Sunday, 28 May 2017

Final Day of Spring Banding

St. Agatha, ON
28 May 2017

     Today marked the end of our bird banding activities for this spring - and a fine day it was too, warm, little wind and a variety of species.
     The first significant capture was a Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus. I was especially happy with this prize since I had seen it recently for the first time since I have been "working" at SpruceHaven, and based on the vociferous and persistent calls from a second cuckoo, we concluded that we are dealing with at least one pair. In fact, a second Black-billed Cuckoo flew into one of the nets but escaped before we could get to the net to extract it. Perfect habitat exists for the species to breed at SpruceHaven and we will be vigilant to see if we can confirm nesting.

     Heather is away this weekend, hard at work in Banff, where they apparently had snow recently, but Daina came along to help as she does every weekend, and here she is paying careful attention to Kevin as he instructs her in the finer points of extracting a bird from the net quickly and efficiently.

     With the bird securely contained in a cloth bag, and clutching Kevin's stick (a kind of staff of office!) she leaves to go to the next net.

     Back at the picnic table which serves as our banding station, Kevin bands while Daina scribes, flashing her million dollar smile to indicate her joy at doing what she loves to do.

     Here Daina and Kevin are discussing some finer point of the species being banded.

     Her concentration is evident.

     The second species we were very happy to capture was a Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum, a first at SpruceHaven even though we know the species has bred there.

     Our bird banding operation presents a wonderful opportunity for Dave to be able to see the birds up close and he wastes no time in getting into position to observe.

     A female Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas was one of the last birds we trapped before closing down the nets until fall.

     It was with a good deal of satisfaction that we captured a Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia that we banded at SpruceHaven last year, viz. No. 258187820 banded as an adult on 20 August 2016. This was our very first recovery of one of "our" birds - we can only speculate where it might have spent the winter before coming home.
     Today also presented us with a chance to trap some of the adult Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica from the colony in the barn to see which birds have returned from their winter sojourn in South America

   . We did this but briefly, but nevertheless were delighted to note the following returnees.

Band No. 259188110, banded as an adult male on 22 June 2016
Band No. 259188128 banded as an adult male on 28 June 2016
Band No. 259188136 banded as an adult male on 13 August 2016
Band No. 259188111 banded as an adult female on 22 June 2016

     We really felt as though members of our family had come back home.
     We are very excited to be embarking on other scientific studies to try to help this species which is facing declining numbers. Our latest field of study will be to assess relative parasite loads between nests in old barns as compared with newer artificial structures, and the rate of brood success between the two types of nesting sites. Other potential studies are being contemplated also.
     Our old friend, Ross Dickson, dropped by this morning and we were all mightily delighted to see him. Ross is a licensed bander in his own right and a dedicated professional. He helped us to quickly process the Barn Swallows. Franc Gorenc also came to see us, camera in hand, looking as always for the perfect shot.
     Daina and I checked all our nest boxes and I am happy to report that we have three boxes occupied by Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor, two with eggs and one with young. The Eastern Bluebirds Sialia sialis appear to have fledged their young from another nest box and from what we can judge are preparing for a second brood.
      As we close down for a few weeks, I would be remiss if I did not express my thanks to Dave, Sandy and Jamie for the kindness they show us every day in giving us free range on this Shangri-La called SpruceHaven.
      Kevin Grundy, ever the consummate professional, not only elicits awe every time I see him in operation, but makes the morning entertaining in so many ways with his wry sense of humour and twisted wit!
      To Heather Polan and Daina Anderson I say welcome, welcome and welcome again to our team. You are stellar young women in every way, dedicated biologists, and an incredible asset to our group.
      You may wonder what I do - and it's not very much really. I have been fortunate to be able to assemble this team who do everything for me. How fortunate is that!
     We are looking forward to ever greater success in the future and to making a contribution to the welfare of the birds we love so much.

All species banded: Black-billed Cuckoo (1), Black-capped Chickadee (1), Barn Swallow (13), Brown Thrasher(1), American Robin (2), American Goldfinch(4), Common Yellowthroat (1), Red-winged Blackbird (1), Common Grackle (1), Song Sparrow (3).  Total: 28 individuals.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Tuesday Rambles with David - West Perth Wetland, Mitchell, ON

23 May 2017

     Not having visited Mitchell for a few months we decided to make that our destination for our regular Tuesday walk. All the regulars were present, except for Judy, and for this outing we were joined by John Pringle, an avid and highly accomplished bird photographer from Britain, a friend of Kevin Grundy with whom he is visiting.

     As you can see, John has a lens bigger than most people's ambitions!
     Our old friend Curtiss MacDonald was visiting the West Perth Wetland that day and joined our group too.
     Originally a sewage treatment plant, this area has been transformed into a wetland which attracts a wide range of birds, and features a substantial shorebird presence during spring and fall migration.

     Most of the northbound shorebird migration has already occurred and the southward movement has not yet started, but John managed to capture these stunning images of  a lingering Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla.

     One quickly appreciates what a skilled photographer with the right equipment and a full complement of patience and skill can do.
     John was no less successful with this male Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas. 

     Francine had never had a really good look at a Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis so we felt it our bounden duty to serve one up for her.

     Red-winged Blackbirds Agelaius phoenicius were seen and heard wherever we walked, males defending their harems.....

     ..............and females gathering nesting material and in some cases already feeding young.


     It was a pleasant surprise to see three Ruddy Ducks Oxyura jamaicensis in one of the ponds.

     There were many, many Canada Geese Branta canadensis with young - always a delightful spectacle.

     Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia, as might be expected, was ubiquitous.

     Of the three species of swallow we observed Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor was far and away the most common.

     Near the end of our walk we saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheuticus ludovicianus.

     Eastern Kingbird Tyannus tyrannus  was the default flycatcher for the day.

    Miriam heard a Willow Flycatcher Empidonax traillii and John was able to get a picture.

     Francine captured a picture of our group.......

     ........ and it's not hard to see that we all have fun on these weekly outings. Mary was back with us for the first time in a few weeks and we were all delighted to welcome her back into the fold.
     I haven't decided where we will go next week, but I can assure you that we will have a wonderful time together.

All species: Canada Goose, Mallard, Ruddy Duck, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Kildeer, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Downy Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, American Crow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch.  Total: 30.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Another Banding Operation at SpruceHaven

20 May 2017

     The wind was relatively calm when we arrived before 06:00 but the augury was for the velocity to increase as the morning progressed. The forecast turned out to be accurate and we were compelled to close the nets early. So we did not have an especially auspicious day in terms of numbers and variety of birds; we did, however, enjoy each other's company and benefitted from being together.
     It is rewarding to see how Heather and Daina have become part of our team and have quietly assumed more and more responsibility. Here Heather is set to process a male American Goldfinch Spinus tristis while the maestro Kevin Grundy is content to let these young people become ever more involved.

     Heather is gently blowing on the bird to determine whether there is any deposition of fat. As might be expected on a non-migratory species, there was not.

     Having completed the other measurements she is ready to install the band.

     Her dexterity and confidence grow with each bird she handles.
     Our "bird of the day" was a Mourning Warbler Geothlypis philadelphia, our first ever for SpruceHaven. It is quite incredible how much we have learned of the avian population at SpruceHaven from our banding activities and we did not even start until last fall, and even then only one day each weekend.

     Baltimore Orioles Icterus galbula are pretty common but it is still an amazing sight to see this brilliant bird up close.

     Brown-headed Cowbirds Molothrus ater are ubiquitous at times and it will be informative if we can detect the species which they are parasitizing. 

     We captured this female Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus and I think that Heather's fingers may still be bruised from the experience! It was pretty calm, however, when Kevin held it for a photograph.

     We had expected to be back at it again today, but it has rained quite heavily for most of the morning, so we had to abandon any thoughts of unfurling our nets.
     We will look forward to resuming again next weekend.

All species 20 May: Common Starling (1), American Goldfinch (2), Mourning Warbler (1), Baltimore Oriole (1), Brown-headed Cowbird (1), Red-winged Blackbird (2), Song Sparrow (1), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1).  Total: 10.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Blue Jays (Geais bleus) in our backyard

     For some reason Blue Jays Cyanocitta cristata seem to be especially abundant this year and we are fortunate to regularly have three or four of this very handsome bird in our backyard.

     Even when sitting outside on the patio they display little fear and will readily come into close proximity. 
     We have a bird feeder dispensing peanuts, designed to exclude squirrels (it is not always effective) and the jays look winsomely at the food inside, unable to get to it. 

     If we are outside we can toss down food for them but in other circumstances any food available to the birds is quickly gobbled up by squirrels. These little critters appear to have become totally urbanized and they exploit every source of anthropogenic food supply available. Friends with rural properties seem not have nearly the same "problems" we have with squirrels in our suburban backyard. Sometimes five at a time are scampering around; their appetites are voracious and their ingenuity knows no bounds.

     In any event, we are very happy to have our Blue Jay companions spend time with us and look forward to many hours of pleasure derived from a close association with these intelligent birds.