November 11th – Intuition

Still one of my very favourite toys - milkweed parachutes.

The Fall banding season ran for almost 68 days straight (although Nancy is still going after owls – she got another Saw-whet last night – but she will likely stop after the weekend). So life was pretty routinized. But it’s over and I’m trying to establish a new routine (sort of like retiring…..). The immediate task is to get all the banding data entered – I think I have only about 2,500 birds to go! On the one hand, it’s kind of a pain but, on the other, its mindlessness is sort of relaxing, especially when you’re listening to good tunes through your earphones. As well, trying to put faces to the banders that belong to the various sets of initials on the data sheets is fun and, in some cases, brings back memories of interesting events or birds. It also can be a challenge to decipher the data itself as some scribes have obviously trained at some time in their careers to be doctors. (You know, why use whiteout and rewrite when you can leave a big scribbled blob of ink……..?) Or, in the learning phase, mixed up sex codes with age codes – which brings you out of your reverie when the data entry program lets you know…

Data entry - note the earbuds....which keep it tolerable.

As I mentioned, Nancy got another Saw-whet last night. (Of course the bird couldn’t show up during the first 3 net rounds when I was there…..) One interesting observation this year is that we got the big push of Saw-whets at the same time in October that we got the influx of short-distance migrants: sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and waxwings. I mean, intuitively, this just makes sense. The owls are likely following and taking advantage of this massive food source. But why the short-distance migrants? Why not start with the long-distance warblers, tanagers, orioles, etc. back in early September? And, although this makes “intuitive” sense, I don’t know of any research that looks at the diet of these owls when they’re on migration. Is their movement with the sparrows and Myrtle Warblers just coincidence – do they eschew the copious feathered buffet in preference to small furred rodents? If not, what is it about these prey birds that make them so attractive to the owls (as opposed to the long-distance birds)? Is it their roosting behaviour perhaps or simply the timing – October is better for the owls than September. The thing is that it’s very difficult to sort out the Saw-whet’s diet. They hunt at night, so you’re not likely to see a predation event and looking for regurgitated pellets from a secretive bird, that isn’t going to a set roost each night but is on the move, would seem to be a lost cause. So…..I am turning these complex questions over to Chris Harris who has expressed an interest in studying these fascinating birds. Good luck Chris!

House Finches are currently taking great advantage of the feeders.

As Winter closes in (there’s a chilling sleet coming down just outside my window as I’m writing this), the feeders at Ruthven are getting lots of attention and need to be refilled almost daily. I’ve left a couple of nets up by the feeders and will start to catch and band in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’m trying to get a count of the species that are around and would encourage any of you that go out for a walk on the property to do the same. (And if you see anything “interesting”, let me know.) This morning there was a small flock of Rusty Blackbirds and a male Eastern Bluebird right by the entrance to the park and an immature Bald Eagle perched close to the River. There are still a LOT of wild grapes around the site which will keep some birds here for awhile yet.

The fields of goldenrod have turned to dross -but only during the day. In the moonlight, they're silver.

November is thought of by most people as a dreary month that they would rather skip. But I kind of like it – especially the skies and the cloud formations, threatening snow, that you often get. And when that snow does finally come…..Snow Buntings…..all the way from Greenland to spend their Winter with us.

There are still many large clusters around the grounds - sustenance for many birds in the long cold months to come.


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