January 7th – Getting Started

At the end of a banding season (for us, the Fall migration monitoring period lasted for 68 days: September 1st to November7th), you breathe a big sigh of relief and look forward to mornings of sleeping in and days of summarizing data and…..days not devoted to birds at all.

But…..2019 has rolled around, a new year….a new banding challenge. We like to start off the year with a plethora of Snow Buntings (with a few Lapland Longspurs and Horned Larks thrown in) to fill the time until the Spring season starts on April 1st. But so far it hasn’t been “that kind of a Winter” meaning that it’s been mild and almost snowless – the two things that Snow Buntings need before they’ll move into our area.

So we’ve had to make due with cleaning the banding lab and filling the feeder arrays and, oh yes, doing a little banding. On the 5th Peter and Caleb Scholtens organized a CBC 4 Kids for the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club. There wasn’t an overwhelming turnout but there was a very enthusiastic turnout – and it looks like we will have 3 new young banders-to-be starting in the Spring. Give me quality over quantity anytime!

In terms of bird numbers we had a very good day: handling 66 birds 41 of them new with 25 retraps. And on the Christmas Bird Count hike the team picked up 17 species, the most interesting being an American Robin (maybe as confused as I have been over this mild weather.

We banded 41 birds:

1 White-breasted Nuthatch

5 Dark-eyed Juncos

3 House Finches

31 American Goldfinches (and we got another 10 today in less than hour simply by closing the doors on the hanging trap.)


November 7th – The End

A variety of birds, including these Eastern Bluebirds, are feeding on remnant grape clusters that robins and waxwings have missed. -KMP

After 68 straight days of migration monitoring, we reached the end. Oh I’m sure stragglers will continue to work their way south for the next couple of weeks but by and large the vast majority of birds has passed (or arrived here) to spend the Winter. Despite a very poor September, after October (which was fairly successful) we felt that we were in a position to hit the 3,000 birds banded mark for the season. All we needed was 248 birds or 35 birds a day over 7 days to hit the mark. But November wasn’t kind to us: due to rain and high winds we missed netting on 3 days; reduced the number of nets in use on 2 more; leaving just 2 full netting days. So we fell short……our banding total for the Fall was 2,943 of 84 species.

Female Eastern Bluebird finishing off a grape. -KMP

Here’s the way we finished off on the 7th:
Banded 35:
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
1 Hermit Thrush
1 Northern Cardinal
1 American Tree Sparrow
8 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Purple Finch
1 House Finch
21 American Goldfinches

Brown Creeper. Some are Winter residents but some, those still carrying good fat loads, are likely still heading further south. -KMP

ET’s: 32 spp. (including both a white phase and a blue phase Snow Geese which flew over amidst a flock of Canadas)

Fall 2018 TOP TEN:
1/ American Goldfinch – 432
2/ Cedar Waxwing – 412
3/ Myrtle Warbler – 255
4/ White-throated Sparrow – 188
5/ Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 187
6/ Dark-eyed Junco – 174
7/ Golden-crowned Kinglet – 89
8/ American Robin – 71
9/ Song Sparrow – 70
10/ Northern Saw-whet Owl – 58

Well hidden, despite the pink…..a male House Finch. -KMP

Looking at average for each species going back to 1999, we were below average for most warblers: Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Myrtle, Black-throated Green, Blackpoll, American Redstart, Ovenbird, and Common Yellowthroat. We were above average for just two species: Tennessee and Bay-breasted Warbler.

It was the same for sparrows/finches; we were below average for: American Tree, Chipping, Song, Lincoln’s, Swamp, White-throated, Eastern White-crowned, Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch, and American Goldfinch. We were above for Purple Finch and Field Sparrow.

With kinglets we had a split: Golden-crowned below; Ruby-crowned Above.

The jaunty look of a Tufted Titmouse – we banded 10 of them this Fall. -KMP

Our “Biggest Day” was October 18th when we banded 208 birds (91 or 44% of them Cedar Waxwings). We banded the most species (24) on October 14 – sort of unusual as we usually get the most variety in early September when warblers are on the move.

The banding program operates as well as it does because of the hard work and dedication of a LOT of volunteers. Volunteer hours (not to be confused with the hours put in by the designated banders) totaled 1,814!!! Thanks to everyone that contributed of their time, energy, enthusiasm, and…..baked goods!!

(If you would like spreadsheets with some of our totals, email me and I will send them to you.)

November 5th – Turning Off The Tap

Yesterday this beautiful maple was just beginning to lose its leaves. -DOL

It’s amazing sometimes how quickly things can happen. Two weeks ago Cedar Waxwings and Robins were everywhere to be seen and White-throated Sparrows greeted you along the paths in the early morning as you went to open the nets. Today we recorded just 2 Robins, 4 Waxwings and 7 White-throats. The main vanguard of these species is many hundreds of kilometers south of us by now. We know from recoveries that quite a few of the Waxwings that we band in the Fall will spend the Winter in South Carolina and Georgia. I’ll bet some are there already.

Today, just 24 hours later, most of the leaves have fallen. -NRF

We are starting to see the end of the junco influx; their numbers are tailing off. Interestingly some have low fat scores, suggesting that they will stay in the area (if not the immediate area) for the Winter while others still have large fat loads and, so, will likely be moving on further south. Speaking of staying the Winter…..we retrapped a male junco that we had originally banded in December 2014. It has been back every Winter since. Hmmm…..I wonder where it nests.

Banded 28:
1 Winter Wren
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
1 American Tree Sparrow (still waiting for the bulk of them to arrive)
3 White-throated Sparrows
1 Dark-eyed Junco (+ another 19 retraps)
21 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 29 spp.

Friday and Monday at Fern Hill Burlington can only be described as “wet”. On Friday November 2nd We ran ground traps and observed White-throated Sparrows, Juncos, and Chickadees at the feeders. During the day my students and I made pumpkin “forest feeders” out of leftover Halloween pumpkins. We cut them open to allow perching birds to alight and feast on the pumpkin, black oil, mixed seed and cracked corn we put inside. While this brought a variety of song birds to the area it may have slowed down the traffic to our ground feeders but it was a lot of fun to watch.

November 2; Banded 4 birds :
1 Black-capped Chickadee
3 Slate-coloured Juncos

On Monday November 5th the morning started off wet and drizzly but warmed and cleared up mid-morning and into the afternoon. We’re still waiting for the arrival of American Tree Sparrows at the school signaling a shift in the migration season but alas none yet. Janice had an Estimated Total of 23 species throughout the day and we banded a total of 12 birds :

1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Blue Jay
5 Black-capped Chickadees
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
3 Golden-crowned Kinglets
1 Orange Crowned Warbler

November 3rd & 4th – Another Busy Weekend!

Early morning frost – it was cold first thing this morning. -KMP

With only 3 days left in the Fall banding season you would think that things would be slowing down. While we’re not getting huge numbers (like in the middle of October) we are getting enough birds to keep us very busy (we are currently catching as many retraps – birds we’ve already banded – as new birds). And when you throw in a “public” owling night, essentially burning the candle at both ends, it can be hectic, especially when there are more than 50 attendees.

Early morning frost on the goldenrod. -MMG

It’s striking(and sobering) how quickly the variety of species has decreased over the last 10 days. On October 23rd we encountered 47 species; on November 3rd this had dropped to just 28. I firmly believe that you are given only so many migrations; this one is fast coming to an end.

And to whet your appetite for the next banding chapter……a male Snow Bunting (seen November 2 at Port Weller). -MK

November 3rd; Banded 39:
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
3 Cedar Waxwings
1 Northern Cardinal
1 American Tree Sparrow
2 Chipping Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
2 White-throated Sparrows

One of many banded juncos to be seen around the site. -MK

7 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 House Finch
19 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 28 spp.

November 4th; Banded 47:
1 Tufted Titmouse
2 Golden-crowned Kinglets
2 Northern Cardinals

A (banded) American Tree Sparrow – they are late to arrive. -M.Kershaw

5 American Tree Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
9 Dark-eyed Juncos

This female AMerican Goldfinch is in the midst of moulting its flight feathers. The red lines indicate 2 old brown feathers that have not yet been moulted and the yellow line indicates a new feather that has just about completely grown in. -CM

27 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 34 spp.

Saturday Owling Night:
We banded 8 Northern Saw-whet Owls and recaptured one that we had banded in late October – it obviously had been hanging around, sitting out the bad weather.

Photo Gallery:

A look of happiness or relief? Heather, Sandy, and Tanya had vowed to walk home (Burlington and beyond) if they didn’t get to hold an owl. Mother Nature smiled upon them…. HV

A wary look…. -CHS


Just some of the gathering for “owl night” – we had to take them in shifts. -HV


This young lady shows great promise as a future “bird person”. -CR

Four (obviously) happy owlers. -CR

The pink fluorescence of the right underwing can be seen on this bird – even without the black light. -CR

Untangling an owl. -HV

Denizens of the night. …..we also heard coyotes -HV



What is it about Saw-whets that brings out joy in people? -HV

One last look and then the lights go off, the owl readjusts to the night and will soon fly off. -HV