June 13th – Tune-up

Female (left) and male Bobolinks – 2 of 4 caught and banded at The Oakville campus.

Last week I took my bicycle in for a tune-up: lubricate the moving parts and replace the worn or broken-down ones. (An over-the-handlebars header last year going down the King’s Forest trails at Albion Falls hadn’t helped much.) Twenty-four hours later it was done, ready to go, like new. Don’t you wish you could do the same with yourself?!

So I went out riding around the rural countryside where I live and began to ruminate on the plight of our breeding birds in light of typical agricultural practices. I passed thousands of acres of either deserts (bare dirt herbicide-treated fields, waiting to be worked up and planted a little later) or killing fields (already many farmers have taken off their first cutting of hay). In the desert fields there is almost no food: no plants = no seeds or insects. The mowing of the hay fields wiped out grassland nesting species – and since it was such a cold, wet Spring these birds would have got off to a late start so no chance of fledging any young before the cut. Is it any wonder that the numbers of grassland bird species and aerial insectivores that forage over fields have plummeted?

On my ride I did occasionally run into hay fields that hadn’t yet been cut. From one I picked up the calls of Savannah Sparrows, Meadowlarks and Bobolinks but these fields were very few and far between…..and who knows how long it will be until the hay on these is cut? [However, I’m keeping my eye on a large acreage of hay that last year was not cut until later in the Summer. It still hasn’t been cut and I’m keeping my fingers crossed…. It’s in the vicinity of Moore’s Road and Young’s Road about 5 km northeast of York. It’s well worth someone spending some time looking it over – I used to see Upland Sandpipers and Grasshopper Sparrows in it.]

I guess the bottom line for me is: how much corn and soya bean do we really need? And could we not get by with just one or two cuttings of hay – leaving the first one until later?

This ramble leads me to the Oakville campus of Fern Hill. On this, our last day, I put up a net in a big field that is just south of the playing field – a large grassy opening that hasn’t been cut in some time. It is the home of Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows (along with some Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows, the latter along the edges). I don’t know how long this field will remain as such – I’m sure, being on 9th Line right next door to Mississauga, there are developers drooling to get their hands on it. But right now – and last year too – it is the home of an energetic and viable population of Bobolinks.

We lucked out and caught 4 Bobolinks: 1 female and 3 males. What a delight for everyone! Especially when one considers that the bird winters in central South America and many make a lengthy overwater flight to get there.

As I mentioned, this was our last banding day here until September when school starts up again. Despite the limited bird-friendly habitat at the school (which we are striving to expand) we have had a pretty good 2017: we have banded 370 birds of 41 species.

Today; Banded 22:
1 Traill’s Flycatcher
7 Tree Swallows (nestlings from 2 nest boxes)
1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow

A BIG surprise: Northern Rough-winged Swallow. -KAP

2 Warbling Vireos

Two Warbling Vireos – they chatter all day long!

4 Bobolinks

Bobolink pair.

2 Red-winged Blackbirds
2 Brown-headed Cowbirds
2 Common Grackles
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 36 spp.

Top Ten of 2017 (so far):
1. Dark-eyed Junco – 53
2. Red-winged Blackbird – 46
3. American Goldfinch – 37
4. Black-capped Chickadee – 25
5. American Tree Sparrow – 24


Isabella and Laura after a net run.

The indoor “banding lab”.

The outdoor “banding lab”.

Young Ornithologists checking out a bird. Angela sports the new look in colourful banding garb.

The yellow and white on the back makes the male difficult to see hunkered down in a field of Dandelions. -KAP

The female plumage provides great camouflage in the deep grass. -KAP


2 thoughts on “June 13th – Tune-up

  1. It is sad to read of your observations. Are you, any other bird or conservation groups able to reach out to try to work with farmers? Perhaps being informed of the damage done to bird populations, some may be willing to modify farming practices?

  2. HI Claire. I know that these attempts have been made – and some farmers are quite willing to wait until after fledging. But the majority either aren’t informed or don’t act on it.

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