May 22nd – Many Hands Make Light Work

The net crew: Laurel, Sam, and Anna (right to left). -DOL

It’s an old adage…but true. I had to pull the plug on the banding season as I’m heading out to sea to do seabird counts. In fact, at the moment of writing this, I’m sitting in the living room of my good friend, Gary Maillet, outside St. John’s. Gary is a renowned DFO scientist specializing in plankton. (We’ve had many interesting discussions in which we’ve tried to relate the presence of flocks of phalaropes hundreds of kilometers offshore with planktonic nutrient patches in the ocean.). I’ll board ship tomorrow and we’ll head out for 3 weeks, crossing to Greenland and then back to Halifax, sampling and observing all the way.

Sam entering his census sightings. -DOL

But to get back to the main theme…..the end of the season is a lot of work. Mainly taking down the nets that were so painstakingly put up 7 weeks ago. You can do it single-handed but it’s very difficult – especially in boot-sucking mud. So having a willing crew of volunteers to help out was truly a gift. But before taking down the nets it was business as usual. Sam did a census, we all did net rounds and banded our gleanings. With the 17 we banded, our Spring total for the period ended up at 517.
Banded 17:
1 Warbling Vireo
1 Gray Catbird

One of 3 Cedar Waxwings we banded. Note the red “waxy” tips. -LR

3 Cedar Waxwings

Male Goldfinch inb bright alternate plumage. -LR

2 American Goldfinches
1 Song Sparrow
1 Baltimore Oriole
1 Red-winged Blackbird

Common Grackles, like this female, just have a mean, menacing look. -LR

1 Common Grackle
1 Common Yellowthroat
4 Yellow Warblers
1 Indigo Bunting

Tree Swallow -LR

Seems to be lots of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers around. -LR

Species Encountered: 65

The Baltimore Orioles were slow/late getting to our backyard jam feeders. But they’re making up for it now. What marvellous birds to have around the house! -GRL


May 19th – Pot Pourri

Yesterday, Karen discovered a Virginia Rail and with patience managed to get it to within 3 meters for this shot. We figure there’s at least two here. -KMP

On the one hand the migration is winding down; on the other my life is getting more frenetic as I get ready to put out to sea for a Summer of seabird counting on the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. In fact, for the first jaunt I head to St. John’s on Monday to put to sea for 3 weeks, crossing the Labrador Sea to SW Greenland and then back to Halifax. If ever there was a time for in-depth oceanographic research, this is it. So I will be cutting the migration season a little short. But it’s been a good one and I managed to band our 500th bird of the Spring today – a Traill’s Flycatcher.

Another view. The birds have been around for two days in a row now. -KMP

It’s been slow going the last two days at the Farm. One factor is that I’ve been getting a late start due to logistics I have to take care of in the morning. But the main thing is that the vanguard of the avian horde has passed through. Sure, there will be birds still moving but the main group is through. We’re getting into the usual “late” migrants now: flycatchers (Yellow-bellied, Easter Wood Pewee), cuckoos, some warblers, like Blackpolls. I’m hoping that a Sora will join the Virginia Rails that Karen discovered in the wetland yesterday (we figure there’s two…at least). A Marsh Wren would be nice too.

I’d love to know the gist of the conversation going on between this pair of Tree Swallows…. -KMP

This young (SY) male Orchard Oriole played around the west end of the pond most of yesterday but I couldn’t find it today. -KMP

This Canada Goose has taken over the turtle sunning platform for itself. It’s a great place for it to rest and relax. -KMP

This female Cap May Warbler kept to the tree tops. -KMP

May 18th; banded 12:
1 Mourning dove
1 American Robin
1 House Finch
1 American Goldfinch
1 Song Sparrow
1 Baltimore Oriole
1 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Common Grackle
4 Yellow Warblers

May 19th; Banded 3:
1 Traill’s Flycatcher
2 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows

A real good news story: Jake was a “Young Ornithologist” at Fern Hill Burlington over 7 years ago; now in 2nd year at Western. But still as enthusiastic about birds and banding as he was back then. Holding a female Northern Parula helps. -SAW

May 17th; Fern Hill Burlington:
I was at Fern Hill’s Burlington campus on Wednesday. This little site is pretty exciting bird-wise as there isn’t a lot of habitat. When you look south all you see is an urban landscape – Burlington and then Hamilton. So it must be a relief for birds to find this oasis.

Helping Aanya band her first bird. -SAW

There are a good number of students there that you can tell are keen to learn about birds and the natural world around them. Environmental Studies teach Alex Webb and I are already planning to restart the Young Ornithologists’ Club….so that 7 years from now alumni like Jakob will drop in…

I like to get students involved as quickly as possible – scribing is a great entry point. -SAW

Banded 42:
1 Blue Jay
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
5 Gray Catbirds
1 House Sparrow
2 American Goldfinches
1 Chipping Sparrow
2 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows
3 White-throated Sparrows
1 Song Sparrow
4 Baltimore Orioles
13 Red-winged Blackbirds
4 Brown-headed Cowbirds
1 American Redstart
1 Northern Parula
1 Yellow Warbler

A bird in the hand can be a transformative thing. -SAW

May 13-14th – Big Weekend

A BIG surprise: our first capture of a Solitary Sandpiper! -KMP

The middle of May; traditionally the time when the migration of long-distance migrants gets into full gear….and so it is. Both yesterday and today, the willows in front of the Banding Hut provided a highway for passing warblers. All you had to do was sit at the picnic table and watch. There was a slight difference between the two days though: yesterday there was much more variety. We spotted 14 species of warblers and our species count for the day was a whopping 75. Today we counted only 6 warbler species and our overall species count was a much lower (but respectable) 54. The banding numbers were comparable however – 37 (yesterday) vs 33. I’m not sure how to explain the difference; still lots of birds just not as great a variety. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the strengthening of the NE wind in the early morning. Today the nets were billowing and we ended up closing a little earlier.

Sam got to band the Solitary Sandpiper – a great banding “tick” to have under one’s belt. -KMP

The highlight of the weekend was the capture and subsequent banding of a Solitary Sandpiper – a first for HBO. The honour of banding it went to one of the Young Ornithologists, Sam Lewis. I have never banded one and would have loved to do so but Sam’s efforts to get to the bird in the net, which saw him plough through knee-deep boot-sucking mud and water, earned him the right. Especially when we learned that the mud had succeeded in wrestling a boot from him and he finished the dash with one boot and one sock. Solitary Sandpipers are birds that are found around streams or ponds but I’ve never seen them in wetland sloughs like we have at the Farm. A real treat.

Wing and tail detail of the Solitary Sandpiper. -KMP

May 13th, Banded 37:
1 Solitary Sandpiper
1 Least flycatcher
1 Warbling Vireo
2 House Wrens
3 Gray Catbirds
2 American Goldfinches
3 White-throated Sparrows
2 Song Sparrows
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
4 Swamp Sparrows
1 Baltimore Oriole
2 Common Grackles
3 Common Yellowthroats

ASY male American Redstart. -KMP

1 American Redstart
2 Magnolia Warblers

4 Yellow Warblers
2 Western Palm Warblers
2 Myrtle Warblers

Species Encountered: 75 spp.
Of note were a passing Common Raven and a singing Clay-coloured Sparrow.

One of several singing Bay-breasted Warblers that flew around just above the nets – teasers. -KMP

May 14th; Banded 33:
1 Least Flycatcher
1 Barn Swallow
1 European Starling
2 Gray Catbirds
1 American Goldfinches
2 White-throated Sparrows
1 Song Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
3 Swamp Sparrow
1 Savannah Sparrow

Male Baltimore Oriole. -KMP

1 Northern Waterthrush
4 Common Yellowthroats
1 Yellow Warbler

Western Palm Warbler. -ECK

2 Western Palm Warblers
7 Myrtle Warblers
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
1 Indigo Bunting

Species Encountered: 54 spp.
Including this male (check out the black “eyebrow”) Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. -ECK

Check out this sequence of a hunting Myrtle Warbler taken by Karen Petrie on Saturday. The bird is searching low above the pond; spots a tasty morsel; and, when successful, flies off with a mouthful.

Searching. -KMP

Has spotted a target. -KMP

Flies off with a mouthful. -KMP


May 12th – Busy Day

The Field Studies building was a happening place. -SAW

I was at Fern Hill’s Burlington campus today. A good time to be there as we’re right into the heart of the migration, on the one hand, and into aggressive territorial defense on the other. So LOTS of bird activity…throughout the day. We are running just 4 mist nets and a couple of ground traps but, even so, we caught good numbers of birds. Faye Socholotiuk in Glancaster experienced the same thing. Before heading out in the morning to her teaching job she opened her 4 nets and was equally successful. [Results below]

Field Studies teacher, Alex Webb, with her first Baltimore Oriole. -DOL

I am very concerned with the proliferation of NDD in young people….well….most people. NDD, or Nature Deficit Disorder is a sad commentary on the disconnect between people and the natural world around them. MOST people can not identify 5 bird species, let alone insects and/or plants. How can we ask them to conserve the natural world if they don’t even know what it consists of!? I’m glad to be associated with a school program that takes this on as part of their curriculum – exposing students and staff to the small but bountiful ecology right around them. Bird studies and banding has become an important part of this.

Elsa, a Grade 7 student, has all the makings of a fine scribe – the first step in becoming a bander. -SAW

Programs that teachers take interest in are more readily endorsed by students. Keily O’Neil, SK teacher at Fern Hill lead her class by taking on (painlessly) a Northern Cardinal. -SAW

The school runs a number of nest boxes. Bluebirds are already emerging – this one (and its siblings) will be on the wing in just a few days. -SAW

Banded 49:
1 Least Flycatcher
5 Blue Jays
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 House Wren
4 Gray Catbirds
3 Eastern Bluebirds
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 House Sparrow
1 American Goldfinch
3 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows
3 White-throated Sparrows
1 Song Sparrow
1 Orchard Oriole

Male Baltimore Oriole. -SAW

3 Baltimore Orioles
7 Red-winged Blackbirds
3 Brown-headed Cowbirds
2 Common Yellowthroats
7 Yellow Warblers
1 Northern Cardinal
Species Encountered: 41 spp.

In Glancaster Faye runs 4 nets, 3 of which are located in shrubs bordering a small urban woodlot (fast becoming an endangered space under the relentless pressure of developers…and this provincial government). So it’s good that she’s monitoring what species are there and are using it. It begs the question: what will they do when it’s gone and there’s just houses?
Banded 22:
2 American Goldfinches
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet

ASY male American Redstart. -FAS

1 American Redstart

Male Magnolia Warbler -FAS

3 Magnolia Warblers

Male Chestnut-sided Warbler -FAS

2 Chestnut-sided Warblers
2 Yellow Warblers
8 Swamp Sparrows
1 White-throated Sparrow
1 Baltimore Oriole
1 Common Grackle