Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We're back!!!!!

With the Autumn banding season set to get underway on August 13th, Georg and I decided to set up the nets on my day off, which was Thursday. We duly met up at 06:00 on a bright, sunny morning, Georg equipped like the grim reaper, scythe in hand, ready to mow down any offending vegetation that had grown up in the net rides over the Summer. Needless to say, he was busy!!! To our great surprise, given the clear night, followed by bright sunshine, we had a reasonable catch of 37 birds. The undoubted highlight were the four hatch year Orchard Orioles, presumably local birds, that were caught. Also of interest were three Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, not a bird we catch very often. Three Yellow Warblers were a nice addition too. The nets were furled by 11:30 and we were greatly encouraged for the weekend prospects.

Both Saturday and Sunday were warm and humid days, with some sun, and there really weren't all that many birds around. Many have yet to begin their migration, but already the Yellow Warblers and Baltimore Orioles are trickling through the area. A total of 27 birds were caught on Saturday, and 28 on Sunday, for a weekend total of 54, and a species count of 19. We, or should I say The Grim Reaper, cut a new net ride down near the river, and we were rewarded with the capture of a second year female Shar-shinned Hawk. This time I was lucky enough to avoid being wounded!

Other highlights were the first Traill's Flycatchers of the season, a moulting adult Tennessee Warbler, and a very early Hermit Thrush....a bird we normally expect to see in October. It also looks like it's been a very good breeding season for Gray Catbirds, with a total of 22 captured in just three banding sessions. Out of this total, only two were adults.

We will be back on site early on Saturday, hopeful of an improved number of birds. Stay tuned for the next update!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Official: The fat lady has sung, 2011 Spring banding over!

The 2011 Spring banding campaign finished on Sunday May 29th, after five, rather slow, weekends. Reviewing the final numbers, 204 birds were banded, of 41 species. This is over 100 down on our most productive year, 2009. This location is really not a noted Spring migrant hotspot, but nevertheless produces a steady trickle of migrants, and the very occasional flood when the weather conditions are right.

On Saturday the "rare" organization arranged a field trip for interested local residents, specifically to observe the banding process and see how the mist nets are operated. Thirty four new birds were banded, including the undoubted highlight of the Spring, an Olive-sided Flycatcher. This species is considered "at risk" in Canada, and is a very scarce migrant in this area, so it was a great surprise to find that little beuaty in the net! Being a thoroughly good bloke, I gave the banding tick to Brett, who was conducting the banding demonstration, and the look on his face when he pulled the bird from the bag was priceless.

As expected, Sunday was much quieter, with a further 20 birds banded. All equipment was removed for Summer storage, and will be reinstalled in August, ready for the Autumn season. Operations are set to begin on August 13th, by which time I fully expect the place to be alive with mosquitoes. This has been a very wet Spring and the woods are full of pools, ideal for breeding mossies! Perhaps I will have to break out the bee-keeper hat again this year! The up-side to that though is that it deters the casual vandals from wandering in to the bush, and ceratinly provides abundant insect food for the birds. I suppose too that the amount of blood I lose to the little buggers helps reduce my blood pressure. See....every cloud has a silver lining if you know where to look!

Here are the totals for the weekend, with absolutely no regard to any logical order:

American Redstart 6

Wilson's Warbler 2

Least Flycatcher 2

Common Yellowthroat 3

Yellow Warbler 6

American Goldfinch 5

Chestnut-sided Warbler 1

Warbling Vireo 1

Cedar Waxwing 5

Baltimore Oriole 3

Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1

Northern Cardinal 1

Gray Catbird 4

"Traill's" Flycatcher 7

Brown-headed Cowbird 1

Red-eyed Vireo 1

Olive-sided Flycatcher 1

Tennessee Warbler 2

Lincoln's Sparrow 1

Red-winged Blackbird 1

Now it's time to input the records and review the retrap data. Given the numbers, that shouldn't be too onerous. After that, it's off to Parga, Greece for two weeks of sun, sand, sea, Greek salads (hopefully e-coli free) and of course, lots of Mythos.

My sincere thanks go to Georg Hentsch, his faithful hound Zak, Brett Fried, Erika Hentsch, Bill Wilson, the "rare" chritable reasearch reserve personnel, and all of the people who kindly volunteered their weekend mornings to monitor migrants on the various trails around the reserve.

This weeks images, copyright Georg Hentsch, are naturally of the Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Images courtesy of Georg Hentsch. Owing to technical difficulties (actually, my inability with technology)I was not able to add these to last week's post.

Top left is a Canada Warbler, just the second for the reserve since 2008.

To its right, a Tennessee Warbler, the first we have caught in the Spring.

To the left, a Black-billed Cuckoo. We were lucky to catch this, as in most cases the net mesh is too small to ensnare a bird this size.

The season has now ended, and I will post an update soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 21st and 22nd. Better.......

Well, at least it didn't rain this weekend! Not while we were banding, that is! Saturday started with a pleasant, sunny morning, and although this made the nets more visible, at least we stayed dry. On account of the clear night, I suspect most birds used the opportunity to move north as rapidly as possible, thereby overshooting the reserve, and then some! A meagre twenty-one birds were banded, although I had to release two unbanded because some idiot left the new band supply at home.....that idiot being your correspondent, of course. Did the same thing Sunday too, but remembered after getting to the nearby coffee shop, so no harm done!

New for the year was a Tennessee Warbler, the first banded in the Spring at this location, and a much more regular Autumn bird. It was a bit of a surprise really, considering the overall lack of warblers in the trapping area.

Sunday dawned overcast, with occasional light drizzle, and little breeze. In fact, exactly what the doctor ordered. Although only thirty five birds were banded, there were eighteen species represented, which included several new ones for the season. The highlight was a Black-billed Cuckoo, with a Canada Warbler being a close second, along with a pair of Orchard Orioles.

Overall, the weekend produced 56 birds of 24 species, by far our best weekend, both in diversity and volume. An American Redstart first banded in August of 2008, made a welcome appearance in the net by the river. I bet he's travelled a fair few miles since I last him! here's the tally:

American Goldfinch 7
American Redstart 1
American Robin 5
Baltimore Oriole 1
Black-billed Cuckoo 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Canada Warbler 1
Cedar Waxwing 5
Common Grackle 3
Common Yellowthroat 2
Field Sparrow 1
Gray Catbird 3
Least Flycatcher 2
Magnolia Warbler 2
Mourning Warbler 1
Orchard Oriole 2
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2
Song Sparrow 2
Tennessee Warbler 1
"Traill's" Flycatcher 2
Warbling Vireo 1
Wilson's Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 6

The next weekend will be the last of the Spring session, and with some resonable weather in the forecast, it could be a good one, even though it's rather late in the season. There will also be a visit from a group of interested local citizens, allowing the opportunity to demonstrate the good work being undertaken at the reserve.

See you next week.....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Almost a total washout!

We arrived at the site at 5:35 a.m. Saturday to open up the nets and deploy the two that we have to remove each week, following last year's vandalism. It was a muggy morning with heavy cloud cover and occasional fine drizzle. It should have been ideal for trapping birds, as there was virtually no wind, but even though the newly emergent growth continues towards full "leaf out," the nights have been too cool to allow insects to hatch. This lack of a good food supply means very few birds are attracted to the reserve. It also hasn't helped that the winds have been mainly from the north for most of the month, so the birds are bottled up along the shores of Lake Erie, awaiting favourable conditions to continue the journey north.

A total of twenty birds were banded between 6 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., at which point the rains arrived, forcing us to close up operations. It took less than a minute to soak us completely, and twenty minutes to close all nets, after which Georg and I enjoyed a beer and caught up on the Premier League scores! This week's picture is of a Common Yellowthroat, courtesy of Georg Hentsch.....as was the beer.....

Here's the list!

American Redstart 3
Least Flycatcher 1
Nashville Warbler 1
American Goldfinch 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Yellow Warbler 3
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
White-throated Sparrow 1
Grey Catbird 5
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3

There were two interesting retraps frm prior years. First was a Catbird, originally banded as an After Hatch Year bird (Euring code 4)on August 9th 2008, followed quickly by an American Goldfinch, first trapped on May 23rd, 2009 as a second year male (Euring code 5).

Sunday was a complete bust, with strong winds and frequent heavy showers, enabling your correspondent to remain in bed for once!The forecast looks quite reasonable for this (long) weekend (it's Victoria Day weekend, so can omly imagine the lineup to get into Pinery Provincial Park, scene of many happy banding adventures with "The Knob Jockeys."), so we are hoping for a good catch. Stay tuned......

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

7th/8th May Weekend and Snow Bunting update

It was another quiet weekend at the reserve. The weather is still not warm enough to deposit migrants, with cool overnight temperatures retarding the emergence of leaves, not to mention insects.
Having said that, species diversity is increasing, as are numbers. A total of forty two birds were banded, representing twenty species. The first Palm Warbler of the year was a welcome addition to the list, as was the first Lincoln's Sparrow. No species were there in any abundance however, and this was also noted by the various trail monitors, who enjoyed the sunshine, but precious little bird life.

The final net round produced the bird of the day, a second year male Sharp-shinned Hawk. A right vicious little bastard he proved to be too, as my fingers still attest!
In the customary order of appearance, the following were banded:

Yellow Warbler 4
Lincoln's Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 1
Gray Catbird 3
American Robin 1
Common Grackle 5
Red-winged Blackbird 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 3
Field Sparrow 2
Blue Jay 2
White-throated Sparrow 4
House Wren 1
Western Palm Warbler 1
American Goldfinch 5
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2

A retrap Field Sparrow was of interest, having originally been banded as an after hatch year bird on August 23rd, 2008. The lapsed time between banding and recapture is 985 days. Also retrapped was a Yellow Warbler, originally caught 30th May 2009, 710 days earlier!

Brett was busy over at the Bannister Lake location, where he has banded a total of 208 birds since mid April. Highlights include 13 Myrtle Warblers, along with singles of Northern Waterthrush, Great-crested Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole and Warbling Vireo.

He also conducted a banding demonstration for Jason Bracey's class of Grade 12's, catching 4 Yellow Warblers and a very noisy Rose-breasted Grosbeak. By all accounts the students were thrilled with their first up-close experience of our neotropical migrants. Good job, Brett!

Finally, some interesting news was received on the Snow Bunting project front. One of Bill Read's buntings, banded during after Christmas, was photographed visitin a feeder in Nuuk, capital city of Greenland, on April 22nd! The finder did an excellent job of photograhing the bird, and from these images, was able to make out the band numbers. It will be interesting to see how many of this winter's birds return next winter.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

2011 Spring Banding Season begins.....with a whimper

The 2011 Spring banding season kicked off at 05:45 hrs April 30th, but owing to the very late arrival of Spring, there's not too much to report. I'll get to that in a (short?) while. Before that though, some other news from the long, dark days of Winter.

Firstly, I officially became an old bastard, or as my good Mancunian mate Dave Nolan put it, "I have arrived in the Departure Lounge." That's a rather sombre way of describing turning 50. In celebration of this soemwhat dubious milestone, Grace arranged a magnificent surprise, namely a short vacation in Varadero, Cuba! I never had an inkling about it until three days before departure. Many people were complicit in keeping the news from me until pretty much the last moment. That was only the beginning.....a few days after our return, I was stunned and delighted to find my mum, brother, and sister-in-law sitting quietly in the living room, upon my return from work. To cap it off, a surprise party was arranged at an old haunt, The Waltzing Weasel pub in London, Ontario, attended by many of my long time friends. The word "gobsmacked" doesn't begin to describe my surprise, especially as I hate surprises....this birthday was worth making the exception for, though!

As this is a blog about birding, and bird banding, I will touch on some of the Cuban highlights. Top of the list was a half day guided tour of the Zapata swamplands in the southern part of the island, in the company of the legendary "El Chino." Without doubt, this man is the finest birder I have ever met. If anyone happens to be going to Cuba, contact him, and you will be guaranteed a fascinating bird tour. We ended up seeing Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Pygmy Owl, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Vireo, Worm-eating Warbler to name just a few. Considering we were only in Cuba for six days, and had just the half day with El Chino, I ended up finding 78 species, of which 52 were "lifers." Not only that, but the weather was warm and sunny, and the beach and resort first class. What a great job Grace did, arranging this amazing holiday.

Closer to home, Brett qualified for his banding permit, and he and Georg located a field packed with Snow Buntings. Using ground traps, and under the leadership of Bill Read, just over 1,300 Snow buntings were banded, along with a few Horned Larks and a Lapland Longspur. There were several retrap birds from other Ontario locations, so it seems that although the flock usually numbered around 1,000 birds on any given day, we certainly didn't band all of them, and they are obviously highly mobile in search of food!

Having now filled you in on events over the last few months, time to return to "rare" research reserve and the Spring banding season. Unfortunately the weather has been cool for several weeks, and there is not much in the way of green leaf yet, in spite of the fact that we are now in May. Hardly any greenery at all on the shrubs and trees of the reserve mean little in the way of insect food for any migrants, and this was reflected in the weekend's catch. A paltry 27 birds were caught, along with some retraps, including a Yellow Warbler from last Spring. Saturday was a clear, sunny day, but started off with frost, which made unfurling the nets a little challenging, and the frost patterns were a great way to advertise to the birds, the presence of the nets! 17 birds were dfaft enough not to pay attention, and consequently sport shiny new bands. Sunday was overcast early, before the onset of rain by 11:00 a.m., which meant that Georg and I had to retire to the Resource House porch and drink beer! Here are the grim details:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
House Wren 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Black-capped Chickadee 4
American Tree Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 4
Red-winged Blackbird 3
Northern Cardinal 3
American Robin 3
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Hermit Thrush 1

A new net location was tried, and actually produced half of the weekend total. Once the birds actually arrive here, we are very hopeful that the new location will be excellent.

Also, this Spring, Brett is operating at a location adjacent to Bannister Lake, which is about five miles south-west of the reserve. Although not operational on Saturday (as Brett was twitching Point Pelee!!!), 14 Myrtle Warblers were banded on Sunday morning before the rains arrived. I think the location...o.k., it's Georg's yard....will prove to be an interesting contrast to "rare."

Next weekend will, I hope, see a vast improvement in both volume and diversity. All that's required is the right sort of weather conditions, and of course, a crapload of birds!! Stay tuned for next week's thrilling installment!!!