August 21st & 22nd – Gearing Up

A BIG surprise – Eastern Screech Owl in Net 8. -AAW

We started banding on Sunday and have been going at it daily since (and will continue right up to the 1st) but not hard-core. We’re a little “nonchalant” about opening times, how many nets we open, etc. Think of it as “pre-season games”. Getting used to the grind while working out the wrinkles. One of the very nicest things about Fall banding is that the days get shorter! Which means, in practical terms, that you can get up later and later each day. The Spring is such a pain: by the end of May you’re rolling out of bed at 4:30 to get the nets opened. Now I’m getting up just before 6:00 – a much more civilized time.

We were relatively busy yesterday; today, not so much. Of course the wind was blowing pretty hard out of the SSW today, bringing in some rain followed by cooler temperatures – thank goodness; after being out on the north Atlantic for 3 weeks and then on Grand Manan Island for another 2 where it was nice and cool, I’m finding this heat and humidity a little tough to handle…..

The highlight so far was an Eastern Screech Owl that showed up quite unexpectedly in Net 8! It provided a great “banding tick” for Caleb, who’s working on his banding resume.

Caleb got to band this owl – a first for him.

Today was a short day due to the wind (we only opened a few nets – ones that were somewhat sheltered); to the rain (we closed early); and to a general sloth (we’re really not up to game speed…..). Although we caught banded only 6 birds, 2 of them were migrant warblers with fat loads – birds that are on their way south.

August 21st; Banded 30:
1 Eastern Screech Owl
1 Traill’s Flycatcher
1 Blue Jay
2 Tufted Titmice
1 Black-capped Chickadee
7 House Wrens
1 Gray Catbird
3 Cedar Waxwings
3 Common Yellowthroats
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
4 Song Sparrows
2 Bobolinks
1 Common Grackle
2 Baltimore Orioles

ET’s: 51 spp.

August 22nd; Banded 6:
1 Gray Catbird
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
1 American Redstart
2 Song Sparrows

ET’s: 40 spp


Looking a little skeptical. -AAW

Ovenbird from a couple of days ago. -AAW

Samuel being……Samuel. -AAW

Caleb got this nice shot of the eclipse. -CHS

Hooded Warbler! (But not from Ruthven – Caleb took this shot in the Great Smokey Mountains where he went for a photography course in July.) -CHS

Chestnut-sided Warbler.


August 20th – When Investments Pay Off

Today’s banding crew (from left): Samuel, Alessandra, and Ben. They did most of the work…..and the banding. While I……oversaw…..

You know about investment bubbles bursting, folks losing their savings, all their hard work. So it’s nice when you hear about investments paying off, even paying big dividends. And so it was today. Three young people, who have been coming to the banding station for several years – in Ben’s case, over 8 years – arrived to “run the show”. And they did. I had set up several nets earlier but they set up all but one of those left to go and they did the net rounds and most of the banding. There wasn’t much for me to do other than “supervise”, eat Alessandra’s muffins (you can’t have a banding season without baked goods!!), and brush out a couple of the lanes with the weed whacker. Great!

Ben banding……about 8 years ago. (Mother Stephanie, scribing, hasn’t aged al all!)

We had a half decent morning for this time of year. We caught and banded 28 birds – a mix of local adults and their progeny. The adults were moulting – complete moults – while the juveniles were checking out the site, learning how to get by.

We did not encounter any long-distance migrants that would have bred in the north.

We had an interesting Gray Catbird capture. It’s brown eye and light coloured mouth would suggest that it was a juvenile but it was going through a complete moult (flight and tail feathers) and still had the remains of a cloacal protuberance – so it was a male. Odd for this time of year when the eye should have been deep maroon and the mouth black – likely a bird in its second year.

Gray Catbird – Brown eye.

Gray Catbird – light-coloured mouth.

Gray Catbird – complete moult.

Banded 28:
2 Downy Woodpeckers
1 Traill’s Flycatcher
1 Eastern Phoebe
2 Blue Jays
2 Black-capped Chickadees
3 House Wrens
1 American Robin
2 Gray Catbirds
3 Cedar Waxwings
1 Ovenbird
2 Common Yellowthroats
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
3 Song Sparrows
1 Baltimore Oriole
2 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 42 spp.

July 8th – Life On The Bounding Main

Peregrine Falcon with a storm-petrel. B. Young

Just left St. John’s harbour for 22 days of counting seabirds on a DFO research vessel in the NW Atlantic. Foggy and rainy this evening but did see some Atlantic Puffins and the first Sooty Shearwater of the trip. The 2nd mate showed me this picture he took a month or so ago of a Peregrine Falcon about to feast on a storm-petrel. No wonder seabirds forage well offshore. Even then they’re not necessarily safe. A couple of years ago I watched a Peregrine snatch a Red Phalarope – 90 nautical miles from the northern tip of Labrador.

Rick (alias Salty)

July 6th – Bouncing Around

Sunrise over Georgian Bay. -R. Bauer

It’s been a hectic month plus since the end of migration monitoring at Ruthven. But I’ve been on the move not wanting any grass to grow….

Marg and I with Rita and Erich Bauer.

I was feeling pretty despondent at the beginning of June watching hay fields being cut well before any grassland birds could have fledged (in fact, given the cool, wet Spring I think most species would have been sitting just on eggs) and cycling past thousands of acres of “dead” fields waiting to be planted with GM corn and/or soya beans. So, as a pick-me-up, Marg and I went up to Lion’s Head on the Bruce Peninsula to spend a couple of days with Erich and Rita Bauer. Erich is not only a “bird guy” but is expert at identifying flowers and ferns – I always learn something new when I’m out with him. And Rita is the best photographer I know – and this says a lot considering the absolutely marvellous photos that so many of you have sent my way for use on the blog.

Little did we know at the time that many southern Ontario birders were chasing this very Dickcissel – we came upon it by chance – we were actually looking for the American Bittern that Rita had photographed a few days before.. -R. Bauer

We spent two days driving past thousands of acres of rich grasslands looking for birds, exploring forests for orchids and ferns, and checking out shorelines for whatever we could find. I saw more Bobolinks in those 2 days than I’ve seen down here in the past 10 years (a bit of an exaggeration perhaps but not by much). The road that leads into Dyer’s Bay from Highway 6 is amazing. We were cruising along it checking out Bobolinks and Sandhill Cranes and looking for an elusive American Bittern when we noticed a bird singing like crazy on the telephone lines – not one that was readily familiar. We stopped and got out of the car to take a look and discovered a Dickcissel!! When we first stopped there were NO cars around at all. But within minutes there were half a dozen other birders looking at it as well. Evidently this bird’s presence had been “announced” on OntBirds and everyone and his mother was out looking for it…..we had found it be chance.
Bruce Peninsula Photos by Rita Bauer:

Although American Bitterns were reported in this wet area just outside Dyer’s Bay, I didn’t see it (although Rita got a good picture of it)> -R. Bauer

Brewer’s Blackbird along the road into Dyer’s Bay (carrying food to a nearby nest?). -R. Bauer

Brewer’s Blackbird. -R. Bauer

Common Nighthawk drawing us away from its nest. -R. Bauer

Common Nighthawk “nest”. -R. Bauer

Common Tern at Singing Sands on Lake Huron. -R. Bauer

Common Tern -R. Bauer

The Bruce was festooned with Lady’s Slippers. -R. Bauer

Ram’s Head Orchid. -R. Bauer

Spider laying in wait. -R. Bauer

Painted Lady’s Slippers. -R. Bauer

Leopard Frog. -R. Bauer

Grasshopper Sparrow in the grasslands around Crane Lake. -R. Bauer

Grasshopper Sparrow. -R. Bauer

Long-tailed Duck off the pier in Dyer’s Bay – an unusual find for this time of year. -R. Bauer

Sandhill Crane family foraging in the tall grass. -R. Bauer

Sandhill Cranes. -R. Bauer

Sandhill Cranes. -R. Bauer

Savannah Sparrows were everywhere. -R. Bauer

Savannah Sparrow. -R. Bauer

Male Northern Flicker peeking out from its nest cavity. -R. Bauer

Adult Northern Flicker removing a fecal sac from the nest. -R. Bauer

Marg and I spent the last week of June at our cabin on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy. My first job there was to replace some errant shingles that had blown off during the winter’s storms. Roofing….one of the few things I can do….sadly.

The commonest warbler around our cabin – Black-throated Green Warbler. This is a recapture of a bird that I had banded in June of 2015!!

Once that was done I opened mist nets in the 3 net lanes that I’ve cut into the boreal forest that surrounds the cabin. The first bird I caught was a male Black-throated Green Warbler that I had banded in June, 2015! Shortly after that I got a male Black and White Warbler banded in August, 2015. I banded 11 birds including a Northern Parula, another common breeding bird in the area but a rare treat at Ruthven.
Grand Manan Photos:

A Blue Jay with an old, healed injury – note the bend in its right leg just above the foot.

Wild Irises were in bloom all around the island……and in our yard.

Male Nashville Warbler – another backyard breeder.

Northern Parula.

Diminutive Northern Red-bellied Snake found in scrub pile just outside out front door.

Why the red-bellied snake is called just that……

Since then I have spent a couple of days at Ruthven. Amazing how quickly things move! In the past 2 days I’ve seen adult Yellow Warblers, Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles feeding fledged young – just the tip of the iceberg! And two days ago Nancy and I banded the first 6 young Purple Martins of the year – so our colony, that was so hard hit by a predator last year, seems to be on the mend. (There are 2 other active nests. Interestingly, all the nests are in the gourd complex.)

June 13th – Tune-up

Female (left) and male Bobolinks – 2 of 4 caught and banded at The Oakville campus.

Last week I took my bicycle in for a tune-up: lubricate the moving parts and replace the worn or broken-down ones. (An over-the-handlebars header last year going down the King’s Forest trails at Albion Falls hadn’t helped much.) Twenty-four hours later it was done, ready to go, like new. Don’t you wish you could do the same with yourself?!

So I went out riding around the rural countryside where I live and began to ruminate on the plight of our breeding birds in light of typical agricultural practices. I passed thousands of acres of either deserts (bare dirt herbicide-treated fields, waiting to be worked up and planted a little later) or killing fields (already many farmers have taken off their first cutting of hay). In the desert fields there is almost no food: no plants = no seeds or insects. The mowing of the hay fields wiped out grassland nesting species – and since it was such a cold, wet Spring these birds would have got off to a late start so no chance of fledging any young before the cut. Is it any wonder that the numbers of grassland bird species and aerial insectivores that forage over fields have plummeted?

On my ride I did occasionally run into hay fields that hadn’t yet been cut. From one I picked up the calls of Savannah Sparrows, Meadowlarks and Bobolinks but these fields were very few and far between…..and who knows how long it will be until the hay on these is cut? [However, I’m keeping my eye on a large acreage of hay that last year was not cut until later in the Summer. It still hasn’t been cut and I’m keeping my fingers crossed…. It’s in the vicinity of Moore’s Road and Young’s Road about 5 km northeast of York. It’s well worth someone spending some time looking it over – I used to see Upland Sandpipers and Grasshopper Sparrows in it.]

I guess the bottom line for me is: how much corn and soya bean do we really need? And could we not get by with just one or two cuttings of hay – leaving the first one until later?

This ramble leads me to the Oakville campus of Fern Hill. On this, our last day, I put up a net in a big field that is just south of the playing field – a large grassy opening that hasn’t been cut in some time. It is the home of Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows (along with some Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows, the latter along the edges). I don’t know how long this field will remain as such – I’m sure, being on 9th Line right next door to Mississauga, there are developers drooling to get their hands on it. But right now – and last year too – it is the home of an energetic and viable population of Bobolinks.

We lucked out and caught 4 Bobolinks: 1 female and 3 males. What a delight for everyone! Especially when one considers that the bird winters in central South America and many make a lengthy overwater flight to get there.

As I mentioned, this was our last banding day here until September when school starts up again. Despite the limited bird-friendly habitat at the school (which we are striving to expand) we have had a pretty good 2017: we have banded 370 birds of 41 species.

Today; Banded 22:
1 Traill’s Flycatcher
7 Tree Swallows (nestlings from 2 nest boxes)
1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow

A BIG surprise: Northern Rough-winged Swallow. -KAP

2 Warbling Vireos

Two Warbling Vireos – they chatter all day long!

4 Bobolinks

Bobolink pair.

2 Red-winged Blackbirds
2 Brown-headed Cowbirds
2 Common Grackles
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 36 spp.

Top Ten of 2017 (so far):
1. Dark-eyed Junco – 53
2. Red-winged Blackbird – 46
3. American Goldfinch – 37
4. Black-capped Chickadee – 25
5. American Tree Sparrow – 24


Isabella and Laura after a net run.

The indoor “banding lab”.

The outdoor “banding lab”.

Young Ornithologists checking out a bird. Angela sports the new look in colourful banding garb.

The yellow and white on the back makes the male difficult to see hunkered down in a field of Dandelions. -KAP

The female plumage provides great camouflage in the deep grass. -KAP


June 2nd – Catching Up…And Finishing Off

A peaceful day on the Grand River – looking out at Slink Island. -S. LaFleur

We spent the last two days of banding “on a mission”: we needed just over 30 birds to hit 2,000 for the Spring. Should be doable….right? Just 16 birds a day. Easy peasy….Well Mother Nature, that capricious b*#&h, just wasn’t going to let it happen. We got 15 on the 30th but just 12 on the 31st ending with a total of 1,996 – so close and yet so far. Still it was our 3rd highest total since inception.

Blue Jay originally banded n October 2005 – almost 12 years old!! -MMG

At this time of year, sometimes it’s the recapture of previously banded birds that can provide the most excitement. We recaught a Blue Jay that had been banded in October of 2005 as a young or HY (Hatch Year) bird. So it was likely hatched in June of that year making it now 11 years, 11 months old. This is the oldest bird that we have handled. Given that it looked to be in very good health there is every reason to think that it could go on for a few more yet. Interestingly, we had recaptured it in 2006 and again in 2008 but hadn’t encountered it since then – 9 years. I wonder how many other banded birds are out there that we just don’t recapture. We assume that they have died but this just may not be the case.

Brown-headed Cowbird egg in a Yellow Warbler nest. -MMG

Yellow Warblers have lost no time in nesting. On a brief walk around the trails we found (easily) 4 nests. Marnie was able to get a picture of the contents of one (we didn’t want to go up to the nests or disturb the immediate area for fear of attracting/leading predators to them). It contained 4 warbler eggs and 1 cowbird egg. We took this back to the banding lab. It weighed 3.1 grams. This is equal to the weight of a hummingbird and is one third of the weight of the host warbler. If it hatched it is easy to see how it would take over the nest and any nourishment that the parents brought back.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow – a pair is nesting in a vent at the back of the washroom building and this one found itself in a net nearby. -CHS

Two species of swallow – Purple Martin and Tree Swallow – commonly nest around the banding area. We’ve seen Barn Swallows checking out some of the structures but, so far, they haven’t tried to nest nearby (although they’re across the highway at the deserted barn). Northern Rough-winged Swallows have nested in holes in the bank right across the river but not directly around the banding area…..until now. A pair showed up a few days ago and showed great interest in one of two vents at the back of the washroom building. This is essentially a hole covered by 3 cross pieces that open, releasing air from the inside of the building. On the 31st the pair seemed to be in some distress, flying around the back of the building. When we checked it out, we found that the vertical pieces had closed. When we checked the vent we found the beginnings of a nest…So I screwed one of the cross pieces open and the swallows continued to build their nest. We caught and banded one of the pair when it flew into a nearby net – maybe we’ll be able to keep tabs on it in future years.

Buffy chest marking this brown swallow as a Northern Rough-wing. -CHS

A nice banding “tick” for Caleb: Northern Rough-winged Swallow. S. Lafleur

May 30th; Banded 15:
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Eastern Wood Pewee
1 Gray Catbird
2 Yellow Warblers
1 Blackpoll Warbler
2 Common Yellowthroats
1 Wilson’s Warbler
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Field Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
3 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 64 spp.

May 31st; Banded 12:
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
1 Gray Catbird
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Blue-winged Warbler

Blue-wing. -CHS

3 Yellow Warblers
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Field Sparrow
1 Baltimore Oriole
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 63 spp.

Ruthven Photo Gallery:

Sharing a lighter moment on the last day of banding. -JDF

Male Blue-winged Warbler. -CHS

Field Sparrow with a strange growth on its bill. -MMG

Young Purple Martin. -S. LaFleur

Love is in the air…… -S. LaFleur


Logan-super happy because he was allowed out of class to band his favourite bird!

Fern Hill – Burlington; May 31st:
The last official day of Spring Migration came and went, and we celebrated with a few special firsts. We caught Fern Hill Burlington’s first male Rose Breasted Grosbeak of the year, a young male easily identified by plumage. I also made a deal with the Young Ornithologists this morning that if we ever caught their favourite bird I would pull them from class so they could band or release it. Sure enough one of my students loves Cedar Waxwings, so today was his lucky day as we caught and banded our school’s first today.

We banded a total of 10 birds of 7 species including:
1 Trail’s Flycatcher
2 Gray Catbirds
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Burlington’s first caught Rose-breasted Grosbeak. -KAP

1 Song Sparrow
3 American Goldfinches
ET’s: 42 spp.

Mostly brown flight feathers tell you that this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a young one – in its second year. -KAP

Mix of brown and black rectrices on this male grosbeak. -KAP

The first caught Cedar Waxwing of the year. -KAP

Our estimated total of species observed around the property was 42. We also spotted at least one raven multiple times swooping around the school. The male Red-winged Blackbirds and even a tough male Baltimore Oriole were kept busy harrying it as it went about it’s business. All in all a great day!

Evan with an unusual bird for this area at this time of year – Purple Finch. -KAP

Fern Hill – Oakville; June 1st
We had surprisingly busy day at the Oakville campus, banding 22 birds. You just don’t know what you’re going to see at this spot, on the edge of the metropolis of Mississauga. There are a number of flowering trees around right now and these are attracting Orioles. We caught 2 male Orchard Orioles. An older (After 2nd Year – ASY) male is a magnificent bronze and black while a young (Second Year – SY) male has the greenish yellow feathering of the female but with a black bib. Interestingly one of the birds had the bronze feathering overall but with patches of yellow showing through in places leading me to think that this might be a bird in its 3rd year….

Adult male Orchard Oriole. The smattering of yellow/olive feathers suggests that this bird is in its third year as second year males don’t show the bronze but are greenish yellow with a black bib.. -KAP

Banded 22:
2 Mourning Doves
1 Willow Flycatcher
3 Traill’s Flycatchers
1 Barn Swallow
1 Blue Jay
1 American Robin
3 Gray Catbirds
1 Common Yellowthroat

Bentley with a male Common Yellowthroat. -KAP

1 Song Sparrow
1 Red-winged Blackbird
2 Brown-headed Cowbirds
2 Orchard Orioles
1 Purple Finch
2 House Finches

ET’s: 44 spp.

May 31st – The End

Today’s banding/closing crew: Marnie, Sian, yours truly, Caleb, Mike (Joanne was walking her dog and Carol was hiding behind a tree….but they were there). -S. LaFleur

We worked really hard over the last couple of days to squeeze out enough birds to bring our Spring banding total to 2,000 but……we fell a few short, finishing with 1,996 – our 3rd highest Spring total. I will write more about the last couple of days and about the banding results in subsequent posts – just not enough hours in a day.

We’ve had a great run thanks to the 68 individuals who volunteered their time to make things happen – a total of 1,648 hours!!

End of year celebratory cake thanks to Sherri. I wonder how many calories have been contributed by our volunteers over the season……. -S. LaFleur

Top Ten:
1. American Goldfinch – 527 (a new record)
2. Yellow Warbler – 123
3. Gray Catbird – 93
4. White-throated Sparrow – 84
5. Brown-headed Cowbird – 79
6. Chipping Sparrow – 66
7. Common Yellowthroat – 63
8. Yellow-rumped Warbler – 62
8. Dark-eyed Junco – 62
10. Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 58

Number of species banded: 87 spp.

Number of species encountered on the site: 146 spp.