Monday, August 28, 2017

A weekend of bird banding at SpruceHaven

26 and 27 August 2017

26 August

     Our nets went up a couple of weeks ago, but for one reason or another there has been no report here about our activity. Time to rectify that!
     The morning started badly on Saturday for Kevin, who forgot his waterproof boots, and did the rounds of the nets with soaking wet feet. Temperatures at the crack of dawn were hovering around 8°C so his feet were not only wet, but cold. Bird banders are hardy souls, however, and he persevered despite the discomfort, with nary a word of complaint coming out of his mouth. My feet were toasty warm and dry in my long rubber boots, (wellies as they are known in England), so perhaps there was an air of smugness about me - I hope not!
     One of the captures we made on the first circuit  was a Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), a species which we see infrequently at SpruceHaven since there is not (yet) suitable habitat for them, so we seem to have prima facie evidence that we are situated on their migratory pathway.

     We recovered three House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) from the same net, located close to the edge of the woodlot where they are known to breed, so it appears that they are initiating migration already.

     Wood warblers are certainly on the move now and we were not surprised to find this Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis tricha) in the net.

     A Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla) provided further evidence of the early stages of warbler migration.

     In a family noted for its scintillating beauty I find Wilson's Warbler (Cardellina pusilla) exceptionally attractive, even though it is not as spectacular as some of its congeners.

     One of the most appealing features about our bird banding operation is to use it as an educational opportunity for the numerous visitors who come to observe the process and see birds they had not even known existed. Many are simply astounded at the migratory feats of these tiny gems. Everyone goes away with a new appreciation of the avian world, and not a few are motivated to support conservation measures when the opportunity arises. Sometimes it as simple as a commitment to enhance their gardens with bird-friendly native plants.
     One of our star pupils, almost since we banded our first nestling Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) has been Sandy's granddaughter, Annabelle. This bright young nine-year old has not only an insatiable curiosity she also helps us in many ways, not hesitating to do the rounds of the nets with us and carry back the birds in their bags. 

     Every bird banded affords us an opportunity to talk to Annabelle about it and she absorbs information like a sponge. It is always a special treat for her to have a bird placed in her hand for release, and she relishes this intimate contact with a tiny wild creature with whom she has gained an affinity.

     Perhaps we have one of the next generation of biologists or conservation giants right here at our modest little banding station. Regardless, I am always happy to see her.
     Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) and Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) are impossible to distinguish in the field unless they are heard. Even in the hand of a bird bander one cannot be differentiated from another and they are recorded as Traill's Flycatcher.

     Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus) can be identified by wing measurement, however, and we were happy to have the opportunity to band one. Had we simply seen this bird flitting in the trees searching for food we would have been hard pressed to record it as anything other than Empidonax, sp.

     It was a day for tyrant flycatchers, with Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) being next on our list.

     This handsome male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) let Kevin know in no uncertain terms that it was not happy about being handled, and latched onto his hand. Those beaks are designed to crack open nuts and really hurt when sunk into human flesh.

     So not only did he have wet feet, he had a sore finger!
     We trapped numerous Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia), one of which was a bird we banded on 2 October 2016 (Band number 2581 87982) so we know that this bird migrated and returned to the same area this year.

All species banded 26 August: Eastern Phoebe (1), Traill's Flycatcher (1), Least Flycatcher (1), Cedar Waxwing (2), Black-capped Chickadee (3), House Wren (3), American Goldfinch (4), Nashville Warbler (1), Common Yellowthroat (1), Wilson's Warbler (1), Song Sparrow (3), Savannah Sparrow (2), Northern Cardinal (1).  Total:  24.

27 August

     Having learned his lesson yesterday, Kevin arrived with waterproof footwear, newly treated with silicone, and a warm fleece to start the day. I am sure he wiggled his toes with glee!
     Following a clear night with no wind, it was quiet, as we had expected.
     Another migrating warbler surrendered itself for a band, however; a female American Redstart ( Setophaga ruticilla), this time.

     This bird was followed in short order by Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum), one of several trapped over the weekend, but this individual obligingly fanned his tail to reveal the yellow terminal feathers and the waxy red tips on the wing, from which the bird gets its name. 

     A Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) was our first capture of this species in the fall.

     Roger Tory Peterson stated many years ago that this species was probably the most abundant species in eastern deciduous woodlands, but it is certainly no longer anywhere near as common as it used to be.
     A Common Yellowthroat was the only other warbler we banded today.

     Ever faithful, Annabelle came out to help and we enjoyed chatting with her, and tried to answer her hundred and one questions. She has been staying with her grandparents but she will be back home next weekend, so we probably won't see her. We'll just have to manage without her!

All species banded 27 August: Traill's Flycatcher (1), Red-eyed Vireo (1), Cedar Waxwing (1), House Wren (2), American Goldfinch (1), Common Yellowthroat (1), American Redstart (1), Song Sparrow (3).  Total: 11.

David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.


  1. Love seeing the birds close up, such a privilege. Annabelle sounds like the perfect person to carry on the good work that you are all doing. I hope the results are worth all the effort. Take care Diane

  2. Hi David.

    Cute pictures of the birds.

    Greetings from Patricia.

  3. I sense that Annabelle will be a life-long wildlife enthusiast, assisted in no small way by your own encouragement and dedication, David. My hat is raised to you!

    Love to you and Miriam - - - Richard

  4. The birds are cute! Ha ha...The Northern Cardinal is one tough bird!

  5. A love of birds shows through in each and every one of these wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  6. Interesting stuff David. the Wilsons Warbler is very nice indeed.......

  7. They are so cute and colorful. Amazing !
    Best regards, Synnöve

  8. Beautiful collection of birds David.

  9. Hahaha, David, you and Richard really got me a good laugh about the dragonflies!!!
    It is so much fun that I will think of publishing more about odonata!!!!
    OK, back to your post.... Take good care of the birds and for the rest, well you know where I stand !! ;-)
    Much love to share with Miriam :)))

  10. Hello David!:) Stunning captures of these lovely birds. Each one is delightful, and although I recognize many from visiting other blogs, sadly I have only seen the House Wren in person. I really felt for your friend having wet feet, and admire young Annabelle's enthusiasm. Thank you so much for sharing your photos and knowledge.:)

  11. A fine selection there David. Tinged with sadness perhaps that soon you will live for months without being avle to search the woods for those tiny warblers and flycatchers. Well, perhaps not the Empidonax to cause you all such grief?

  12. These are amazing photos, I love to see these little darlings up close like this and enjoy studying them in each photo. Thanks David! How lucky Annabelle is to get to do and see the things she does. It will be interesting to see how her love of the avian world has expanded in ten years or so.

  13. Happy to see this beautiful small creatures!

  14. Hello, it is awesome seeing all the birds up close. kudos to Annabelle, it is great seeing the younger generation involved with birding. Great photos. Happy Thursday, enjoy your day!

  15. Ohhhh what beautiful and sweet all the little birds.

    Nice, David.
    Greetings Tinie

  16. I enjoyed this post very much! So many beautiful birds. I love reading about Annabelle and how well she is doing with the birds. I have taught all of my grandchildren the names of the birds we see in my backyard and now they point them out to me whenever they see one.

  17. Buenas capturas David, enhorabuena por el gran trabajo que hacéis. Un abrazo desde España.

  18. The mornings start to be cool there as well, I see. Autumn is just behind the corner.
    Such sweet little birds... including the cutest tyrants the world has ever seen. (Forgive me, I can't help feeling amused because of that name.)
    Letting the young ones learn about nature is very, very important. It's said that you can love nature only if you are familiar with it. It's so sad to notice how many people see even remotely natural environment as something unknown, unimportant, even hostile.
    Greetings to Annabelle from Finland! :)
    Happy birding!

  19. Great post, really interesting, supported by a good set of photos, you and Phil have a lot in common.
    All the best, Gordon.

  20. Hi David,
    I see here the most beautiful birds pass by.
    Beautiful colors and drawings and the most beautiful cups.
    Really a series you can be proud of :-)
    I have certainly enjoyed it a lot.
    I wish you a very nice weekend.
    Dear greetings, Helma xx

  21. Beautiful variety of birds -- and it is wonderful that you have that volunteer from the youngest generation! There is hope. All the birds are wonderful, but the cedar waxwing with those tail feathers is amazing. i've seen that bird a number of times, but never saw it in that way.

  22. Holding the bird in the hand gives a great perspective of the actual size of the birds. Lovely photos.


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.