June 30th, 2021  – Alumni In The Field

It’s always a wonderful thing when some of the young people that come to the banding lab with a keen interest in birds and whom you’ve had a chance to tutor continue that passion into their future. Two recently have done that. Alessandra Wilcox, who went on to the University of Guelph, took on the Assistant Bander role at the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. Here she is featured in a mini CBC documentary highlighting concerns around the Spring migration:

Another one of our “young ornithologists”, Tessa Gayer, has gone on to Trent University. This Summer she is helping to do field work in Nunavut (Baker Lake area) studying Lapland Longspurs and Horned Larks. Here she outlines what she’s up to.

It’s super neat to see what Alessandra has been up to. We finally started banding a couple of days ago so I have a fresh picture of me with a bird. So far we’ve been doing Lapland longspurs and semipalmated sandpipers, and we’ve been tagging them with colour bands and flags for resighting. It’s pretty neat since some of the birds we’re seeing were banded 2 or even 3 years ago. One female LALO [Lapland Longspur] we resighted is at least 4 years old! We’ve mostly been nest searching and monitoring which is hard work but rewarding. It’s amazing how well camouflaged nests are despite the open environment. The nests we’ve been finding are starting to have chicks hatch, just in time for the yearly bug explosion.

Unfortunately we haven’t seen many snow buntings. They are around, but we’re not quite in the right habitat for them.

Tessa Gayer

Tessa Gayer

When I asked Tessa for a little more detail she got back to me with the following:

For some background, I’m working as a field tech for Sarah Bonnet on her master’s project under Dr Erica Nol of Trent University, and Dr Paul Smith of ECCC. We’re surveying sites to find bird nests, then monitoring the nests. The focus is on Lapland longspurs and how elevation impacts breeding success, although we are monitoring all the nests we find.

We’ve been using a bow net to catch birds while they’re incubating on their nests. So, we’ll set the net up, then wait for the bird to come back and sit before triggering it. It targets a specific bird, so it’s a very different experience from mist netting.

We’re starting to see a huge spike in the mosquito population, but we’ve also been seeing swarms of chironomid midges over the last few days. I was also surprised at how many bumblebees are around, although I don’t think the birds are eating those.

The sites we’re surveying cover a variety of elevations. There are higher, drier, more gravelly areas, which transition to lower, wetter areas with lots of grass hummocks. Horned larks prefer to be high and dry, the longspurs generally seem to prefer the intermediate areas, and the wet areas are where we find least and semipalmated sandpipers. However, the sites lack the extensive rocky areas with cracks and cavities that snow buntings nest in.

If you want me to add anything else, just let me know! ]So if anyone has any further questions let me know and I’ll pass them on….]

On a completely different note: at the end of a banding day, we tightly furl the mist nets and then tie them closed with fabric ties. Every now and again, for no discernible reason, we’re a net tie short, one (or two) have gone missing. If I’m the one closing I’m usually quick to blame (in my mind) the volunteer(s) of the day that opened the net and were supposed to put the ties on the guy lines. But maybe I’ve been too quick…..the other day Marnie was checking on the Wood Duck boxes spread around the pond. In one she found a nest with a few feathers and….two very scraggy white net ties! What’s the story behind this I wondered. Here’s my theory: Great Crested Flycatchers nest in cavities; they have a tendency to line their nests with discarded snake skins. (Don’t ask me how a bird of the treetops finds them.). The bird mistook the ties for snake skins, appropriated them and then worked them into the nest structure. If you’ve got a better idea I would like to hear it. My apologies to all of you that I accused of losing them.

Snakeskin-like net ties


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