January 31st, 2009 – Puttering

There’s a lot of little things that need to be done to get a banding station geared up for the next banding station. These can be done with an aggressive, focused, check-listed approach or with a more leisurely “oh yeah, I guess I should do this” sort of puttering. I tend toward the latter. And so it was today: put some reinforcers on the banding data sheets, pair the descriptive ones with the checklist ones, rebox some of the retrap cards (“What!!!!! You’re not doing all your retraps electronically?!”), sweep the floor, fill the feeders, etc. etc. Puttering is also a good time to put out some traps and/or open a couple of nets, you just never know…….

It was too windy for the nets but I opened an array of traps. Now, I didn’t catch much (although there were a lot of birds around) but the birds I did catch reaffirmed a couple of things. Several of the retrapped Dark-eyed Juncos were first banded here in the Fall and are still here – Ruthven (and its feeders) is their winter home, their “sunny south”. One junco was banded in 2004 and has been coming back ever since (although it was not retrapped last winter). The birds handled were all carrying good fat loads which attest to the value of bird feeders in helping them get through the winter – especially one like this one, with lots of snow and cold temperatures. In fact one junco weighed in at over 27 g and another at over 25. When they first start arriving in the Fall, they’re around 17-18 g. So they’re getting by VERY well.

Outside the banding lab’s door is a large scruffy juniper with a couple of cedars emerging above it. It has been called unsightly by some but it is REALLY important for the local birds. Juncos seem to inhabitat it in the Winter. As it is so dense, it offers good shelter from the wind between feeding forays and is probably also used as a night-time roosting place by them. It is also a source of food – today, 5 American Robins were working it over, plucking all the berries they could find. Robins are wintering further north in larger numbers but need to find food sources to get them through the hard times – the juniper is a good food source. Interestingly, in previous Aprils when we’ve been hit by a cold snap, I’ve often seen Robins feeding in it. In fact, in one very bad, late Spring storm there were over 50 of them feeding or taking shelter from the elements in its branches. ]I well remember one very “knackered” bird that was in such poor shape that it could not fly but would hop to a puddle to get water that was 15 m away. This bird would allow you to approach right up to it (never a good sign). We went out and bought a bag of currants and spread them around, hoping the birds would take advantage of them. I watched this particular bird wolf them down. And then, after about 2 hours, it FLEW off (usually a good sign).]

While the presence of Robins speaks to the possible impact of global warming, I also had some northern birds at the feeder: 7+ Pine Siskins and at least one Common Redpoll. Their presence suggests either a very cold Winter further north, a poor food crop, or both. And, so, the two “extremes” – more southern winterers and more northern ones – met at Ruthven. It’s a wonderful….and perplexing…world, isn’t it?

Banded 3:
2 American Tree Sparrows
1 Dark-eyed Juncos

Retrapped 6:
1 American Tree Sparrow
5 Dark-eyed Juncos

ET’s:  15 spp


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