April 6th – Pot Pourri

Hooded Oriole (left) and a Baltimore (on the feeder) in northern Belize. -DOL

To add onto yesterday’s blog about orioles….I mentioned that these birds like flowers and nectar in their wintering ground so fruit jelly in our feeders to greet their return would be a very good strategy if you want to attract them. Here’s a couple of pictures I took at the place we were staying in northern Belize.

One of the places we stayed at in Belize this past January was surrounded by flowering trees, which attracted orioles in large numbers, and ran this sugar water feeder which was always busy with a variety of orioles and hummingbirds. This one is a female Baltimore Oriole. -DOL

I’ve had a few people send me pictures and comments from around the area:

Two male American Goldfinches fattening up at the feeder. -LEO

I was attempting to clean up after dinner when the girls (ages 7 & 8) started jumping up and down and screaming about something. I was about to reprimand them for making so much noise in the house when I realized they were yelling “The goldfinches are back! The goldfinches are back!” I grab my camera and managed to get a few photos before they flew away. Such a welcome sight and well worth all the noise and excitement in the house.
Laura O.

Fred’s feeders – just a kilometer down river on the opposite side, are always busy. Here a Black-capped Chickadee and 2 Tufted Titmice are working it over.

I’ve noticed that Tufted Titmice are becoming more and more common in our area. Fred has (probably) a couple of breeding pairs around his place in Cayuga. There are 2-3 breeding pairs around Ruthven. And the other day on a walk between Caledonia and York along the Rotary Club Riverside Trail (which evidently…and sadly…is closed now) I counted 4.
Caledonia (Carol’s version):

Carol is a fan of this “open concept” feeder. It comes in funky colours and, being made of metal, is easy to clean/disinfect. The fuzzy birds are House Finches and a male Northern Cardinal. -CAJ

I really like this feeder. Daily I put in just a small amount of strictly safflower seed. Mostly used by cardinals and house finches which are quite willing to socialize and share. The occasional MODO gets in there too.

Male Eastern Towhee. -CAJ

I know we had one [Towhee] at Ruthven but I had this one at LaFortune the next day.
Caledonia (Karen’s version):

Male American Robin. Robins are everywhere right now, defending territories and some are even building nests. Although some you might see are still on the move heading further north. –KMP

Two pairs of Bufflehead in the Grand River. They will soon be on their way not to be seen until next Fall/Winter. -KMP

Adult Ring-billed Gull. They’ve become much more noticeable in the last couple of weeks. I would imagine that the large nesting colony at the east end of Hamilton Harbour is filling up. –KMP

An older Red-winged Blackbird. The females have just started to show up generating a lot of excitement – territorial disputes and chases. -KMP

Song Sparrows are on top of their game right now; they seem to be everywhere. But just wait: when the nests are made and eggs laid they will be few and far between – present but much quieter. -KMP

Roosting Turkey Vultures. It’s difficult to say if these are migrants or locally nesting birds; probably the former. -KMP

An early Garter Snake. -KMP

A face that only a mother could love….. -KMP

Wooly Bear caterpillar – you can see them late in the Fall and early in the Spring; hardy little critters. -KMP

Marnie has a secret “blog walk” that gets her into the natural world around her but is isolated enough that she’s not infectious….except maybe her winning personality…

A Common Raven soars over Oakville. -MMG

Early-returning White-throated Sparrow. It won’t be long before we’re inundated with them as they move through, heading north. -MMG

Marnie spotted this trout running in one of the local streams. Anyone know what it is? _MMG

Marnie says iNaturalist suggests these flowers are called Squills. Never heard of them….do you all concur with her? -MMG


April 5th – Q & A: Orioles

Stunning male Baltimore Oriole. -CR

Yesterday Rachel Vaarkamp asked this question on the Ruthven Banding Station Facebook page:
Would you be able to do a post on best way to attract orioles to your feeders?
This question is very timely. Do you realize that the first orioles will be back within a month…or even less?! You now will have time to prepare. Remember, most of these birds will have made the long flight from Mexico or Central America. They’ve used up a LOT of energy and will be VERY hungry. They will be looking for a food source that is quickly digested and rich in calories. Although they feed insects to their growing young, on their wintering grounds they consume a lot of nectar – a rich food source that is quickly digested.

When we first started banding I didn’t pay much attention to feeding orioles. When Nancy started to band hummingbirds I did notice that a few orioles would go to the hummingbird feeders to drink the sugar-water.

Plant basket holder feeder with a martini glass full of grape jelly – we have found this feeder to be the most effective. For best effect, orioles like their jelly shaken, not stirred. -KMP

But then a couple of years ago we had a visitor of vintage years from the St. Catherines area. She asked if it would be ok to put up an “oriole feeder” that she thought would be quite effective. As we encourage people to get involved I said sure, go ahead, thinking what do I have to lose…..Well what I had to lose was a considerable amount of money trying to keep the feeder filled! The orioles loved it.

Adult male Baltimore (left) and Orchard Oriole. -KMP

It’s a pretty simple design: you take a wire holder from a hanging plant; cut out one small cross piece; and suspend from the bottom a martini glass; then hang; fill the glass with grape jelly. Presto! You’re in business – but make sure you’ve got LOTS of grape jelly on hand. Last year the local grocery store ran out of grape (there were a number of people copying our feeder after visiting). We found that orioles really like orange marmalade as well and they will even take straight up strawberry/raspberry or apricot jam (whatever I could find in my fridge). However, grape jelly is their favourite, followed closely by marmalade. To entice (and nourish) the birds even more, lay down some orange slices beside the martini glass on the wire mesh. One important caveat: when using the martini glass orioles prefer their jelly shaken not stirred…..

Male orioles: Baltimore on the left; Orchard on the right.

Last Spring we had excellent banding results for orioles. We banded record numbers of both species: 26 Orchard Orioles (old record – 16) and an astounding 117 Baltimore Orioles (vs 51). I attribute this, in part, to our use of this particular type of feeder (although it was generally a good year for orioles throughout the east).
More oriole feeder pictures:

The 2 types of feeders are busy: Orchard Oriole on the left; male and female Baltimore Oriole on the right. I don’t see any green leaves in the background so this must have been early in May – a time when a rich food source can have a large beneficial impact on birds finishing a long migratory flight. -DOL

Orioles seem to be attracted to things orange – especially when there’s an orange half attached!

An “oriole feeder” is just like a hummingbird feeder – only orange. Hummingbird feeders are generally red, not that it makes much difference to an oriole: they’ll feed from both. This is an adult male Orchard Oriole. – KMP

Female orioles at the feeder: Baltimore on the left; Orchard on the right. –

Orchard Oriole taking advantage of a “hummingbird feeder”. -MMG

I put up two hanging basket-type feeders at home and we found that we were going through a bottle of grape jelly every 2 days. So stock up!

April 4th – CLOSING DOWN!

Blue Jays are always on the lookout for a tasty tidbit. -CB

These are unprecedented happenings – in my lifetime. A month ago Marg and I had just headed out on a wonderful cruise. Two weeks later we were afraid that we might not even get back to Canada. (What a relief when the wheels of our plane touched down in Canada!!!) Two weeks after this, on April 1st, we opened our 25th Spring banding season hoping that the strict measures we had adopted would keep people safe. Four days after this it became apparent to me that this was….silly. One slip-up could be disastrous. It just wasn’t worth risking lives. So after considerable discussion I’ve decided to close the Spring banding season at Ruthven down until it’s safe to resume (acknowledging that this might not be until the Fall…or later…).

But one thing will continue: this Blog!

In the short run I’ll bring you up to date on the banding results for the past couple of days – I haven’t added to the April 1st post because I was unsure what direction we’d be heading in. But now….I’ll fill you in.

For the foreseeable future I would like to use the blog as a platform for YOU – to post your sightings, pictures and thoughts about the natural world around you. The Corona-virus may be closing down human life but the natural world will continue despite it: the birds are migrating, insects are emerging, and plants are springing up. Let’s observe this marvellous phenomenon….and rejoice. (Email Rick at rludkin@hotmail.com with content). Let me give you an example of how this could work. At the beginning of April we handled 3 Carolina Wrens. This in itself was a pretty neat thing – this is a species that has responded to global warming by extending its range north. (When I was young you would never see these.) At the same time Fred Smith, who lives just across the river and a bit downstream, sent me a photo of a Carolina Wren eating suet (I just posted that one) and then this neat shot of another one at his seed feeder:

Carolina Wren at a seed feeder. -FJS

Now this is pretty interesting because you don’t think of these as “feeder birds”. And this picture underscores how important your feeders might be to local birds:

The brood patch of a female Carolina Wren. -WJA

One of the wrens we caught at the beginning of April was this female. You can tell it’s a female because of the “brood patch” on its belly. Female birds generate this pad of thick, veinous skin when they’re sitting on eggs – it increases heat transfer to the eggs. So this bird, at the beginning of April, was already sitting on a clutch of eggs!! She would need all the energy she could find if her nesting attempt was to be successful.

See….easy. We share observations and pictures and come up with a really neat story.
And now to catch you up with the banding over the last 3 days:
April 2nd:
It was like groundhog day… the sun rose, the birds were moving, and the spring peepers were serenading anyone around to hear them and …. Rick was absent, again! It’s unmistakably quiet, aside from the birds and peepers; I’ve yet to decide whether it’s a general lack of people at the lab, or just the absence of Rick’s acerbic wit.

We had 2 unbanded cardinals in nets today and, as with rose-breasted grosbeaks, my blood pressure always rises when I see them in nets. I have yet to find my one of my fingers the victim of their extremely strong bills and I was thinking today, perhaps with my 14 years of experience extracting, I’ve just perfected the art of safe extraction, but then I wonder if perhaps my odds of being bitten just simply increases the more I have to extract and band them…

Two of the 3 Carolina Wrens. -WJA

It was a beautiful day to be banding in the outdoors; it’s quite surprising how much easier it is to read the bands in sunlight! We decided to forego setting up the shelter today as it just takes so much more time to set up and tear down along with all of the disinfecting that we are doing. A special treat today was 3 CARWs all in one net. We tried to get a photo of all 3 of them but between the social distancing and fewer hands all around, we only ended up with a photo of 2. When checking the fat and muscle of the one, we noticed that it looked particularly unusual. See the photo (above) for more details. The number of midges and flying insects is incredible to see, they fly in such large groups that it looks like a billow of smoke. This is great news for the number of tree swallows that have already returned. A few other nice birds were the first banded EABL of the season and a Blue Jay that just happened to have the wind catch his feathers at the perfect angle for the shot you see in the blog. All in all, with just under 50 birds handled, it was a pretty perfect day.
Banded 17:
1 Blue Jay
1 White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch -KMP

1 Carolina Wren
2 Golden-crowned Kinglets
2 Northern Cardinals
1 American Tree Sparrow
5 Song Sparrows
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Red-winged Blackbird
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 36 spp.
April 3rd:
It was a pretty slow day in terms of catching. Lots of bird activity; local males claiming territories, singing, chasing and fighting; migrants up high flying over; but not much around the nets.
Banded 10:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Downy Woodpecker
2 Brown Creepers

Cryptic bark gleaners: Brown Creeper. -CL

1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1 American Tree Sparrow
1 Dark-eyed junco
1 Brown-headed Cowbird
2 American Goldfinches
ET’s: 38 spp.

April 4th:
We had PERFECT netting conditions today: overcast and windless. The only thing missing was the birds.
Banded 16:
1 Northern Cardinal
2 American Tree Sparrows
3 Song Sparrows
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 Red-winged Blackbirds
4 Brown-headed Cowbirds
1 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 38 spp.

This male Eastern Bluebird and his mate have been checking out the nesting boxes around the parking lot….and trying to fend off the Tree Swallows who aren’t in to sharing. -KMP

Female Eastern Bluebird checking out a box. -KMP

Although a flycatcher, Eastern Phoebes are an early returnee – taking a chance that there will be flies to catch. -KMP

Red-breasted Nuthatches just have that “perky” look about them. -KMP

The black on the head tells you this Red-breasted Nuthatch is a male. -KMP

Bright male American Robin foraging in a wet area. -CB

Male Eastern Bluebird. -NRF

The O’Neils…..the family that bands together stays together. -DO

Eila with a somewhat annoyed White-breasted Nuthatch. -DO

Nola obviously enjoying releasing a bird. -DO

Karen’s Kreeping Korner:

Gray Comma enjoying the warm sun. -W. Fraleigh

Mourning Cloak – one of our earliest emerging butterflies. -W. Fraleigh (henceforth WF)


April 1st – 25th Spring Season!

The surprise of the year?! You just never know what the unsettled weather of early Spring will bring in: here a Black-footed Albatross skims over the deep blue water of the Grand River in spate. -DOL

At Ruthven the beginning of the Spring banding season always seems to be coupled with exceptional bird sightings. This year is no exception. I can only think that the gale force winds we experienced a few days ago brought in the Black-footed Albatross we spotted this morning coursing low over the Grand. I saw these splendid flyers a couple of weeks ago over the eastern Pacific Ocean on our way back from Hawaii. Unlike most albatrosses which seem to thrive, almost playfully, in heavy winds, Black-footed Albatrosses, when the wind reaches a certain velocity, simply get as high as they can, close their eyes, and just go for it ending up wherever the wind takes them. You will remember that those recent gales were from the Southwest…. Imagine its surprise when it found itself over the middle of North America (probably thanking its lucky stars for the Great lakes!).

[PLEASE NOTE: We are attempting to run our migration monitoring station during these very troubling times. We have set up a methodology that we think will allow us to follow the migration AND keep those involved safe. We have severely limited the number of people on site so that we can maintain social distancing requirements and not be overwhelmed with the disinfecting that we would need to carry out with a lot of visitors. We would ask that you respect our attempt by NOT trying to visit. One of the great things about Ruthven’s banding program is it gives us the chance to learn from and socialize with knowledgeable people who share the same passion. We will miss you. So….LET’S HAVE A PARTY WHEN THIS IS OVER SO WE CAN CATCH UP!!!!!]

Banding setup under the canopy. Sadly, note the lack of baked goods. -NRF

Another view of our banding setup – provides lots of “distance” and separate sets of banding paraphernalia…with disinfecting wipes. -FAS

Faye’s bird bags: an art project (and present to the program). -FAS

The sun rose, the birds were moving, and the spring peepers were serenading anyone around to hear them. While some things haven’t changed, this spring, others have. Rick was noticeably absent. He confided to me last night that he would be enjoying sleeping in (I sent him a text at 8:32, he responded after 10am), leisurely drinking his coffee, eating a complete breakfast and engaging in a sudoku puzzle. Meanwhile, a very skeleton crew was out working hard on the first day of migration banding. The app on my iPhone, tracked my distance at 6.6km and 20 flights of stairs! I certainly missed the young legs who do a lot of the net rounds during regular banding seasons.

Kind of hard to pick out…..but a nice haul of juncos. -FAS

The first banded bird of the 2020 Spring Season: Downy Woodpecker. -FAS

We started out with about 10 birds (SCJUs, DOWO and SOSPs) in net 2 with the DOWO as first bird being banded for the season. We took a bit of time after the first net round to get the outdoor lab set up, with distance and sanitization being key to everything we are doing (notice the Lysol wipes in the photo). Most of the birds were SCJUs, SOSPs and surprisingly, ATSPs (we banded 11)! I only had a few at our feeders this winter and only for a day or 2; I’m not sure where they over-wintered, but they were certainly moving today.

A retrapped Tufted Titmouse. -FAS

The history of just one of our Tufted Titmice: banded May of 2019; seen several times in the Fall; and back for the new season. -FAS

A couple nice birds for the day were a recaptured TUTI that was an older bird when it was first banded in 2019, as well as a new FOSP. A nice bird on census, just out front of the mansion was an EATO.

Fox Sparrows – earlier returners….but this is pretty early. -FAS

We had a few moments in between banding to begin cleaning out some of the nest boxes. Some of these already had EABLs and TRES already starting to perch on them.

Closing took a bit more time than usual with having to pack everything back up, take it inside and sterilize it all, but the effort is worth the time to ensure everyone remains safe and healthy. Taking all things into consideration, we seem to have had a decent start for the season: 48 birds handled and 37 banded.
Banded 37:
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
2 American Robins
11 American Tree Sparrows

We’ve seen very few of these this Winter – American Tree Sparrow. -FAS

1 Fox Sparrow
9 Song Sparrows
10 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 American Goldfinch

Our “bread & butter” bird – American Goldfinch – FAS

ET’s: 35 spp.

Male Northern Cardinal: a nice splash of colour before the trees/shrubs leaf out. -FJS

Just a kilometer down the river from Ruthven, Fred Smith had his first Eastern Bluebird. -FJS

House Finch (left) and Tufted Titmouse taking advantage of the feeder. -FJS

An earlier (but very interesting) picture of a Carolina Wren feeding at a suet feeder. -FJS