September 20th – A Classic Matchup

In the natural world there are a myriad of matchups. If you’ve watched any National Geographic specials you’ve probably seen some of them: Wildebeest trying to elude crocodiles while they cross the Mara River in Tanzania (the wildebeest that is); Killer Whales flopping up the beaches of Patagonia trying to snatch seal pups off the sand; cheetahs trying to outrun and pull down Thompson’s Gazelles; Polar Bears trying to sniff out unsuspecting seal pups in the Arctic ice pack. You might even think about throwing in the Toronto Maple Leafs trying to outgun the Montreal Canadians (i.e., if you bet on dead horses…).

Today it was a classic that is repeated every Fall: trying to keep the falling leaves out of the nets. Mother Nature threw everything she had at us – strong, gusting SW winds. And, although we had to really work at it, we were able to close all the nets, sans leaves, within 30 minutes! To put that into comprehensible terms, it would be like a Wildebeest crossing the Mara hopping from crocodile back to crocodile back.

The strong winds seemed to have limited migration during the night and certainly limited our catching capability by billowing the nets and forcing what birds were around into more sheltered habitats. On the day, we banded 38 birds.

We had one interesting retrap: a Gray-cheeked Thrush that had put on 3 grams of fat since his initial capture just 3 days ago. This bird is bulking up, waiting until conditions are right before taking off again.

Banded 38:
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 House Wren
2 Gray-cheeked Thrushes
4 Red-eyed Vireos
1 Tennessee Warbler
6 Magnolia Warblers
2 American Redstarts
1 Common Yellowthroat
2 Scarlet Tanagers
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
3 White-throated Sparrows
11 House Finches
1 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 44 spp.
Rick

September 19th – Changing of the Guard

Black-throated Green Warbler.

Black-throated Green Warbler.


We’re at that interesting junction when the bulk of the long-distance migrants have left and the short-distance migrants will take their place. Oh sure, we’re still getting some species (warblers for example) that will head to Latin America, but their numbers are diminishing, although they’ll continue to the end of the month. But now is the time for the coming of the hordes of short-distance birds.
I love the subtle colouring of these Orange-crowned Warblers.

I love the subtle colouring of these Orange-crowned Warblers.


Why the Orange-crowned Warbler got its name.

Why the Orange-crowned Warbler got its name.


We did our first Dark-eyed Junco today! A young female. And we got the first Orange-crowned Warbler of the season. And 6 White-throated Sparrows. Any time now we will start to get kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows, Rusty Blackbirds,flocks of waxwings and goldfinches and, of course, Saw-whet Owls. October is the month when we catch the most birds and a large proportion of these are short-distance migrants. The Dark-eyed Junco we got today was, for me, a wake-up call: a significant part of the migration is almost over.
The Nashville Warbler also has orange on its crown.

The Nashville Warbler also has orange on its crown.


Banded 39:
1 Mourning Dove
2 Black-capped Chickadees
2 Swainson’s Thrushes
2 Gray Catbirds
1 Blue-headed Vireo
1 Red-eyed Vireo
2 Tennessee Warblers
4 Nashville Warblers
1 Orange-crowned Warbler
6 Magnolia Warblers
1 Black-throated Green Warbler
3 Blackpoll Warblers
3 Common Yellowthroats
1 Chipping Sparrow
6 White-throated Sparrows
1 Dark-eyed Junco
1 House Finch
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 50 spp.

Dave Maida with his first banded bird.

Dave Maida with his first banded bird, a Gray Catbird.


Rick

September 18th – Highway Noise

The first Blue-headed Vireo of the season.

The first Blue-headed Vireo of the season.


On windless mornings like today, opening the nets under Orion’s impassive gaze, you become very aware of the intrusion of automobile noise coming from the nearby highway (#54). But this morning I was also aware of noise from another highway – the one overhead. Clear skies and a light northerly wind made for ideal migration conditions and I could hear the call notes from numerous birds (mostly thrushes) high in the sky as they winged their way south. The birds were certainly on the move. But, an hour before sunrise, they have an important decision to make: where to descend. Flying at a common average height of 300 meters (1,000 feet), the birds would be able to see the barrier that Lake Erie imposes. Do they descend right away (around Ruthven) and seek food and shelter? Do they continue to the north shore of the lake but descend before crossing so as not to expose themselves over water to avian predators at first light. Or do they power on and head for the south shore of the lake, throwing caution to the wind? I wonder what causes an individual bird to choose one option over the others. Physiological condition as a result of distance already travelled…fatigue? Fuel (fat) reserves? Simple fear of being in the open during the day over a habitat that provides no shelter? Probably different decisions by individuals of the same species based on the above questions.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo.


Each day we get a different mix of birds. Today Robins were noticeably absent (we saw only 3) but we did see the first Olive-sided Flycatcher of the year (spotted by Carol who is becoming quite expert) and banded the first Blue-headed Vireo of the season.
This young (HY) male Rose-breasted Grosbeak has just moulted in new black secondary coverts.

This young (HY) male Rose-breasted Grosbeak has just moulted in new black secondary coverts.


And while we were seeing/catching new migrants we were also getting the juveniles of local late broods – Indigo Buntings and Gray Catbirds. It’s an interesting time to be out in the field watching the changes. On the whole we handled 70 birds – 41 new ones and 29 retraps – of 26 species.
An uncommon sight at Ruthven - a Broad-winged Hawk.  -P. Thoem

An uncommon sight at Ruthven – a Broad-winged Hawk. -P. Thoem


We don’t often see Broad-winged Hawks (although they’re a common Ontario breeding raptor) but another small kettle of 6 birds went through early – even before the thermals got established.

Another delightful sighting was of an early morning Common Nighthawk. They were a common bird years ago when I was growing up in the east end of Hamilton. Now, they’re a rarely seen treat in the area.

And we had an interesting retrap: a Downy Woodpecker that was 8 years old!

Almost big enough to band....a Katydid caught in Net 7E.

Almost big enough to band….a Katydid caught in Net 7E.


A new face: Co-op student Kyle will be helping out for the next several months.

A new face: Co-op student Kyle will be helping out for the next several months.

Banded 41:
1 Mourning Dove
2 Yellow-billed Cuckoos
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 House Wren
2 Swainson’s Thrushes
5 Gray Catbirds
1 Blue-headed Vireo
3 Red-eyed Vireos
2 Nashville Warblers
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
2 Blackpoll Warblers
1 Ovenbird
2 Common Yellowthroats
1 Scarlet Tanager
5 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
4 Indigo Buntings
1 Song Sparrow
3 House Finches
3 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 46 spp.
Rick

September 17th – Optimism

Song Sparrows in the drying wildflowers.     -P. Thoem

Song Sparrows in the drying wildflowers. -P. Thoem


I recently read a marvellous editorial by the CBC’s Michael Enright, which aired on his September 7th show, Sunday Edition”. It was entitled “Optimism in the face of a world gone mad”. In it he notes the optimism of his son (whom he was taking to his first year of university) in the face of the carnage that we older folks seem to have made of the world, either directly (wars, poverty, disease) or indirectly (impacts of carbon emission-driven global warming).

Despite the woe and turmoil we, and especially the young, carry on toward a “bright future”. As Enright notes, quoting National Post columnist Robert Fulford, “Without optimism, we are bereft”.

During the migration we go out early every morning, not just hopeful, but positively thinking that this will be a good day. This in spite of the fact that we know that bird numbers have been plummeting in face of the human juggernaut – industrial farming, toxic wastes, garbage, environmental warming, environmental destruction….and on and on. And yet, every morning, I start opening nets thinking that this will be a good day…that I am “perpetually on the verge of something, something dynamic…” But(again quoting from the editorial) maybe I’m just groping “for shards of optimism to sustain [my] enthusiasm”. It’s hard to say. All I know is that when the nets are all open and I’m sitting at the picnic table listening to the birds come alive and waiting for the sun to clear the horizon before doing the first net round, I’m excited about the day to come and about what birds might be found in the nets today.

Recently banded Common Yellowthroat.    -P. Thoem

Recently banded Common Yellowthroat. -P. Thoem


Banding-wise it was a pretty ordinary day with just 38 birds of 22 species ringed. But there were good things happening, big numbers or no: the passage of an uncommonly seen Green Heron; the movement of 12 Broad-winged Hawks (making for the southwest); the banding of the first Swamp Sparrow of the season (and quite a young one at that causing one to think it might have been raised locally); the first appearance of juvenile Cedar Waxwings checking out the grape crop around net 4C; and, overall, the sighting of 55 different species (including 10 warblers). Add all this in to the mix of good people we had out and it was a pretty good day….and makes you look forward to the next one. Optimism.

Banded 38:
3 Mourning Doves
1 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
1 Least Flycatcher
1 House Wren
2 Gray-cheeked Thrushes
4 Swainson’s Thrushes
[all 6 thrushes had low fat scores and weights for this time of year]
2 Warbling Vireos
1 Philadelphia Vireo
2 Red-eyed Vireos
3 Chestnut-sided Warblers
5 Magnolia Warblers
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
2 Black-throated Green Warblers
1 Blackpoll Warbler
1 American Redstart
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Scarlet Tanager
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
1 Song Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
1 Swamp Sparrow
2 House Finches

ET’s: 55 spp.
Rick

September 16th – Another Humdrum Day

Pockets of birds dotted the site, mostly along the river and along the stream, taking advantage of feeding opportunities offered by the beautiful Fall conditions: mostly blue skies and sunshine. Although the temperature was cool, the lack of wind allowed the sun to heat things up so it was quite comfortable by mid-morning.

Unfortunately these mixed-species pockets did not find their way to the nets other than in dribs and drabs and we had another slow banding day – mostly singles of the various species. As an example, we saw lots of Magnolia Warblers around the site but caught only 1. The 3 Red-bellied Woodpeckers and single Northern Flicker did provide a lot of excitement for the visiting pre-school kids though.

A real long-distance migrant: Gray-cheeked Thrush.

A real long-distance migrant: Gray-cheeked Thrush.


We banded another Gray-cheeked Thrush today. This is one of my favourite birds. A real long-distance migrant, the ones we see in the Fall may have nested in the boreal forest as far northwest as Alaska; they still have another long flight ahead of them to get to the jungles of South America. Wouldn’t you just love to know where they have travel

Banded 23:
3 Red-bellied Woodpeckers
1 Northern Flicker
1 Gray-cheeked Thrush
4 Swainson’s Thrushes
1 Gray Catbird
1 Philadelphia Vireo
1 Red-eyed Vireo
1 Tennessee Warbler
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
1 Magnolia Warbler
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 Blackpoll Warbler
1 American Redstart
1 Ovenbird
1 Scarlet Tanager
1 Indigo Bunting
2 American Goldfinches
ET’s: 53 spp.

Rick

September 13th – 15th: Filling You In

A kettle of migrating Broad-winged Hawks.    -B. Fotheringham

A kettle of migrating Broad-winged Hawks. -B. Fotheringham


None of the last 3 days has been the same: Saturday was cool and rainy; Sunday started off cool and clear but warmed up to 21 degrees; and today was cool and clear early but clouded over by noon. And although we never got a lot of birds on any of these days, each had its highlights.
A pair of male Wood Ducks winging their way down the river.  -R. Camasta

A pair of male Wood Ducks winging their way down the river. -R. Camasta


Saturday I opened only some of the nets so that I could close them quickly when the forecast rain started…and it did, around 10:00. Still we banded 17 birds including a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and, on census, I saw the first White-throated Sparrows of the season – harbingers of the hordes to come.
Young male Black-throated Green Warbler in the spruce.  -R. Camasta

Young male Black-throated Green Warbler in the spruce. -R. Camasta


Sunday, Nancy and the crew banded 24 birds but the highlights were two kettles of Broad-winged Hawks and a steady flow of migrating Monarch Butterflies through the area. Although Broad-wings are a common Ontario breeding bird, we don’t often see them so seeing 36 of them was a treat. And the 33+ Monarchs was certainly a delight considering the very low numbers of them reported last year.
And for lunch? Homemade peach pie (thanks Carol!!).

And for lunch? Homemade peach pie (thanks Carol!!).


Today we had a nice mix of species (21) making up the total of 36 birds we banded. But the highlight was the homemade peach pie that Carol made for our consumption. It pushed the start of my diet back by at least a day. Today also marked the beginning of school groups coming to Ruthven. These are a mixed blessing as you all know…..The best strategy is to arrive early. The groups usually don’t arrive until 10:00; the best banding is usually between 7:00 and 10:00 – a 3-hour window for your birding pleasure.
Skulking in the underbrush - a banded Swainson's Thrush.   -P. Thoem

Skulking in the underbrush – a banded Swainson’s Thrush. -P. Thoem


September 13th; Banded 17:
1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
1 Eastern Wood Pewee
1 Swainson’s Thrush
2 Gray Catbirds
2 Red-eyed Vireos
3 Nashville Warblers
4 Magnolia Warblers
2 American Redstarts
1 Common Yellowthroat

ET’s: 33 spp.

September 14th; Banded 24:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Eastern Wood Pewee
3 House Wrens
3 Gray Catbirds
4 Magnolia Warblers
1 Blackburnian Warbler
2 Bay-breasted Warblers
2 Blackpoll Warblers
2 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
2 Chipping Sparrows
1 Song Sparrow
2 Lincoln’s Sparrows

ET’s: 51 spp.

September 15th; Banded 36:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Eastern Wood Pewee
1 Blue Jay
4 House Wrens
3 Swainson’s Thrushes
2 Gray Catbirds
1 Philadelphia Vireo
4 Red-eyed Vireos
2 Tennessee Warblers
1 Magnolia Warbler
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
1 Black-throated Green Warbler
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 Blackpoll Warbler
3 Common Yellowthroats
1 Scarlet Tanager
1 Indigo Bunting
1 Song Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
3 House Finches
2 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 49 spp.

Photo Gallery:

Young male Cape May Warbler.   -E. Wainright

Young male Cape May Warbler. -E. Wainright


Magnolia Warbler   -E. Wainright

Magnolia Warbler -E. Wainright


Female Black-throated Blue Warbler.    -E. Wainright

Female Black-throated Blue Warbler. -E. Wainright


Mourning Warbler.   -E. Wainright

Mourning Warbler. -E. Wainright


Lincoln's Sparrow.    -R. Camasta

Lincoln’s Sparrow. -R. Camasta


Carol with handfuls of Blue Jays.

Carol with handfuls of Blue Jays.


And here’s two birds that you don’t usually associate with hummingbird feeders:
Rose-breasted Grosbeak.     -E. Wainright

Rose-breasted Grosbeak. -E. Wainright


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.     -E. Wainright

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. -E. Wainright


Rick

September 12th – North Winds

An uncommon sight at Ruthven - a Broad-winged Hawk.  -P. Thoem

An uncommon sight at Ruthven – a Broad-winged Hawk. -P. Thoem


We had northerly winds throughout the night. Many birds were on the move. We “lost” most of our Eastern Wood Pewees (only 6 were encountered) but gained a lot of others, including first sightings for the season of Broad-winged Hawk, Common Loon, and Common Merganser….as well as a variety of other species. In fact, for the day, we encountered 57 species and banded 50 birds.

Banded 50:
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Eastern Wood Pewee
1 Black-capped Chickadee
3 House Wrens
5 Swainson’s Thrushes
2 Gray Catbirds
1 Philadelphia Vireo
4 Red-eyed Vireos
2 Tennessee Warblers
1 Cape May Warbler
10 Magnolia Warblers
4 Black-throated Blue Warblers
3 Blackpoll Warblers
3 American Redstarts
1 Ovenbird
1 Mourning Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Scarlet Tanager
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
1 Indigo Bunting
1 Song Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 57 spp.

Photo Gallery:

Wing detail of an adult (AHY) male Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Wing detail of an adult (AHY) male Black-throated Blue Warbler.


Very plain as compared to the male: a female Black-throated blue Warbler.

Very plain as compared to the male: a female Black-throated blue Warbler.


Young (HY) male Cape May Warbler.

Young (HY) male Cape May Warbler.


Subtle beauty: a Lincoln's Sparrow.

Subtle beauty: a Lincoln’s Sparrow.


Black "flecks" are just starting to show on the chest indicating that this is a young male Mourning Warbler.

Black “flecks” are just starting to show on the chest indicating that this is a young male Mourning Warbler.


Bob put the finishing touches on Elaine's new net - #7E.

Bob put the finishing touches on Elaine’s new net – #7E.


Black epaulettes (shoulders) indicate that this is a male Scarlet Tanager. What a difference from its alternate or breeding plumage!!

Black epaulettes (shoulders) indicate that this is a male Scarlet Tanager. What a difference from its alternate or breeding plumage!!


Skulking in the underbrush - a banded Swainson's Thrush.   -P. Thoem

Skulking in the underbrush – a banded Swainson’s Thrush. -P. Thoem


Joanne Fleet standing in the doorway of the brand new banding lab at Fern Hill School. Awesome!!

Joanne Fleet standing in the doorway of the brand new banding lab at Fern Hill School. Awesome!!


Rick