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

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