Thursday, 10 May 2018

the migration is on

slow start to the banding season as we are waiting for water to drain so we can  get all the nets up all in good time 
Rough legged hawk

Now that I have your attention  these photo's will introduce you to our spring 2018 banding crew they are a great bunch and I am excited to have them here and they are already making an impact more to come . I am hoping they will take on the task of introducing themselves by blogging this season.  It is a challenging spring as the volunteers have to tent  but they are a hardy bunch and are embracing the boreal experience.  You can find out more about them by checking out our podcast  bird banter with boreal bruce  The crew has already made a big impact as you are soon to discover.  The migration is on  warblers are just arriving and the crew is ready.

Nick with the fist ever broad winged hawk we have ever banded at the marsh well done nick and the crew!!! They managed to band 3 which is phenomenal some years 3 are not banded in the province !!!
Chrissy took out and banded the first warbler of the season a lovely palm warbler
palm warbler 
Frances with the first white crowned sparrow of the season
Jess with the first  American golfdfinch
Tree swallow box cleanout
Cleaning out boxes at the  old north cobalt lagoon after a day of banding  a long day for volunteers 
team Quinton assembled and ready to clean out tree swallow boxes at the marsh
Frances with a spring  sawwhet owl 
Nick holding 1 of the 2 long eareds hey banded this spring  we attempted a pilot spring owl banding project which may lead us to deploy some  motus tags on some owls. First we had to show we could band a few in the spring  which proved to  be a difficult task. Nothing like our numbers in the fall
boreal banding adventure starts in a tent hopefully our raise the roost campaign will house volunteers in a nice warm 64 foot trailer 
Well after taking forever winter has been usurped by spring  and we are banding birds. Our crew has arrived and have a week under their collective banding belt and things are going really well and we are enjoying an awesome positive group of banders and the birds are arriving  just as we are ready.
pictured here is our spring crew 2018 right of me is  Chrissy Barton from Virginia, Jessica Baille  from Ajax Mohammed Fammy from Egypt Nick Alioto from Sunderland  and Frances Whalen from Kalamazoo Michigan and what a great crew.

Mo with a roughlegged hawk we banded

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

finally something to blog about and new podcast

female American Kestrel

Yesterday I was pretty giddy and found myself humming a Christmas tune  as we made our way to the j trap. Red winged blackbirds while having been here for weeks had their calls muted by bands of geese and the calls of sand hill cranes. Well come to think of it I do not know how someone would describe the call of a sand hill, the trumpet? It would be kind of like  describing coffee to someone who has never tasted coffee. The Christmas tune in my head was  "the most wonderful time of the year" We banded our first american tree sparrows of the year and managed to band our first gold finch and also captured a number of purple finches and noted there are still around 50 common redpolls at the feeders!!
Frances and an American tree sparrow

 Robins seemed to be everywhere and in astounding numbers. I wish we had kept count as we traveled area roads looking for  kestrels to band  but I do not think it would be outrageous to throw a number of 10,000 around as small flocks of 30 to 40 birds were ever present as they scooted along fields destined for wormy delights to the north. Rough legged hawks northern harriers and kestrels were not hard to find traveling concession roads through farm country.  Tree swallows and king fishers are also back and there was a report of a flicker. Also Nick banded  an American woodcock on April 22nd to add to the spring wave of birds. A more detailed picture of migrants can be found on Milton's migration Mondays provided by local birder Mark Milton.
Nick and our first goldfinch

     We begin our banding season officially on Tuesday may 2nd. Normally we begin on May 1st but this year we are doing some outreach with three school classes that are  coming together  at kerns public school to have a "bird rendezvous" The kids are going to be banding , building bird houses and learning a bit more about  how to identify birds by sight and beginning to learn how to bird by ear. It promises to be a great day. I had a great time last Friday visiting the kids at in grade 4/5 and 6 at central school in Kirkland lake we chatted about ebird and bird feeding and set up some feeders in their school yard. Nice to see kids excited about feeding birds and was impressed wit the quality of questions and how well behaved the students where. Great things happening at Central School. Looking forward to the rendezvous at Kerns public.

Bird feeders  hung by a rope until a shepherds hook can get through ice

     Our volunteer banding crew for the season has been assembled and they are starting to arrive . Nick Aliotto an Frances Whalen have arrived from Michigan and we also will be joined by Jessica Baille from Ajax Ontario, Chrissy Barton from Virginia and Mohammed Famy from Montreal will all be arriving on Sunday to round out our crew. We are looking forward to their arrival and the birds that have brought them to us.

Nick with a purple finch perhaps the worst name for a bird ever 

      As folks are no doubt aware this year they will be tenting as we continue our funding drive to purchase a 64 foot trailer  to accommodate future volunteers at the marsh. Anyone wishing to help out with this critical fund raising campaign can do so online at and you will receive a tax receipt as we are a charitable organization. You can feel wonderful about yourself knowing that your contribution is going to help researchers as these young people are giving up the chance to make wages  to pay off student debt by  joining us so the ability to house them is of critical importance. In addition your donation is being matched by the gosling foundation which will make you feel twice as good.
      Recently with the help of the creative energy and technical know how of Ben McPherson  we have started a podcast which is currently available at

the podcast is called Bird Banter with boreal Bruce  and is an attempt to chat about the happenings at the marsh and the people who make it all happen. Currently it is on a youtube site but we are looking into having it hosted on our website which will allow folks to download it onto any device they like. So far I have not been responsible for anyone drifting off to sleep while behind a steering wheel but there are rumors of playing it to toddlers at bedtime to induce sleep. I am excited to introduce folks to our volunteers and many topics about the marsh.  I would love to get feedback and ideas about future episodes so if there is anyone out there with suggestions please send them my way . I can also be reached at . I really appreciate all the work and ideas from Ben who really is a technical whiz and we think the podcast will be a nice way to get out the word about what we are doing at the marsh and will hopefully be helpful to birders young and old alike.
     It really is the most wonderful time of the year we will be updating the blog as often as we can with highlights of the spring migration. Not sure if it is okay to sing a  Christmas song in April but I just cannot seem to help myself. Bird is the word!
Nick holding an American Woodcock in "Popsicle grip" check out that snoz!!!

Monday, 19 March 2018

Painting St pattys Day Green Red and Purple!!! and "Raise the Roost" fundraising campaign

A dazzling  after second year male common redpoll 

 The theme of the day was not only Irish green but  gratefully greenbacks in the form of  donations that made us happy. As for the birds it was the red in redpoll.  With the help of some young hands at the traps  and some experienced hands, enter thanks to Chris  Sukha we were able to band 97 more redpolls  which allowed us to pass the 1000 redpoll for the season.  When ever I think of banding at St ptricks day images of green and t shirts  usually fill my head as we often can toss away our winter coats and enjoy the warmth of a plus 3 day in balmy comfort . yesterday i hardly wanted to expose my fingers the frigid temperatures . I arrived to start the wood stove and it was a crushing minus 18.  The birds in the cold were quite active which is why we were able to band so many. All of the birds were caught in our 2 finch traps and our J trap.
Violet holding our 1000th common redpoll of the 2017 banding season . Most of them were caught after feb 16th
     So my initial plan was just to talk about St patty's day banding  and to put on lots of pictures of people with green hats.  So staying with the colour theme here purple definitely beat green on tis day. A young lady named Violet who tells me here very colour is purple  came out to the marsh to make a donation. In lieu of getting birthday presents she collected 120 dollars to donate to the marsh which I thought was just amazing. She is a nature lover and there family had past the marsh on the highway many times  and had never stopped in. Violet decided this year she wanted to donate to help nature and picked the marsh, we could not be happier. While she was there violet helped us at the traps and because we did not have many people out probably due to the cold she even helped me to band a few birds.  The neat thing about Violets donation is she was not even aware of the fund raising campaign that we are about to start and when we told her that her donation was going to go to  helping us  purchase a trailer for long term volunteers to stay at the marsh who are mostly  college and university students  she could not be happier. Actually I think she was happiest when she was holding a redpoll.
Violet making her donation in front of the giving tree . All people  donation to Raise the roost will have their names on the giving tree and will be put on a sign that will be mounted on the outside of the "roost" That donation is not for treats amigo!
  This Saturday we will be launching our " Raise the Roost" campaign to provide housing for volunteers. We are starting with a face book live event  and will be calling our members to enlist their  support.  You can find out more information about this campaign on our website or our face book page. It has become clear to us especially after having volunteers from outside the area that the true backbone and ability to conduct our research at the marsh is our ability to house long term volunteers. These volunteers tend to be  University and college students. many of these students are hoping to either get their banding permits or are here to see and learn more about boreal birds.  These volunteers  come here knowing that we will provide a roof over their head  and they provide there own food. We quickly discovered  pleasing so many varied diets was  well lets say too challenging.  When Hilliard township sold their township hall we they moved their office upstairs above the community hall where they had been letting us house volunteers. So our plan is to purchase a  used  trailer that can sleep 6 to 8 and has a common area and a kitchen and bathroom. Our goal is to raise 40,000 to purchase a used trailer  have it transported to the marsh which is costlier then you would think.  We are very hopeful of having some trades folk help us with the hook up to well and septic.
Sarah and Pete pictured here  Pete was a volunteer from the UK and Sarah was our intern who stayed in the dorm for 6 months as our intern and she was still smiling
     Our find raising efforts have been boosted by the Gosling foundation which is matching donations up to 10,000 so there is a nice incentive for folks to know that there donations are going to be doubled  We are launching the campaign with a great deal of optimism this Saturday and have already had some pledges  and promises of donations to come. Having  place for the volunteers to stay really does  fill in the missing piece in our research puzzle. We are also a candidate site to become part of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network and one area we need to be able satisfy is our ability to run the same number of nets  each banding season. the way we can be sure that we can is the ability to house and support volunteers. We already have a number  who have signed up for this spring . This  spring the group is going to have to be a hardy bunch as they are going to be tenting  as  we are going to have to wait to have money in hand to purchase the trailer so best case scenario is that the group starting in August and all those that follow after will have plenty of respect for the tent dwellers of the spring of 2018.  Hopefully when banding begins April 17th the temperature will be better then our projected first day of spring  -22 Celsius. So please spread the word  about" Raise the Roost" and support us if you can. If you would like  to learn more about volunteering during the spring or fall migration please let me know. Interestingly we already have more folks committed the the fall season currently then the spring, maybe they have already heard we are Raising the Roost!!!

Hopefully you have seen this poster before please copy and share  to anyone who wants to help support bird research

Our long time bander and friend  and artist Chis Sukha. Chris would be a great guy to call if you are trying to figure out that perfect gift for  the birder in your family. He is happy to do commissioned paintings for you so if grandma loves owls , Uncle  Fester loves  falcons or Kelly loves kestrels . As for this red winged  it is destined fr the roost but for now will hang in the bird house in a space of hounor 

Thursday, 15 March 2018

redpoll reign at Hilliardton

beautiful after second year male common redpoll  the colour almost wills the snow to melt. Clearly I am urging the snow to melt and set the stage for spring migration.

Well  it has been a long time since I have written in the blog  and there is so much to write about but I am going to be single minded and write about redpolls. It occurs to me that single minded is a very odd expression when referring to such a flock oriented bird as redpolls.  There was a time that I wondered why we were banding redpolls until a redpoll banded at the marsh appeared in Alaska  and over the past decade it appears that we are almost the only site banding redpolls in Ontario. This is more due to snow conditions and the fact that in most years redpolls do not migrate much further then then the cover of the boreal so we have a unique opportunity.  Redpolls are known for having "irruptive " years  making it into southern Ontario but large flocks are usually predictable in the north. So far this winter we have banded  1, 487 common redpolls . 941 have been banded at the marsh, 413 have been banded at our Dawson point site and 133 have been banded by the school site at Kerns Public school.  A huge part of our success this year has been due to a donation from the Temiskaming Foundation to purchase some very effective traps and the construction of our J trap at the marsh which was also funded by the Temiskaming foundation as well. The great part of these traps is that it is a great way to introduce kids  to the world of banding that is stress free for the birds. We often see the birds enter the traps and after realizing they are caught the birds start to feed seemingly unconcerned about their momentary lack of freedom.
     We have been surprised by the lack of  hoary redpolls banded this year  as we have only banded 7 after a high of 60 last year. There is a great deal of speculation that this species is about to get lumped into a single species of redpoll but I believe this has not happened yet and I will leave it to greater minds to explain the rationale for making this taxonomic change .

Northern shrike  the gloves show the respect their bill deserves 

     Just recently the flocks of redpolls have been joined by birds that want to eat them and we were lucky enough at our Dawson point site to capture and band a Merlin and a northern shrike  as these species make their way north.  Each winter we have managed to capture a few shrike  but march seems to be the month we capture the most and the Merlin stands out as it is only the 4 th we have ever banded and 2 of these have been captured at Dawson point and both were in march as well almost to the day.

Merlin's  are always  exciting perhaps the fastest bird I have ever caught

     This years redpoll numbers  represent our fourth best year year having banded 1216 in 2011 and 1108 in 2015 and 999 in 2005. Numbers seem to be dropping dramatically the last couple of days and we are  catching a a great deal of retraps  right now suggesting that the flock at the marsh is mostly banded.  It has become a bit of a tradition over the years to mix green and red  as we celebrate St Patrick's day by showing interested observers how we band redpolls at the marsh . So perhaps you will make it out to the marsh and we will finish the phrase "Top of the day to you  with the customary Irish response ... and the rest of the day to you!!!! Happy St Patty's and happy birding. If you wish to join us take note we will be banding from 9 to 12  and will be featuring some Irish stew  made with wonderful grass fed beef form Marsh Meadows organic farm.

Ouch!!! waiting to happen

Thursday, 18 January 2018

banding update researchers reach the 153rd species banded at the marsh

Bohemian waxwing

My banding day January 11th started out like most this winter. Getting out of the car I was met with the syrupy call of pine grosbeaks contrasted with the more abrasive call of evening grosbeaks. In the background however  there were a few bohemian waxwings  adding their voices to the statement that winter birds can rival their spring and summer cousins in call and beauty. Pine grosbeaks  hopped from branch to branch on willows and spruces as I filled the feeders and lowered the nets.  I never  really put everything together until I did  my first net check and saw the small flash of yellow in the wing and new in an instant that we had a new species for the marsh.  I have never seen bohemians feed on anything but berries and all of the berries at the marsh especially around the nets had been gobbled up a long time ago. Why a bohemian descended from its tree top perch to get caught in a net  while beyond my comprehension is not beyond my celebration. On this day there was no one around to share my excitement  so no one had the chance to witness my happy dance!!!! Its not every day we get the chance to band a new species for the marsh.
check out the yellow flash and the waxy tips 

In addition to the excitement of the waxwings we have recently  surpassed the previous record of pine grosbeaks at the marsh set in 2012 at 65 birds banded, we currently are sitting at 76. This has less to do with us and is really a reflection of the number of pine grosbeaks that have discovered the bounty at the marsh. 
male pine grosbeak

The excitement of the  number of pine grosbeaks we have has spread and today and yesterday the marsh welcomed  a couple of birders and photographers form southern Ontario who left at 4 in the morning to capture an image of a pine grosbeak at the marsh. We were delighted to host Steve Rossi from Brampton and Bill McDonald from Kitchener  Hopefully they will be back with more friends to enjoy the marsh.

Bill on the left and Steve on the right  I definitely have lens envy!!!

 In closing I was excited to find a blue jay in one of our ground traps that we originally banded Oct 15th 2015. Like this blue jay  it is my hope  that our new and older friends will find a way to migrate back to the marsh in 2018. 

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

2018 warms up with pine grosbeaks to begin the "Year of the Bird""

Sadly frosty conditions forced us to cancel cbc4kids

Sadly we said goodbye to 2017 and our hopes of running the cbc4kids  with the enduring cold snap. Saying hello to 2018  we were able to get out for an a couple of hours of impromptu banding at the marsh today. We were able to band 16 pine grosbeak  which was an excellent way to begin the new year.

A pair of male pine grosbeaks near the launching pad  feeder

Last year we  did not band any pine grosbeaks in what I think of the winter of 2017  and only managed to band our first pine grosbeak a couple of weeks ago which while technically was in 2017 it feels like the winter of 2018. Catching the December pine grosbeaks  did allow us to reach 100 species banded in one year at the marsh which may be a goal that may elude us for a long time to come.
Kristen right and Clayton left might very well be holding the first pine grosbeaks banded in North America this year 

Kristen with a chickadee always a favourite at the feeder this bird proved to have been banded 2 years ago 

So we are off to a nice start at the marsh and we have lots of pine grosbeaks and a handful of evening grosbeaks coming to black oil seed on a regular basis. So far common redpolls have been flying over  and can be found at a few feeders  in the area and often on the secondary roads eating gravel.  Banding at the marsh this time of year is difficult to schedule due to the cold and the availability of volunteers. By the time march rolls around we will be hopefully able to host some visiting times for folks to come out and enjoy seeing winter finches. Other than that we will send emails to members to alert them to times we know we will be out this winter.

     Thanks to Kristen and Clayton for helping to get us started, stay tuned for more developments at the marsh it promises to be a very exciting year for the marsh. Happy bird year to all!!!!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Hilliardton Marsh christmas bird count Saturday Dec 16th

Greeting local not loco birders or perhaps birders from farther afield  we welcome you to join us for the 11th annual hilliardton marsh Christmas bird count. The forecast promises a balmy high of -13 and we are hoping to see an  increase in the number of pine grosbeaks and flocks of redpolls that have started showing up near the marsh.  I have I posted a photo of the count circle provided by Mike Werner  to show folks where the count takes place. We will have maps available for anyone who would like to join us for the count. The other reason is to encourage feeder watcher within the circle. The key for feeder watchers is to count the maximum number of individuals you see at anyone time. If not  the same chickadee that come to the feeder 100 times in an hour could be misrepresented by tallying 100 chickadees. Many counts have dedicated feeder watchers  that not only report the birds that they see but also report the numbers on ebird afterwards  which would be the best case scenario.  If you have any plans to watch your feeder on the 16th please let us know  because we will avoid checking out your feeders as we are traveling past in cars filled with feeders  and snacks and coffee and hopeful birders.
      One reason I wanted to write this blog is to encourage novice and young birds  alike. Often people avoid participating in the Christmas bird count out of concerns that they do not know there birds well enough. I always envy folks that are just starting out in birding because there is so are so many birds waiting to be discovered. We have a Christmas bird count just for kids scheduled for the 30th of December  which is a wonderful event to encourage kids but this count on the 16th is for all ages including kids but the main emphasis of the count is driving around the circle looking for birds.
      The origin if the count apparently was to inspire people to look for birds rather than hunt them. That year, 27 observers took part in the first count in 25 places in the United States and Canada the count has evolved into a hugely popular event and the efforts of all the counts have been tabulated for 116 years providing scientists with a huge amount of data. Count circles are still popping up and as I mentioned before the marsh count started back in 2005. Currently there are
 2, 369 counts and last year there were 52,471 observers.
    One criticism that the count has is whether or not a group of birds that are flying can be counted by multiple observers  making the integrity of the data questionable. The response to this is that the count  is basically a snap shot of what species are in the circle for a given day. The snap shot provides a reasonable idea of relative abundance of the various species that are in the area. Overtime these snap shots can reveal trends and a lot of the Christmas bird count data when used with other studies can be extremely helpful. The marsh count is one of several counts in our area and some local birders participate in all of them a keen bunch indeed!
     If you are interested in participating in the marsh count we will be meeting in "the birdhouse" just off of wool mill road. I promise to have the building nice and toasty with the Wood stove on  and hopefully some treats. We are meeting at 8:30 and will divide the route based on the number of participants we  have and the number of vehicles.  People are welcome to cover an area by foot if they wish or by snowshoe we could have someone head out to where I last saw a boreal chickadee and see if we can find it for the count. We have maps and tally sheets  and will make every effort to have an "experienced" birder available  if we have a group of novice birders that would like to have someone join them. The days is super low key and while we will meet around 330 to compile the lists if folks  prefer  to only bird for part of the day and call in their numbers later that is fine too. Hope to see you at the marsh and hope we can find something that will get everyone excited . I am including an email I received from Mike Werner regarding the dates and times and contacts of the other area counts . If anyone wishes more information regarding the marsh count please give me a call at 705-650-0640

The Temiskaming Shores count will happen the next day, on Sunday the 17th. We meet at McDonald's Restaurant in New Liskeard at 8:30 AM. Following tradition, some of us are meeting for breakfast between 8:00 and 8:30 AM. The count will start at 9:00, and we usually finish birding around 3:30 or 4:00. It is customary for us to get together afterwards and compile results, so bargain on the day taking until 4:30 or so.

If you would like to watch your feeder for the day instead, and report your feeder results for the day to us, please contact the coordinator for your area. We will need to know in advance if people are watching their feeders so that these locations will not be counted during the "roving" tally to prevent double counting.

When & Where?
If you plan on joining us, please call in advance so that we can prepare maps & tally sheets and make sure we have enough vehicles.
  Haileybury Count Circle - Sunday, December 17th by 9:00 AM Sharp.  To participate in the Haileybury Count, call Mike Werner at 705-544-8333.
  Mountain Chutes Count Circle (including Elk Lake) - Sunday, December 31st. For the Mountain Chutes Count, call Mike Werner at 705-544-8333.
  Kirkland Lake Count Circle - Monday, January 1st, 2018. To participate in the Kirkland Lake Count, call Mike Leahy at 705-642-1982.

For the keeners out there, "Count Week" includes three days before and three days after the chosen Count Day. So for the Hilliardton Marsh circle, Count Week  begins on the 13th and ends on the 19th. For the Hilliardton Count, the dates are 14th to the 20th. Species not recorded on the official day of the count, but within the official count week and inside the count circle, can be recorded if observed between those dates.

See you there!