November 17th – Pishing Around

Boreal Sunset. -DOL

Marg and I decided to make a mad dash for our little cabin on Grand Manan Island (in the Bay of Fundy) for a little R & R and to start the task of doing up reports on the 2019 banding seasons. It’s a great place to kick back and relax, a very different pace. It’s also a great place to bird (between reports of course…..) and is renowned on the East Coast for its rarities (last Summer I turned up a Lark Sparrow and a Lark Bunting at the same time, feeding within centimeters of each other (and I was wondering if they had made the journey from western Canada together).

There’s some interesting birding right around the cabin and I make it a point of going out at least once a day for a birding stroll, quite often pishing as I go. The Black-capped Chickadees respond to this really quickly but so do: Boreal Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets and, much to my surprise(!) Pine Warblers and even a Cape May Warbler! And in the local waters (but NOT responding to pishing) Red-throated and Common Loons, Surf Scoters, and Red-necked Grebes. While overhead Bald Eagles keep an eye on things. It’s a great place to visit. But…..I’ll be heading back shortly in order to catch a plane to Kenya and Malawi where I’ll spend about a month pishing around.

We left Ontario right after the BIG snowstorm which dropped 30 cm locally with plunging temperatures. Our drive was snow free (they didn’t get nearly as much snow as southern Ontario) but cold (-20 C.) Grand Manan had a dusting and temperatures hovering just above freezing. (Rain has since dispersed the snow.) The first thing I do on getting here is fill the feeders out the back. The local birds have learned that a car in the drive means food in the feeders and they were on it first thing the next morning.

In the meantime, the birds “back home” have been having to deal with some pretty tough conditions so feeders are of even more importance to them. One of my sons is a bird feeding aficionado and, with not-so subtle persuasion I have even convinced the other one to put one up!!

One of our young birders/banders/Baggers, Aliya, has taken up photography and is doing a great job highlighting the “theme of the day”:

Fueling up to withstand the snow – a female Northern Cardinal. -AG

A flash of colour! Male Northern Cardinal. -AG

Female Downy Woodpecker taking advantage of a well-stocked feeder. -AG

Juncos like to hang around the base of feeders to clean up the scraps. -AG

Blue Jays have such an imposing look… -AG


November 12th – Fall 2019: A Brief Overview

Golden Eagle overhead. -SH

This year’s results were the result of a lot of intense work rather than a plethora of birds moving through the site. In fact, it was generally felt that we had a lot of “down time” – periods when the woods seemed empty, that good habitat was going unused when it shouldn’t be. We ended up banding 3,125 birds. Seems like a lot but, going back to 2010, it’s only our 6th highest total. [I use 2010 as that is the year when our net hours increased and became more consistent – retirement.] Month by month it looked like this:
September – banded 1,140 (6th highest)
October – banded 1,658 (8th highest)
November – banded 327 (5th highest)

The price of handling grape-eating waxwings, thrushes, robins and starlings. -NRF

There were some notable achievements:
We banded 93 species – a new Fall record

Compared against a 20 year average we had significantly higher numbers of:
Northern Flicker – 10 (avg. 3.0)
European Starling – 55 (11.35)
Warbling Vireo – – 23 (7.45)
Red-eyed Vireo -157 (57.2 – previous high was 101)
Northern Parula – 16 (1.65)
Black-throated Green Warbler – 31 (12.05)
Blackburnian Warbler – 12 (3.9)
Bay-breasted Warbler – 48 (9.15)
American Redstart – 30 (15.7)
Ovenbird – 29 (14.25)
Common Yellowthroat – 68 (33.95)
Field Sparrow – 21 (8.2)

Hoovering up roadside bird seed. -RG

Our single biggest day was October 25th when we banded 123 (97 of which were American Goldfinches). This is well below the record day of October 12th, 2017 when we banded 342 (379 if you count the non-standard birds). In fact in 6 of the past 10 years we have had 200+ bird days.

One of the two Northern Saw-whet Owls we banded on a Saturday night. -CR

One of the biggest frustrations and disappointments this season was the number of Northern Saw-whet Owls we banded – just 8. Our average, going back to 2010 when we started banding them, is 46.2! This is an irruptive species that this year, for some reason, did not irrupt….

Obviously, the number of birds banded is limited by the amount of time our nets can be open. Rarely did we have a day this Fall when we didn’t open at least a couple of nets for a short time period. Rain severely reduced nets open and in windy conditions we would open only nets in sheltered areas. We generally had very good weather in September and we ran our nets at over 86% capacity. But October’s spate of nasty weather reduced this to ~72%.

For those of you that are interested in the effectiveness of the various net lane placements:
The net lane which caught the most birds was #4 – 640; this is a triple chain net array.
The net lane that was the most effective – had the most birds per 100 net hours – was #5 at 76.8/100 net hrs; this is a single net.

Top Ten:
1. American Goldfinch – 535 (record: 1,316)
2. White-throated Sparrow – 332 (532)
3. Cedar Waxwing – 182 (1,481)
4. Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 161 (323)
5. Red-eyed Vireo – 157 (101)
6. Song Sparrow – 137 (265)
7. Dark-eyed Junco – 113 (327)
8. Myrtle Warbler – 98 (652)
9. Hermit Thrush – 80 (125)
10. Magnolia Warbler – 71 (107)

Celebrating the end of the season marked by the taking down of the nets…..a very hard working group indeed….all season -NRF

A lot of people put in a lot of time to make the season work well – 2,141 volunteer hours!! Wow! I’m not going to list you but…you know who you are. Thanks!!

November 7th – The End

Celebrating the end of the season marked by the taking down of the nets…..a very hard working group indeed….all season -NRF

It was a snowy drive for some of the people who came this morning and it was a later start before we opened nets. The wind wasn’t too bad but we waited to see if the precipitation was going to continue with ice pellets/light snow. It was a great team of volunteers helping on our last day of fall migration monitoring! Thanks to Amy Thorne for her delicious hot apple crisp to start the day as well as a lunch from the Thorne’s to feed everyone once we were done. With the change in weather, different species were staying close to the bird feeders or eating the seed we sprinkle in the traps. The feeder nets were catching numerous birds and overall, we had a busy day handling 82 birds; so many more than anticipated with the weather.

Banded 47:
3 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
2 Hermit Thrush
2 American Tree Sparrow

A very late Chipping Sparrow. -NRF

1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Fox Sparrow
3 Song Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
8 Slate-colored Junco
2 House Finch
23 American Goldfinch

Young female Eastern Bluebird. -NRF

Young male Eastern Bluebird. -NRF

ET’s: 37 spp.

The 47 birds banded by Nancy and the crew brought our season banding number up to 3,125 birds. Although certainly laudable it was only the 6th highest total going back to 2010 (when total net hours started to become more uniform due to my retirement). In fact, we were 500 birds below the average of 3,622 going back to 2010. On the plus side we banded the most species we’ve ever done – 93. And we had significantly higher numbers of a variety of vireos and warblers: Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos; Northern Parulas; Black-throated Green, Blackburnian and Bay-breasted Warblers; American Redstarts; Ovenbirds; and Common Yellowthroats. But other numbers were confusingly low; e.g., 98 Myrtle Warblers vs an average of 307; 28 Blackpoll Warblers vs 62. The picture is even more confusing when it comes to sparrows. We banded a significantly higher number of Field Sparrows (21); The 332 White-throated Sparrows banded was well above the average of 221 but we did only 7 White-crowned Sparrows (vs 27). We managed only 113 juncos (against an average of 186) but could this simply be due to a later arrival? We banded another 17 today while we were taking down the nets. But no matter how you cut it, we’re still 500 birds below average. And just think of how many times we commented to each other that the woods simply felt “empty” – that very suitable habitat was going unused.

Across the country migration monitoring stations are being asked to share and compare their results. Here’s an example of the preliminary discussion lead by Ricky Dunn:

Manomet Bird Observatory (Massachusetts) reported…..that the 2019 fall banding totals were close to the lowest in 52 years. That spurred a conversation with other northeastern U.S. banding stations, which also reported low numbers. They next sent a request for info to LPBO and Powdermill (western Pennsylvania) to see how they had done. Powdermill reported nothing unusual, but LPBO also had a low season (details not yet compiled). And incidental to other correspondence, John Woodcock, at McKellar Island Bird Observatory in Thunder Bay ON, said the following:

This was a most peculiar season at MIBO, we banded only 938 birds compared to the previous 5 year average of 2,300. We kept going to the end of the season but on most days in Oct. banding totals were less than 10. Most notably SCJU captures went from an average of 141 down to 1! Also way down were MYWA, NAWA, TEWA, WPWA, WTSP, PISI, SCJU, SWTH, BLPW, LISP, and AMRE. The weather was favorable for the most part, maybe too favorable. This year birds did not stick around much. In the past, we’ve always had a lot of repeat captures of NAWA & WTSP (for example) throughout Aug. & Sept. but not so this year. They arrived in small numbers and disappeared shortly thereafter. Diversity doesn’t seem to be impacted much though; the 5 yr avg is 67 species, this year was 63 species.

Finally, Quebec banders have also been talking about a slow season, and had a similar suggestion to John’s; that is, food supply for birds was very good and possibly migrants were making longer flights and shortening stopovers as a result. A report from Yukon also noted excellent conditions for breeding (lots of food and favourable weather), but they had “lots of birds” at banding stations this fall.

The point of this message is to ask a wider audience the same question: Did your site have a notably poor fall season? If so, was it general across all species, or mainly result of declines in a few species or groups of species?

I’ll send results of this highly informal survey back to the folks at Manomet.
Ricky Dunn

So there’s plenty to think about. Is the downturn in the numbers of birds witnessed at banding station in the east due to good food availability in the north and the birds are “flying over” on their way south or….are we beginning to see the impact of the loss of nearly 2.9 billion birds recently reported in Science?

November 5th & 6th – The Charge Of The Flight Brigade

The price of handling grape-eating waxwings, thrushes, robins and starlings. -NRF

The birds knew that something was up. All morning they were moving around, up in the tree-tops, in big groups watching and waiting. The word was out: after the 4th we needed to band just 94 birds to make 3000 for the season, making it a better than average season; that would work out to 32 birds per day. Usually this sort of parameter puts the jinx on us and we fall short but we were determined we would get there! The birds were determined that we wouldn’t. And to add insult to injury they decided that they’d tease and taunt us by skirting the nets and playing up high. But we knew that the food they wanted – wild grapes – was down at net height. It would come down to a battle of wills. Finally this morning they couldn’t take it any more, the grapes were calling out to them, like muffins to a bander. So they charged with the express intent of knocking down the nets with the force of their onslaught and…..they almost succeeded. Seeing that the nets were old and brittle with UV damage they threw in their heavyweights right at the start – starlings and robins. The nets took a beating but the banders were faster – extracting almost as fast as they hit the nets, purple projectile poop notwithstanding. And in the end the banders prevailed: 50 yesterday, 122 today crushing the 3000 level. The flocks, sensing their defeat, flew off to lick their wounds so to speak…maybe to try another day. Lord knows there’s still lots of grapes.

Ruthven, November 5th:
Every net lane was catching today as the winds were light, causing less billowing of the nets (the last few days have seen strong winds). Lovely weather by mid-morning with sunshine, blue sky and cumulus clouds! It was a busy day processing a total of 81 birds of 23 species. We hope this weather will continue for the next two days before the fall migration monitoring season finishes on November 7th. We are close to a season banding total of 3000 birds!

Banded 50:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Downy Woodpecker

It’s Movember and this male Northern Flicker is proudly showing his ‘stache. The guy holding it will have to wait another 10 years. -JET

1 Yellow-shafted Flicker
2 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet

What do you call a group of 6 Eastern Bluebirds? A choir……(I just made that up). -NRF

6 Eastern Bluebirds
1 Hermit Thrush
16 Cedar Waxwing
1 Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler
3 American Tree Sparrow

Fox Sparrow. -NRF

2 Fox Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
1 White-crowned Sparrow

This junco is also supporting Movember. -NRF

3 Slate-colored Junco
10 American Goldfinch

One of at least 2, maybe 3, Carolina Wrens that have been hanging around Ruthven all Fall. -NRF

ET’s: 37 species

Ruthven; November 6th:
The morning started off rather slowly and there didn’t seem to be much bird activity. We simply weren’t aware of the flocking starlings and robins that were lurking in the treetops, sneaking around the periphery, sizing up the situation and locating their purple plunder. And then they made their move. We knew it was coming – large flocks of birds like this sound almost like a train passing when they take flight. We started heading for the nets and found loads of kamikaze starlings and robins hanging in them while behind us juncos tried a sneak attack. It was touch and go for awhile (actually “ring and fling”) but we prevailed. The total of 122 banded pushes our Fall total to 3,078. Nancy will be trying for 3100 tomorrow – our last day.

Banded 122:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Black-capped Chickadee
3 Golden-crowned Kinglets
6 Hermit Thrushes
13 American Robins
1 Northern Mockingbird
7 Cedar Waxwings
52 European Starlings
1 Northern Cardinal
3 American Tree Sparrows
1 Field Sparrow

Rust, the colour of autumn. Hermit Thrush on the left, Fox Sparrow on the right. -DOL

1 Fox Sparrow
4 White-throated Sparrows
1 White-crowned Sparrow
16 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 House Finches
9 American Goldfinches

This adult female Nashville Warbler has been hanging around for a week now – even with a large fat load that would provide enough energy to get her to Central America. -NRF

ET’s: 36 spp.

Fern Hill Oakville; November 5th:

One of 3 Mourning Doves caught in traps. -KAP

It was fairly quiet at Fern Hill, surprisingly so. There’s a very different mix of birds there compared to Ruthven. For example, at FHS I counted 26 House Finches and 2 American Goldfinches in the course of the day; at RP there were 60+ golfinches and NO House Finches. At FHS Song Sparrows were relatively common but there were NO White-throated Sparrows; at RP there were 20+ White-throats (double the number of Song Sparrow).

Banded 15:
3 Mourning Doves
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 American Robin
3 Song Sparrows
7 Dark-eyed Juncos

ET’s: 23 spp.