June 21st – A New Project

Recently-fledged Tree Swallows are starting to line the wires. Fall migration can’t be too far away. -DOL

To help pass this stay-at-home period and too organize my time, I’ve been trying to come up with a project I can do daily that a) is interesting (to me); b) doesn’t involve the skilled use of tools (to which I’m allergic); c) might provide useful data over time; and d) won’t eat up too much time.

I’ve been trying to keep active every day, usually by doing some cycling, much of it along reclaimed railroad beds in the area. There’s a really good 18.5 km loop that runs from York, NE along Regional Road 9 to the Gypsum Mine Tract Trail, along it to McClung Road in Caledonia, south down McClung to the Grand River, and then back to York along the Rotary Club Riverside Trail. And to get into Hamilton, I follow the first part of this loop to McClung Rd and then take the Chippawa Trail to Albion Falls and the Mountain brow. [The other day I hopped onto the Chippawa Trail where it crosses Unity Rd. right next to the Kilman Zoo. One of the lions started roaring. I had never heard this in Africa. It is REALLY impressive. Don’t think I’d want to hear it right outside my tent though.]

Little Wood Satyr. -MMG

The thing I’ve noticed about these trails is that they’re bordered by fairly dense vegetation ranging from shrubs to stands of trees; in fact, in some places the trails go through actual forest. As cities continue to expand these vegetated corridors will become ever more important for wildlife – for both flora and fauna. What do we know about the trails in our area right now? What species of birds nest along them? Do birds move along them during migration? Do animals travel along them from one area to another? I don’t think we know much; I’m not aware of any assessment that’s been done (if there has been some I’d love to know about it!).

So….as often as possible I’m going to take an hour in the morning to walk a section of the Gypsum Mine Tract Trail (the newest one) and do a bird count. I’ll post the results on eBird so there’s a record. Sometime in the future, during migration, I’d love to net along the trail in one spot and run another set of nets a kilometer further along to see if migrants continue to move during the day using these corridors. I did the section between Young’s Rd. and Stoney Creek Rd. this morning and came up with 33 species including Yellow-billed Cuckoo (at least 4 of them).

Recent Pictures:

A brave new world at the far edge of space? Or.....a picture of a bubble? -AG

A brave new world at the far edge of space? Or…..a picture of a bubble? -AG

White-tailed Deer. -AG

Female White-tailed Deer thinking about making the crossing to Slink Island. -MMG

And away she goes….. -MMG

Eastern Kingbird. -AG

Least Bittern. -AG

Reclusive Virginia Rail. -AG

Pied-billed Grebe with chicks. -AG

A fairly massive Snapping Turtle. -AG

Painted Turtle. -DOL

Northern Map Turtles. -MMG

Female Downy Woodpecker with a mouthful of food for her progeny. -MMG

Multiflora Rose. -MMG

Dame’s Rocket?? -MMG

Laurel Sphinx Moth -WF

Male Polyphemus Moth -WF


June 9th – Unfortunate Timing

Eila chanced upon this Least Bittern and (unusual for her) had her camera ready to go. What a nice find!! -ELO

The banding season may be over but the birding season…..well, there simply isn’t a birding season – it’s all the time. A wide variety of people (of all ages) have been sending me anecdotal reports of their sightings and/or photos. Almost invariably they comment that they’re surprised that there’s so many neat birds in their immediate areas – they had no idea. Further, they’re surprised (sometimes amazed) that there are so many wild spaces around them. Some small, some large…but, again, they just weren’t aware that they existed. This is one of the positive spin-offs of COVID-19: people are paying attention to the natural world right around them.

To my mind though it might have been better if this pandemic, which is requiring that people stay home or close to it, started next year – the beginning of the collection of data for the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. Just think of all the people searching out birds in their immediate neighbourhoods right at the moment. Let’s hope this zeal hasn’t worn off next year – it could result in a hell of an atlas!

This European Starling has found a good place to look for insects. -ELO

I was intrigued by this shot of a European Starling adapting to its habitat. They’re a pretty clover bird! I remember once watching a very resourceful starling: I was driving on the I 90 – the New York Thruway. There was a big lineup of cars and trucks at a toll booth moving very slowly. This starling would go through the grill of the trucks and emerge with a big insect (presumably toasted) which it would whisk away for its young. Minutes later it would be back, sometimes to another truck. How did it ever manage to learn that this was even an option!?

I’ve included a bunch of photos that folks have sent me at the end. But I thought I’d like to throw in this delightful letter from Kip. He and his folks have visited Ruthven on a few occasions and the little guy apparently is turning into a keen observer and birder…..as you will see.

Kip birding on the Burnt River (near Minden) – note the binoculars at the ready. -IB/RK

Hi Rick,
I’m going to tell you all the birds that are nesting in our yard and I am going to list them for you:
I found these nests:
Chipping Sparrow

In our nest boxes:
Hooded merganser
Common Merganser
House Wren
Tree Swallow

We know these are nesting in our yard but we have not found them yet:
Song Sparrow
Red-eyed Vireo
Brown Thrasher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
American Redstart
Winter Wren
Black-capped Chickadees
Chestnut-sided Warbler

Across the river:
Yellow Warbler
Mourning Doves

We often see:
Spotted Sandpipers
Canada Geese
Belted Kingfisher
Pileated Woodpecker
Barn Swallows
Cedar Waxwing

I hope you saw some cool birds, too!
Love, Kip
Recent Photos:

Diane found this Least Flycatcher in her backyard. -DG

It’s not just birds that are capturing interest. This ???? Moth was on a fence post bordering Ruthven Butterfly Meadow. It’s about 6 cm long – anyone know what it is? -DOL

Bobolinks abound in hay fields (especially old ones). -ELO

A House Wren holding forth. -ELO

You usually have to search and search (VERY quietly) for Virginia Rails. It’s not often they walk out under your feet. -ELO

Savannah Sparrow giving its all – welcoming in the day. -ELO

These 3 young Bald Eagles all look to be in really good condition. If food was scarce there might not be 3 of them any more….. -KMP

One of the proud parents of those 3. -KMP

How often do you get to see the emergence of a dragonfly!? -KMP

Eastern Kingbird. Up here it’s very territorial but in its wintering area you can see flocks of them. -KMP

Juvenile European Starling getting a look at the World, getting ready to join in. -KMP

Great Blue Heron in flight. -KMP

Marsh Wren – an easy bird to hear (in the right habitat) but difficult to sight….and even harder to photograph. -KMP

Painted Turtle. -KMP


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