientists.
       Miriam and I were determined to show our support for evidence-based science and we marked the day on our calendar. Miriam, who is always a little more creative than I am, made herself a two-sided sign and proudly displayed it at the rally.

        Early on the crowd started to grow as many like-minded people came together.

        We saw lots of friends and fellow nature club members there and Miriam posed for a picture with Michelle Tomins and Jenna Quinn.

      There was a festive air about the whole event as people came together to express their passion for science and to know that they were in the company of other citizens who deplore the corruption of knowledge for ideological gain.

      The event was jointly m-c'd by our good friend Jon Walgate, an Oxford University physics PhD, and Christina Tan who is double majoring in Environmental Science and Business at the University of Waterloo.

      Jon still looks like a young graduate barely out of school - the years have been kind to him!

        The logistics of the whole day were put together by Hang Lu, and masterfully done it was. Everything went off without a hitch. 

          Hang Lu is a BSc honours grad with a major in math and a minor in computer science. She is spending her first postgraduate year pursuing mathematics, engineering and computer science.
          One of the featured speakers was the highly renowned Dr. Neil Arya. Dr Arya is Chair of the Canadian Physicians for Research and Education in Peace, and the former Vice President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.

         People were encouraged to write with erasable chalk, messages that would express the meaning of science for them, and even the youngest members of the audience got into the game. I am inclined to think that this was a pictorial representation of the planet earth!

          The crowd had become very large and everyone was deeply appreciative of the inspirational messages delivered by all who spoke, both the featured guests and impromptu comments from the audience. A friend and fellow naturalist, Dawn Miles, delivered an impassioned contribution about the value and role of citizen science. It was unrehearsed, straight from the heart and powerful. Well done, Dawn. (Photo courtesy of Next Cliche Images)

          As we scanned around we saw Jim Huffman and Francine Gilbert seated together. Francine looks as though she is about to applaud or is invoking the mythical Gods of Rationality to strike all the naysayers down dead!

           Every speaker was of the highest calibre and Bob Lemieux, Dean of Science and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Waterloo, was among them. He said how absolutely thrilled he was to be there and emphasized the founding principle of all science - a curious and inquiring mind.

          Cheryl Chan is a Master's candidate in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo.

          Cheryl spoke with the passionate idealism of a young person embarking on a career and moved everyone who heard her message.

           Another impassioned, impromptu contribution was made by our friend and fellow naturalist, a former professor at the University of Waterloo, Greg Michelenko, sporting a very apt tee shirt designed by a friend of his.

          An American woman who moved to Canada several years ago made us all begin to believe that perhaps in the not too distant future impeachment charges can be initiated to remove Trump from office. She is convinced it will happen, but as she sadly pointed out, Mike Pence is not much better.

           Jonathan Baugh is a faculty member of the Department of Chemistry and the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, Here he is seen with his partner in research, Debbie Leung.

          Our very good friend, Debbie, is a faculty member of the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization and the Institute of Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. Public exhortation is unfamiliar to Debbie, but she did a fine job of pleading for fact-based science to prevail over ideology.

          The final impromptu speaker was a government scientist who was anxious to make the point that scientists deal with facts, politicians deal with policy, and she implored the public to always differentiate between the two.

           As the rally wound down people mingled and chatted, new friendships were made and people proudly displayed their signs.

          Even the young scientists-in-waiting are not too young to make their feelings known.

          An enthusiastic group of supporters of science marched through downtown Waterloo, much encouraged by words of support from passing motorists.

          It was a very worthwhile way to spend the afternoon. The event was well organized, timely and immensely important. Congratulations to all who made it happen; we are confident it will make a difference.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.