Starting Off the New Year – January 3rd, 2009

2008 ended with unseasonably warm temperatures and rain which, when it interacted with the large amounts of snow on the ground, resulted in floods, the like of which haven’t been seen since the 80’s. The river flats below the Mansion were completely covered with water and, judging from the rings of ice around tree trunks, was a couple of feet deep (see accompanying photos) – what a huge volume of water swept through here!! Now, though, the water is receding and the cold temperatures have produced a sheet of ice. Any mice that survived the flood must be having a hard time getting oxygen as the ice cover is an extensive sheet, an inch thick.When the Fall banding season is finished (at the end of the first week of November), I usually like to give banding “a rest”. I mean, why generate MORE data when I’ve still got thousands of entries to do already? However, when the New Year rolls around I’m starting to get the itch again…….Further, I like to sample the birds that are spending the Winter at Ruthven and our feeders attract a good number of them. So I went out on January 1st for just 2 hours and put out a few ground traps. This lead to a haul of 15 birds: 8 new and 7 retraps (see list below). Pretty good start for very little effort.

With this encouragement I headed out this morning. Beautiful day – mostly sunny with a light northwesterly wind. I parked by the front entrance and as I was walking up the road the first birds I saw were a new sight record for Ruthven: White-winged Crossbills – they flew into the spruce in front of the Mansion. Due to a poor cone crop in the north, there has been a major irruption of this species into southern Ontario. Several thousand have been reported in the Hamilton area over the past couple of weeks so seeing them this year isn’t that unusual – it’s just that this is the first time they’ve been recorded here….and that’s exciting!

We have left nets up by the two feeder systems. Net #1 is a single net right outside the banding lab and #2 is a double net about 75 m away. These feeders are kept filled (most of the time) and attract a lot of birds. And so it was today: I banded 70 and retrapped 26 for a total of 96 handled! Now that’s a good day at any time of year. (See list below). I banded a number of “interesting” species: a Common Redpoll and 2 Pine Siskins – these are northern birds that come south sporadically – and a White-throated Sparrow, a species that typically spends the winter further south.

One of the most interesting things for me though at this time of year is the retraps. It has become clear through banding and recapturing birds that members of some species, that breed in the north, spend the Winter at Ruthven and return here year after year. The two usual ones are American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos.

Three American Tree Sparrows that we banded in March of 2008 have returned this Winter. Two others that were banded in March & April 2007 were recaptured and the “best” one was originally banded in April 2006, wasn’t re-encountered in 2007 and 2008, and showed up today.

Same story with the Juncos: two that were banded in November 2008 are still around; one banded in February 2007 made a reappearance; but the most interesting was one that was banded as a “Hatch Year” (or young) bird in October 2005 and wasn’t encountered again until today.

And, of course, there’s the “local” birds – those that presumable stay around all year: a House Finch banded in December 2007; American Goldfinch in May, 2007; Black-capped Chickadee in September 2007; and Downy Woodpecker in September 2005. I wonder how much bird seed these birds have consumed over the years……? [By the way, anyone that would like to donate a bag or two of black oil sunflower seeds or niger seeds is more than welcome…]

January 3, 2009:

Banded 70:
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Brown Creeper
7 American Tree Sparrows
1 White-throated Sparrow
15 Dark-eyed Juncos
8 House Finches
2 Pine Siskins
33 American Goldfinches
1 Common Redpoll

Retrapped 26:
1 Downy Woodpecker
9 Black-capped Chickadee
6 American Tree Sparrows
6 Dark-eyed Juncos
4 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 22 spp.

January 1, 2009:

Banded 8:
4 American Tree Sparrows
3 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Mourning Dove

Retrapped 7:
1 Downy Woodpecker
3 American Tree Sparrows
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 House Finch


Here are a few photos from the past few weeks at Ruthven. The first set was sent in by Hannah Badger.




The next set of pictures was taken by Peter Thoem. The riverbed at Ruthven flooded during the holidays, and the flood left some interesting reminders of itself.

Note the ice on the trees–apparently the water was quite high.

Ruthven Jan 1 2009 7.jpg


Ruthven Jan 1 2009 1.jpg

Ruthven Jan 1 2009 3.jpg

Ruthven Jan 1 2009 14.JPG

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