Friday the 13th has for ages, literally, been associated with terrible myths and activities from the betrayal of Christ to the gathering of bikers in Port Dover (the latter a very clever marketing ploy by the town I would imagine). There was nothing auspicious about this particular Friday the 13th – maybe a little chirping from the edges as I strolled beside the meadow enjoying the crisp air and the colours of a coming dawn but nothing to hint at what was to come.
The sun slowly broke the horizon gilding the meadow and trees….and stirred an abundance of birds that had likely moved in during the night and were awaiting this moment to begin replenishing the energy they had used up getting here and to store more so that they could move on. And these birds had found a bonanza: surrounded by soybean deserts (and local farmers had been busy taking off their crop before the coming rain) was a 7-acre cornucopia of grass seeds and associated insects.
I knew something was up when birds were hitting the nets before they were even fully opened. For the next 6 hours there was a constant movement of birds – mostly sparrows – over the meadow and between it and the edge. It was almost overwhelming, so I was very glad to see Karen Petrie’s arrival, someone with good net extraction skills. Even so, it was “ring and fling” for several hours to stay on top of the rush. Karen would feed me bags filled with birds that needed banding and I would feed Karen with empty bags that needed filling. [Ring and fling refers to a reduced banding methodology in which the bander puts a band on the bird (“rings”), identifies it, determines the age and sex, and then releases it without taking any morphometric measurements (“fling”). When the dust had settled we tallied up our efforts: we had set a new banding record for the site – 160!!
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
1 Gray-cheeked Thrush
7 Hermit Thrushes
5 American Goldfinches (4 of which were adult females going through a complete moult)
5 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Savannah Sparrow
5 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows
28 White-throated Sparrows
60 Song Sparrows
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
44 Swamp Sparrows
1 Northern Cardinal
ET’s: 40 spp.
I promise that I’m not going to keep on harping about this but you’ll notice that sparrows make up 90% of the number banded today. Skeptics might weigh in that the numbers of sparrows we’re catching this year might simply be a fluke, a coincidence. And, you know, they might be right but….I can’t see that being the case. I think the dramatic increase in sparrow numbers here is a direct result of the conversion of a soybean field to a meadow with prairie grasses and the seeds they produce enticing these birds to stop and feed. Haldimand is festooned with industrially farmed fields that yield next to no food. In fact, this style of farming has been identified as one of the major causes of the dramatic decline of bird numbers that has been documented from the 1960’s. I feel pretty strongly that what we’re seeing here is no coincidence; it’s the direct result of the growth of a natural food source. Sort of an oasis in a desert.
Comnpared to last year we’re way ahead already in the number of some sparrows banded: Song Sparrows (232 vs 77); Lincoln’s Sparrows (50 vs 4); Swamp Sparrows (169 vs 82). We currently sit at 80 White-throated Sparrows (vs 124) but our records show that the bulk of this species comes through during the second half of the month…so we’ll see where our total ends up.