Cross-country (SNBU) Checkup – November 13th

Sunset at a baited site by the shore of the St-Lawrence in Ste-Luce, QC. Photo MP Laplante

Sunset at a baited site by the shore of the St-Lawrence in Ste-Luce, QC. Photo MP Laplante

MANITOBA

 (November 10th)

SNBU began trickling through south-central Manitoba Oct. 9.  Most reports are of groups of 2-20, with one report of 40, one of 69, and two of 200: the first Oct.18 on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg at Riverton Sandy Bar IBA; the second Oct. 25 just sw of Winnipeg. (Same flock??).  As in previous years, they appear to travel mainly between the lakes, favouring the shorelines.  But this could be a bias in reporting.  Not one seen here (2 1/2 miles west of Camp Morton) yet this year, but a few individuals reported at the lakeshore.

All the best, Bill Maciejko, Camp Morton Manitoba

ONTARIO

(November 11th)

Hello all!  It is nice to “meet” you Marie-Pier!

We have had two sightings of SNBU at Kerns so far this season.  We had a blustery Halloween day and along with the ghosts and goblins blew in a flock of about 300 SNBU.  I took some time to watch the flock with my bins and saw several LALO in the flock as well.   On Sunday Nov. 9th, another snowy day, I went to school to grab some materials and sure enough the Flock was back! Today school was cancelled for a snow day…..so I think the birds may be here to stay.  The kids will start baiting the fields soon. The kids are super excited! Joanne Goddard, Timiskaming Shores

(November 10th)

Hello Fellow SNBU banders, Here in Essex County we have a new challenge for this coming winter’s SNBU season, namely the loss of our East Harrow banding location.Our host was hit by the love bug and moved out of her rental house on farm property that had been our SNBU banding home for the past few seasons.We have a lead on a replacement location and hope to announce that we will be continuing our winter efforts going forward.Stay tuned for the next exciting installment.

PS: The Raptor Watch at Holiday Beach has heard SNBU’s flying over…can snow be far behind ? Bob Hall-Brooks, Essex County

(November 12th)

Good morning to all,

I saw my first Snow Bunting of the season on October 22nd, just a kilometer up the road from my house on Sheridan Rapids Road, in Lanark, Ontario.Yesterday, I spotted a flock of about 12 Snow Buntings in an open gravel pit, about 3 kilometers from my house, on Iron Mine Road. That is the 3rd year in a row that I have spotted Buntings at that same spot, around the same time of year. I watched them for several minutes, as they were hopping about on a bit gravel mound. I’m not sure why they pick that spot; perhaps it resembles their nesting grounds on Baffin Island, or it’s a like a benchmark or a point of reference when they first arrive in the area?

I haven’t seen any on my property yet, but the white millet is on the ground and you’ll be the first to know when they show up!

Have a good day, Lise Balthazar, Lanark, Ontario

 (November 10th)

Saw a lovely flock of about 50 Snow Buntings near Port Elgin on the Bruce today. I am already getting “the itch”………….. David Lamble, Fergus

NEWFOUNDLAND

(November 10th)

Not much to report here from Newfoundland, though there have been some reports of SNBUs in eastern Newfoundland and one report from western Newfoundland over the past 2 weeks. Best, Darroch Whitaker, Rocky Harbour

 QUÉBEC

 (November 11th)

I have not spotted big flocks in my area yet, but a few groups of 10-100 individuals are often observed in nearby fields. I have not started baiting yet, but should start to do so soon. As soon as the ground remains covered with snow, I will start trapping. Benoit Gendreau – Berthier-sur-Mer, QC

(November 13th)

And here in Rimouski area, Qc, I saw the first few lone SNBU’s travelers back on around October 23rd. Small flocks of migrating SNBU’s have been a common sight along the shores of the St-Lawrence in the last couple weeks as well. I have started baiting a site this week right by the river in Ste-Luce and 2 buntings were feeding on the corn patch today. I will start baiting another site this week end. We had kind of a snow storm last week end and more snow falling this week. It has melted now but it’s a matter of days before snow falls again and stays for good… And with it, the snow buntings… Marie-Pier

 

 

November 10th – Endings

Rain pelted down, washing the plane as it taxied to the terminal. St. John’s has had its share of rain and storms over the past three weeks, according to the taxi driver who ran me into the city and dropped me at the Captain’s Quarters Hotel. This must have been a fine building….decades ago. But time has levied its toll and it now would most appropriately be described as “seedy”. But it’s relatively cheap and the fact that (reportedly) its rooms can be rented by the hour lends it a certain ambience, character. Plus the concierge always calls me “sweety” which, at my age, is a bonus. I will fly up to St. Anthony at the northern tip of Newfoundland tomorrow and go aboard a Coast Guard vessel where I will spend the next 40 days doing seabird counts in the Labrador Sea/North Atlantic.

2014-11-10 14.51.39-comp

But in the meantime I have been able to take advantage of this rainy afternoon to go over the figures from this Fall’s banding effort. And the numbers bear out our efforts: it was a tough slog without much payoff. Here’s some of the numbers:
• We were open for 67 days, missing only 1 day to really bad weather (and that was taken up with DET data entry).
• The nets were open for 8,587 net hours which is our second highest total since inception in the Fall of 1995.
• But the total banded – 2,685 – is only our 9th highest total (the highest being 5,195 in 2012)
• The number of species banded was 87.

And here’s where the rubber hits the road:
• The rate of capture (i.e., birds caught per 100 net hours) in September was 23.5 – our lowest rate ever.
• The rate of capture in October was 39.9, by far our lowest rate ever.
• The rate of capture in November was 39.3, 15th overall.
• Our biggest daily catch was only 93 birds (on October 13th). This marks the first time since 1997 that we have not had a 100+ bird day in the Fall. (Of course, our biggest day was 309 on October 25, 2011).

Top Ten:
1. American Goldfinch – 411 (good to see their numbers going up after the crash from 1,316 in 2012 to only 198 in 2013)
2. White-throated Sparrow – 215
3. Cedar Waxwing – 116 (well down from the 1,481 we did last year)
4. Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 110
5. Dark-eyed Junco – 107
6. Golden-crowned Kinglet – 99
7. Song Sparrow – 94
8. Gray Catbird – 81
9. Hermit Thrush – 80
10. House Finch – 80

At this point it’s hard to attribute cause to what we saw. It will be interesting to see what the results were at other stations. One big contributor was the poor berry and grape crop this year at Ruthven. This is certainly reflected in the drop in waxwing numbers. Waxwings are primarily fruit eaters in the Fall and, unlike last year when we had a bumper crop, there wasn’t much fruit around.

We did have some bright lights though; we set new records or tied records for the following species:
• Sharp-shinned Hawk – 2
• Cooper’s Hawk – 2
• Northern Saw-whet Owls – 62 (NOT a record but our 2nd highest total)
• 12 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
• 9 Blue-headed Vireos
• 28 American Redstarts
• 7 Mourning Warblers
• 3 Connecticut Warblers
• 17 Scarlet Tanagers
• 37 Northern Cardinals
• 16 Indigo Buntings
• 28 Common Grackle (all at the same time – part of an estimated flock of >10,000)

So it’s all over but the crying (or rejoicing – depends on your point of view I guess). Much thanks to Nancy Furber, my right-hand….person, and to all the many people who contributed so much to make the banding program a great place to be….birds or no birds.

November 5th – Take Your Kid To Work Day

Alessandra and Ben - "my" two kids for the day.

Alessandra and Ben – “my” two kids for the day.


This was “take your kid to work day” in Ontario. Now my own kids are already working (and couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about bird banding) but I still got the chance to enjoy the day when a couple of parents pawned their kids off on me. (Actually, it was a treat….but don’t tell them.) Ben Oldfield has been coming to Ruthven for the past 4 years and Alessandra has been a regular (even skipping school for the opportunity) for the past month. So it was great to spend the day with this youthful energy and enthusiasm. So, years from now, if they turn out great, then you can credit me; if not…..blame their parents.

As for migrating birds: it’s all over but the crying. (Well, almost all over, we still have two days to go, finishing on the 7th). But the crying is warranted: the number of birds and the variety has dropped tremendously. We were talking about it today and were of the opinion that it “feels” like the end of November or December. Even Nancy, that eternal owling optimist, has decided to call it a day…or night – although her 62 owls, 2nd highest total, is quite noteworthy.

November 4th; Banded 31:
1 Blue Jay
1 Black-capped Chickadee
3 Golden-crowned Kinglets
1 Northern Cardinal
1 American Tree Sparrow
4 Fox Sparrows
2 White-throated Sparrows
4 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 House Finches
12 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 27 spp.

November 5th; Banded 20:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1 American Tree Sparrow
3 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 House Finch
12 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 30 spp.
Rick

November 3rd – Dribs and Drabs

Sporting a new band and ready to return to the wild.   -H. Scarfone

Sporting a new band and ready to return to the wild. -H. Scarfone


Sunday night's successful owl crew.   -B. Fotheringham

Sunday night’s successful owl crew. -B. Fotheringham


Last night’s owl group had good success, banding another 3 Northern Saw-whets, bringing the season total up to 62 – our second highest total. Owling seems to have become an event in and of itself with owls being just an added bonus. Irene Fotheringham is the hostess with the mostest keeping everyone supplied with goodies and conversation. The only thing she can’t guarantee is an owl.
Janet and Nancy banding a Saw-whet.    -H. Scarfone

Janet and Nancy banding a Saw-whet. -H. Scarfone


Applying the band to the heavily feathered leg can be tricky.  -H. Scarfone

Applying the band to the heavily feathered leg can be tricky. -H. Scarfone


Janet is obviously very happy with "her" bird.    -H. Scarfone

Janet is obviously very happy with “her” bird. -H. Scarfone


Heidi enjoying the moment.

Heidi enjoying the moment.

Irene Fotheringham, the owl program's mother hen.    -H. Scarfone

Irene Fotheringham, the owl program’s mother hen. -H. Scarfone


Bob in a (losing) staring contest with a Saw-whet.   -B. Fotheringham

Bob in a (losing) staring contest with a Saw-whet. -B. Fotheringham


These cute little flying squirrels can wreak havoc on our net trammel lines.  -J. Snaith

These cute little flying squirrels can wreak havoc on our net trammel lines. -J. Snaith


Today’s daylight banding wasn’t nearly so entertaining. We got dribs and drabs throughout the morning, ending up with 30 more birds banded – none of any earthshaking import.
A male Hairy Woodpecker is a handful.  -A. Wilcox

A male Hairy Woodpecker is a handful. -A. Wilcox


Banded 33:
1 Mourning Dove
3 Northern Saw-whet Owls (from last night)
1 Downy Woodpecker
2 Golden-crowned Kinglets
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
1 Hermit Thrush
2 American Tree Sparrows
1 White-throated Sparrow
1 Dark-eyed Junco
2 House Finches
18 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 33 spp.
Rick

November 2nd – Benny Bands A Hooo

Ben with his Eastern Screech Owl.

Ben with his Eastern Screech Owl.


Not many people seem to have read (or have admitted to reading) Benny Bands A Hooo, the seminal work by Dr. Zoos which thrust the author into the vanguard of environmental activism. It went on to define the genre…..
Gray-phase Eastern Screech Owl.

Gray-phase Eastern Screech Owl.


Wing detail of an Eastern Screech Owl.  -I. Turjansky

Wing detail of an Eastern Screech Owl. -I. Turjansky

The book describes the challenges faced by the young Benny as he grows up and has to decide on the path to take: on the one hand, the conventional teenage road of drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll…and football and hockey, which he eschews, and, on the other, that of bird banding – the road less travelled. After many harrowing wrassles with his personal demons (and the voluptuous Fifi Larue) he emerges with the realization that only bird banding is the true path to enlightenment and personal satisfaction. I simply don’t understand why more people haven’t read it…..

Tessa with the gray-phase Eastern Screech Owl.

Tessa with the gray-phase Eastern Screech Owl.


Detail of the "lock-on" part of a lock-on band.    -I. Turjansky

Detail of the “lock-on” part of a lock-on band. -I. Turjansky

It was COLD this morning. The northerly wind driving the minus 1 temperature deep into your bones. Interestingly, there was no frost on the nets, which opened easily. Surprisingly, we caught 72 birds, 40 of which were bandless. I say surprisingly as the day felt like one in December when there isn’t much around.

A late Nashville Warbler.   -I. Turjansky

A late Nashville Warbler. -I. Turjansky

We had two “notables”: a very late Nashville Warbler and a very accommodating gray-phase Eastern Screech Owl. The warbler should have been well on its way to Mexico by now – if not there!. We suspected that the owl was around as we have been hearing it early in the morning of late. So Nancy decided to check the Wood Duck box below Net 2 which has been its traditional haunt over the years. And sure enough….

Birds inhabiting this box over the years have feasted on local avian cuisine. Bands found in pellets taken from the box came from a Blue Jay, 2 Song Sparrows, a Dark-eyed Junco, Swamp Sparrow, and 3 chickadees – all banded by us at Ruthven. All banders are keen to expand the range of birds that they can claim to have banded so Ben was VERY happy to get to band this one.
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Comparison: Ben with a Hairy Woodpecker and Tessa with a Downy.  -I. Turjansky

Comparison: Ben with a Hairy Woodpecker and Tessa with a Downy. -I. Turjansky


Banded 40:
1 Eastern Screech Owl
2 Downy Woodpeckers
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Hermit Thrush
1 Nashville Warbler
4 Northern Cardinals
3 American Tree Sparrows
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
2 Swamp Sparrows
6 Dark-eyed Juncos
17 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 31 spp.

November 1st – Military Musings

Bill Read and Alessandra looking for Golden Eagles during the census.

Bill Read and Alessandra looking for Golden Eagles during the census.


It was a cold, raw morning: brisk north wind driving a light drizzle deep into your bones. Soon the drizzle turned to snow flurries. I decided not to open nets, just set ground traps.
Part of today's cavalry......doing a net round.

Part of today’s cavalry……doing a net round.


Nancy in the new protocol-sanctioned Saw-whet Owl banding uniform - taken from WWI nursing attire.

Nancy in the new protocol-sanctioned Saw-whet Owl banding uniform – taken from WWI nursing attire.


Getting ready to reduce Ruthven's squirrel population.

Getting ready to reduce Ruthven’s squirrel population.


This was also a day dedicated to World War I history at Ruthven – the Thompson family had played a hand in this country’s military history. So there were a wide variety of artefacts (including vintage motorcycles) and re-enactors dressed in military garb from those times.
Marilynn finally finds someone that will talk to her. Actually this manakin was used to highlight the enormous guilt trip that was laid on WWI era mothers to encourage their sons to enlist.

Marilynn finally finds someone that will talk to her. Actually this manakin was used to highlight the enormous guilt trip that was laid on WWI era mothers to encourage their sons to enlist.


And I thought: how fitting that the weather was so lousy because many of the accounts I’ve read of that terrible war revolved around the horror of living in the trenches through weather just like this (or much worse). Only the participants couldn’t jump out of the trenches, grab a coffee and warm up in the heated Coach House. I simply can’t imagine how dreadful that life must have been – and that’s without the bombardments and sniper fire and throwing yourself against a firing machine gun as you cut through barb wire tangles just to “win” a couple of yards of dirt. As Bill Read reflected, we in Canada are very lucky (and unusual in the great scheme of things) that we have never had to fight in a war.
Unbeknownst to Gail Collins (serving coffee), Rob Gerrie is stealing a piece of pie.

Unbeknownst to Gail Collins (serving coffee), Rob Gerrie is stealing a piece of pie.


But he was caught!! As a punishment he and Jim have to wear aprons for the rest of the week. ("But I didn't do nothin'", says Jim.)

But he was caught!! As a punishment he and Jim have to wear aprons for the rest of the week. (“But I didn’t do nothin'”, says Jim.)


And then I got to thinking about birds and war zones. What impact does war have on them as it destroys their habitat, interrupts their nesting or impedes their migration. The loss of avian life must also be monumental. Think of the “Shock and Awe” campaign unleashed by the Americans on the hapless (and helpless) Iraqis not very long ago. The shock waves from the massive detonations were enough to cause neural damage in humans a long way away from the explosion site. What would such an explosion do to a bird. [To me the fact that military authorities knew that these explosions would have this effect and that they still deployed them in congested urban areas, filled with civilians, should be treated as a war crime.]
Nurse Ratchet and one that flew over the cuckoo's nest.

Nurse Ratchet and one that flew over the cuckoo’s nest.


But I digress……it was an interesting day of history and fun and if you missed it, you missed a lot. Oh, and did I mention the excellent members’ “thank you breakfast” that kicked off the event (and fed the banders gratis)?

The conditions had the birds hungry and we pulled 26 birds from the baited walk-in traps, 16 of which were “new” (unbanded) birds. Of the 10 retraps, 2 goldfinches had been banded in 2011, 1 in 2012 and 1 in 2013; we also had a junco banded in 2010 – 4 years old and had returned to Ruthven for the Winter each year.

Banded 16:
1 Mourning Dove
7 Dark-eyed Juncos
8 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 26 spp.

October 30th – Like Late November

This Tennessee Warbler is a long way from its Winter home in southern Mexico and Central America/

This Tennessee Warbler is a long way from its Winter home in southern Mexico and Central America/


If it wasn’t for the Tennessee Warbler we caught and banded this morning, I would have said it was like the end of November: very few birds on the move. And if it wasn’t for goldfinches we wouldn’t have banded enough birds to speak of. Even then…..

I was wondering about the Tennessee Warbler and how it would sustain itself on its long flight to the Wintering ground in Mexico and Central America, especially the northern part of this journey, in the absence of many insects. But this bird can shift its diet to include berries and fruit. Dogwood berries would be a good size for it and I have seen other warbler species (eg. Myrtle Warblers) and even Eastern Wood Pewees taking them. As well, small red barberry fruits are plentiful and being taken by Cedar Waxwings. Being able to shift diet would be advantageous to late-migrating insectivores.

Peter Thoem caught a picture of this, the first Snow Bunting seen in the area this Winter.

Peter Thoem caught a picture of this, the first Snow Bunting seen in the area this Winter.


Peter Thoem sent me this picture, taken today, of a solo female Snow Bunting found in the Hamilton area. These birds begin to arrive at the end of October and tend to follow the egdes of large rivers and lakes. Many of the Snwo Buntings we see in Winter in Southern Ontario have come from Greenland and have followed the Labrador coast down to the St. Lawrence. They then proceed along it to the Great Lakes. So keep your eyes open and start thinking about helping Nancy catch them this Winter. Last year we banded over 2500 of them!! You can read more about Snow Buntings in the area on Peter’s excellent blog: www.mybirdoftheday.ca

Banded 30:
1 Northern Saw-whet Owl (caught last night – Nancy will be owling this Saturday and Sunday nights)
1 Tufted Titmouse
1 Black-capped Chickadee
2 Brown Creepers
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1 Tennessee Warbler
5 American Tree Sparrows
1 Song Sparrow
3 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 House Finch
13 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 36 spp.
Rick