Monday, 28 August 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.
     

Monday, 21 August 2017

Tuesday Rambles with David - Columbia Lake, Waterloo, ON

15 August 2017

     Jim and Francine are away in Québec on a vacation with Francine's family there, but the other members of our "gang of eight" got together for our regular Tuesday ramble.
     The birding was not prolific but there were, nevertheless, some interesting encounters. 
     In the first area that we checked we were looking for shorebirds, but nary a one could be found (although we did see a single Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) later), but we were happy to find a Great Egret (Ardea alba) feeding alongside a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). Great Egret was once a rarity in southern Ontario, but in recent years has become more and more common, and there are now several breeding colonies in the province. Post breeding dispersal is underway and I located another four individuals in a small wetland yesterday.



     The Great Blue Heron seemed to be having better luck than the Great Egret in snagging prey and at one point captured two fish in its bill at the same time.




     The "best" bird of the morning was of an adult female Merlin (Falco columbarius) with a juvenile that was constantly begging for food. 




     The light was quite poor and the birds at a greater than ideal distance, so Franc had to summon all his ingenuity to get a shot or two. Here is Franc weaving his way through a cornfield, using the tall stalks of corn as a blind, in order to approach the birds closely.


     How's that for dedication? He came back with his pants wet and dirty but with a smile of satisfaction knowing that he got pictures that otherwise would have been impossible. I think I will renew his permit as official photographer of our Tuesday walks for a lifetime or two!
     Another phenomenal sequence was of a female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alycon) which zoomed by at high velocity. I am sure you will all agree that Franc has done a magnificent job in capturing the sheer sensation of speed in this image.


     The next two pictures are of the same bird, illustrating very well how the different play of light and shadow, and background, can almost make it look like a different bird.



     Not far off a female Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) was screaming at an intrusive Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) for some transgression we had failed to witness.


     Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) was of course common, busily going about the important chore of finding food. It will not be long before they will start to cache food for the winter.



     Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) is still a feature of the landscape but soon it, and all the other tyrant flycatchers, will be heading south as the days shorten and the first overnight frost threatens.


     The same can be said of Grey Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis).


     Most Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) will migrate too, but there are always a few hardy individuals who remain with us all year, braving the snow and the icy blasts of winter.


     Tomorrow it will be time for another Tuesday Ramble with David and the West Perth Wetland will be our destination. Be sure to tune in to see what we turn up there.

All species 15 August: Canada Goose, Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Western Osprey, Spotted Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Merlin, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, Grey Catbird, Song Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch.  Total species: 22.

Monday, 14 August 2017

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

08 August 2017

     Judy had been following the birding reports from West Perth Wetland and let us know that the conditions were nigh on perfect for shorebirds in some of the ponds. It seemed like a logical destination for our weekly ramble and we were not disappointed.


     Over several years this location has been one of our preferred destinations. It is less than an hour from home and from time to time has yielded some extraordinary rarities. Numerous ponds tend to hold distinct suites of birds and varying water levels and trophic resources encourage birds to linger for a while before continuing with their migration.



     It didn't take long to have a few Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris melanotos) in view. a species we see spring and fall as the bird wends its way to and from its arctic breeding grounds.


     I find that among shorebird enthusiasts snipe always seem to have a certain cachet and we counted ourselves fortunate to find four Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata); concealed in aquatic vegetation, they were, however, unwilling to come out and put on a real show.



     We meandered along the berms, searching all the while for hidden gems, enjoying warm sunshine on a beautiful August day.



     Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) was far and away the most common species and there were many juveniles attesting to a successful breeding year for this familiar plover. A baby Killdeer is the epitome of cuteness and even the most detached observer would be hard pressed not to utter a silent "aah!" upon seeing one.




     Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) is ubiquitous in suitable habitat as it pauses to take on fuel for the long journey south, and its familiar call was seldom out of earshot.



          By my count we saw only four Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca), a species usually found in small numbers only on mudflats and sandbars in southern Ontario.



     As you can judge from the images above Franc is a master of the flight shot, and this capture of a sub adult Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) proves the point.


     When I spotted this Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) I vacillated between a young male evolving into adult plumage, and a female. Having checked various references I am opting in favour of a female; one thing we can be certain of - it is a Wood Duck!


     Our find of the day, without a doubt, was an American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) hidden in the reeds, barely visible at times. This species is far more often heard than seen, although it is almost certainly present in suitable habitat from spring through fall. At this time of the year it tends to be silent.




     Franc is always determined to do what he needs to, to try to get the perfect shot. Here I think he was trying to replicate the bittern's skill at camouflage!


     Several times we saw birds explode into flight, often telltale behaviour when a raptor is on patrol looking for a meal. This Merlin (Falco columbarius) did not make a kill as far as I know, but these Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) and an American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) seem to be playing a foolhardy game in chasing after the Merlin, given its superb maneuverability in flight. They are certainly risking becoming Merlin lunch du jour!



     We saw several Green Herons (Butorides virescens), a species that has become more common in recent years at West Perth Wetland.





     Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is always to be found on any suitable body of water, at ponds, rivers, creeks, marshes and estuaries throughout the continent.


     We were very happy to see four Grey (Black-bellied) Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) fly in to one of the cells, with enough vestige of breeding plumage remaining to please everyone.




     A couple of Short-billed Dowitchers (Limnodromus griseus) were fairly far off and there was no way to get into a position for really good photographs, but the following shots serve to record the presence of this species.



     It seems that on every walk Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) is our constant companion and today was no exception.


     A Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) stayed in the same spot for thirty or forty seconds, enabling Miriam to get this shot.


     Right at the end of our walk a small flock of White-rumped Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis) flew overhead, but we did not see them land. Perhaps others have discovered them in the days that followed.



     As we were about to leave we ran into Dave Brown, the resident birder who lives very close by, and who  has a hand in regulating the water levels, and it was pleasant to chat to him for a while.


     Judy had kindly invited us back to her farm for lunch and we were very happy to accept. Mary had visited the farm before, but it was a first time for the rest of us. 


     After lunch Judy presented me with a wonderful pair of wine glasses, which I will treasure always, and use very carefully, especially the hummingbird whose bill could easily be broken off. I think I had better confine my imbibing to one glass when using this stemware!



    Ross, Judy's husband, is an avid old car enthusiast and he has the most amazing collection of vehicles and automotive memorabilia you could possibly imagine. He visits the farm almost daily and immerses himself in whatever his current project is, the time going by unnoticed as he indulges his passion. 
     Jim was an auto mechanic when he worked, no doubt he has more appreciation than most for some of these antique cars.


     I think the rest of the pictures speak for themselves!








     Miriam couldn't resist imaging that she was going for a ride in style!


     The visit to the farm, and the chance to chat with Ross, was a fitting end to a great day of birding. I can't wait to do it all again.

All species: Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Turkey Vulture, Western Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Grey Plover, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Snipe, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Chimney Swift, Merlin, Barn Swallow, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird.  Total: 30 species.