Thursday, 10 January 2019

Christmas bird count for kids at the Hilliardton Marsh

Saturday January 5th was in the planning for almost a year. last year the temperature was a frosty minus 32  so we cancelled the event because the birdhouse just does not provide enough room  to band  and accommodate 30 plus kids.  It is not  a question of hardiness, Northern kids are renowned for their toughness when it comes to cold. After cancelling our frustration turned to possibility as we  contemplated alternatives to our limited resources. Then it dawned on us that we could use the Hilliard township community hall and a new era for the Christmas bird count for kids at the marsh was born.

     The community hall is only about 3 km from the birdhouse which would mean shuttling kids and families  from the hall to the marsh but considering every challenge is an opportunity we came up with the idea of asking a local farmer Dennis Peddie  about giving the kids a horse and wagon ride. The other big positive of using the hall is now that we are not bound by limited space we were able to include families. in the past parents dropped their kids off and came back a couple of hours later, now we are able to enjoy the day as a family event.

     Everything worked like a charm the horse  drawn wagon ride was amazing and the kids that had been back at the community hall making suet and suet feeders as well as playing some bird games and learning about the history of the Christmas bird count for kids switched with the other group that had been doing a bird count walk and bird banding.

The birding group was taken back by the team of horses and wagon and continued the count as they trundled along the road back to the community hall.

     The highlight of the day for me was keeping families together and seeing the excitement of kids and families enjoying the beauty and marvel of birds. The day  also crystallized for me the need we have at the marsh to have a building that can accommodate the growing need we have to accommodate families right on site. As the interest in the marsh grows so does the need for us to take care of all of our visitors.

The day was just so exciting to see and hear the excitement of everyone and the wagon ride was the cherry on top making the Christmas bird count for kids the best we have ever had. I want to take a moment to thanks first all of the families that brought their young birders out. It is great to see so many parents wanting their kids to come to the marsh and seeing the value in connecting their kids to nature .

 As well I would like to thanks all of the volunteers and directors that helped out at the community hall and the marsh making everything run smoothly. It was also great to have had a bunch of parents help out with the drilling of  the suet logs.

 A big thank you also goes out to the Hilliardton Township recreation committee who made the community hall available.I cannot say enough about how much fun I personally had seeing all the smiles and hearing so much laughter.  Another aspect that I find really gratifying is that a lot of the kids have been coming with their parents either to the bird count or other marsh events and it has been really gratifying seeing these kids reach the age that they are starting to help out or have reached the age that they can now hold birds to safely release them.

The marsh family is growing up together. Needless to say I am already looking forward to the next Christmas bird count for kids but not too fast we want to savour the age of the kids and lets face it we aren't getting any younger ourselves! Hope to see everyone next year.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

scooped by Joanne for first snow bunting of the year!!!

It has taken a long time , a very long time to attract snow buntings to corn this year. This year we have also moved to perfect snow bunting country  we are surrounded by with massive fields that grow soy and canola.  Every day I have either been putting out corn or kicking snow off  my corn piles. Joanne never lifted a toe to a pile or wandered out to put golden nuggets of snow bunting magnets on top of the snow, not a kernel!!!  In her defense she has been putting corn out at kerns public  where her and her students who we call the school of flock have been banding buntings for years. Three days ago all of our efforts were rewarded and both sites finally have snow buntings
 feeding on corn so the big question in my mind was who was going to be the first to band a snow bunting this year Me or Joanne?
         Today Joanne was heading to kerns public I had to dash off to the marsh for a few minutes. We live 8 minutes from the marsh so before I left I decided to put down a few traps on the corn knowing I would be back close to the time Joanne would be leaving for Kerns. Joanne left a little earlier than I had anticipated and just as I was leaving the marsh I received this photo.

Before she left for kerns  she watched a small flock of bunting descend around the traps and this  male scooted in a trap and she with a smile on her face gently removed this bird from the trap she banded it and sent me sent me the evidence . I arrived 2 minutes too late she had already left  and it took over an hour for the flock to return giving me the opportunity to band this bird.

Adding to Joanne's delight when she went to check on the corn at kerns she decided to flip her on traps  over  and managed to catch 5 more buntings but the first bird of the new year was this beautiful Lapland longspur!

If there is a lesson in all of this it is that Joanne is the queen of bunting banding, and I am  her banding serf, fit only to feed her birds so that she can band them. A job I am pleased to do with a smile. I am smiling now as I look forward to banding with the school of flock next week as the flock has grown in size affording us the chance to start banding. Allowing us to once again be engaged as part of the cooperative snow bunting banding network. Hopefully some of the birds that the kerns students band will find their way into other banders  traps or even fly as far as Greenland. Such are the thoughts I think of when I pile corn on the snow for Jo. Okay let's be honest, if anything I would be the court jester and perhaps there is yet one last laugh to come in the snow bunting story we are helping write. Stay tuned for the next chapter..... revenge of the jester.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

The new year has just begun and my fingers hurt!!!

Well another year is upon us and I thought I would start out with  blog and the hope that I will take the opportunity to blog more often to try and keep people apprised of the movement of bird in our part of the boreal forest.  Now that I am also doing a podcast which is called "bird banter with boreal Bruce my time has been split up a bit but we continue to band at the marsh and the riverhouse site and kerns public so I want to try and keep the flow of information about our banding. You can also find updates on instagram  borealbruce_hilliardtonmarsh as well as the marsh facebook page which joanne faithfully updates often.

Northern Shrike the hook on the top bill warrants careful attention 

So to the birds  this morning I was able to capture a northern shrike that has recently been going after redpolls. It was the first bird banded in 2019 and as they are apt to do, drew a fair bit of blood while I was trying to band it. I recently discovered something that should have been obvious to me but the shrike is the only songbird that is a carnivore. They kill their prey by seizing them with the hook of their top bill and their straight bottom bill and plucking the throat of the unfortunate bird usually ripping their throats open. This move happens quickly and I witnessed this action 4 or 5 times on my exposed fingers this morning.

Erin Oreilly Shelby Hearn and Alex Barkhouse were out for some grosbeak banding  happy day for me. Evening and twp pine grosbeaks pictured here 

    The other bird I am excited about right now is the arrival of snow buntings both at kerns public at in the field right by our river house. We are giving the small flocks some time to dedicate themselves to the feed piles and hopefully we will start banding them when the kids return to school January 7th.
     At the marsh we are catching lots of birds  in the j trap and the other day we were able to band  16 evening grosbeaks 5 pine grosbeaks  and captured over 30 common redpolls. Pine and evening grosbeak numbers are rising  and I am looking forward to a good 2019 with these species this winter
       In closing out this update  we are also looking forward to the Christmas bird count 4 kids happening at the marsh Saturday Jan 5th. the temperature is going to be a dandy -3 so we are looking forward to a great day with the kids and their families

Alex and one of the 16 evening grosbeaks banded today

Until then a very happy new year from me and a big thank you to all of the volunteers and visitors
and supporters that helped make 2018 such a successful year. We accomplished a lot  thanks to the generosity of a lot of people  and  we have even bigger plans  for the coming year. Hope to see you in 2019!!!

Sunday, 18 November 2018

stats taking stock of spring and fall number at the marsh

Piliated  #4

Banding  at the marsh there are still surprises as some birds just do not want to migrate. Today I banded a late white throated sparrow and a white crowned sparrow. There are at least two white throats as yesterday I caught one that was already banded and today's bird received a brand new fish and wildlife band.  The other species of note was banding 9 more common redpolls taking our  fall number to 100 banded.Which compared to the  number we banded last winter is not a lot but I believe we only banded 30 all last January so we are quite ahead of not only November but what we see in early winters.

This white crown sparrow looks happy in the snow 

Taking a quick glance of our overall totals for Hilliardton marsh researchers our numbers are great. For the second year in a row we were able to band 100 species. This is the fourth fall we have been able to run our fall protocol which has made a substantial difference. The first two years though we plateaued at 92 and 90 species so last year when we managed 100 we thought it might take us awhile to reach that threshold again and yet here we are again. For the entire area though we banded 107 species which really is something.

White throated sparrow

So we had several new species this year that we have never banded before we caught an exciting 4 Broad winged hawks, a LeConte sparrow, and a white winged crossbill, and American Pipit and a bohemian waxwing  which bring the marsh to 157 species overall. As you can imagine it gets harder to band a new species  the more we have banded  so to get five  new species this year was quite incredible.

Other highlights of the year  included the following birds which we do not often catch I have put the overall number  for all years combined  in parenthesis so you can see why I feel they were highlights. The order is as I remembered them: Solitary Sandpiper(2) Sora (13) Virginia Rail ( 10  ) Olive sided Flycatcher (4 ) Eastern Wood Peewee (2)  Scarlet tanager (2) Nelson sharp Tailed Sparrow ( 7  ) Belted Kingfisher  (4) Boreal chickadee (65, we banded 11 this fall  ) Piliated woodpecker  ( 4)
1 of the 11 we boreal chickadees we banded  this year have to at the french name is better
"brown headed chickadee" 

To help put things in perspective I have added the top 20 for the spring and fall and at a glance one can see how different the seasons are with only 9 species being in both top 20's

Spring Top 20

Grand Total
Myrtle Warbler
 American Redstart
Red-Winged Blackbird
Wilson’s Warbler
American Goldfinch
American Tree Sparrow
Yellow Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Alder Flycatcher
Western Palm Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Common Grackle
Eastern white-crowned Sparrow
Least Flycatcher
Magnolia Warbler
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Cedar Waxwing
Black and white Warbler

Fall top 20

Species Number of birds banded
Pine Siskin 1592
northern sawwhet owl 361
Alder Flycatcher 324
White-Throated Sparrow 313
Purple Finch 284
Common Yellow throat 261
Red -eyed Vireo 255
Swamp Sparrow 229
American Redstart 228
Nashville Warbler 211
Eastern White Crowned Sparrow  165
Least Flycatcher 156
Swainson's Thrush 115
Tennessee Warbler 110
Ruby Crowned Kinglet 106
Wilson's Warbler 99
Yellow rumped Warbler 95
Common Redpoll 91
Veery 90
Black Capped Chickadee 86

Clearly there is a lot more  to write about but there is only so much one can take in at a time and my hope is that people will find this of interest. I hope to get all of our data from our start back in 1996 on our website and will blog about that when it comes to pass. That will allow  a chance for perspective and those with an interest will be able to see how it all fits together. In addition Nick Alioto wrote a summary of both the spring and fall banding seasons  and we would most certainly like to get folks access to the hard work he did summarizing our seasons . The other purpose of getting this info on the blog is that it makes our numbers accessible to any with an interest in research and for those future researchers who are thinking of being here for a spring or fall banding season. The boreal beckons to you all.

Redpolls are back!!!

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Reflections of an empty banding station.

Mo Sarah and Nick withthe results our last trip to J trap

Well the researchers are gone  and I find myself alone at the marsh and afraid to put too many nets up for fear of catching too many birds.  We had such a phenomenal fall banding season thanks to the passion and energy of our crew of researchers. So thanks so much to  Nick Alioto, Mohammed Fahmy, Bronwyn Robinson and Sarah Biesemier  Needless to say that without them we could never have had the season that we did .

Bronwyn Robinson

My plan in the coming weeks is to  for lack of a better word deconstruct the banding season and go over the many highlights we experienced. The main highlight for me  was how great everyone got along. My main job each banding season is to get the word out that we are looking for researchers and to try and communicate that we need people that can get along and basically play well with others.  I think for the most part anyone who is willing to travel for a boreal banding adventure and live in close quarters with strangers is  going to get along. So almost by default we attract people who are tolerant and share a common passion for birds.
Mo Fahmy

Regardless this season was amazing and in no time we were like a small family and Joanne and I emerged as marsh Mom and Dad  and sometimes like parents we had to shake our heads at some of the things they did. Like the time they tried to turn a fly swatter into a boomerang...... do not ask!!!! Well maybe ask if you see me  I cannot describe it here.  I will always remember this crew with incredible fondness and thank them for  a great job they have all become part of marsh history and lore  and we are  very proud of them all and miss them already.

NIck Alioto

Now ,however, I find myself at the marsh alone without the buoyancy and exuberance of youth. Amigo and I pick days that are not too windy or too cold  and go about the joy of banding pine grosbeaks and carrying on our attempt to colour band  chickadees. Sometimes I just have to pinch myself  to realize that I truly am living the dream of being able to band in the boreal forest whenever time permits. Soon I will be starting the task of lining up the next crew to settle into the  task of spring banding  and I will once again attempt to twist their arms into writing blogs so you will get to know them. For now though I am waiting on Canada post to deliver more  colour bands so I can carry on with the great work that the crew started.  The colour banding and the winter birds we document will no doubt weave their way into a future blog. For now I miss the laughter, and the excitement of seeing the joy in their eyes as they were able to band species which inspired them to travel to the boreal. Afterall, it is the birds that initially united us, and in the end it is the birds that provided our purpose, and yet it is always hard to say goodbye to marsh family.

Sarah Biesemier

Thursday, 11 October 2018

sound of champagne dripping BY Nick Alioto

Boreal owl

The Sound of Champagne Dripping
Hello again Marsh followers and enthusiasts! It feels great to once again be writing a blog to inform you all of what has been going on at the Marsh through the end of September and so far into October. I hope that all who are reading this did not assume we went on some sort of hiatus from writing blogs but instead wanted to hit you with a bunch of highlights at once because who doesn’t love highlights.
As September rolled on we continued to see a great diversity of migrants moving through the marsh as they continue on their journey south to various wintering grounds……and yes Pine siskins continued to come through in great number and are continuing to do so daily which is great! Every day that passes we smash the previous record for siskins so quite literally every day at the marsh is record setting! How many stations get to say that everyday for onwards of three weeks? Not many I can assure you. Anyway, as much as I love siskins let me hit you with some September totals. Through the month of September an amazing 2,347 birds of 71 species were banded. At the bottom of this post I have included a Top 10 species banded so go ahead and scroll down to take a little peek! it’s cool stuff. Also, for those of you who are saying why isn’t he mentioning the siskin total?? Well I will save that for the end so you will just have to keep reading.

Nick with his first boreal owl

Now I would like to turn my attention to the banding that goes on late at night and early into the morning here at the marsh. As many of you know and maybe some may not know that mid-September and October are the peak time in which owls that breed up in the boreal forest begin their migration down south to various states to over winter. The interesting thing about the marsh is that it is the perfect spot to catch 3 species of owl. The Northern-saw whet owl (Aegolius acadicus), Long-eared owl (Asio otus) and of course the infamous Boreal owl (Aegolius funereus).

One of reasons I was so eager to come to the marsh was in the hopes to see the elusive Boreal owl. All of last year I was banding owls in Northern Michigan but knew that our banding sites were still too far south and that it would be highly unlikely that we would catch a boreal and……. alas we did not. However, this fall I have been overjoyed with catching a lot of saw-whets and even the occassioanl long-eared. Yet I still had this excitement inside that was just waiting to explode if we were to catch a Boreal. As September carried on, night after night I trecked out to our Boreal net array and kept thinking of a book I had read earlier in the month titled “A Sound Like Water Dripping” which was a novel written by Soren Bondrup-Nielesen who is a biologist that studied boreal owls in Ontario back in the 1970’s. Throughout the book he describes walking through the boreal in search of these owls and I couldn’t help but to relate to exactly what he was seeing and feeling the same way he did. Now the book gets its title because some think the boreal call sounds like that of water dripping I will leave for you to decide! Anyway, Nielesen spent a lot of nights with no confirmed boreal and he even started to think he may never confirm a sighting of a breeding pair in northern Ontario and I too had assumed that maybe I had put some jynx on the marsh that because I wanted to see one so bad that perhaps one would not show. Nevertheless, like a logical person I assumed that a sacrifice must be made to summon this bird and the deal I made with Murph (our boss) was that if were to catch a Boreal in the coming week I would shave off my luscious beard which has been growing for onwards of 3 months a true work of art not to mention I have not had a clean shaven face since the 12th grade!

Hilliardtons most wanted  .......boreal owl bander

Then it happened on October 6th we caught one! I was overjoyed and wanted to celebrate with the whole crew and what better way to celebrate then with a bottle of champagne and all I could think of at that time was “the sound of champagne dripping” has a better ring to it I reckon! It was after this that I shaved my beard off and stayed true to my word. As I sit here and write this I feel like a 14 year-old boy with my naked face. But after this we caught another Boreal owl and on the same day we caught 4 Boreal chickadees!
the ever elusive boreal chickadee in french it is mesange a tete brun
"brown headed chickadee

 I never knew my beard had such magic trapped in it. I am still beyond excited that we have caught a Boreal all these days after and hope there are more to come! Just like Nielesen I too hope to study Boreal owls here in Northern Ontario at the Marsh, as there is still so much to be learned about these secretive birds. No I didn’t forget as promised earlier our siskin total stands at drummmmm rolllllll pleasssee…………..1261WOW WHOA OHHH AHHHH!! With many more to come!!Until next time keep your champagne cold, nyjer seeders full and stay classy!
Fall 2018 Owl Totals:
Northern Saw-whet owl – 327
Long-eared owl – 3
Boreal owl – 2
Total 332 owls this fall

Top 10 Species Banded September 2018:
Pine Siskin
Northern Saw-whet owl
White-throated Sparrow
Common Yellowthroat
Nashville Warbler
Swamp Sparrow
Western Palm Warbler
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Myrtle Warbler
American Redstart

sharp shinned success Mo Fahmy

Sharp shined hawk  aka sharpie

On September 24th, we banded a Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus). As Nick was rolling one of the nets, the hawk swooped in to catch a sparrow, which was foraging on the seeds we have put in the morning. Nick skillfully extracted the raptor and brought it back to the birdhouse. In many raptor species females are larger than males.  As a result, raptors can be sexed by measuring their mass and wing length. The wing length (WL) of Sharp-shinned hawks ranges from 160 to 214cm. The hawk had a wing length of 164cm, which was relatively short, and weighed 104g. Our measurements indicated that the bird captured was a male. Banders can determine the age of raptors by observing their plumage colouration and whether the birds are moulting their feathers. Adult Sharp-shinned Hawks have a reddish breast and bluish-brown back. Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawks exhibit brown streaking on their chests and have an overall brown plumage. The hawk we captured had a red chest but also had retained, cinnamon-coloured, juvenile feathers. The retained juvenile feathers allowed us to age the bird as a second year (SY), which means that the bird hatched in 2017 and is still replacing its juvenile feathers.
a very happy bander

We captured another Sharp-shinned Hawk on September 29th. Sarah was thrilled to have banded the second hawk of the season. It was a male (WL= 170cm, mass = 89g). However, this bird had the aforementioned brown streaking, which meant that it hatched earlier this year.

"The Popsicle grip" the prefered fashion of holding a hawk of this size

Sharp-shinned hawks breed in Canada and Northern USA. They tend to nest in mixed forests. Their breeding grounds ranges from the Yukon Territories and Alaska in the west, to Newfoundland and Labrador in the east. They are adept at hunting small songbirds and are often seen perched, or flying in pursuit of their prey, below the treetops. However, they can occasionally be seen soaring higher when migrating. The time of departure from their breeding grounds has yet to be quantified but they have been seen in the Great Lakes Region by early August. Their Fall migration peaks around the first weak of October, according to data collected from hawk watches and banding in Northern US. Individuals usually migrate alone but can sometimes be seen migrating in small groups, which may include other raptor species (e.g American Kestrels, Broad-winged Hawks, and Red-tailed Hawks). Many individuals winter in Southern US for 5-7 months until Spring. Their Spring migration period is ill-defined and remain to be studied to understand their arrival to the breeding grounds, and why they selected particular sites over others.   
  49 Sharp-shinned hawks were banded at HMREC. The first one was banded in the Spring of 1991. The highest record for banding this species was in 2017 with a total of 6 birds. We hope to catch more to understand their migratory behaviour, and their stopover ecology, to help in conserving the species and its preferred habitat.

Adult red tailed hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk was not the only hawk species we banded this Fall. We have banded two Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) on September 30th, and on October 3rd. These hawks are quite large in comparison to the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Their WL ranges from 321 to 455cm and can weigh up to 1kg. We were very fortunate to catch an adult and a juvenile. As you can see in the pictures, the juveniles do not sport the red tail. They are magnificent nonetheless. We were excited to catch the Red-tailed Hawks because the species was not caught at the marsh in 4 years. Watching these hawks take off and continue their migration was surreal.

a young red tailed hawk