April 23rd – Passing The Torch

I hate to tell you this (and even admit it to myself) but…..aging happens. Yes, it’s true. Life, evidently, is finite. So it’s important to make sure that the things you think are important carry on. Birds are my thing. And I think their study and conservation need to continue well into the future – well beyond my time. With that in mind, we started a group for young people that were interested in bird study and birding. This is paying off big time! Just think of the competence and knowledge of the current “Baggers”. Ben Oldfield just got his banding subpermit. Others will follow. I’m very proud of them all. The future is bright.

The Great Canadian Birdathon is coming up. Our team, the Ruthven Ringers, has always been one of the better ones, especially for a small-scale outfit like ours. But this year, it will be made up entirely of young people – Baggers. I’m excited about that. It’s time for the codgers to step aside and let youth make its mark. The Birdathon is a fun way to raise money for bird conservation and research. Individuals or teams get sponsors (so much per species) and then try to find as many species as they can in a 24-hour period. Our team consistently gets between 140-150 species…a pretty good count. But the new revised team think they will do better and have set their sights on 155 species. Of the funds raised in this way, 75% go to Haldimand Bird Observatory (Ruthven Banding Station) and the other 25% to Bird Studies Canada. We plan to use some of the funds to expand our audio-visual capacity within the banding lab, send
young people on a learning trip to band owls at Hilliardton Marsh with Bruce Murphy, and refurbish equipment (a year of banding certainly takes its toll!).

So please think about sponsoring either the team or an individual within that team (Ethan’s bio gives you some pretty good ideas…). Click here to donate. I’d like to introduce you to the team, so here, in their own words, are the Ruthven Ringers:
First, the captain:

Ben Oldfield, who just earned his banding subpermit, shows he can catch more than just birds.

Hello everyone. My name is Ben Oldfield. Since the age of 11, I have been volunteering at Ruthven , and I participated in my first birdathon at the age of 12. This is my 6th birdathon and I expect fantastic results from the crew of skilled individuals we have on the team this year. Our goal is to see 155 species of birds in one 24-hour period! The birdathon is a key funding factor in the conservation of birds across Canada and 75% of the funds we raise will go towards Haldimand Bird Observatory. I can’t wait for May 20th to arrive!! Shortly after I will write a summary of our day. Thank you in advance for donations. The birds will appreciate it!

Birder, actor, artist, photographer…..Ezra Campanelli.

Ezra Campanelli:I have been birding since I was a wee child with a pre-pubescent voice as shrill as the song of a White-throated Sparrow. I have volunteered at the Ruthven Park Banding Station since age seven. I want you to know, dear readers, that my motives for coming to Ruthven do not lie solely in the tasty treats that are so often present in the banding lab. I would be very grateful for your donations toward habitat restoration and related causes.

Ethan, always hanging around, has been a great addition to the team.

Ethan Gosnell: I’m a long time ringer, but I’ve been a birder for even longer. I’ve wanted to be on this youth birding team for years, but the date of the big day always conflicted with other birding events I’ve had, mainly my trip to Pelee Island and Point Pelee, the birding meccas of Ontario. But this year is different!! I look forward to trying to beat the old Ruthven Ringers big day record , and want to shoot for a goal of 155 species. It’s gonna be hard, but if the weather (and birds) work in our favour, we can do it! Sponsor me or the team in any way you want, you can give a flat donation or be as creative as you want with it. You can donate $1 a species, or $5 for each warbler species we get, or $10 for every bird that starts with a B. It’s completely up to you! Donations will go to the Haldimand Bird Observatory, which will help pay for banding expenses as well as contribute to habitat restoration plans and other goals that Ruthven may have.

Alessandra Wilcox – singer, actor, artist extraordinaire and a woman of few words…..evidently.

Alessandra Wilcox: “The one who draws…..you already know who I am. Please donate!”

Birder, busker, intellectual (self-reportedly)…Giovanni Campanelli

Giovanni Campanelli: Hi, I’m Giovanni, and I’ve been interested in birding for pretty much as long as I can remember. I’ve been going to Ruthven since I was 10, at first mostly just for fun, but before long, I started helping out with volunteering. I’ll be participating in the Great Canadian Birdathon this year and your donations would help with habitat restoration.
(Unless we should raise funds to contribute to purging climate change deniers from society instead).

Sian Ford will bring some experience, if not maturity, to the team.

Sian Ford:My interest in birding began during my undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Through a SCiP internship with the Beaverhill Bird Observatory (BBO) I was able to conduct research on the interspecies breeding competition and successof Mountain Bluebirds and Tree Swallows in nest boxes along the historic Elson Bluebird Trail that spans central Alberta. Following my 2016 move to Hamilton, Ontario to pursue an MSc. in Earth science with collaborative research in astrobiology, I began volunteering at the Ruthven Park Bird Banding Station. In 2018 I joined the Haldimand Bird Observatory Board of Directors to help develop research goals for the banding station. As part of this, participation in the Great Canadian Birdathon – and your donations – will go towards habitat restoration and conservation not only in local habitats, but all across Canada.

Samuel Strachan is a quiet but very effective contributor.

Samuel Strachan: I started banding when I was 13 after I attended a school trip to Ruthven. I have been coming on weekends ever since.

There you have them. Please consider sponsoring one or several or the team as a whole. Click here to donate. It’s an investment in the future. Here’s my strategy: I was thinking that my budget could handle about $1.00 per species; there are 7 team members; so….that works out to 15 cents per species per team mate. Pick a combination that works for you.

And remember that the Haldimand Bird Observatory AGM is this Saturday at 1:00 PM (although we’ll be banding in the morning). We look forward to seeing you there.

April 22nd – Weekend Update

Pileated Woodpecker – an uncommon sighting. -R. Camasta

I’ll tell you: if I have to struggle to coax frosted nets up icy, slippery-slick net poles one more time I’m gonna scream. Two gorgeous early mornings but cold with little bird movement until the sun was well clear of the horizon and heating things up….and bringing out the midges. And then we were catching nothing to get excited about; just the same old stuff. Oh for a “new” migrant to spice things up.

For comparison: Chipping Sparrow (left); American Tree Sparrow (right).

April 21st; Banded 38:
1 Mourning Dove
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1 American Robin
1 European Starling
2 American Tree Sparrows
2 Chipping Sparrows
2 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
1 Fox Sparrow
8 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Red-winged Blackbird
6 Brown-headed Cowbirds
10 American Goldfinches

ET’s: ??

April 22nd; Banded 36:
1 Tree Swallow
1 Blue Jay
1 Tufted Titmouse
1 American Robin
2 Field Sparrows
6 Song Sparrows
2 Swamp Sparrows
3 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 Red-winged Blackbirds
8 Brown-headed Cowbirds
9 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 47 spp.

Photo Gallery:

Black-capped Chickadees checking out a Wood Duck nesting box…..delusions of grandeur? -R. Camasta

White-tailed Deer are common in the woods, especially along the Fox Den Trail. -R. Camasta

Chipping Sparrows have just returned. -R. Camasta

An animal after my own heart. A racoon soaks up the late morning sun. -R. Camasta

A Common Merganser and Canada Goose get together to talk over the nasty weather we’ve been getting. -R. Camasta


April 20th – “Snow Yesterday…..Bugs Today”

Yellow-rumped Warbler. We’ve been seeing (but not catching) a few each day now for the past several. -B. Fotheringham

The above quote, attributed to Marnie Gibson, pretty well sums up the weather we’ve been having. First thing this morning I was shaking frost off the nets and by noon I was spitting midges out of my mouth. The local insectivores were happy; after all, you can’t eat snow flakes. Myrtle Warblers, Eastern Phoebes, Tree Swallows could all be seen chowing down on these little winged meatballs.

Eastern Phoebe. -B. Fotheringham

Yesterday the team banded 29 birds but handled over 40 retraps including many American Tree Sparrows and Juncos. As Nancy noted, it appeared that many birds were “on hold”, waiting for good travelling conditions. Last night there must have been a significant exodus as numbers weren’t nearly so great as the day before. We banded only 17 birds. But…..we did hit the 50 mark for the number of species encountered in a day! A sure sign that the migration is heating up.

April 19th; Banded 29:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1 European Starling
1 American Tree Sparrow
5 Song Sparrows
6 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Red-winged Blackbird
5 Brown-headed Cowbirds
8 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 39 spp.

April 20th; Banded 17:
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1 Eastern Bluebird
1 American Robin
4 American Tree Sparrows
2 Song Sparrows
2 Swamp Sparrows
4 Dark-eyed juncos
1 Brown-headed Cowbird
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 50 spp.

Photo Gallery:

Female Eastern Bluebird. A pair of bluebirds is vying with the returning Tree Swallows for a nest box. -B. Fotheringham

The male of the pair. It looks like a different bird from the one banded yesterday. -B. Fotheringham

Dark-eyed Junco. Still lots around but not in the numbers seen in the past few days. -B. Fotheringham

A Killdeer has valiantly been looking for a nesting spot in the parking lot – a futile attempt I’m afraid. It’s just too busy with all the construction going on. -B. Fotheringham

This male Northern Flicker already has a nesting hole ready to go. -B. Fotheringham

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker -B. Fotheringham

Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Note the diagnostic row of holes. -B. Fotheringham

Common Mergansers are….common….on the river these days. It won’t be long before they head north. -B. Fotheringham

A curious white primary covert on this older (ASY) male American Goldfinch. -MMG

Male Eastern Bluebird retrapped yesterday. It was originally banded in 2014 -MMG

Another shot of this older (ASY) male bluebird. -MMG

Bonaparte’s Gulls have been flying up the river to feed in flood ponds in the fields. -P. Wylie

This Greater Yellowlegs is also taking advantage of the flooded fields. -P. Wylie

Myrtle Warbler. – D. Ward

An unbanded Tufted Titmouse. -P. Wylie

Bonaparte’s Gull in Flight. -P. Wylie


And at Fern Hill School:
Yesterday in Oakville, despite cold winds and a few snow flurries we caught and banded a lot of birds – 42 to be exact. And I would like to tell you what they were but Katherine neglected to pass that information on to me. But I can tell you that a large proportion of them were Icterids – Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds. These birds were hitting the feeders hard and if we’d been using nets with a bigger mesh our catch would have been considerably larger (with the small mesh, used for most songbirds, the larger birds work their way out fairly easily).

And in Burlington today: Finally we had some nice weather! Today was sunny and bright and we were all happy to spend time outside monitoring bird migration. Janice and I had a relatively slow flow of birds in the nets and traps but there was always a few to show during my classes, and the slower pace allowed for some great conversation about, and in depth looks at the birds.

Today we banded a total of 7 birds including:
2 Mourning Doves
2 European Starlings
1 American Tree Sparrow
2 Song Sparrow

We had a couple nice seasonal firsts including a Peregrine Falcon, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe, and Great Blue Heron. I was also so happy to see our population of Tree Swallows survived the wintery weekend and are swooping about showing great interest in the nest boxes.

April 18th – Juncos!

We banded 2 White-throats this morning. Hopefully just the tip of the coming iceberg. -S. LaFleur

Birds are on the move and none more so at the moment at Ruthven than Dark-eyed Juncos! They were everywhere around the grounds. We banded 20 and estimated that there were at least 80 around. Interestingly, half of them were “old” birds (i.e., in their 3rd year or more) and most of these were males. Later in the migration, the age/sex composition will change: young males and females will come through.

Banded 54:
3 Mourning Doves
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Tufted Titmouse
1 Brown Creeper
5 Golden-crowned Kinglets
1 Hermit Thrush
1 American Robin
6 American Tree Sparrows
4 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
2 White-throated Sparrows
20 Dark-eyed Juncos
4 Brown-headed Cowbirds
4 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 45 spp.
Photo Gallery:

Stunning male Eastern Bluebird. A pair of bluebirds is vying for one of the nest boxes near the parking lot. -S. LaFleur

Hard to find due to their cryptic colouring and behaviour, these birds are likely more common than we think.

Eastern Phoebe. We counted 4 today. Yesterday two were hunkered down in the sheltered area by Rick’s Rill.

Male Golden-crowned Kinglet. We have yet to see a Ruby-crowned.

Singing Northern Cardinals brighten the task of opening the nets before dawn. -S. LaFleur

Brilliant “white morph” White-throated Sparrow.