Sunday, 5 August 2018

Radio Tagging Barn Swallows (Hirondelles rustiques) at SpruceHaven and Blaze Farm

31 July 2018

     The highlight of our Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) year is when we get to attach radio tags to some of our birds so that we are able track them when they leave the barns where they have spent the summer and follow them as they move around. In this way we can learn about foraging practices, the area of dispersal within the province and the migratory path of the swallows into Central and South America, where they will spend the austral summer.
     As always, we are deeply indebted to Dave Westfall, for facilitating this operation; indeed for all he does in the service of conservation and wildlife protection. It is an ongoing pleasure to be associated with Dave, and his sister, Sandy, and brother-in-law, Jamie, who provide support and encouragement in so many ways.
     Heather, dedicated as always, had taken a day off work to help us, and we were very happy to see her arrive.


     This baby Barn Swallow, still in the nest (but about to leave), looked down on the activity below with less than keen interest.


     Greg Mitchell, Research Scientist, Environment and Climate Change Canada, came to SpruceHaven for the second year in a row to attach the tags, and it was a distinct pleasure to see him again. I know that Dave, Heather and I all looked forward to his arrival. 
     This year we had the added delight of having Mike Cadman, Songbird Biologist, Canadian Wildlife Service, come along to help. Mike is principally known for his work on the last two Ontario Breeding Bird Atlases and has a long and fruitful relationship with the Ontario ornithological community. 
     Our conversations that day were all about birds in one way or another, with discussions of latest research trends, Greg's work with Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia), and other avian topics. I can't think of a better way to spend the day!
     Before the tags can be attached the birds obviously have to be caught. Here is Greg, ably assisted by Judy Wyatt, setting up a mist net in the barn at SpruceHaven.


     We were tagging twenty birds in total, ten at each farm, and it did not take long to trap the birds at SpruceHaven. 
     Greg quickly got busy in order to process the birds as speedily as possible while Heather recorded all the pertinent data.


    Greg had carefully checked his equipment and activated the tags.





     In addition to attaching the radio tags, any bird not already banded is fitted with a standard leg band. Greg has a bird in the hand ready to be processed.





     Among other measurements we check for fat.




     We measure the tail length (instructive in determining sex).


     Each bird is weighed.


     And, with delicacy, finesse and precision, Greg quickly attaches the radio tag.



     The bird is now ready to venture forth and provide us with all manner of information that should help us to protect the species.


     Judy had brought her friend, Janet Bryson, to observe our operation and Greg entrusted her with the release of one of the birds.


     Never having had this kind of contact with a wild creature, Janet was thrilled to be afforded the opportunity.
     Even more thrilled perhaps was Janet's grandson, Aidan, visiting from Vancouver, who was keen to observe, help and learn.


     This fine young man had an experience that he will not soon forget and one that was doubtless not enjoyed by any of his friends and classmates. He will have bragging rights about summer activity when he gets back home.
     Heather and I had a couple of nests to band and we squeezed these in when our activity did not interfere with Greg's.





     At the Blaze Farm the whole process was repeated, but first of all we had to make sure that the two horses stayed outside the barn for about fifteen minutes so that they did not walk into our net and destroy it.


     I think that they were mildly indignant that they were not permitted to come inside and receive their due share of affection and attention!
     As anyone can plainly see Mike was holding up his end!



     Heather was kept busy extracting swallows from the net, a task that she performs with admirable skill and speed.



     Aidan was anxious to help and not just be a supernumerary and he took the bagged birds back to Greg and Mike for processing.



     At the end of it all Greg commented to Mike that he was very happy with the entire operation and the speed with which everything had been accomplished. Heather and I have proprietary feelings about these swallows and it gave us a great sense of satisfaction to see this operation completed.
     We were a happy quartet!


Greg, Mike, David, Heather

     Same time next year everyone!

Note of appreciation: As she so often does, Miriam took all the photographs when I am occupied with other things and unable to do it (and she does a better job anyway). Without her efforts we would not have this fine photographic record of the day. Thank you Miriam!

56 comments:

  1. Beautiful, the ringing of little birds is hard to see. You have a licence?

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    1. We have all appropriate permits and licences. Our bands are provided by the Canadian Wildlife Service to whom all records are submitted.

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  2. Yay team.
    Thank you for all your efforts.

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  3. Hello David. Nice to be able to track them. You are doing so much great work together.

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  4. This is so encouraging. Thanks for all that you (and the others) do. I enjoy reading these posts and I learn a lot.

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  5. I enjoy seeing how this important work is accomplished. I always appreciate your photography!!

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  6. Very good coverage on the radio tagging work to follow birds in their travels. I learned some things about the species and how that work is carried out. I hope some of them arrive to my town in the spring and have a tag you put on!
    Regards

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  7. Fantastic work -- that baby swallow in the cupcake paper really shows how tiny these babies were for you to work with. Loved reading about how it is done ... and always, fabulous that the young man was able to take part in the activity -- hope for the future!!

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  8. Everyone has done a great job in contributing to this project to protect the specie. What an interesting day and time well spent!

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  9. What a delight to see the young included in this delicate activity and encouraged, I am sure he will remember this day for a long time to come.

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  10. A wonderful record of an interesting and very rewarding day. So good to see the young man's interest. It must have been a great experience for him.

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  11. Hola David, enhorabuena por vuestro gran trabajo y enhorabuena para Miriam por sus hermosas fotografías. Abrazos.

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  12. Hi David,
    Beautiful work and fascinating photo report! I know the procedure. A birdbuddy of mine is Assistant Ringer. I have been several times at the ringerstation here. Last year, four Blackcaps were ringed and equipped with a so-called mini backpack;-) They are all return here at the same location this year!!
    Hopefully we'll get better understanding what birds need on the go and what to keep them healthy!! THanks for sharing.
    Best regards, Maria

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  13. Go citizen scientists. that swallow in the cupcake is very funny.

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  14. Following each individual's migration pattern must be really exciting.

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    1. It is indeed, Lucy. This whole project is rewarding and exciting.

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  15. Hello David, wonderful report on the radio tagging of the swallows. The baby swallow in the nest is so cute, they have grumpy look. You have a great group people working on this project, that is awesome. BTW, I did not vote for our current president. Happy Monday, enjoy your day and new week!

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  16. Que buena labor realizada en esas bellas golondrinas y que satisfacción más grande tiene que dar el haber realizado tan minucioso y exhaustivo trabajo. Probablemente el chico que compartió semejante experiencia no la olvidará nunca y será una gran satisfacción para el contar en el colegio esa gran experiencia vivida.
    Felicidades por esa gran labor David.
    Un fuerte abrazo

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  17. What a wonderful report David! These experiences are so important for everyone but especially young people. And wonderful photos by Miriam as always. Such important work done by amazing people.

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    1. Thanks, Sandye. Perhaps we’ll see you at SpruceHaven for the WRN tour next month.

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  18. Tänk att det finns så engagerade människor som offrar så mycket av tid och pengar för att söka information som bidrar till att hjälpa mänskligheten att förstå dessa underbara fåglar. Heder och ära till er alla David!

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  19. As you know, David, at times I'm a bit sceptical about bird banding, particularly when some people seem to look upon it as a trophy sport. However I'm full of admiration of the way your wonderful group of expert enthusiasts handle these precious creatures so efficiently and with minimum disturbance for a project that will give us all a better understanding of their requirements. Hats-off to all of you (including Miriam for her super photographic record!).

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  20. Hi David - it really is a team effort isn't it ... and how wonderful to have Aidan along to join in and get a feel of ornithological work; wonderful to read the process and see it all happening ... as you say thanks to Miriam's photographic skills and then your blogging skills putting this up for us - it'll be fun to see where they go ... cheers Hilary

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  21. Great team work, and hopefully you will get lots of info back that you will pass on to all your followers here on the blog. It all looks so complicated compared when we used to ring birds in Rhodesian days 40-50 years ago !! I do not remember keeping records though we knew what ring numbers had been used. It all seemed to rely on people contacting us if a bird was found!!
    Take care Diane

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  22. Great job and all of you look very happy on the last photo, David. To me this job is enough complicated, the birds are so little with thin feet.
    I'm glad that now thanks to the technique you will have the information about swallows.

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  23. A job well done! Aidan must have been very excited to be part of the project. Now the fun begins as you follow the wee birds as they take to flight.

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  24. This is so interesting. I have learned so much from reading it and it always amazes me the more I learn about birds and also about birders and what they are doing to protect them.

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  25. a wonderful serie of shots sharing your work. Love it. I hope you get some good data of it later on :) Good luck!

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  26. Nice post - I was reading last week about the changes in tracking technology that helped us understand the life of albatross (which are birds of a rather different scale!)

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  27. Always good to see youngsters showing an interest!

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  28. Nice to see how it all works, the bird count David.
    Beautiful series of photos.
    Greetings Tinie

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  29. A great experience for the humans, and with luck we'll all learn from the tagged Swallows as well.

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  30. Hi David,
    Tagging the birds is a useful and informative job indeed. Although quite a few activities have to be done by hand, it is a tremendous advantage that modern technology can be used these days.
    Greetings, Kees

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  31. Information obtained will be of great value.
    Beautiful, informative photos and interesting texts. I too learned a lot.

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  32. Very instructive and expertly explained David. You seem to have an endless supply of people keen to join in and help the project. I am looking forward to reading of your results and what percentage of the 20 Swallows provide you with on-going data. Our own experience is that young Swallows don't necessarily head south straight after leaving the nest. Invariable they seem to head off in various directions, no doubt learning their whereabouts in readiness for the following year - should they return.

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    1. Hi Phil: We also know that our young birds do not head south directly and spend some time foraging locally, often quite far afield, before initiating migration. As for the volunteers,I have to say that it was initially not without effort, but I now have a group of people I can rely on and there are backups I can call on too. Due to extensive press coverage, with more in the works as we speak, our work has become well known locally. Heather and Daina are the jewels in the crown so to speak, both excellent well-trained young biologists, with a real desire to participate. I am very fortunate to know them and to have them come out to work with the swallows regularly and at the mist nets on the weekends.

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  33. Hi David,
    Superb post at the end of what appears to have been a successful year with the Barn Swallows.
    Must be very gratifying for you and your group to see the end result of your labours.
    Another set of super images by Miriam, the youngster in the cup cake case is amusing to say the least.
    The radio tags are so small when compared to the ones having been fitted to the Ospreys at Rutland, having said that ours do have a solar panel to charge the batteries. How long do yours transmit for.
    All the best and well done to you all, John

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  34. Hi David, what a great job of you all (incl. Miriam). I can imagine that a day full of birds (and talking about them) is the best you can have. I hope that the locators will provide you enough data and that this helps to rotect the species. Barn swallows are so nice and it's sad to see how the species suffers because of human behaviour and poor environment (in NL it's really bad).
    All the best to you and your great team of friends and specialists!

    Marianne

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    1. It is more than a little ironic, Marianne that technology enables us to track them, yet it is technology that is the cause of most of their problems.

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  35. This is so cool. You got some great photos! I love that you are involved with this type of activity.

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  36. I can see why you appear to love what you do. And it is so very valuable. How fascinating to learn more about their habits through the signals.

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    1. Believe me I don’t just appear to love what I do. I love what I do.

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  37. it takes a village! it's wonderful to see so many young people involved too!!

    great captures (thanks Miriam), i enjoyed seeing the horses as well!!

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  38. Amazing work and great shots.
    Have a nice weekend
    Maria
    Divagar Sobre Tudo um Pouco

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  39. Good luck to the swallows...I assume the radio's fall off after a time, and don't hinder the bird? Hope you have a great weekend up there where it's cooler, jealous of that!

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  40. What a great post.
    Lovely to read, lovely to look at.
    Well done to all for the amazing work too.

    All the best Jan

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  41. Hello David,
    the swallows are really nice to see. They are beautiful and also special birds :-) Nice to read that you do so much to follow these birds, by "reading them out", weighing etc etc.
    Funny to see that the bird is weighed in a cupcake tray hihi ......
    The photo of the horses may also be there. The horses had to stay outside for a while, because otherwise the nets might be destroyed.
    Kind regards, Helma xx

    PS I was not very upset or behind the computer due to the enormous heat we had in the Netherlands.

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  42. David - thanks for your recent visit to my blog - to answer your question, we did not find Norway to be out of the world expensive compared to many other European countries. I suppose it depends on your point of comparison ...

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  43. Fascinating project beautifully photographed.Thanks for sharing this.

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  44. Hello David,
    What a great blog about the swallows.
    You are doing a really great job.
    Best regards, Irma

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  45. Fantastic report on the radio tagging of the swallows !!
    These baby swallows are so cute !!
    Greetings

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  46. David, that is a very interesting post about barn swallows. When I was reading it I thought how little I know about barn swallows. I also like very much a picture of a baby swallow, it's so tender, so sweet.
    And a special thank you for your visit to my blog and helping me to identify bank swallows and telling interesting facts about chickadees. I appreciate it a lot.
    Greetings from Utah.

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