June 4th – Summing Up The Spring Season

A Common Grackle beats the heat (and cleans up) in a puddle. -MMG

The dust is settling on the 25th consecutive Spring migration monitoring season at Ruthven. Needless to say, it was very different. Access to the park was severely restricted to just a few people on any one day – usually just two: the bander-in-charge, and a person to do census. Later, in May, when restrictions began to loosen, I would have a person in to help with net rounds or to continue their studies/experiences in banding under my tutelage, trying to maintain physical distancing as much as possible and disinfecting tools after each session. This seems to have worked well – we got the job done and NO ONE GOT SICK – but the camaraderie that has been the hallmark of the operation for the past many years was missing. I think I missed this most of all. Still, we were there to monitor the migration, not have fun….right?

The month of April was a disaster: due to prolonged bouts of cold, wet, windy weather our banding total was only 489 birds, one of the lowest totals in our history and more than 200 birds below the 10-year average of 693 birds. The birds caught per 100 net hours (1 net hour = one 12-meter net open for one hour) was the lowest going back to 2010 – 14.94. Birds generally were few and far between and migrants were quite late. For example, we can expect to see Purple Martins during the first week of April; this season they didn’t show until the beginning of May. Other migrants were 7-10 days late on average. I keep track of the average number of birds banded per 10 period in both April and May. We were well below average in each “trimester” in April.

May started off slowly, again due to poor weather conditions. The ist trimester, when we band an average 44.1 birds per day, was low – 33 birds per day. But then things picked up substantially and from May 15th – 24th the bulk of migrants blew through. During the second trimester we averaged 55 birds banded per day (vs 44.8) and this push continued through the 3rd period – 28 birds (vs 24.4). Our May total of 1,186 was well above the 10-year average of 1,120.

Due to our success in May, our overall total of 1,675 birds banded is not only respectable but above the 10-year average (1,622). The birds banded per 100 net hours in May (33.98) and for the whole season (26.36) ranked as the 3rd highest in both cases. So….we were able to make somethin’ out of nothin’ so to speak. Also, we banded an amazing 90 species – our 2nd highest total. Noteable bandings included: 1 American Woodcock (not an uncommon bird but rarely seen or captured), 1 Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1 Grasshopper Sparrow (a first for the station), and a female Cerulean Warbler (a species that is in trouble).

The treat of the season: female Cerulean Warbler. -KMP

Grasshopper Sparrow. -AT

But migration monitoring is more than just banding birds. An integral part of it is to identify and count the various species that move though/by the site each day. This is where the census is so important as it samples a part of the site that is separate and largely ecologically different from the banding/netting area (e.g., the river, the inner forest). This season we encountered 149 species which included 3 species “new” to Ruthven: Grasshopper Sparrow, American White Pelican, and Lesser Scaup. Warblers made up 25 of those species. We banded significantly higher numbers of a few warbler species: Nashville Warbler (56), Northern Parula (6), Black-throated Green Warbler (4), Western Palm Warbler (39), and Northern Waterthrush (9).

Male Baltimore Oriole taking advantage of flowering trees. -MMG

The most notable species banded to my way of thinking was the Baltimore Oriole. We set a record last year of 117; we extended that record this year to 122! Is this due to the jam/jelly feeder or are their numbers simply increasing – it will be difficult to compare results this year as most stations did not operate…..

Thanks to all that pitched in to help out!! I think this formal scheduled access will be the way of doing things for at least the next season – if not even longer. We will have to see how things unfold.

Top Ten:
122 Baltimore Orioles
110 American Goldfinches
108 Brown-headed Cowbirds
102 White-throated Sparrows
74 Gray Catbirds
72 Yellow Warblers
59 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
59 Chipping Sparrows
58 Song Sparrows
56 Nashville Warblers
56 Red-winged Blackbirds

Recent Photos:

The flush of nestlings and juveniles provides a buffet for avian raptors (and their young) – in this case a Cooper’s Hawk with a young American Robin. -DO

A nice shot of the young Red-railed Hawk that’s been hanging around the front of the Mansion. -LEO

Insects are all around us – and, unfortunately, little noticed or appreciated. Here is a very colourful Six-spotted Tiger Beetle. -ELO

A late Olive-sided Flycatcher photographed by Marnie in Oakville on the 2nd. -MMG

The black chin and relatively broad yellow terminal band on the tail identifies this Cedar Waxwing as a male. -MMG

Note the diffuse red patch toward the front of the head of this Downy Woodpecker indicating it is a juvenile. -MMG

Least Flycatcher. -MMG

Greenish body with a black chin identifies this as a young (or SY) male Orchard Oriole. -MMG

Tree Swallow. -RW

Lots of white feathers and 7 eggs in this Tree Swallow nest. These swallows are working hard to make up for lost time in April/May due to cold, wet, windy weather. -RW


May 31st – The Fat Lady Has Sung

Red-eyed Vireo gleaning the underside of the leaves. -MMG

Yes, her dulcet tones reverberated over the banding area as we took down the nets at the end of the morning. It’s time. Most of the migrants have passed through. Continuing to band would only interfere in nesting – keeping females from their nests/eggs. It’s necessary to let them concentrate on the major job at hand – continuing their gene pool – and for us to rest up and begin to plan for the Fall season. (It might seem a long way off at the moment but it will be upon us before you know it.)

Net-opening time is accompanied by the “dawn chorus”. It’s interesting how the makeup of the birds generating it change as the season progresses. Today there were the usuals (robins, song sparrows, titmice, etc.) but they’ve been joined by the long-distance nesters: cuckoos, wood-pewees, vireos (red-eyed, warbling, and yellow-throated), and Indigo Buntings. It was even so quiet this morning that I heard Blue-winged Warblers! Usually I don’t pick them up – age or something….hardening of the ear drums…..

We ended up banding 1,675 birds of 90 species. Although our April was terrible (over 200 birds below the 10-year average – 489 vs 693), both the May (1,186) and overall total were above the 10-year average (1,120 and 1,622 respectively).

The most noticeable thing that was missing was the camaraderie from the gathering of like-minded individuals enjoying the birds, the migration and each other. I’m not sure this is going to change quickly but it will eventually and I think it’s important to try and keep things going in a limited way until there are improvements.

Banded 18:
1 Traill’s Flycatcher
2 House Wrens
3 Cedar Waxwings

Cedar Waxwings continued to move into and around the site – still migrating. -ELO

1 Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo. -ELO

4 Indigo Buntings

Female Indigo Bunting. -MMG

1 Eastern Towhee

A pleasant surprise – a male Eastern Towhee. The 2nd one we’ve banded this Sparing. -DO

1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
1 Brown-headed Cowbird
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 57 spp.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo. -MMG

Black-billed Cuckoo. -MMG

The Purple Martin colony seems to be doing well; we’re seeing 16+ birds daily now. -ELO

There are still some hangers-on; in this case a male Chestnut-sided Warbler. -KV

Columbine in Carol’s Garden. -MMG

We’re seeing deer almost every day. The lack of people on site seems to have made them less wary. -MMG

Red Fox patrols the far side of the river. We are seeing them there regularly. -MMG

There’s no question: Purple Martins prefer the “gourds” to the metal boxes. -MMG


May 30th – The End?

Hey! What’s goin’ on? -KMP

Is the migration over? They say nothing’s over till the fat lady sings…. She wasn’t singing today but you could hear her humming in the background. Almost all the migrants that breed further north have passed through and the migrants that intended to nest here are…here and well into nest building and about to lay eggs (if they haven’t already started).

The Baltimore Orioles didn’t waste any time on their return but got right into the business of reproducing. This brand new nest is ready to go. -KMP

As is usual at this time of year, the banding numbers have dropped off and the species variety has declined (although we’re still catching some neat birds and our species count today was a respectable 61).

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the Killdeer eggs hatched and the parents spent a couple of days ushering the four chicks around the parking lot. Yesterday morning I watched as the parents began to move them down to the river – a time fraught with danger and anxiety (the latter for me especially). In the past the adults have (wisely to my way of thinking) lead them via the meadow trails and then the banding lanes at Net 8 and the owl lanes to the river. This year they chose a curious route: through the long grasses and shrubs between nets 4 and 4C down to the stream, Rick’s Rill. I think they would follow the stream down to the Grand. This is NOT a good route as they would be very visible to the many predators along the way: racoons, mink, raptors, crows, jays. Also, the stream is not clear-flowing – it is often blocked by tree debris. So this morning when two adult Killdeer returned to the parking lot I wondered if these were the parents about to try again….

Two Killdeer returned to the parking lot this morning. Are they “new” or does this signal that their young ones didn’t survive the journey to the river? -RD

On a more positive note, the Purple Martin colony seems to be catching on. We counted 19 birds there just the other day and there were at least 16 this morning. They are building nests. This is interesting in itself: the birds fly SW from the colony and then return some time later from that direction carrying nesting material. I would love to know where (and how far) they’re going to get this.

After some very anxious moments in the cold days of April and early May when we wondered if the Purple Martin colony would return, it is gratifying to count somewhere between 16 and 20 individuals now most of which are busy gathering nesting material. -HV

We were able to confirm the presence of both cuckoo species at Ruthven this morning:

Yellow-billed Cuckoo – note the reddish wing panel. -KMP

Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Another good distinguishing mark is the large white spots in the tail. -RD

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo’s reddish wing panel can be seen as a good distance and is a great distinguishing mark. -KMP

Black-billed Cuckoo; note the drab brown wings compared to a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. -KMP

Banded 25:
1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
2 Yellow-bellied Flycatchers
2 Traill’s Flycatchers
1 Great Crested Flycatcher
1 House Wren
3 Gray Catbirds
8 Cedar Waxwings

Cedar Waxwings have returned en masse in just the last several days. Our count of 50 today was quite likely too low. -KMP

2 Red-eyed Vireos

Red-eyed Vireo letting me know his displeasure….. -HV

1 American Redstart
1 Indigo Bunting
1 Song Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 61 spp.
Other Photos:

Turkey Vulture. -RD

Warbling Vireo; quite a nondescript bird but a marvellous singer. -RD

Female Baltimore Oriole. -RD

Eastern Wood-pewee singing (and hawking insects) from the understory. -KMP


May 28th – Drawing Down

Killdeer chick. A happy result of Covid-19 – the parking lot where the adult had her nest was little bothered by traffic. -HV

It’s feeling like Summer: heat and almost no new migrants moving through. I had to work hard to squeeze the 14 birds out of the bushes for banding. To make up for this lack, Yellow-billed Cuckoos flitted about the site giving us good views every now and again. And Red-eyed Vireos and Eastern Wood-pewees are calling now in good numbers – another sign that Summer is here.

One of at least four Yellow-billed Cuckoos that were around the site this morning. -HV

Banded 14:
2 Traill’s Flycatchers
2 Gray Catbirds
4 Red-eyed Vireos

We’ve been getting Red-eyed Vireos in just the past few days. -HV

3 Yellow Warblers
1 Indigo Bunting

Brilliant male Indigo Bunting. -HV

1 Song Sparrow
1 Baltimore Oriole (pushing the record to 121)

ET’s: 55 spp.

Anxious parent with one of four chicks. -HV

Check local hayfields to find Bobolinks. -MMG

A young (SY) male Common Yellowthroat signalling his territory limits. -HV