October 20th-22nd – Whew!….And WOW!!

We have banded over 130 Ruby-crowned Kinglets so far. -RC

It has been a very busy few days! I was at Fern Hill Oakville on Friday morning before driving down to Windsor to take in a Steely Dan concert – fantastic!! Twelve incredible musicians in their own right combined to form one of the best bands….ever. [I had been a little skeptical when one half of the creative duo that wrote all the music – Walter Becker, the guitarist, in conjunction with Donald Fagan, the keyboardist – died in early September. But his replacement, John Harrington was outstanding.] I got to bed at 3 AM and then had to get up and open nets starting at 6:45 in preparation for Bird Festival Day. We didn’t get a ton of birds but enough to keep the 95+ visitors happy. And in the afternoon we had two exceptional speakers, Bob Montgomerie, from Queen’s, and Stu Mackenzie from BSC. And if this wasn’t enough….we did some owling Saturday night. And today? Early morning net opening and then a workshop commemorating Paschendale, with military re-enactors. So….whew! A busy time.

Just a small part of the visitors to the banding program on Saturday. -SM

But the best thing….well, one of the best things, was this note from Stu Mackenzie. After his talk, Stu went out to our Motus tower and downloaded the data that had accumulated since early July when it was erected. Wow!!

Hi Rick,
In retrospect, I wish I had downloaded the data ahead of time because I probably could have reported on this in my presentation.
Anyway, after being deployed on July 10, your station detected about 20 different tagged birds this fall. The vast majority of them were Barn Swallows, but there were 4 or 5 that were likely PUMA (identical tags that we need to sort out). Probably most interesting is a Loggerhead Shrike from Carden or Napanee that flew by on September 8. Where were you when that flew by 😉
Please pass this on to whomever you think would be interested. Soon you’ll be able to view the tracks of these bird via the website.

Friday, October 20th; Ruthven:
Mike breathed a sigh of relief when volunteer Karen Petrie arrived. He was starting into a Big Day and really needed her skilled help. When the dust settled they had banded 125 birds:
1 Eastern Phoebe

Brown Creeper. -SM

1 Brown Creeper
10 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 Hermit Thrush
1 American Robin
60 Cedar Waxwings
7 Myrtle Warblers
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Fox Sparrow
7 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
5 White-throated Sparrows
1 Red-winged Blackbird
2 House Finches
25 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 40 spp.

Saturday, October 21st; Ruthven:
The banding lab was very busy right from the getgo. Young Bagger, Ethan Gosnell, did a wonderful job leading the census hike turning up 34 species on a day when there didn’t seem to be much around. As well as interested visitors we had a crew of 3rd-year McMaster students who came out for some exposure to bird banding/field skills. So the more “relaxed” pace was good both for showing birds to the public and for teaching students how to handle birds, band and take morphometrics.
Banded 37:
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Brown Creeper
1 House Wren
6 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
5 Hermit Thrushes
5 Myrtle Warblers
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Field Sparrow
1 Fox Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
4 White-throated Sparrows
5 Dark-eyed Juncos
5 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 43 spp.

Part of the banding crew sporting the new “look” for the station: pink T-shirts. -SM

An Old Geezer extolls the virtues of hard work to the Young Baggers. -SM

The YB’s thinking it over. -SM

#1 -SM

Saturday night Owling:
We had a big crowd (36 people) with big expectations. You know, sometimes we just don’t get any….. The first 2 net checks left us empty-handed but the 3rd produced one (big sigh of collective relief) and we got two more after that! So I think everyone was happy.

# 2&3> -SM

Killer feet and some nice bling. -SM

Sunday, October 22nd; Ruthven:
The slow pace from yesterday continued today, aided and abetted by unseasonably warm (hot?) weather and blue skies. Two of the Young Baggers had slept over in the banding lab and when they were joined by two more the boredom from the slow pace was transformed into a creative process. They explored the banding lab and discovered a hatch that lead into the “attic”. This they quickly began to transform into a sleeping loft for future stayovers. It would certainly remove the clutter of sleeping bodies on the banding lab floor and move the snoring to a better place. Of course these guys can’t seem to do anything without some hijinx:

The problem of sleeping clutter. -RC

A three-toed Sloth? Or a Bagger seeking a solution? =RC

“We’ve found it”! Our penthouse. -RC

Banded 36:
1 Northern Flicker

Male Northern Flicker

1 Blue Jay
2 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
4 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
3 American Robins
12 Cedar Waxwings
1 Myrtle Warbler
1 Northern Cardinal
2 Song Sparrows
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
4 White-throated Sparrows
1 Dark-eyed Junco
2 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 37 spp.

Kim with a flicker she’s just banded.

White-throated Sparrow -RC

Rusty Blackbirds -RC

Monarch and Painted Lady in Carol’s hummingbird garden. -RC

Yellow Sulphur butterfly. -RC

This week at Fern Hill
Hi Rick,
Wow this week as flown by. We’ve been busily banding (as you know) and on top of this the school has been working hard fundraising for both Oakville and Burlington’s hospital foundations. This means early mornings banding and late evenings hosting fundraisers. Throw in a wildly successful owling night at the Oakville campus and you have one busy, action packed, and bird filled week! I wouldn’t have it any other way.
However, this means I have some catching up to do! In Burlington Janice and I were busy on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, while you and I were slinging birds left and right on Monday, Wednesday night, and Friday morning.

In Burlington on Wednesday we observed an Estimated total if 23 species on census, and we banded 8 birds including:
2 Ruby Crowned Kinglets
1 Golden Crowned Kinglet
1 Black Capped Chickadee
1 White Throated Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 American Robin

Thursday was quite a slow day bandingwise with difficult wind conditions blowing out the nets, resulting in us having us close them periodically. We banded 2 birds:
1 Ruby Crowned Kinglet
1 Song Sparrow

However on Census we observed a total of 30 species with a MEGA visible migration of American robins (366 estimated!) Also a high number of red-winged blackbirds (271) kept my students hopping as they tried their best to count the seemingly never ending stream of birds!

Friday morning at the Oakville campus was fairly busy. We had an interesting view of Turkey Vulture migration: we hadn’t seen any all morning and then, just before noon, a long string of over 30 birds came into view. They were drifting in from Mississauga and heading SW. Where had they come from? Had they just traversed Toronto and Mississauga? What a route that would have been!

Banded 21:
3 Downy Woodpeckers
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Song Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
12 Dark-eyed Juncos

October 19th – No Need To Overthink

Calleigh meets Saw-whet. -KAP

Sometimes we simply overthink things. We try to find explanations that are much more complicated than they need to be. Last night was a prime example. We travelled to Fern Hill’s Oakville campus to try for Northern Saw-whet Owls. We invited the school’s Young Ornithologists to come out – it didn’t take much convincing; everyone seems to love owls. Now last year we caught and banded 1 Owl. I would have been happy with that again this year. But instead we picked up 5 in the first 3 net rounds!! All at a time when the students could see and appreciate them.

Same owls……very different facial patterns. -KAP

I tried to figure out what made this such a good night. A number of variables run through one’s head: temperature, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, phase of the moon, ambient light and noise, net placements, audio lure placements. So many things to consider. But the answer was much simpler – mojo. Calleigh, a kindergarten student (but very keen bird person) was wearing her owl pyjamas (which she wouldn’t let her mother put on her earlier in the week, saving them for this special occasion) and she was carrying her special owl stuffie. Powerful mojo indeed. There you go, how could Mother Nature deny these efforts? You see….sometimes it’s a simple answer and it’s staring you right in the face.

Fern Hill Oakville’s YO’s with one of 5 Northern Saw-whet Owls we caught last night. -KAP

Walking Isabella through the banding of a Saw-whet Owl. -KAP

Meanwhile, today at Ruthven….we were fairly busy, not frenetically busy. The stiff SW winds were a big factor as they billowed many of the nets making them more visible and, when it continued to build, we decided to close somewhat early. But, we didn’t see the volume of birds that we were observing over the past few days. Another ‘pulse’ had moved through.

October 19th; Banded 66:
1 Eastern Phoebe
7 Golden-crowned Kinglets
12 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
3 Hermit Thrushes
3 American Robins
2 Cedar Waxwings
8 Myrtle Warblers
1 Chipping Sparrow
2 Song Sparrows
5 White-throated Sparrows
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
20 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 37 spp.

The Green Heron seems to have made Rick’s Rill its autumn home. -D. Bridel

Standoff! Green Heron vs Black Squirrel for the right-of-way. -D. Bridel


October 16th – 18th – Catching Up.

It’s been a busy 3 days (as you’ll see below). And…..we started owl banding so things just got busier.

October 16th; Ruthven Banding Station:
It was a beautiful Fall day – cool and clear – but without a lot of bird activity.
Banded 41:
1 Mourning Dove

Lauren’s last day – celebrating with a flicker. -KMP

1 Northern Flicker

Eastern Phoebe. -LEO

1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Black-capped Chickadee
3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 American Robin
8 Cedar Waxwings
1 Myrtle Warbler
5 Song Sparrows
13 White-throated Sparrows

American Goldfinches have finally arrived. This is an adult male. -ECG

6 American Goldfinches

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker. -ECG

Double-crested Cormorants heading south. -KMP

ET’s: 33 spp.

Monday (16th) Night – Owling:
Success!! Nancy and the crew got 6 Northern Saw-whets: 5 new ones and a retrap.

Dorothy and Diane…..and one of the 6 owls caught Monday night. -BF

The Northern Saw-whet Owls have arrived! -BF

Northern Saw-whet Owl. -BF

An owl with attitude. -LEO

Straight from the fresh produce section at Foodland – Samuel with an owl. -LEO

Saw-whets are cute little things….with killer feet. -LEO

Fully fluorescent = young owl. -LEO

Gaps in the fluorescence = older owl. -LEO

Fern Hill Oakville:
Monday October 16th was a busy day at Fern Hill Oakville. We tried out a new net placement in an area we had noticed birds gathering, most likely drawn by the abundance of wild grapes, buckthorn, and sumac growing. We weren’t disappointed, in all we banded 20 birds including
1 bluejay
1 black capped chickadee

Brown Creeper. -KAP

1 brown creeper
1 ruby crowned kinglet
1 hermit thrush
8 American robins

Orange-crowned Warbler. -ECG

1 orange crowned warbler

The orange crown is pretty subtle. -ECG

1 northern Cardinal
3 slate coloured juncos

We have been noticing groups of turkey vultures migrating past the school. We spotted a kettle of about 50 turkey vultures riding thermals in large numbers.

I was excited to hear and observe black capped chickadees around the property, as we seem to have lost our resident chickadees over the summer. It was a real treat to finally find a recaptured chickadee in our net, hopefully we will be seeing more as the season progresses.

2 YO’s with 2 robins. -KAP


October 17th – Another Good Day at Ruthven!
After a short night due to owling, the big “pulse” this morning was something of a surprise…and hard work. Over 40 Cedar Waxwings were caught at one time in Net 9!!
Banded 96:

A very feisty chickadee letting you know what’s what. -LEO

1 Black-capped Chickadee
3 Golden-crowned Kinglets
15 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
2 Hermit Thrushes
56 Cedar Waxwings
1 Blue-headed Vireo
1 Nashville Warbler
5 Myrtle Warblers
2 Song Sparrows
4 White-throated Sparrows
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
4 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 41 spp

October 18th; An Even Better Day at Ruthven!!:
The first 2 net rounds this morning were huge – we ended up just “ringing and flinging” to try to keep up. (Ringing and flinging means that one just bands and then determines the age and sex of a bird and then releases it without taking any morphometric measurements – it speed things up considerably.) And then it was like someone had turned off the tap – the wheeling flocks of waxwings were gone and the sparrows, kinglets and myrtle warblers moving along the edges disappeared. The last hour and a half were very quiet – giving us a chance to catch our breath from the early morning exertions.

One very positive note: American Goldfinches are starting to show up in numbers. We banded 16 but estimated (based on banding #’s and observation/census #’s) that there were at least 55 around the site today.

Swamp Sparrow…..note the rufous “shoulders”. -ECG

Banded 120:
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
20 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
8 Hermit Thrushes
1 American Robin
35 Cedar Waxwings
2 Tennessee Warblers
14 Myrtle Warblers
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Field Sparrow
7 Song Sparrows
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
8 White-throated Sparrows
2 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows
1 Dark-eyed Junco
16 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 48 spp.

October 15th – End Of A Big Pulse

A spread-eagled Rusty Blackbird. -I. Turjansky

Although hindered by a strong SW wind (which caused us to limit the number of nets we opened and to close early as it picked up even more), we still managed to band 54 birds. But you got the feeling that the big pulse of birds that we experienced over the past several days had gone by. In the previous 4 days we banded 704 birds! Not only that but the variety of birds that were simply “around” the site was greatly reduced today. Despite an intensive census and lots of observers, we still managed to pick up only 36 species. But don’t get to thinking the migration is over! There’s another big pulse or two yet to come…..I think.

Ethan trying a Jedi mind trick on this stunning adult male American Goldfinch. Ethan was unsuccessful…..he has a long way to go…. -I. Turjansky

One concern I have though is: what has happened to our American Goldfinches!? In 2012 we banded 440 in September, 623 in October, and an overall total of 1,316. The next year (2013) they ‘crashed’: we got 9, 79, 198 respectively. The population rebuilt over the next couple of years so that in the Fall of 2016 we got 65, 310, 493. And in the Spring of this year we banded an incredible 527! But this Fall we have banded only 3 in September and 18 so far in October. My sense is that they have been decimated by disease. In the Spring we noticed several birds with conjunctivitis and we know that this malady wipes out House Finch populations. As well, there has been some talk of West Nile affecting Ontario birds. At any rate, our goldfinch numbers have crashed again.

Myrtle Warblers have been moving through in good numbers. -I. Turjansky

I get a kick out of the convolutions that bird nomenclature can take (although I find it very frustrating as well). It was such a pain when Myrtle and Audubon’s Warblers got “lumped” as Yellow-rumped Warblers. I have continued to use “Myrtle” in protest (except when doing this blog – I didn’t want any confusion). But now, evidently, I can go back to using “Myrtle” again. Ethan Gosnell assures me that the “species” will be split back to the old names by the end of the year. The lumpers have become splitters…..again.

A very late Magnolia Warbler. -KMP

For Saw-whet Owl aficionados, Nancy is going to try to catch some tomorrow (Monday) night. We think it would be a nice and very useful gesture if participants/spectators made a small donation to the banding program in order to take part – the donation box is easily found……Thanks!

This Song Sparrow was originally banded in 2014! Retrap data indicate that it calls the river flats its home. -MMG

Banded 54:
15 Golden-crowned Kinglets
18 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 Hermit Thrush
3 Myrtle Warblers
2 Chipping Sparrows
1 Field Sparrow
2 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow

White morph White-throated Sparrow. -I. Turjansky

3 White-throated Sparrows
8 Dark-eyed Juncos

Retrapped Philadelphia Vireo wondering what ‘this’ is all about. -I. Turjansky

ET’s: 36 spp.

October 14th – Somewhat More Subdued

Dark-eyed Juncos are moving through right now…..and some are quite possibly moving in – many spend the Winter in the area. -B. Fotheringham

The key word there is “somewhat”. When we made the final tally we were just 2 short of another “Big” or 100-bird day. (If I’d known I might have kept a net open for another half hour to pick up the 2 birds we needed to make 100.) But when it was happening it didn’t feel like a Big Day. In fact, I took wagers on how many birds volunteers thought we banded and the estimates ranged from only the mid-50’s to my 79. (As I was the closest all you other folks owe me 10 bucks……) It’s just that we had such a large skilled crew of banders that it didn’t feel like a big workload. We quickly and competently worked our way through the net rounds and the banding of the resulting birds. Maybe it’s time for me to get that chaise longue I’ve always talked about so I can manage things in comfort.

Sian and Polina with a pair of Tufted Titmice (Titmouses?) they’ve just banded. -SEF

Banded 98:
2 Tufted Titmice
1 Black-capped Chickadee
2 Winter Wrens
12 Golden-crowned Kinglets
18 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 Gray Catbird
1 Philadelphia Vireo
10 Myrtle Warblers
1 Common Yellowthroat
3 Northern Cardinals

All pink bill: Field Sparrow. -SEF

1 Field Sparrow
13 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
30 White-throated Sparrows
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 51 spp.

October 13th – On A Roll!

Carol’s return – pumpkin muffins. -NRF

The third day in a row with large numbers of birds in the banding lab and
the business of net checks, extraction, and banding. It was a dark,
overcast, warm morning with a light drizzle that didn’t last and
eventually, the weather cleared and it was a pleasant afternoon. In
total, we handled 151 birds, banding a total of 121. A great day, with a
good crew to work with.

Banded 121
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 House Wren
1 Winter Wren
5 Golden-crowed Kinglet
12 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
1 Hermit Thrush
3 American Robin
17 Cedar Waxwing
2 Tennessee Warbler
1 Nashville Warbler
1 Magnolia Warbler
37 Myrtle Warbler

Young male Black-throated Green Warbler.. -NRF

1 Black-throated Green Warbler
1 Wilson’s Warbler

Female Wilson’s Warbler -NRF

3 Song Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow

Note the rufous shoulders identifying this bird as a Swamp Sparrow. -KMP

1 Swamp Sparrow
25 White-throated Sparrow
1 White-crowned Sparrow
2 Slate-colored Junco
4 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 42 species

[Note that the number of birds banded in these 2 days is exactly 500!!!! Congratulations to the 2 banding crews – all young women.]

Grade 8’s learning about banding. -KAP

Fern Hill – Oakville:
We had our best day of the Fall today banding 37. Our catching has been plagued by the loss of our feeder chickadees, which didn’t return after the Summer holidays. Feeding chickadees draw others to them. So some of our catches this season have been pretty low. But today change was in the wind – and maybe the 3 chickadees we caught will stick around and things will get even better. We did get the first Fox Sparrow of the season – always a treat!

Yesterday was pretty nasty weather-wise so I was very surprised to see a large ‘kettle’ of Turkey Vultures forming over the parking lot. The birds rose until they began to disappear into the low ceiling and then drifted off to the SW.

Part of the kettle of Turkey Vultures that formed over the parking lot yesterday. -KAP

Banded 37:
3 Black-capped Chickadees
6 Golden-crowned Kinglets
11 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 Hermit thrush
2 American Robins
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler
1 Chipping Sparrow

1st Fox Sparrows of the season. -KAP

1 Fox Sparrow
6 Song Sparrows
5 Dark-eyed Juncos

Female Dark-eyed Junco. -KAP

ET’s: 26 spp.

October 12th – A NEW RECORD!!!!

On October 25th, 2011 we set a banding record of 309 birds at Ruthven. It included the banding of 175 Cedar Waxwings. Today the team of Nancy Furber, Marnie Gibson, Karen Petrie, and Lauren Witterick obliterated that record! They banded an astounding 379 birds (including 154 Waxwings). Here’s their banding totals:

1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Black-capped Chickadee
5 Brown Creepers
1 House Wren
2 Winter Wrens
29 Golden-crowned Kinglets
22 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
9 Eastern Bluebirds
6 Hermit Thrushes
2 Gray Catbirds
154 Cedar Waxwings
1 Tennessee Warbler
3 Nashville Warblers
1 Orange-crowned Warbler
86 Yellow-rumped Warblers
2 Field Sparrows
9 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
23 White-throated Sparrows
9 Dark-eyed Juncos
5 Red-winged Blackbirds
6 American Goldfinches

Fittingly it came just one day after the International Day of the Girl.