November 19th – Hats Off To Local Landowners!

Duncan Gillyat holding the 100th Northern Saw-whet Owl banded at his farm over the last 2 years. -MMG

Sometimes I think we can get caught up in the numbers game. When we’re banding during migration periods it’s important to generate as much data as we can on the birds passing through. Some larger operations will do thousands of birds in a season and 100’s on some days. And that’s great. It gives a lot of information at that point in time and is very valuable. But in the long run I sometimes wonder: “so what?” The really important data, from my viewpoint, is in the recovery of individuals banded in other places at other times. Using these birds you can begin to build up a history for that bird and, by extrapolation, for the species. And if there are not smaller operations “downstream” from these larger operations or feeding into them then the number of band recoveries, already very small, becomes even smaller.

So I think it’s important to have smaller operations with competent, well-trained volunteers contributing to the overall system. A prime example of this is the increased number of Snow Bunting recoveries and observations we found just by mobilizing a crew of interested banders and birders across the country.

But you need places for small operations to do their thing. I think in this regard Haldimand Bird Observatory has been extremely lucky. The Lowville site exists due to Ben Oldfield’s community work and the contribution of the use of a prime ecological niche by Dirk Kneulman, the owner.

Elizabeth and Bill Hurkmans asked if we would be interested in using their farm/wetland just outside of Cayuga as a banding site. They’ve allowed us to make trails, alter vegetation (e.g., take out buckthorn), cut net lanes. Together with Cathy Blott of the Haldimand Stewardship Concil, they even arranged for a local man to put up a little banding hut for protection from the elements. And just this Summer they decided to forgo the income the 6-acre field adjacent to the banding area would generate through intensive farming. Instead they planted prairie grasses which will take a couple of years to mature but will provide habitat for “grassland birds” which are in great danger across the country.

The most recent “contributor” is Duncan Gillyat who has a farm on Irish Line. This is proving to be a great site for Snow Buntings in the Winter – there were flocks totaling between 1500 and 2000 birds there throughout January and February (of which Marnie banded a large number). But the big surprise has happened in the Fall. Over the past 2 Fall seasons it has yielded 100 Northern Saw-whet Owls (and maybe a few more as Marnie hasn’t given up yet). They are caught in just a small forest patch with wind generators that muffle the night sounds nearby on the adjoining property. Your first thought would be that it wouldn’t be a very good site. But in this fairly open countryside the little forest patch is an oasis where the little birds can rest and feed.

So, as I said, I think we’ve been really lucky to run into the type of folks we have who not only care about the environment but are willing to back it up concretely through the donation of the use of their land. To them: THANKS A TON!!

Final Days of Fall Banding – Glancaster

The wind was quite strong this past weekend, which often means some nets just can’t be opened or have to be closed as the winds pick up. I don’t recall the winds being quite this strong last year, but it’s made me rethink some of the net locations I have as the property I’m using begins to open up a bit with the anticipated construction on my neighbours new house.  The initial locations near the hedgerows have turned out some pretty good numbers and interesting birds, but I’d like to tap into a bit more of the in-between areas of the deciduous/field/marsh area and the evergreen/field/marsh area and in doing so, get a little more wind protection as well.

While the winds slowed down the number of nets opened and the number of birds in the nets, it was a perfect pace for the visitors who came out.  Aliya brought her dad and brother with her and I credit both Rayaan and his dad for attracting the Eastern Bluebird into the net as they were both dressed in blue from head to toe!  I’ve been hearing bluebirds in the area for quite a while and have been wondering if they were just passing through or were spending a bit more time hanging around.  Apparently they have been looking for some good roosting spots as they were observed inspecting the bird house used earlier this year by a pair or bluebirds in the garden down the road, as well as inspecting the 3 tree swallow boxes we have in our own backyard.  It’ll be interesting to see if they stay around the next few months.

All in all, it was a great morning.  Aliya was able to band her first Eastern Bluebird and Rayaan was able to do a lot of off-roading with his specially designed rig, joining us as we checked the nets throughout the morning.

Aliya with her first Eastern Bluebird.

Rayaan helping to release the Bluebird. Note his blue outfit 🙂

This was an American Tree Sparrow I caught on my last round Sunday morning. I thought it was a recapture from last week but turns out it was a recapture from January! I had banded it at my feeder net last January and it has made its way back south again. This time it was caught down the road near the hedgerows.

November 5 & 6th
Black-capped Chickadee – 2
Slate-coloured Junco – 5
Eastern Bluebird – 1
Song Sparrow – 1
American Robin – 1

Black-capped Chickadee – 4
Song Sparrow – 1
American Tree Sparrow – 1
House Finch – 1
Hairy Woodpecker – 1



November 5th- Hurkmans Farm Fall Banding Summary

In years past I have run the Fall banding season to November 7th, but this year I had other things to do so we finished on October 31st. This was our 2nd year at “the Farm” and it was VERY different from last year. Before getting into the results and comparisons with last year, I should qualify it by pointing out that the lack of consistent hourly/daily/monthly effort makes the validity of the comparison somewhat spurious; however, effort does not explain all (or even much) of the difference.

The Fall of 2021 will be remembered as one of the wettest on record. Rainfall amounts in September and October were more than double the previous 10-year average. This alone greatly curtailed our ability to run nets and certainly impacted the flow of migration. This year the weather was much better and the main impact on our banding effort was the availability of qualified banders willing to step in and help out. I was away for much of September doing seabird counts. Marnie covered as many days as she could while maintaining a job – I haven’t been able to convince her to forgo the chase after the filthy lucre as she insists that she has bills to pay……

So in terms of coverage numbers: this year we banded on a total of 34 days (vs 28 in 2021); 10 in September (vs 17), 24 in October (vs 9), and 0 in November (vs 2). This is mirrored by the number of net hours per month (1 net hour = 1 x 12 m net open for 1 hour): 240 in September (vs 803 in 2021) and 546 in October (vs 222). Total: 784 net hours in 2022 vs 1041 in 2021.

After last year’s dismal results (we banded only 361 birds), we questioned whether this Farm site would be worth the effort. Acknowledging that the weather conditions had severely impacted our results, we decided to give it a second shot – and it’s a really good thing we did! Despite spotty coverage in September and no banding in November, we banded 852 birds, almost two and a half times last year’s total….and this with only 75% of last year’s net hours.

September’s results were unspectacular as Marnie could not pick her days of coverage (damned work schedule) and so we missed really good “warbler days”. We banded only 96 birds in September (vs 271). But the top came off in October. We had great weather and good coverage and…..a flush of migrants. We ended up banding 756 (vs 83) – and this on the deployment of only 8 nets! On the 19th alone we banded 122, easily our highest total at the Farm.

It is interesting to look at differences in some of the numbers of birds banded:
Warblers: as I mentioned we essentially missed the long-distance migrant warbler species. We banded only 13 species (vs 17 in 2021); our overall total was larger- 201 (vs 106) – but if you take the 163 Myrtle Warblers out of this total, we banded only 38. Myrtle Warblers are a late-migrating species and we got a LOT of them in October.

Kinglets: There was a significant increase in the number of these little birds: 143 total (107 Ruby-crowned and 36 Golden-crowned) vs 2021: total of 41 (12 RCKI, 29 GCKI).

Sparrows: But it was in the sparrow group that we saw the greatest change:
• Eastern White-crowned Sparrow – 22 (vs 2)
• White-throated Sparrow – 124 (vs 38)
• Song Sparrow – 77 (vs 21)
• Swamp Sparrow – 82 (vs 26)

The number of species banded was similar: 55 in 2022 vs 54 in 2021. As I mentioned, the number of warbler species was down this year (13 vs 17) but we did get a couple of firsts: Connecticut Warbler and Canada Warbler. We completely missed Red-eyed Vireos though, a common September migrant. Other noteworthy firsts were: Rusty blackbird, Tufted titmouse, Purple Finch (an irruptive species – we banded 29) and some sparrows: Chipping, Field, and Fox.

My pessimism about the site has been assuaged and I must say that I’m looking forward to the coming year and what might turn up. This feeling of hopeful anticipation has been fanned by the conversion of the adjacent 6-acre field to a native grassland. It will take at least 3 years for it to take full hold but already the ceasing of “industrial farming” on it is showing results. In October sparrows were flitting back and forth between the field (where they were gathering seeds) and the wetland/forest edges. You don’t see this in soya bean fields. Also, we’re in the process of revamping the site ecologically to make it more “bird friendly”. Over the years Buckthorn has taken hold and has wiped out sections of young trees and dogwoods. We’re slowly removing it and planting young trees and dogwood in its place. This will be a long-term effort as well but one that will be well worth it. It’s no coincidence that our most productive net is in the middle of a dogwood thicket. And Diane Green has started to attack the two stands of Phragmites that are threatening to overtake the pond. Again, a long-term project but we’re working on it. Put all these things together and the future of the site looks bright.

Can anyone help with the identification of this salamander? Blue-spotted? Jefferson’s? -DOL

And maybe symbolic of these changes….or maybe just a coincidence….I saw a Blue-spotted or Jefferson complex Salamander (if you can help with the identification of the species from the accompanying picture please feel free) as I was taking down one of the nets. It’s the first salamander I’ve seen on the site. A sign of renewed ecological health? Maybe it should be our new symbol……

I would like to thank Marnie Gibson, Karen Petrie, Marg Ludkin, and Diane Green for their considerable efforts this Fall.

Hurkmans Farm “Top Ten” – Fall 2022

1. Myrtle Warbler – 163
2. White-throated Sparrow – 124
3. Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 107
4. Swamp Sparrow – 82
5. Song Sparrow – 77
6. Golden-crowned Kinglet – 36
7. Purple Finch – 29
8. Black-capped Chickadee – 26
9. Common Yellowthroat – 23
10. Eastern White-crowned Sparrow – 22

PS If you would like a couple of spreadsheets summarizing the differences between the years contact me:

Addendum to Fall Frenzy

I was waiting on a few photos of people to add into my post from the previous week, and here they are!  Cousins, Avery and Eli were around for a busy Saturday and had a chance to interact with quite a number of birds and also had the chance to try their hand at banding.

Avery checking for fat and muscle scores as her cousin Eli looks on.

Eli checking the fat and muscle score on his bird.

Group photo!