December 4th – Another REMARKABLE Recovery!

Saattut in Summer - home to southern Ontario Snow Buntings - or one anyway.

Saattut in Summer – home to southern Ontario Snow Buntings – or one anyway.


Louise Laurin at the Banding Office had lots of presents for me in her last notification of recoveries of birds we’d banded recently…..as if 2 Northern Saw-whet Owls weren’t enough!

But this one takes the cake! At an approximate 3,500 kilometers away it is the most distant recovery of a bird we’ve banded at Ruthven Park. (The previous record was held by an American Goldfinch found just outside New Orleans.) The Snow Bunting was found dead in Saattut, a small settlement on a little island off the east coast of Greenland. It had been banded on March 3rd, 2014 and recovered on July 4th, 2015. At the time of banding we had aged it as a male in its second year; i.e., it had hatched in the Summer of 2013. So it would have flown between southern Ontario and Greenland twice in its lifetime – what a feat!!

Google image of Saattut in Winter.

Google image of Saattut in Winter.


I would love to know the route. Due to a good number recoveries of banded southern Ontario birds in the Spring by Yann Rochepault and his colleagues in the Magpie/Riviere-St. Jean area of the St. Lawrence’s north shore, I think it is safe to assume that when ‘our’ birds leave in March they head along the St. Lawrence, possibly all the way to the Atlantic at the river’s mouth…..but not necessarily. Perhaps they cross Labrador before that. Once they leave Yann’s area they pretty well fall off the radar.
Striking country!

Striking country!


At some point they have to cross the North Atlantic to get to Greenland. The shortest water crossing would be from Cape Dyer on Baffin Island due east across the Davis Strait to Greenland. That would require going a long way due north and then east. Perhaps they fly diagonally NE from Labrador or northern Newfoundland to get there. Birds trapped in northern Newfoundland in the Spring have weighed over 60 grams – almost double their “fat-free” weight; easily enough energy for a long non-stop flight (in favourable conditions).
Lots of cracks in the rocks - nesting sites for Snow Buntings. And grasses below - food when it goes to seed.

Lots of cracks in the rocks – nesting sites for Snow Buntings. And grasses below – food when it goes to seed.


Wouldn’t it be neat to fit breeding Snow Buntings in Saattut with geolocators so we can see the exact route they take!?
Barren.....but very beautiful.

Barren…..but very beautiful.


[Note: all images were downloaded from Googe Images. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to check out maps and pictures of Saattut on Google – to see where ‘our’ birds spend their Summers.]
Rick

December 3rd – Diverging Trajectories

Little did Diane and Dorothy know that this little owl would be in Maryland a year later.

Little did Diane and Dorothy know that this little owl would be in Maryland a year later.


The Fall of 2015 was not noted for its Northern Saw-whet Owl catch…..we did 52 (42 at Ruthven and 10 at Taquanya), an “average” year. Two female owls banded within 5 days of each other – on the 17th and 22nd of October- took off into the night and were recovered 5 days apart this Fall – November 1st and 6th. But…..they were over a thousand kilometers apart!! The owl on the 17th, a young (or HY-Hatch Year) bird was recovered near Burkittsville, Frederick County, Maryland. This is about 430 kilometers SE of Ruthven and 85 km. W of Baltimore.
This young female Northern Saw-whet Owl was banded on the night of October 16th/17th, 2015 and was recovered on November 6th of this year near Burkittsville, Frederick County, Maryland.

This young female Northern Saw-whet Owl was banded on the night of October 16th/17th, 2015 and was recovered on November 6th of this year near Burkittsville, Frederick County, Maryland.


The other, an older (ASY-After Second Year) female was recovered near Cedar Grove, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin on the West side of Lake Michigan…1300 km W of Ruthven.
The intense gaze of an older female Saw-whet. Banded on October 22nd, 2015 it would show up a year later (November 1st) near Cedar Grove, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin on the west side of Lake Michigan.

The intense gaze of an older female Saw-whet. Banded on October 22nd, 2015 it would show up a year later (November 1st) near Cedar Grove, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin on the west side of Lake Michigan.


These two birds were over 1500 km apart! Wouldn’t you love to know their personal trajectories after they left Ruthven’s banding lab in 2015!? I’m assuming that they spent the Winter of 2105/2016 in the mid/northern U.S. and returned to northern Ontario to breed in the Summer of 2016. But where were they, and how did they get there? What happened that they would end up so very far apart?

In this pursuit you generate more questions than answers.

And there’s more good news: both birds are still alive. They were caught and released at banding operations in those areas of capture.

[Note: the pictures are by Bob Fotheringham…..I think.]

November 17th – Finishing With A Flair!

owls-comp
Our season record for Northern Saw-whet Owls was 88 set a couple of years ago. Going into last night we were sitting at 87. But…..the season is getting late so, even though we thought it was worth a try, we weren’t hopeful that we would catch any more owls.

It was a beautiful night. The clouds dispersed just after dark and the moon was bright, so bright that you didn’t need a headlamp or flashlight to see your way around. Some folks think that bright nights like this aren’t very good for owls…..

#88

#88


We caught two on the first net round! One was a recapture of a bird that we banded a week ago. So we we tied the record. We decided to give it another go…..On the second round we caught 3 owls!! The first was a recapture of a bird that had been banded in March, 2015 in Cheboygen Michigan! And the other two were new – numbers 89 and 90….a new record!!
#89 on the left; 90 on the right.

#89 on the left; 90 on the right.


Happily we turned off the sound systems, furled the nets and packed it in for the year. What a great way to finish.

[PS: Today I got word that #1014-72940, a Saw-whet that we had banded On October 12, 2015, had been recovered on November 6, 2016 3.8 miles from Burkitsville, Frederick County, Maryland.]

Thanks to everyone for your help!! And forbearance.
Rick

November 15th – A Summary of the Fall Banding Season

It’s been a tough Fall banding season: nights of hopeful anticipation followed by days of great disappointment…..repeated over and over again. It’s difficult to put your finger on “why”. The only consistency was the long stream of unseasonably warm, “great”, weather. A telltale indicator of this is a picture in the Hamilton Spectator – in the second week of November! – highlighting magnificent Fall tree colours. Usually you would look for this type of picture, and the phenomenon it is highlighting, a month earlier…at least. Although we had a few cold days (with frost at night) in October, we had temperatures in the mid- to high-teens right through the end of October and up to the end of the banding period on November 7th.

While we realize that banding numbers at an “inland” banding site like Ruthven, with no physical features to concentrate birds (like the shore of a big water body or desert), is a bit of a crap shoot – sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not – there are features that can fuel “hopeful anticipation”. For us, the presence or absence of wild grape clusters has proven to be a good predictor in the past several years (ever since Wild Grapes began to proliferate at the Ruthven site). This year we had a VERY good grape crop so, naturally, we were thinking that we would get lots of fruit eating species, especially Cedar Waxwings…but the capture of birds that feed on them was still low. In fact, there are still large clusters of grapes, untouched, which will possibly provide sustenance for overwintering bluebirds, waxwings and robins.

When I began to crunch some of the numbers, the results were even more disheartening. The average number of birds, in total, banded during the monitoring period over the past 15 years is 3, 297; our total this year was only 2,328 (969 below the average). And month by month our catch was below average: September: 793 vs 969 (-176); October – our biggest month of the year – 1277 vs 1972 (-695); and November: 258 vs 264 (-8).

And then, really wanting to get depressed, I looked at the numbers of various species captured and banded against the average going all the way back to 1998. We were below the average for flycatchers, kinglets, all thrushes, catbirds, many warblers, and many sparrows. We were above average for all vireos and a number of warblers….and Tufted Titmice (which are a relative newcomer). But when I say we were below average for a number of species, it masks the fact that we were WELL below average for common ones: Golden-crowned Kinglet: 41 vs 106; Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 120 vs 168; Yellow-rumped Warbler: 213 vs 318; Chipping Sparrow: 4 vs 41; Song Sparrow: 47 vs 151; White-throated Sparrow: 123 vs 230; Dark-eyed Junco: 143 vs 193. But the kicker was Cedar Waxwing: the average number banded in the Fall since 1998 is 215; the average since 2010, when Wild Grapes began to proliferate, is 520; this Fall we banded only 44!!

I wish I could tell you what the problem was but I just can’t make sense of it. I do know that, generally, in periods of “good” weather (warm, clear, dry) we tend not to catch nearly as many birds as in periods of “bad” weather (cold, overcast, wet). The common thinking is that birds on migration tend to “fly over” inland sites in their hurry to get south – making hay while the sun shines so to speak.But in October we tend to band good numbers despite good weather…. except this year.

We had a great grape crop…and fruit generally (eg, dogwood berries). But Cedar Waxwings (and thrushes and other fruit eaters) didn’t show up. There were reports that there were grapes everywhere in the area so maybe the birds were more spread out. Even so, a drop from 520 to 44 birds is hard to explain by a more diffuse food source.

Top Ten
1. American Goldfinch – 493
2. Yellow-rumped Warbler – 213
3. Dark-eyed Junco – 143
4. White-throated Sparrow – 123
5. Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 120
6. Northern Saw-whet Owl – 80 (as of November 7th; we’re above that total now – 87)
7. Blackpoll Warbler – 75
8. Red-eyed Vireo – 59
9. Black-capped Chickadee – 58
10. Magnolia Warbler – 50

Rick

November 7th – The Fat Lady Has Sung……

This returning American Tree Sparrow is at least 7+ years old. It was banded as an adult (AHY) in late November, 2010. We have recaptured it numerous times since then although the last time was in 2015. Ruthven is its Winter home.

This returning American Tree Sparrow is at least 7+ years old. It was banded as an adult (AHY) in late November, 2010. We have recaptured it numerous times since then although the last time was in 2015. Ruthven is its Winter home.


I always thought the phrase, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings was a Yogi Berraism but….no…it ain’t. Evidently it refers to the final aria, sung by the buxom, horn-helmeted Brunnhilde, in a Wagner opera, Gottendammerung. It was originally used by a sports commentator when he was witnessing a dramatic comeback in a football game. Who knew?

Bottom line though…..the 2016 Fall Migration Monitoring season came to an end today (although banding, now and again, will continue at Ruthven for owls and wintering birds until the Snow Buntings arrive and take up all of our time).

And just as it should be we finished with equal number of juncos and tree sparrows – 8 of each; regular Winter residents at Ruthven.

The Butterfly Meadow was burned.  -N. Furber.

The Butterfly Meadow was burned. -N. Furber.


Ruthven; Banded 20:
8 American Tree Sparrows
8 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 House Finch
3 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 29 spp.

Owling At Fern Hill Oakville:

Our intrepid owling crew.   -M. Gibson

Our intrepid owling crew. -M. Gibson


Although the actual school site is pretty barren ecologically speaking (we – staff and students – are working to change that), it sits close to a sizeable woodlot and river valley. So I took the portable sound system to see if we could pull some Saw-whets out of this better habitat. As luck would have it, we got a Saw-whet on the very first net round – an early one! (Very unlike Ruthven where it seems we don’t get them until later into the night.) We were skunked on the next round and on the 3rd discovered that the sound system had run out of juice – Katherine learning the lesson that Dollar Store battery specials maybe aren’t such a good buy after all. Still, we did get one owl and my sense is that it will yield good numbers in years to come.
Kyleigh with the Northern Saw-whet Owl we caught at Fern Hill Oakville.

Kyleigh with the Northern Saw-whet Owl we caught at Fern Hill Oakville.


The owl Sonali is holding was caught on the first round at about 7:30 PM - what luck!!

The owl Sonali is holding was caught on the first round at about 7:30 PM – what luck!!


The "banding lab" at Fern Hill Oakville - a small foyer. The banding crew has just processed an American Tree Sparrow.

The “banding lab” at Fern Hill Oakville – a small foyer. The banding crew has just processed an American Tree Sparrow.


We caught some passerines just at dusk - we were opening nets for Saw-whets - hence the need for a flashlight to help Han assess fat and muscle scores.

We caught some passerines just at dusk – we were opening nets for Saw-whets – hence the need for a flashlight to help Han assess fat and muscle scores.


Daytime Banding at Fern Hill Burlington:
Here are the totals from today’s banding.
Banded: 19
BCCH – 2
ATSP – 1
SOSP – 1
SCJU – 8
AMGO – 7

ET’s: 21 spp.

Plus we recaptured a 4/5 year old chickadee and a Downy Woodpecker that had smelled like gasoline in the spring when it was banded (we couldn’t find out the source of the gasoline).

The Three Amigos (Stooges, Musketeers....take your pick) at Fern Hill Burlington learning how to use the new binoculars.   -J. Chard

The Three Amigos (Stooges, Musketeers….take your pick) at Fern Hill Burlington learning how to use the new binoculars. -J. Chard


Janice Chard

November 5th & 6th – Last Weekend

Two more..... -A. Wilcox

Two more….. -A. Wilcox


Hard to believe but….we have only one more day and then we’re done. Sure, there will still be a few birds on the move – tree sparrows, juncos, maybe some winter finches and, of course Snow Buntings(!) – but by and large the migration is over.
We've been banding one or two chickadees a day for some time now.   -A. Wilcox

We’ve been banding one or two chickadees a day for some time now. -A. Wilcox


This weekend was largely about Saw-whet Owls and American Goldfinches. Of the former we handled 13: 10 banded and 3 retraps; of the latter we banded 31.

November 5th; Banded 36:
4 Northern Saw-whet Owls
1 Downy Woodpecker
3 Black-capped Chickadees
1 Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper.

Brown Creeper.


1 American Tree Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
5 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 Purple Finches
2 House Finches
15 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 38 spp.

November 6th; Banded 42:
6 Northern Saw-whet Owl
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Tufted Titmouse
2 Black-capped Chickadees
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
8 American Tree Sparrows
5 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 House Finches
16 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 33 spp.

Photo Gallery:

The many faces of Saw-whet Owls.   -A. Wilcox

The many faces of Saw-whet Owls. -A. Wilcox


Another face....   -A. Wilcox

Another face…. -A. Wilcox


And another.....   -A. Wilcox

And another….. -A. Wilcox


And yet another.... -A. Wilcox

And yet another…. -A. Wilcox


Female Hairy Woodpecker -A. Wilcox

Female Hairy Woodpecker -A. Wilcox


Aidan with his first banding tick - an American Goldfinch.

Aidan with his first banding tick – an American Goldfinch.


Elina with her first banded bird - an American Tree Sparrow.

Elina with her first banded bird – an American Tree Sparrow.


Fariyal with one of her favourites - a White-breasted Nuthatch.

Fariyal with one of her favourites – a White-breasted Nuthatch.


Grayson with his American Goldfinch/

Grayson with his American Goldfinch/


Lexie, holding an Eastern Bluebird, and grandfather Ken made their annual pilgrimage to the banding lab on Saturday.

Lexie, holding an Eastern Bluebird, and grandfather Ken made their annual pilgrimage to the banding lab on Saturday.


Male Eastern Bluebird.   -M. Gibson

Male Eastern Bluebird. -M. Gibson


A modern Lancelot - Aidan (finally) pulled Excalibur (a net stake) out of the ground. Perseverance conquered! (Or was it a pure heart.....?)

A modern Lancelot – Aidan (finally) pulled Excalibur (a net stake) out of the ground. Perseverance conquered! (Or was it a pure heart…..?)


Showing off a goldfinch.   -S. Merritt

Showing off a goldfinch. -S. Merritt


Extracting.....   -S. Merritt

Extracting….. -S. Merritt


Rick

November 4th – Good Day For A Picnic

The crowd last night was fortunate that we got 2 Saw-whets on the 2nd round.

The crowd last night was fortunate that we got 2 Saw-whets on the 2nd round.


Judy looking very pleased after banding her first Saw-whet.

Judy looking very pleased after banding her first Saw-whet.


It was a nice night, clear and cool, but we managed to attract only 2 owls. Fortunately for most visitors they were caught on only the 2nd round so no one had to stay late to see one.
Our two owls.  -W. Andrus

Our two owls. -W. Andrus


Early morning mist.

Early morning mist.


It was a beautiful morning – crisp and clear with light northerly breeze. Again, there was almost no observable migration and it wasn’t until later in the morning that birds began to move around. (We were late opening a couple of nets due to frost and I think many birds were simply waiting for the sun to heat things up a little.). But once we got going the birds were at the feeders and, unlike yesterday, all around the banding area and we had a pretty good catching/banding day. Again, American Goldfinches made up about half of our catch.
Three Foxes (Sparrows....)

Three Foxes (Sparrows….)


Three Fox Sparrows.

Three Fox Sparrows.


This Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has been hanging around the willow tree just outside the banding lab.   -W. Andrus

This Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has been hanging around the willow tree just outside the banding lab. -W. Andrus


Interestingly, I saw NO soaring raptors today – no eagles, vultures, or buteos. This is the first time since….last Winter(?) However we did get a nice Accipiter – a young male Sharp-shinned Hawk – that went into Net 6 after a chickadee…..which it did NOT get, much to the latters relief.
Elaine with the young male Sharp-shinned Hawk we caught first thing this morning.

Elaine with the young male Sharp-shinned Hawk we caught first thing this morning.


But when all was said and done, the best part was the picnic provided by Elaine and The Sisters Of Mercy (or is it the Larks?).
Nothing like a picnic with Elaine Serena and the Larks.

Nothing like a picnic with Elaine Serena and the Larks.


Banded 64:
1 Sharp-shinned Hawk
1 Mourning Dove
2 Northern Saw-whet Owls (from last night)
1 Downy Woodpecker
4 Black-capped Chickadees
Crest of a male Golden-crowned Kinglet.  -S. Chisholm

Crest of a male Golden-crowned Kinglet. -S. Chisholm


2 Golden-crowned Kinglets
Golden-crowned Kinglet.   -W. Andrus

Golden-crowned Kinglet. -W. Andrus


1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Northern Cardinal
5 American Tree Sparrows
2 Fox Sparrows
12 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 House Finches
30 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 29 spp.

Fern Hill Burlington:
Janice reports that they were fairly busy at Fern Hill in Burlington,

Banded 21:
1 Downy Woodpecker
3 Black-capped Chickadees
1 American Robin
5 Dark-eyed Juncos
8 American Goldfinches
3 House Sparrows

ET’s: 19 spp.