June 1st – Rejuvenation

Yesterday (May 31st) the 6-acre field adjacent to the banding hut was planted with prairie grass. -DOL

As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m listening to peals thunder overhead and the smack of large rain drops as they pelt the roof. I like thunderstorms generally but this one is bringing a big smile. Yesterday the 6-acre field adjacent to the banding area at the Hurkmans’ Farm was planted with native prairie grasses as part of an effort to rehabilitate both the field and the area around it. When we made the move to the Farm we talked about this possibility with owners Bill and Elaine Hurkmans and…they jumped on it! Elaine made a great move by inviting Cathy Blott, who is with the Haldimand Stewardship Council, to join in. Cathy, right from the start, looked into how we could make this happen…and it is happening. This rain couldn’t have come at a better time.

Cathy Blott, a biotechnician with Haldimand Stewardship Council, overseeing habitat design and stewardship, has been instrumental in spearheading this ecological rejuvenation project. -DOL

But this is just part of the project. The areas bordering the field had been taken over by Black Walnuts and, insidiously, buckthorn. Between their “poisoning” the soil around them, making it difficult for other trees and shrubs to grow and an excessive deer population that has further wiped out any understory, the habitat was a poor one for birds and other wildlife. Hopefully this is about to change!

During the Winter we worked fairly hard cutting down buckthorn. We made good inroads but still have a long way to go – but this rehabilitation will be a long-term project. As we continue to eradicate buckthorn we need to be planting the edges with a variety of native trees and shrubs. This got started in the Spring. But again….it’s a long-term project. If you want to help, you’re more than welcome to pitch in. Cathy has plans to obtain some trees and shrubs for the edges and I am on the lookout as well – along the sides of some old dirt roads in the area I’ve found a variety of young oaks and maples that I have started to replant. You could do the same. Cathy is also hoping to get funding to buy native perennial flower plugs to diversify the plants in the meadow: bergamot, coneflowers, etc. I’m looking forward to seeing this field and its surroundings in a couple of years’ time.

It will be interesting to see and document the impact of these measures on the birdlife associated with it. We’re in a great position to do so, banding right on the edge of the field. Improving the edge habitat will pay great dividends, especially if we can increase the amount of dogwood on the site. Our most productive net sits next to a dogwood thicket. I can see where that thicket had been much more extensive but has been greatly restricted by buckthorn.

We now have 2 Spring and 1 Fall Season’s worth of data to use as a baseline. Let’s see what happens.

May 23rd – Winding Down

A treat for a treat; This Mourning Warbler quickly gobbled down the proffered fly. -NCO

As we near the end of the season, we start to get fewer and fewer species of birds. As Sam would say, “When the Backpoll comes, it’s all over.” And that’s exactly what happened. Much to our discomfort, instead of warming up with the arrival of late May, a cool morning met our bare fingers with an icy greeting.

To start the day off on a terrible note, we all noticed that Liam had forgotten to bring his usual baked goods from Amy. While we were bickering about cookies and muffins, a Loon call sounded above, and we were treated to a view of two Common Loons in their beautiful breeding plumage.

A few gems came our way today, including two stunning unbanded Mourning warblers and both a Black-throated blue & green warbler. (at times it came to a random draw to decide who got to band them) Finding a small inchworm on Rick’s pants gave us an idea: why not try and feed it to a bird? So when a Chestnut-sided warbler ended up in our nets, it was served a juicy inch worm on a platter, and to our shock, gobbled it up. Liam and I then continued to catch no less than 5 flies with Liam’s butterfly net, and fed one to one of our Mourning Warblers as a little thank-you gift. (see picture above)

The hottest new fashion was tried on today; Vireo earrings. Liam tried on two different earrings, but none of them managed to hold on long enough. If you’re interested in seeing the final look, take a peek at the picture below. [I’ve actually seen this done – at a banding station in Alabama – two vireos got a firm hold and wound NOT let go! -the Editor]

Red-eyed Vireos have been known to grip and hang on providing one with “different” ear-rings. NCO

We found many activities to keep us busy in between net rounds. These included everything from Garlic Mustard weeding competitions, to bean tossing games. The football Ben keeps at the station kept him, Sam, Liam and I busy for a while too.

One of our oldest, and most loyal members here at the Lowville banding station, unfortunately suffered a terrible accident today. The old, but steady white plastic lawn chair suffered from three major broken bones, and less than appropriate health care didn’t suffice to save them. If anyone would like to pay their respects by replacing our fellow guardian of the tired body, feel free to bring along a (functioning & weather-proof) chair of any kind.

Banded 28:
1 Rose-Breasted grosbeak

A young (in its 2nd year) male Rose-breasted Grosbeak; Note the brown juvenile flight feathers – in older birds these would be black. -NC)

4 Chestnuts-sided warbler
1 Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler. -NCO

1 Black-throated blue Warbler
1 American Redstart
2 Yellow bellied Flycatcher
1 Blackburnian
1 Tennessee Warbler
1 Blackpoll Warbler
1 Eastern Wood Pewee
1 Common Yellowthroat
2 Mourning warbler

Female Mourning Warbler. -SGS

1 Song Sparrow
1 Black capped chickadee
3 Indigo Bunting

Stunning male Indigo Bunting. -SGS

2 Red eyed vireo
1 Gray catbird
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Baltimore Oriole
1 American Goldfinch

1 Rose Breasted Grosbeak
1 Indigo Bunting
2 Common Yellowthroat
1 Gray Catbird
3 Song Sparrow
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Baltimore Oriole
1 Black capped chickadee
1 Magnolia Warbler

It was a nice day for just sitting in the sun…..and learning about plumage characteristics. -NCO

We’re collecting central tail feathers for a study out of the University of Saskatchewan. -NCO

That young male grosbeak preparing to take off. -NCO

Nola O’Neil

May 21st – “Lips That Have Touched Liquor…..”

Today’s Motley Crew. -NCO

“Chuck Norris’s tears can cure cancer, too bad he doesn’t cry.” Such began our education today to become “cultured” students of Rick, before moving on to the futility of school, blackflies, and alcohol (as Rick’s grandmother once told him, “lips that have touched liquor will never touch mine”).

As you might be able to assume by our many conversations, it was slim picking’s today. As attributed to the southerly winds last night (causing migrants to be on the move), the birds were long gone before net opening, though the few that remained were truly gems – from striking warblers to the usual catbird and yellowthroat gang (local birds). There were several “wow” moments, such as an adult bald eagle that swooped down low, and two Common Nighthawks with their flashy white wing bars.

We had quite a group of young banders, both long time trainees and new faces. Our newest claim to fame is that we all arrived before Rick; something that has been merely a dream since the olden days at Ruthven! Claire and Desmond got to band their first birds, and the rest of us tested our knowledge on how to age birds; every species provided us with a new challenge.

Thanks to Amy’s incredible and plentiful baking, Rick treated the young banders by sharing his newly aquired goods. Sam was lucky enough to get TWO cranberry muffins (totally no hard feelings, I swear).

Our extraction skills (and patience) were truly tested when it came to hummers – no less than 3 found their way into our nets. One striking male treated us with its preening process not long after being released. We told Liam that there was a surprise waiting for him down in net 17, and the instant enthusiasm (and anticipation of a grosbeak) meant he missed the “it may or may not sting” warning. I will leave the rest up to your imagination :).

One of three hummers caught today: 2 males and a female. -ELO

I must mention that Liam and his birding friend Desmond are engaged in a legendary competition. Though they both have impressive Ontario lists, birds are not the feature of this long standing battle, as you may think. They are racing to see who can find the most species of….butterflies. Don’t get me wrong, it IS intense, and their discussion quickly moved on to include snake and salamander life lists. Without a doubt, it was truly a pleasure having a group of keen young banders, sharing the joys of the natural world.

In between the later net rounds, we tracked the flight path of “Gas Hawks” (aka planes) and had fun learning about their destinations with the use of an app. We fantasized about travelling the world, to bird band in Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Tanzania, and beyond. If only life could permit us to do so (I might get in trouble for saying that…as Rick has imprinted in our minds, “why go to school when you could be banding?”)

Banded 20:
TEWA 1 Tennessee Warbler
CSWA 2 Chestnut-sided Warblers

Chestnut-sided Warbler. -ELO

2 Wilson’s Warblers
2 American Redstart

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher; a bird you look for later in the month of May. -SGS

2 Yellow-bellied Flycatchers
2 Magnolia Warblers
2 Common Yellowthroats

Female Canada Warbler -SGS

1 Canada Warbler
1 Indigo Bunting
1 Red-eyed Vireo
1 Swainson’s Thrush
1 Scarlet Tanager
2 Gray Catbirds

Retraps – 9:
1 American Robin
2 Gray Catbirds
2 Common Yellowthroats
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler

Cheers, and thanks for a great day! Eila

Eastern Kingbird -KAP

An interesting recovery!
I just received word from the Banding Office that an Eastern Kingbird that we banded May 20th, 2018 was recovered at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto on May 18th – 3 days ago. The bird would be at least 5 years old.

May 17th – Oldtimer!

Here’s the retrap information from May 6th of this year. -MMG

The important thing about banding birds is to recapture them so we can learn about their travels and history. Otherwise there wouldn’t be much point in banding them in the first place. At a banding station it’s quite common to recapture some birds time and time again as they have taken up living in the area. This can be a pain if it’s happening daily. {One year we were recatching a Chipping Sparrow – not just daily but multiple times in a day. Everyone knew its band number off by heart. It was getting caught in a baited walk-in trap. I would often pose the question to visiting students when I told them about it: is this bird smart? or dumb? Almost all came down with a dumb verdict….until I pointed out that the bird seemed to know that there was high energy, very nutritious food inside the trap and had learned that the big human monsters would simply take him out, weigh him, then let him go. After that explanation, they thought maybe the verdict should be “smart” and wondered why the other birds were so dumb.}

It’s a great feeling when you recapture a long-distance migrant after it’s been gone for a year. Like the two Baltimore Orioles we got the other day. They would have travelled all the way down to maybe Belize and then found their way back. Just think of what they saw and experienced en route. Crossing the Gulf of Mexico, dealing with the dazzling lights of the eastern seaboard, waiting out adverse weather systems, and trying to find food and shelter in unfamiliar landscapes but still find their way back to the Farm. It’s miraculous.

Although it happens much less often, it’s exciting to recapture a bird that has been banded somewhere else. We have good results with Northern Saw-whet Owls and Snow Buntings as banders are targeting them and are working out effective ways to attract and capture them. But you can also get random recaptures – like the Yellow Warbler we caught last Spring that had been banded in Erie Pennsylvania the year before. It had a sizeable fat load so it wasn’t going to stick around, it was on its way. And, sure enough, we didn’t see it again. I wonder where it’s nesting area is.

But one of the most interesting recaptures, to me, is of a bird that I’ve banded and don’t see for a long period of time and then…..it shows up again. Where the heck has it been!? A few days ago, as the retrap card at the top of the page indicates, we recaught an adult male American Goldfinch. I didn’t recognize the band series and thought it might be a “foreign retrap”; i.e., banded somewhere else. But Marnie has spent a great deal of time digitizing our old retrap records and she recognized the number. As you can see below, the bird was originally banded in the Fall of 2016. At that time it was an adult bird meaning that the earliest it could have hatched was 2015…but maybe in years before that. So this goldfinch is approaching 7 years of age at least! I wonder where it’s been in the intervening years.

The male American Goldfinch that this card relates to is close to 7 years old

Banded 23:
1 Least Flycatcher
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Philadelphia Vireo
1 Tree Swallow
1 House Wren
1 Gray Catbird
1 Swainson’s Thrush
1 American Robin
1 Song Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
2 Baltimore Orioles
2 Common Grackles
1 Tennessee Warbler
5 Common Yellowthroats
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Indigo Bunting

ET’s: 52 spp.