August 15th – Trial Run

Nola, Liam, and Eila with 3 Blue-winged Warblers (we banded 4 today!). ELO

It’s not a good thing to jump into a marathon without, at least, a little training. September 1st begins a 68-day run of migration monitoring: nets open before dawn, 6 hours of banding before closing, a census, careful bird observations throughout. Various volunteers figured that we put in 8-9 kilometres per day and we can band anywhere from 10 – 300+ birds depending on the timing and weather conditions. So, a little training is a good thing. Over the past week we’ve cleared all the net lanes and trails, opened some of the nets for up to 5 hours, did a couple of censuses, recorded observations and generated Estimated Totals. But today we decided to go at it full bore. We opened all the nets and ran them until about noon and did a census. There weren’t a lot of birds around but it was great practice for the up and coming crew of young people that are taking the place of the aging Baggers (Ben, Alessandra, et al.) as they are moving on to university, jobs, and….real life. We handled 26 birds, half of which were new bandings.

Banded 13:
3 House Wrens
2 Gray Catbirds

First of the (possible) hordes to come? A Cedar Waxwing. -ELO

1 Cedar Waxwing

A nice netful! 3 Blue-winged Warblers (male in the middle). -ELO

4 Blue-winged Warblers
1 Indigo Bunting
1 Song Sparrow
1 Common Grackle

ET’s: 42 spp.

How time flies! A picture of Eila from April 29th, 2017 with the first bird she ever banded – an American Goldfinch; she’s now pushing 100 birds. -ELO

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow. -ELO

Nola with one of several House Wrens we caught today. -ELO

River level is going down exposing the gravel bar at the head of Slink Island – a good foraging spot for waders, in this case Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper. -ELO

A retrapped male Yellow Warbler – it had just finished a complete moult in readiness to depart for its Winter home. -ELO

The southward migration of long-distance migrants is just beginning. It is a time fraught with considerable anxiety for some birders as they try to deal with the identification of those nasty “confusing fall warblers” (a la Roger Tory Peterson). But if you follow the sage advice of P.A. Taverner, one of Canada’s first great birders/ornithologists, from his book Birds of Canada which came out in the 1930’s, it shouldn’t be so difficult:
“The sexes are usually dissimilar and there is considerable seasonal change in plumage. This, multiplied by the large numbers of species, makes the task of identifying all of them seem almost hopeless to the beginner. It is not, however, as difficult as it seems at first. (Italics mine) The spring males are usually distinctly marked and as many of them are furnished with descriptive names their differentiation is comparatively simple. As the females and autumn birds usually retain suggestions of the characteristic spring markings of the males the difficulty is really less than is generally anticipated. Of course, puzzling specimens occur which give even the experts some difficulty, but it is usually an alternative between two species which can be settled by giving attention to one or more small details. In studying the warblers the observer is advised to become familiar with the spring males first. When the males of the common species are known, quite an easy matter with such strongly characterized forms, most of the females are recognized without much difficulty, as they usually carry a subdued reflection of their mate’s brighter colour pattern. In the autumn, most juveniles resemble the females closely enough to make recognition easy. There are thus few plumages besides those of the spring males that have to be learned individually.”

And from our correspondent, Karen Petrie, with her finger on the pulse of the natural world in Algonquin Park:
The Algonquin Park bird report is slim pickings indeed! Although I heard Blue Jay this morning (and White-throated Sparrow every evening), the only birds I saw with total certainty were on the Logging Museum trail pond (juvenile hooded merganser, I think? Along with some Canada geese) and on the road up to Opeongo Lake: a young northern flicker, an industrious barn swallow catching bugs over the lake, and a common loon diving for snacks. It’s striking how silent the woods have been in some places.
So, I’ve had to make my own (non-bird) fun and pay more attention to insects and some plants. This morning I found a Mourning Cloak butterfly and Northern Pearly-Eye, and in the afternoon I found a Green Comma and a lovely patch of milkweed with lots of mature caterpillars. Finally found a cocoon in the wild, too! Monarchs seem to be doing well in the Park, and that’s always good news.

I’ll include a mixed bag of photos for your perusal!

Young Barn Swallow. -KMP

Tri-coloured Bumblebee. -KMP

Beautiful Monarch Butterfly cocoon. -KMP

Adult Common Loon. -KMP

Green Comma Butterfly. -KMP

Juvenile Hooded Merganser. -KMP

Indian Pipe fungus. -KMP

Modest Sphinx Moth caterpillar….the green thing….as opposed to the Flamboyant Digitalis. -KMP

Mourning Cloak. -KMP

Northern Pearly-eye. -KMP

Purple Pitcher Plant. -KMP

Virginian Tiger-moth caterpillar. -KMP


Upcoming Events:×585.jpg
Learn to identify the variety of insects that come out after dark on the grounds and discover what makes each of them unique.

Wednesday, August 28th at 8:00 pm.

Pre-registration is required, admission by donation!

Call to book 905.772.0560.

August 13th – Nerding It Up

Identified by Karen Petrie as a Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia. -AT

In the past 2 days I have heard/seen the term “nerd” applied at least 4 times to describe a person(s) who is interested in the environment. This term has “playful” but negative connotations and what a shame. We live in an age that is awash in NDD – Nature Deficit Disorder. Most people – of all ages – don’t have any awareness of the natural world around them and, in fact, have difficulty identifying any of the plants and animals in their immediate environment. At the banding lab I have held up Robins and chickadees and asked students/teachers if they could identify them. Most could not. If people don’t know what’s around them how can we get them to appreciate what is and then take action to conserve them!? We have to come up with a better and more positive term so that folks can appreciate and talk about the natural world without a stigma attached to their doing so. Much of what we choose to do and appreciate depends on semantics.

That being said…’s a report from Karen Petrie our roving reporter who is embedded in Algonquin Park:

Ilia Underwing Moth. -KMP

Nerding It Up In Algonquin Park
Greetings from the park… bird walk this morning led by young guide Henrique (who spent some time banding at Long Point a couple of years ago with one Ben Oldfield) produced some of the usual suspects. CORA, BAWW, BWWA, MYWA, COYE, GCKI, YBSA, BCCH, NOPA, AMRE, AMRO, LEFL and most interesting possibly, olive-sided flycatcher.
Now for the REALLY nerdy part- I’ve been photographing whatever caterpillars I’ve come across, and attended a talk by the resident lepidopterist on moths this evening. I showed him my photos hoping to get positive ID, and the one I’m attaching caused him to sit down. Its a caterpillar of an Ilia Underwing moth– and according to him, probably the second-ever confirmed sighting in Algonquin Park, after the one he himself made earlier this year. It was right on my campsite.

More pics from Algonquin Park:

White-throated Sparrow – they will be upon us in another 5-6 weeks. -KMP

Black & White Warbler. -KMP

Very “washed out” Myrtle Warbler – the usual look that we get in the Fall. -KMP

Attracting moths with white and black lights. -KMP

August 12th – Many Hands Make Light Work

Nola with the first “confusing Fall Warbler” of the season – Chestnut-sided Warbler. -CAJ

At a communal lunch today the subject of procrastination came up, whether it is more common in males than in females, whether it is a good thing or not, whether it allays any hasty actions, etc. Personally I’m all for it. As the old adage says: why do today what you can put off to tomorrow. In the past this has played out as a frenetic rush on August 31st to get the net lanes ready for opening day on September 1st. But this year was different. I knew that there were some young keeners in the wings itching to get going so, with this ace up my sleeve, I suggested that they come out this morning to band and….oh, by the way….. spruce up the net lanes. I may never procrastinate again! ALL the net lanes got cleared and are ready to go – more than 2 weeks ahead of time! To be fair though, the young keeners didn’t play that big a hand in it all but their mothers did and in the end what matters is that the job got done. And, oh, did I mention Faye, Ethan and Carol also took on an integral role? If I’d played my cards right I could have sat back and ate 3 different kinds of banana bread(!) while directing the operation. I’m evidently losing my touch.

In the midst of clearing net lanes – hot work! -ELO

And at the end of a hot, humid work day – a lovely repast. Life is good. -ELO

Anyone know the species? It was around net 10. -AT

Banded 10:
2 Traill’s Flycatchers
2 House Wrens

Chestnut-sided Warbler -ELO

1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
2 Common Yellowthroats

Young Indigo Bunting. -ELO

1 Indigo Bunting
2 Song Sparrows

ET’s: 48 spp.

For those of you that have been following the Northwest Passage Project that I was involved in here’s a Reuter’s news clip describing the retrieval of an acoustic buoy that we did:

August 10th – Return From The Northwest Passage

Like something out of a Group of 7 painting – the north shore of Bylot Island.

On July 16th I hopped on board a U.S. Air Force C-17 with a group of students and scientists to make the flight to Thule Greenland. There we boarded the RVIB Oden, a Swedish ice breaker touted as “probably the best ice breaker in the world”. (And after the trip I would have no qualms making the claim that it is the best in the world.) Ffor the next 18 days we would travel through parts of the Northwest Passage exposing the students to the science required to study the Arctic and broadcasting (live) back to the rest of the world….or at least part of it….what we were seeing and doing. My role as co-science lead for the Birds and Marine Mammal team – BAMM! – was to teach students about seabirds and their ecology as well as expose them to observational and data recording techniques that are used by the CWS seabird observers.

The “crew” getting ready to board a C-17 at Newburgh Air Force Base. -H.Morin

Ice breaker Oden – probably the best ice breaker in the world.

My “work” area on the port side of the bridge – perched 35 metres above the sea in a glass-encased lookout.

The original plan was audacious: sail right through the Passage as far as Melville Sound doing oceanographic surveys as we went (seabird counts would be continuous and ongoing) and then return sampling different parts on the way back. This plan was built around ice conditions found in 2015 when ice left the Passage very early. This proved to be a different sort of year….we began to run into heavy ice around the SW end of Devon Island and this got thicker and more dense as we moved west. We got about as far as the western end of Cornwallis Island, where we began to encounter thicker, multi-year ice. The fact that it still exists is a VERY good thing but an impediment to travel.

Forging deep into the ice just west of Cornwallie Island.

The Oden surging through metre-thick ice.

Leaving behind a trail of broken ice and open water – a favourite foraging area for Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes.

Every morning at 7, there was a science team meeting on the bridge and at this point the captain, Matthias Peterson, said that the ship was capable of continuing west but it would be slow going and to get as far as planned and get back to Thule within our time lines would preclude doing any science. So… was decided to end our westward trek and start heading back but doing science along the way. A very good choice. This gave us time to poke into a variety of bays and sounds and check out a number of historical sites (e.g., Beechey Island where Franklin spent his first winter – marked by three graves of some of his crew).

A CTD rosette – a basic oceanographic piece of equipment. -NIK

About seabirds in the Northwest Passage: there are a LOT but very few species. We saw three species and great numbers (“The Big 3”):

Thick-billed Murre

Northern Fulmar. -LJ

Black-legged Kittiwake. -LJ

Fulmars were with us pretty well anywhere we went and they were joined by kittiwakes when we were breaking through ice in fact, usually outnumbered by kittiwakes when we were breaking a passage through ice. The reason was simple: they were after the tidbits churned up by the Oden’s propellers and exposed in the open water wake. The rear of the ship was a good place to search as Jaegers (we saw all 3 species) often made kleptoparasitizing forays and occasionally we were rewarded with an uncommon gull – Thayer’s Gull on a couple of occasions and a single Sabine’s Gull on another. Thick-billed Murres stayed away from this melee, preferring more open water.

Prince Leopold Island – the most important seabird breeding site in the high Arctic.

See if you can find the two observation blinds used to monitor the Thick-billed Murres nesting on these cliffs.

On the return we were able to spend some time around Prince Leopold Island – the most important seabird nesting site in the high Arctic. Most seabird colonies host only one or, at best, two species but PLI is home to large numbers of Thick-billed Murres (68,000+ breeding pairs), Northern Fulmar (16,000 breeding pairs), Black-legged Kittiwakes (29,000 breeding pairs), Black Guillemots (2,000+ breeding pairs), Glaucous Gulls (~100 breeding pairs).

A Thick-billed Murre photo bombs a picture of Prince Leopold Island.

Although one of the largest breeding colonies of Dovekies is purported to be in Thule we didn’t see any in the Northwest Passage. We did run into huge numbers though in the northern part of the Greenland Sea. The many flocks I saw were all flying SE and, in that area were 96 NM from the closest part of Canada and 65 NM from Greenland. I would love to know what they were up to and where they had come from (or were going to).

Devon Island with just one of many glaciers flowing down from its giant ice cap.

Croker Bay, southern Devon Island.

Bylot Island under a threatening sky.

So how is the Arctic doing? Well… July Greenland went through a heat wave and lost an enormous amount of ice (it was 54 degrees in Thule when we arrive in July); most of the glaciers that I could see draining the icecaps on Devon Island and Bylot Island had all receded measurably; it was gratifying to find some multi-year ice but we had to go a long way west to do so. High Arctic seabirds at the moment seem to be holding their own but the influx of warmer water from the south (“Atlantification”) will have an impact. For example, in Hudson’s Bay Thick-billed Murres have switched from Arctic Cod (a fish associated with ice) to Capelin (a more southern boreal species); early studies suggested the murres don’t do as well on Capelin so we’ll have to wait and see.

Polar Bears always brought a rush of excitement to the bridge.

We saw 17 Polar Bears. Given the distance we travelled and the amount of ice we went through this didn’t seem like many. And a couple of Arctic veterans that were with us thought this number was low.

Polar Bear on the hunt.

The most disturbing thing for me was the finding or microplastics – filaments and beads – in the multi-year ice that was cored. No one knows what the impact of these microscopic bits of plastic can/will do to an organism – fish, bird, or man…..

Male Snow Bunting enjoying the sunshine in Pond Inlet.

I was able to spend some time on shore in Pond Inlet at the north end of Baffin Island. What a treat to find Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs – alas, none of them banded.

Horned Lark in Pond Inlet.

Pond Inlet is a long way from anywhere.

But…..that trip is over. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Time to move on. We’re starting to gear up for the Fall migration monitoring season: net lanes to clear, nets to be replaced, fledging birds to be banded.
August 9th; Banded 6:
1 Eastern Phoebe
4 Blue Jays
1 White-breasted Nuthatch

August 10th; Banded 15:
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Blue Jay
3 Black-capped Chickadees
3 Eastern Bluebirds
1 Common Yellowthroat
3 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
2 Song Sparrows
1 Red-winged Blackbird

I will be out Monday and Tuesday morning if you have nothing to do and are looking for something….