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

Thursday, 27 September 2018

a single solitary sandpiper by Sarah Biesemier

A Single Solitary Sandpiper
Sarah with her solitary sandpiper

The past few weeks have been filled with exciting birds and also some exciting events. First up was the Birdies Fore the Marsh Fundraising Golf Tournament on September 8th, which I must say was an absolute blast and so great to be a part of! Everyone continues to make me believe the stereotype that all Canadians are nice, as I so far have no evidence against it. The Hilliardton Marsh also made an appearance at the New Liskeard Fall Fair a couple weekends ago selling tickets for our Progressive Lottery Fundraiser “Catch the Ace”. If you are local and are looking for a great way to support the marsh while also entering to potentially win some money, you should consider purchasing “Catch the Ace” tickets. Catch the Ace runs each week from Wednesday to Wednesday and as of now is still going on. For more details about the progressive lottery and how to buy tickets, check out the marsh’s website or talk to our expert ticket salesman and marsh volunteer, Mohammad Fahmy, the next time you see him in town.

In other exhilarating marsh news, we banded our 100,000th bird, a beautiful Western Palm Warbler! It was such an honor to witness the 100,000th bird banded at the Hilliardton Marsh, and be a part of the center’s history and continued success. Also, our owl banding nights have begun! I have fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine to see a Northern Saw-Whet Owl, and I can’t wait to see more over the next few weeks as they migrate through the area. Hopefully soon we will get to see Boreal and Long-eared Owls as well!
boreal owl waiting to meet Sarah's fingers to date we have not  caught any this fall but hopefully soon

There have been so many exciting things happening at the marsh, we almost forgot to talk about one very exciting bird we recently banded. About two weeks ago on September 6th, I was fortunate enough to band the marsh’s second ever Solitary Sandpiper! On our first net check that day, fellow volunteer Bronwyn Robinson and I were approaching a mist net we have set up near the edge of the woods. From a distance we saw a bird about the size of a thrush, but with an interesting black and white barred tail that looked similar to a woodpecker’s. As we got closer we could tell it was some sort of shorebird. After quickly extracting the bird, I met up with banding intern Nick Alioto at the other nets and asked him what he thought the bird could be. Nick responded with “All shorebirds look like rocks with legs.”
banded solitary sandpiper 2nd ever !!!

 While he appreciates all birds, raptors, particularly owls, are his favorites and, clearly, shorebirds are not. I thought it was probably some sort of sandpiper, and Nick did mention that it could be a solitary sandpiper (turns out he does know his birds quite well). I quickly glanced at the Sibley App on my phone, and the picture of a Solitary Sandpiper certainly looked like what I had extracted from the net. When we returned to the birdhouse, local legend and head bird bander, Bruce Murphy, looked at the bird and confirmed that we had indeed captured a Solitary Sandpiper in our nets.

The bird we caught on September 6th was a hatch year bird, meaning that it is a young bird that hatched this past spring or summer. Before capturing our hatch year sandpiper, the marsh had only banded one Solitary Sandpiper before. On May 16th, 2008, Bruce Murphy banded an older (after hatch year) Solitary Sandpiper. We are able to tell the age based on the plumage differences between adult and younger birds, but are unable to tell the sex of the birds because both male and female Solitary Sandpipers look alike. It was an absolute delight to place a shiny new band on the beautiful green legs of the second of this species to find its way into our nets.

could this banded solitary show up in south america ???

The Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) is a medium-sized shorebird, almost the size of an American Robin, with a prominent white eye-ring, greenish legs, dark brown wings and back with small white spots, and a beautiful white and brown barred tail. The first thing I can tell you about Solitary Sandpipers is that the Latin word for this shorebirds genus name, Tringa, comes from the Ancient Greek word trungas, which was a thrush-sized wading bird mentioned by Aristotle. Other shorebirds that belong to the genus Tringa include Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs and Willets.

Solitary Sandpipers are special little guys who prefer to be on their own and don’t like to follow to the social norms of all other sandpipers; they are the loner non-conformists of the sandpiper world. Ok, so I’m exaggerating to make a point obviously, but, before one showed up in our nets, I had no idea how unique these sandpipers were. Out of the 85 species of sandpipers in the world, only the Solitary Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper lay eggs in trees instead of on the ground. However, they don’t make their own nests. Instead the Solitary Sandpiper lays its eggs in deserted tree nests built by other songbirds. They usually nest in spruce or other conifer trees, and particularly use the nests of American Robins, Rusty Blackbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Gray Jays, and Cedar Waxwings. So they are loners, non-conformists, and squatters.

Solitary Sandpipers also differ from other sandpipers in their migration habits. While many sandpiper species migrate in groups, Solitary Sandpipers are usually seen alone during migration, hence the “solitary” part of their name. However, these sandpipers can sometimes be seen in small groups feeding together, and are often found near freshwater ponds and stream edges and more commonly in wooded regions. They breed in woodlands across Alaska and Canada, and migrate down to Central and South America for the winter.
so cute!!

When combining all the facts I’ve learned about Solitary Sandpipers, it starts to make sense as to why a single Solitary Sandpiper showed up in the marsh’s nets. After our Solitary Sandpiper’s parents bred somewhere in the area or further north and raised our bird in an abandoned nest of songbird, our little bird was preparing to make the journey south for the winter, on its own, alone, and solitary in the woodland areas of our freshwater marsh. That’s when we captured the beautiful bird, and gave it a shiny new identification number. If recaptured, this identification number will give us more insight to the life history of this bird. Soon, the Solitary Sandpiper will arrive in central or South America for the winter, and perhaps next spring it will journey back to Ontario and raise its own chicks in an abandoned nest of a songbird.

Bronwyn wrote haikus
So I will write a haiku
We all love haikus

bird banter with boreal bruce podcast about the marsh

Just wanted to let folks know that they can tune into our podcast bird banter with boreal Bruce  this can be accessed via our website. So far we have  recorded 8 episodes and we are learning lots as we progress and hopefully folks can enjoy learning more about the marsh and the birds we are banding . The genesis of the podcast came out of a growing frustration i had with radio interviews that did not give us a chance to get out the details of what we are doing and plus I am a bit of a spaz during interviews so this way i can say um a lot and flesh out a little more  about the birds and the people that make banding at the marsh so much fun and we can convey our research to those who have an interest. So please have a listen to the episodes and rate us if you can so far i have no idea how to do that but I will learn and pass it along . Our very own Ben MacPhearson is the technical whiz behind the scenes  and  I get the chance to interview and banders and chat about exciting  happenings at the marsh. To date the best use of the podcast was a friend who played it to their  2 year old to help them fall asleep. So i know i have at least 2 fans and apparently the parents of the volunteers at the marsh. So please have a listen and please pass along any ideas for future shows or how we can improve upon what we are doing . Episode 8 features an interview with Sarah and Bronwyn 2 of our long term  volunteers at the marsh this fall.

You can find the podcast  form the following link

Sunday, 23 September 2018

A night in September subtitled owl banding and Haiku at the Hilliardton Marsh

Title: A Night in September by Bronwyn Robinson

Bronwyn Blog author on right  volunteer Mo Fahmy scribing  for Bronwyn as she bands a saw whet

The trees are one shadow cutting jagged edges into the sky. With the chill comes frosted breath and the glitter of constellations long forgotten in the city. The stars watch us pass beneath them, unblinking. They vanish with the blinding flash of a headlamp. Artificial light shines on motes of dust and mist as though the forest is actually the bottom of an ocean. Underfoot, peat moss forms a spongy bed that sucks at boot heels.

Sarah with a saw whet

Something else is wandering between the spindly spruce trees; whatever it is stops as we stop, moves as we move. I can feel its eyes on me, but when I turn there is nothing but the empty path and the bent limbs of trees stretched towards me. There’s nothing there, I think, even though I know that isn’t true. There’s a lot there. My heart beats steady, somehow untouched by the paranoia creeping in on the periphery of my imagination.

Nick with the only long eared we have banded this fall

We reach the nets and I stop thinking of every bad end when I see the first owl.

Owl banding has begun here at Hilliardton! Our first night, twelve Northern Saw-Whets plunked themselves into our nets and gave us reason to dust off the UV lamps that light their feathers up like twilight. On the second attempt, we snagged a Long-Eared owl with an impressive glower. As the temperature drops, the owls will be many and quick to move through—unfortunate for finger dexterity and exposed noses, but great for capture. Not all of us can be eighty percent poof (looking at you, Saw-Whets). We’re all looking forward to seeing what kind of diversity we’ll find in our nets later in the season. You can come out and join us on Wednesdays for our public owl banding night. The gate opens at 8 PM when all nets have been set.

Bronwym showing how we age owls with the black light. Under the black light young feathers show up as red while older fellow appear white. The pattern of young and old feathers allow us to age an owl in this case we refer to this as a second year owl

To wrap up, I present to you my first ever haiku:

this fair winged whisper
linger, bright eyes in starlight


owls, hooty-hoo-hoo
did you know that nick likes owls
it is cold outside

Mo about to put this owl in a holding box to let its eyes to readjust to the dark before release 

Sunday, 16 September 2018

100 000 birds banded at the marsh

western palm warbler #100,000

Perhaps I cannot give you 100,000 reasons I love the marsh but it has been a glorious adventure for the past 23 years. The other night while we were owl banding we took out a couple of photo albums from the first few years at the marsh and there were three people in the owl banding group that were there who had been out helping out while we were in our first two years of banding. It would be to great a test of my memory to make a list of all the people  that have helped out over the years  but we certainly appreciated all of the help. As cliche as it is, we never would have been able to do it without  everyone's help.  Perhaps this winter  when we are not as busy we can occasionally throw some photo's of  volunteers from the past. I know Joanne has pictures on our Facebook site, she labelled  the album "blast from the past" it would be worth a look.
celebrating  the milestone  Sarah B took the palm warbler out of on of the "berm" nets. 
       We started banding in the spring of 1996 and we reached this milestone 23 years later. Now that we are banding in the fall and winter  I suspect it will only take 9 more years  to  add another 100,000 to our numbers. The other big change in the past 23 years is that we  have come to depend on  our long term volunteers and the addition of our trailer means that we can attract highly qualified and highly motivated banders to our station which brings us even more consistency  as we continue to work on our protocol banding approach. The other big change was the creation of HMREC and the dedication of all of the directors who make the marsh possible and who .dedicate hours of work behind the scenes to allow us to carry out all of our research
     One of the things that i really enjoy about banding is that every season is unique and there is always a species or two that surprise us each year and there is always an ebb and flow to the number of  species  as well as the number of individuals banded of a certain species. Nick did a great job discussing the record number of siskins we banded this year  as an example of how after 23 years of banding we are always getting blown away by the birds.
     This year we new we were going to make it to our 100,000 bird  but as the countdown got closer and closer  the drama  grew. We all had our favourite birds that we thought would have been a good candidate  for the record bird. We have also had a lot of conversations about why this milestone was so significant. I do not think any of us would have picked the the western palm warbler,  but when it popped out of the bag I could not have been happier. Inside I was kind of hoping it would be a siskin as I have a soft spot for the siskin, and yet having a neotropical migrant and a bird that is symbolic of the interconnectedness  of the boreal forest to the neotropics made it all the better. Our first year of banding we banded 427 birds our second we jumped  to 555 birds contemplating 100,000 was not remotely something we even thought of . This year we may band 555 siskins!! I have a lot of fond memories of our humble beginnings  but I am also very excited to celebrate this milestone with all the folks the know the marsh is a very special place.
a very proud bunch of banders

     The last thank you goes out to all of our visitors, members and supporters who appreciate the work we are doing and who take the time to care by encouraging us or who bring their kids and grand kids out and support the important research we are doing. I also celebrate the foks who also come out on their own to soak in all in. We appreciate all of you and are always trying to make your visits to the marsh as memorable as we can.  Just so you know we have heard your concerns about the lack of washrooms at the  marsh and we are working on it! Please keep coming to the marsh over and over again and if you would like to learn more about how you can help out please let us know we are always looking for volunteers to help out in fund raising making bird bags learning how to extract birds safely help out in the garden building boardwalks  i think you get the picture. it is all of you that have helped out and those who we have not even met yet that make all the good thing happen at the marsh. So to all those past present and future I celebrate you all 100,000 ways !!!!.........and more to come!!!

leaving the boreal in search of palm trees hopefully we will see this palm warbler again
Also today we retrapped a chickadee that was orginally banded in 2010 making it 8 years old and was also banded the year that one of our directors Shelbey Hearn took the TERRA the outdoor education program that featured banding and teaching banding to kids

shelbey with a chcickadee Shelbey we figutre has extracted over 10,000 birds since this chickadee was banded back in 2010 


Saturday, 15 September 2018

There and back again a siskin's tale... by Nick Alioto

There and Back Again: A Siskin’s Tale….
Hello, again Marsh followers! I am aware that it has been a few weeks since I have written a blog post and no it is not because I forgot, or because I have an excuse like an ulcer or something, but I can say it is because we were so busy with exciting new birds that I couldn’t decide on the right time to do a blog that would encompass all the highlights! However, as we near the mid-way mark of September I thought this would be the perfect time to give everyone an update on what our team has been up to at the Marsh!

pine siskins

Apart from playing cribbage, watching TV, hanging out, relaxing or sleeping (which is by far my favorite hobby), we have had a very busy September thus far with a total of 1141 newly banded birds of 56 species. Along with a new month brought a new top 10. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, that the Alder Flycatcher has remained in the top spot for the season, but actually, they have been overthrown and even I did not think the 320 Alders from August would be topped so easily, but I guess records are meant to be broken. So, without further delay, the new number 1 banded bird for September and throughout the whole fall season is….. drum roll please……………. the Pine Siskin!!!!!! Well, I guess it was kind of obvious based off of my blog title….
Anyway, to date we have done 471 siskins which have easily landed them the new number 1 spot. Thus, I thought it would be suiting to provide information about the Spinus pinus to all you bird lovers that might not know about this common feeder bird. To start, the Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus) is a common nomadic bird that belongs to the finch family. They are characterized by their slender bill, notched tail and striking yellow edging that explodes in a beautiful flash of yellow when they take flight. It reminds me of the color of a cool crisp lager--maybe that is why I see such beauty in them! They are usually seen in dense flocks that hang around in the top canopy of seed-bearing trees where they often hang upside down from branches trying to completely strip cones bare. If you want to attract them to your feeders they are particularly fond of nyjer seed. If these little guys do find their way to your feeders and you do not see their bright yellow plumages then you will certainly hear their constant call notes as they are not shy to let you know when they have arrived.

At the marsh, they have been showing up in flocks anywhere from 20 to 70+ birds and it has been documented that some siskins will migrate in flocks that sometimes number in the thousands which is truly incredible. We are all astounded by how many there has been since there have not been numbers like this before at the marsh. Soooo like the good biologist I am (or that I tell myself I am), I did a little research to uncover some answers about the Siskins. What I learned is seriously cool, not only from a physiological standpoint but also from an evolutionary one. Pine Siskins it appears to seem to go through some sort of population cycle where some years their numbers are low and other years where they seem to undergo an eruption per se. Although it is not understood why their numbers fluctuate like they do, it would seem that this year is eruptive and when their numbers are this high it causes them to move into southern and eastern North America. Although these cycles seem to be erratic, the movements may not be. Various banding data suggests that some birds fly east-west across the continent while others move north-south. Therefore, by us catching and banding so many it may help to one day help us understand the siskin's migration movements and why they do what they do. There have been no signs of them slowing down and it will be exciting to see how many we can manage to band. Now everyone is probably sick of hearing about siskins and I could go on about these beauties for easily another paragraph but instead, I will give an update on some highlights from September with pictures, followed by a chart of the new top 10 for September thus far.
September highlights include Blue-headed vireo, 

 second ever solitary sandpiper left  yellow-bellied  sapsucker right

Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Solitary Sandpiper, American kestrel, and Gray-cheeked Thrush. Stay tuned for news from our owl banding which kicked off this week along with more news from other members of the “A” team. I hope everyone now has grown to appreciate siskins the way I have. They are seriously unique and deserve to be the focal point of a blog. Until next time keep your nyjer seeders full and stay classy!
September 2018 Top 10 Birds:
Pine siskin
Nashville warbler
Common yellowthroat
White-throated sparrow
Western palm Warbler
American redstart
Swamp sparrow
Myrtle warbler
Swainsons thrush
Black-capped chickadee

american kestrel