October 19th – No Need To Overthink

Calleigh meets Saw-whet. -KAP

Sometimes we simply overthink things. We try to find explanations that are much more complicated than they need to be. Last night was a prime example. We travelled to Fern Hill’s Oakville campus to try for Northern Saw-whet Owls. We invited the school’s Young Ornithologists to come out – it didn’t take much convincing; everyone seems to love owls. Now last year we caught and banded 1 Owl. I would have been happy with that again this year. But instead we picked up 5 in the first 3 net rounds!! All at a time when the students could see and appreciate them.

Same owls……very different facial patterns. -KAP

I tried to figure out what made this such a good night. A number of variables run through one’s head: temperature, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, phase of the moon, ambient light and noise, net placements, audio lure placements. So many things to consider. But the answer was much simpler – mojo. Calleigh, a kindergarten student (but very keen bird person) was wearing her owl pyjamas (which she wouldn’t let her mother put on her earlier in the week, saving them for this special occasion) and she was carrying her special owl stuffie. Powerful mojo indeed. There you go, how could Mother Nature deny these efforts? You see….sometimes it’s a simple answer and it’s staring you right in the face.

Fern Hill Oakville’s YO’s with one of 5 Northern Saw-whet Owls we caught last night. -KAP

Walking Isabella through the banding of a Saw-whet Owl. -KAP

Meanwhile, today at Ruthven….we were fairly busy, not frenetically busy. The stiff SW winds were a big factor as they billowed many of the nets making them more visible and, when it continued to build, we decided to close somewhat early. But, we didn’t see the volume of birds that we were observing over the past few days. Another ‘pulse’ had moved through.

October 19th; Banded 66:
1 Eastern Phoebe
7 Golden-crowned Kinglets
12 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
3 Hermit Thrushes
3 American Robins
2 Cedar Waxwings
8 Myrtle Warblers
1 Chipping Sparrow
2 Song Sparrows
5 White-throated Sparrows
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
20 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 37 spp.

The Green Heron seems to have made Rick’s Rill its autumn home. -D. Bridel

Standoff! Green Heron vs Black Squirrel for the right-of-way. -D. Bridel


October 16th – 18th – Catching Up.

It’s been a busy 3 days (as you’ll see below). And…..we started owl banding so things just got busier.

October 16th; Ruthven Banding Station:
It was a beautiful Fall day – cool and clear – but without a lot of bird activity.
Banded 41:
1 Mourning Dove

Lauren’s last day – celebrating with a flicker. -KMP

1 Northern Flicker

Eastern Phoebe. -LEO

1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Black-capped Chickadee
3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 American Robin
8 Cedar Waxwings
1 Myrtle Warbler
5 Song Sparrows
13 White-throated Sparrows

American Goldfinches have finally arrived. This is an adult male. -ECG

6 American Goldfinches

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker. -ECG

Double-crested Cormorants heading south. -KMP

ET’s: 33 spp.

Monday (16th) Night – Owling:
Success!! Nancy and the crew got 6 Northern Saw-whets: 5 new ones and a retrap.

Dorothy and Diane…..and one of the 6 owls caught Monday night. -BF

The Northern Saw-whet Owls have arrived! -BF

Northern Saw-whet Owl. -BF

An owl with attitude. -LEO

Straight from the fresh produce section at Foodland – Samuel with an owl. -LEO

Saw-whets are cute little things….with killer feet. -LEO

Fully fluorescent = young owl. -LEO

Gaps in the fluorescence = older owl. -LEO

Fern Hill Oakville:
Monday October 16th was a busy day at Fern Hill Oakville. We tried out a new net placement in an area we had noticed birds gathering, most likely drawn by the abundance of wild grapes, buckthorn, and sumac growing. We weren’t disappointed, in all we banded 20 birds including
1 bluejay
1 black capped chickadee

Brown Creeper. -KAP

1 brown creeper
1 ruby crowned kinglet
1 hermit thrush
8 American robins

Orange-crowned Warbler. -ECG

1 orange crowned warbler

The orange crown is pretty subtle. -ECG

1 northern Cardinal
3 slate coloured juncos

We have been noticing groups of turkey vultures migrating past the school. We spotted a kettle of about 50 turkey vultures riding thermals in large numbers.

I was excited to hear and observe black capped chickadees around the property, as we seem to have lost our resident chickadees over the summer. It was a real treat to finally find a recaptured chickadee in our net, hopefully we will be seeing more as the season progresses.

2 YO’s with 2 robins. -KAP


October 17th – Another Good Day at Ruthven!
After a short night due to owling, the big “pulse” this morning was something of a surprise…and hard work. Over 40 Cedar Waxwings were caught at one time in Net 9!!
Banded 96:

A very feisty chickadee letting you know what’s what. -LEO

1 Black-capped Chickadee
3 Golden-crowned Kinglets
15 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
2 Hermit Thrushes
56 Cedar Waxwings
1 Blue-headed Vireo
1 Nashville Warbler
5 Myrtle Warblers
2 Song Sparrows
4 White-throated Sparrows
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
4 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 41 spp

October 18th; An Even Better Day at Ruthven!!:
The first 2 net rounds this morning were huge – we ended up just “ringing and flinging” to try to keep up. (Ringing and flinging means that one just bands and then determines the age and sex of a bird and then releases it without taking any morphometric measurements – it speed things up considerably.) And then it was like someone had turned off the tap – the wheeling flocks of waxwings were gone and the sparrows, kinglets and myrtle warblers moving along the edges disappeared. The last hour and a half were very quiet – giving us a chance to catch our breath from the early morning exertions.

One very positive note: American Goldfinches are starting to show up in numbers. We banded 16 but estimated (based on banding #’s and observation/census #’s) that there were at least 55 around the site today.

Swamp Sparrow…..note the rufous “shoulders”. -ECG

Banded 120:
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
20 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
8 Hermit Thrushes
1 American Robin
35 Cedar Waxwings
2 Tennessee Warblers
14 Myrtle Warblers
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Field Sparrow
7 Song Sparrows
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
8 White-throated Sparrows
2 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows
1 Dark-eyed Junco
16 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 48 spp.

October 15th – End Of A Big Pulse

A spread-eagled Rusty Blackbird. -I. Turjansky

Although hindered by a strong SW wind (which caused us to limit the number of nets we opened and to close early as it picked up even more), we still managed to band 54 birds. But you got the feeling that the big pulse of birds that we experienced over the past several days had gone by. In the previous 4 days we banded 704 birds! Not only that but the variety of birds that were simply “around” the site was greatly reduced today. Despite an intensive census and lots of observers, we still managed to pick up only 36 species. But don’t get to thinking the migration is over! There’s another big pulse or two yet to come…..I think.

Ethan trying a Jedi mind trick on this stunning adult male American Goldfinch. Ethan was unsuccessful…..he has a long way to go…. -I. Turjansky

One concern I have though is: what has happened to our American Goldfinches!? In 2012 we banded 440 in September, 623 in October, and an overall total of 1,316. The next year (2013) they ‘crashed’: we got 9, 79, 198 respectively. The population rebuilt over the next couple of years so that in the Fall of 2016 we got 65, 310, 493. And in the Spring of this year we banded an incredible 527! But this Fall we have banded only 3 in September and 18 so far in October. My sense is that they have been decimated by disease. In the Spring we noticed several birds with conjunctivitis and we know that this malady wipes out House Finch populations. As well, there has been some talk of West Nile affecting Ontario birds. At any rate, our goldfinch numbers have crashed again.

Myrtle Warblers have been moving through in good numbers. -I. Turjansky

I get a kick out of the convolutions that bird nomenclature can take (although I find it very frustrating as well). It was such a pain when Myrtle and Audubon’s Warblers got “lumped” as Yellow-rumped Warblers. I have continued to use “Myrtle” in protest (except when doing this blog – I didn’t want any confusion). But now, evidently, I can go back to using “Myrtle” again. Ethan Gosnell assures me that the “species” will be split back to the old names by the end of the year. The lumpers have become splitters…..again.

A very late Magnolia Warbler. -KMP

For Saw-whet Owl aficionados, Nancy is going to try to catch some tomorrow (Monday) night. We think it would be a nice and very useful gesture if participants/spectators made a small donation to the banding program in order to take part – the donation box is easily found……Thanks!

This Song Sparrow was originally banded in 2014! Retrap data indicate that it calls the river flats its home. -MMG

Banded 54:
15 Golden-crowned Kinglets
18 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 Hermit Thrush
3 Myrtle Warblers
2 Chipping Sparrows
1 Field Sparrow
2 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow

White morph White-throated Sparrow. -I. Turjansky

3 White-throated Sparrows
8 Dark-eyed Juncos

Retrapped Philadelphia Vireo wondering what ‘this’ is all about. -I. Turjansky

ET’s: 36 spp.

October 14th – Somewhat More Subdued

Dark-eyed Juncos are moving through right now…..and some are quite possibly moving in – many spend the Winter in the area. -B. Fotheringham

The key word there is “somewhat”. When we made the final tally we were just 2 short of another “Big” or 100-bird day. (If I’d known I might have kept a net open for another half hour to pick up the 2 birds we needed to make 100.) But when it was happening it didn’t feel like a Big Day. In fact, I took wagers on how many birds volunteers thought we banded and the estimates ranged from only the mid-50’s to my 79. (As I was the closest all you other folks owe me 10 bucks……) It’s just that we had such a large skilled crew of banders that it didn’t feel like a big workload. We quickly and competently worked our way through the net rounds and the banding of the resulting birds. Maybe it’s time for me to get that chaise longue I’ve always talked about so I can manage things in comfort.

Sian and Polina with a pair of Tufted Titmice (Titmouses?) they’ve just banded. -SEF

Banded 98:
2 Tufted Titmice
1 Black-capped Chickadee
2 Winter Wrens
12 Golden-crowned Kinglets
18 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 Gray Catbird
1 Philadelphia Vireo
10 Myrtle Warblers
1 Common Yellowthroat
3 Northern Cardinals

All pink bill: Field Sparrow. -SEF

1 Field Sparrow
13 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
30 White-throated Sparrows
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 51 spp.

October 13th – On A Roll!

Carol’s return – pumpkin muffins. -NRF

The third day in a row with large numbers of birds in the banding lab and
the business of net checks, extraction, and banding. It was a dark,
overcast, warm morning with a light drizzle that didn’t last and
eventually, the weather cleared and it was a pleasant afternoon. In
total, we handled 151 birds, banding a total of 121. A great day, with a
good crew to work with.

Banded 121
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 House Wren
1 Winter Wren
5 Golden-crowed Kinglet
12 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
1 Hermit Thrush
3 American Robin
17 Cedar Waxwing
2 Tennessee Warbler
1 Nashville Warbler
1 Magnolia Warbler
37 Myrtle Warbler

Young male Black-throated Green Warbler.. -NRF

1 Black-throated Green Warbler
1 Wilson’s Warbler

Female Wilson’s Warbler -NRF

3 Song Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow

Note the rufous shoulders identifying this bird as a Swamp Sparrow. -KMP

1 Swamp Sparrow
25 White-throated Sparrow
1 White-crowned Sparrow
2 Slate-colored Junco
4 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 42 species

[Note that the number of birds banded in these 2 days is exactly 500!!!! Congratulations to the 2 banding crews – all young women.]

Grade 8’s learning about banding. -KAP

Fern Hill – Oakville:
We had our best day of the Fall today banding 37. Our catching has been plagued by the loss of our feeder chickadees, which didn’t return after the Summer holidays. Feeding chickadees draw others to them. So some of our catches this season have been pretty low. But today change was in the wind – and maybe the 3 chickadees we caught will stick around and things will get even better. We did get the first Fox Sparrow of the season – always a treat!

Yesterday was pretty nasty weather-wise so I was very surprised to see a large ‘kettle’ of Turkey Vultures forming over the parking lot. The birds rose until they began to disappear into the low ceiling and then drifted off to the SW.

Part of the kettle of Turkey Vultures that formed over the parking lot yesterday. -KAP

Banded 37:
3 Black-capped Chickadees
6 Golden-crowned Kinglets
11 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 Hermit thrush
2 American Robins
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler
1 Chipping Sparrow

1st Fox Sparrows of the season. -KAP

1 Fox Sparrow
6 Song Sparrows
5 Dark-eyed Juncos

Female Dark-eyed Junco. -KAP

ET’s: 26 spp.

October 12th – A NEW RECORD!!!!

On October 25th, 2011 we set a banding record of 309 birds at Ruthven. It included the banding of 175 Cedar Waxwings. Today the team of Nancy Furber, Marnie Gibson, Karen Petrie, and Lauren Witterick obliterated that record! They banded an astounding 379 birds (including 154 Waxwings). Here’s their banding totals:

1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Black-capped Chickadee
5 Brown Creepers
1 House Wren
2 Winter Wrens
29 Golden-crowned Kinglets
22 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
9 Eastern Bluebirds
6 Hermit Thrushes
2 Gray Catbirds
154 Cedar Waxwings
1 Tennessee Warbler
3 Nashville Warblers
1 Orange-crowned Warbler
86 Yellow-rumped Warblers
2 Field Sparrows
9 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
23 White-throated Sparrows
9 Dark-eyed Juncos
5 Red-winged Blackbirds
6 American Goldfinches

Fittingly it came just one day after the International Day of the Girl.

October 10th & 11th – Hectic!

The first owl of the season: gray phase Eastern Screech Owl. -MMG

Ruthven Park October 10th; Heavy Fog + Tim Horton’s Coffee = 64

Little did I know that the number 64 on my Tim Horton’s coffee cup was to be the number of birds banded today, despite the fact that I found myself in a fog opening nets in the dark to get a good start. I’m sure the fog had much to do with it as it seems to keep the birds low and allows mist nets to literally act as mist nets.

A late Wood Thrush was calling near net lane # 4, as a male and female Great Horned Owl serenaded one another off to the southeast. A family of coyotes joined in the chorus over by the river to the west.

It was a good day for banding – as it well should be by Thanksgiving!

Leading the wave, it was a “catch 22” for Myrtles. Other warblers – most of which are winding down now – included lovely appearances by 3 Orange-crowns, 2 Nashvilles, and one of my favourites a Black-throated Green.

Juncos are slowly increasing in numbers and the first White-crowned Sparrows are beginning to arrive. Also noted were 4 Pine Siskins; is this a premonition of things to come? Stayed tuned!

Painted Lady. -NRF

Banded 64:
Golden-crowned Kinglet 5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6
Hermit Thrush 4
Red-eyed Vireo 1
Nashville Warbler 2
Orange-crowned Warbler 3

Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers were the catch of the day. -NRF

Myrtle Warbler 22
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Song Sparrow 10
White-throated Sparrow 4
White-crowned Sparrow 2
Slate-coloured Junco 3
American Goldfinch 1

ET’s: 45 spp.

Fern Hill School – Burlington; October 10th:
We were hopping right from the get-go. Using just 4 nets we were able to pull in 54 birds of which 36 consisted of just 3 species: Yellow-rumped Warblers (14), Field Sparrows (7), and Song Sparrows (15). Even though we got a lot of sparrows I was surprised that we didn’t get (didn’t even see or hear) any White-throated Sparrows. Starting the day off with an Orange-crowned Warbler was a treat.

Fern Hill Burlington; Banded 54:
1 Eastern Bluebird
1 American Robin
1 Orange-crowned Warbler

Adult (left) and juvenile (right) Yellow-rumped Warblers. -KAP

14 Yellow-rumped Warblers
1 Western Palm Warbler
2 Northern Cardinals
7 Field Sparrows
15 Song Sparrows
1 Eastern White-crowned Sparrow
7 American Goldfinches
4 House Sparrows

ET’s: 30 spp.

The screech owl was a great banding “tick” for Sian. -MMG

October 10th – Owling At Ruthven:
It’s getting to that time when we should be catching Northern Saw-whet Owls. So we went out last night (Tuesday) to try our luck. We didn’t catch any BUT…..on the first round we did get a gray phase Eastern Screech Owl! Under Nancy’s tutelage, Sian got to band her first owl – a nice banding “tick” indeed! When the weather settles we will try again for Saw-whets. We’ll let you know when.

Checking out the age/sex. -MMG

The bird is much more easily handled when it can’t see you…. -MMG

A Nicely applied size ‘5’ lock-on band. -MMG

Ruthven Park; October 11th: Unsettled Weather …. Finally!!
[At Ruthven we define a “big day” as any day on which we band 100+ birds. The strong NE winds, cool temperatures, and rain which hit after the nets were open for about 3 hours all contributed to generating a “fallout” of migrants. Nancy and her team (Lauren and Callie) were VERY busy processing the resulting 106 birds]
.I’ve enjoyed the sunny, warm weather but it was time for a change and
today’s weather brought anticipation for a busy day. It was windy at
opening with the threat of rain but we opened the nets and watched the
skies ready to run out and collapse them. Shortly after opening we were
checking nets and the business had begun. It was non stop banding for a
little over three and half hours. Our total number of birds banded by
this time was around 90 birds but the rain had settled in, bringing our
banding to a halt. We waited for awhile before opening just one net
(there were still intermittent showers), hoping to catch a few more
birds. It paid off, there were enough birds caught to make it the first
100 plus day for the season.

Banded 106
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Blue Jay
2 Golden-crowned Kinglet
12 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
3 Hermit Thrush
1 American Robin
21 Cedar Waxwing
1 Tennessee Warbler
2 Nashville Warbler
31 Myrtle Warbler
1 Blackpoll Warbler
1 Northern Cardinal
4 Song Sparrow
16 White-throated Sparrow
6 Slate-coloured Junco
2 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 34 species
October 11th; Fern Hill School Burlington:
Blustery winds and much cooler with the threat of rain hanging over our heads all morning (it finally came around noon). We opened for a couple of hours until the wind just billowed the nets continuously. It was interesting to watch the sky in the early morning. American Robins, which obviously were migrating high overhead, recognized that morning was about to break and all that lay ahead of them was city habitat so they broke off their southerly flight and came dropping down into the trees and shrubs around the site.

Eastern Phoebe. -KAP

Banded 20:
2 Eastern Phoebes
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
4 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
8 Yellow-rumped Warblers
1 Western Palm Warbler
3 Song Sparrows
1 White-crowned Sparrow

ET’s: 20 spp.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet -KAP

Golden-crowned Kinglet -KAP

Chickadee with a YO. -KAP