November 13th – End of Owling

Bob Donald with the first Saw-whet of the night. - N. Furber

Friday night (the 11th) marked the end of Nancy’s owling program. She ended with a small flurry, catching 3 Saw-whets. The first 2 were retraps: one (HY-F) was banded on October 29th and another (AHY-F) on November 4th. Both were caught before midnight. At 2:00 Nancy brought in a ‘new’ owl: a young bird whose sex could not be determined based on its wing and weight. This brings the total banded to 54! This is more than 10X the number we caught last Fall.

It’s interesting to conjecture whether these birds are still migrating and will head further south or whether this is as far as they’re going. The one bird has been here for 2 weeks and the other for over a week. Maybe they will be calling Ruthven ‘home’ for the Winter. [It might make for an interesting project (for Chris) to put tiny radio transmitters on birds caught late in October and early November in order to track their movements. If this allowed us to find roosting birds we might be able to get an idea of their diet at this time of year….]

Nancy with the bander-in-charge at Hilliardton Marsh: Bruce Murphy. - N. Furber

Nancy attributes much of her success this year to discussions she had with Bruce Murphy at Hilliardton Marsh outside of New Liskeard and then to the 3-night learning experience she was able to do at Hilliardton with Bruce. Following is a note she wrote on this experience:

Owling Trip to Hilliardton Marsh
The Hilliardton Marsh Bird & Wetland Research & Education Centre (BWREC) is located ~20km north of New Liskeard, Ontario. I was encouraged to visit Hilliardton Marsh to gain further experience working with owls. My trip was from October 3rd to October 6th, 2011. I traveled by train to reach New Liskeard. This was a dream for me to be making this trip. The morning of Monday, October 3 started early, having to make my connection to Toronto via the GO Train from Burlington. By eight-thirty am, I was settled on the Ontario Northland Train feeling excited and overwhelmed. Everything had gone well and now, I was on my way!

For the next eight hours, the train travelled north, and it was a bumpy, noisy, swaying train ride. The train whistle would blow for every road crossing and there were a number of ‘whistle stops’ in the smaller communities, Traveling through open fields, wooded areas, marshes, the Canadian Shield, and eventually into the boreal country! It was rainy when I started the trip and the trees were either vivid in color or the distant hills were enshrouded in a grey mist. The colors – red and yellow on the hardwoods and the various shades of green on the coniferous trees were ever-changing. It was great seeing the birch trees, the poplars, and the mossy old conifers.

The further north I travelled, the more the sky cleared. When the train rolled into New Liskeard around four-thirty pm, it was warm and sunny. By five o’clock pm I was at the ‘Marsh’, my home for four days with no plumbing or running water. I would be sleeping in the old banding lab with a wood-stove to keep me warm through the night. Before the owl banding would start in the evening I was helping with a banding program for a group of Brownies visiting the banding lab. It was a BUSY evening up until midnight. After the banding program, the feeder nets were closed and the owl nets were opened. Hilliardton Marsh has four different sites where nets are established in the Spruce bog, and a lure call is played at each site. Three of the sites use a Northern Saw-whet Owl (NSWO) call and one site has a Boreal Owl (BOOW) call.

Getting to band and hold a Long-eared Owl was an unexpected thrill. - N. Furber

On this, my first evening at the ‘Marsh’ I was learning to extract the owls from the nets and band them. By midnight, I had banded seven NSWO’s and everything had gone well. The night was not over yet! The net check of the four sites around one o’clock am on October 4 was amazing, unbelievable!! At the site where the BOOR call tape was, there were two NSWO’s, two BOOW’s, and one Long-eard Owl (LEOW) to extract from the nets!! Returning to the banding lab, I banded three different owl species. I had been hoping for the chance to band just one BOOR owl let alone two BOOR and one LEOW! By the time the nets were closed it was after three o’clock am. I was off to bed, having the heat from the wood-stove to warm up the small room I slept in.

For the next two days (October 4th and 5th) it was a very active time. Through the day, Bruce Murphy (bander-in-charge) runs an educational program at the Marsh and he is on his own with the students all morning until the early afternoon. To help him out I was responsible for the banding program each day. I was extracting, banding and teaching the students in my group while Bruce would have his group on another activity. Then, we would switch our groups. I was quite comfortable doing this due to the extensive student outreach program at Ruthven. After the students were gone there would be a short time to either eat or have a rest before the early evening time when the nets were opened and the owl banding would begin!

Saw-whet Owl - N. Furber

Two busy days with very little sleep but what a wonderful experience to be at the ‘Marsh’! On October 4th, after the day was done at four o’clock am (October 5th) I was tired but I had banded 3 NSWO’s, 1 BOOW, and 1 Common Snipe!. On October 5th, after another full day of teaching the students and banding 5 NSWO”s and 1 BOOW owls I was crawling into bed at four o’clock am (October 6th). Banding the three owl species provides different challenges. Each one of the birds – the Northern Saw-whet Owl, the Boreal Owl, and the Long-eard Owl all take a different size band and each species is unique in its behavior when you’re banding the bird. The owls use their talons, feet and beak to procure their prey and, because of that, it’s not easy to band or even to extract the birds from the nets (at night, with a head-lamp for light).

Boardwalk at Hilliardton Marsh. - N. Furber

One of the owl net lanes (furled during the daytime) at Hilliardton Marsh. - N. Furber

The habitat for the net-lane sites is a mix of Black Spruce, Tamarack and Cedar. When you walk along the pathways in the four different areas where the nets are located there are a series of narrow boardwalks with bog on either side. At night, walking without a headlamp, it’s a different world with the stars twinkling above, the spruce trees that point to the sky, the cool/crisp air and the aromas of a spruce bog!

Boreal Owl - N. Furber

On Thursday morning, October 6th I was on the train returning home. I was trying to enjoy the return trip but time and again I was struggling to stay awake. I think I was swaying just as much as the train was. It was a life-time opportunity to band three different owls species. It was a beautiful place to be for four days! The birds I banded included: 1 Long-eared Owl, 4 Boreal Owls, 21 Northern Saw-whet Owls, 1 Common Snipe, and a variety of birds during the day-time banding program – Hermit Thrushes, White-crowned Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped Chickadees, Song Sparrows, and a Hairy Woodpecker.

Thanks to Bruce Murphy for his support in allowing me to visit and learn at the ‘Marsh’. Despite Bruce’s first thought to my request in coming this week, it was definitely a time to remember with the business of the week and the memories that were shared. Thanks also to Warren, who was part of the team at the ‘Marsh’.

I wish to acknowledge Rick Ludkin, bander-in-charge from Ruthven Park Banding Lab. Thanks Rick for the vision you gave me to make this trip. Also, thanks to Marilynn Havelka, Chief Administrative Officer from Ruthven Park National Historic Site.

And this just in from Allison Furber who lives on Dry Lake Road – about 10 km from Ruthven. Perhaps the bird she caught was the one Carol Jones saw at Ruthven on the 6th.

Northern Shrike - N. Furber

Allison Furber with a Northern Shrike she caught. - N. Furber

I asked mom if I could send you an e-mail to tell you the story about
my shrike. I did a net check yesterday for Dad and there was a
Northern Shrike in the net. It was beside a goldfinch that he was
snacking on. So, I took the shrike out of the net with only a few
bites on my fingers (I ended up putting a bird bag over its head) to
extract it. I doubled bagged the bird and brought it to Dad. He
helped me band it and here are some pictures of me.

Allison Furber

1 thought on “November 13th – End of Owling

  1. great to read Nancy’s adventure to the New Liskard area – the photos are also great – their eyes are so captivating – what a wonderful experience for Nancy to help teach others back home in Southern Ontario

Leave a Reply