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!

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Saying goodbye to Sarah Bonnett "sarah dipity"

Sarah with our first ever indigo bunting banded at the marsh

Well anyone reading the blog will know how appreciative I am  of volunteers.  Well Sarah was not a volunteer, the marsh was able to pay her with the help of Colleges and Institute Canada  and a program they run called the clean tech internship program. We qualified to have a 6 month internship with the federal government and the marsh had to pay a big chunk and the feds paid the rest for a 6 month internship. The result was Sarah Bonnet.

     Sarah came to us from Trent University where she had volunteered banding sawwhet owls,she  also had banding experience at long point bird observatory. She was super keen and great with people which are clearly two wonderful skills to possess for working at the marsh. What I was not  quite prepared for was how amazing she was with data and how much she enjoyed checking to make sure our data was completely accurate. I was also not prepared for how much work beyond a normal working day she was  prepared to give which basically meant that when she was not banding she was doing data of some kind . Whether it was integrity checks or looking up something for the banding office, the result is that all of our data since 1996 has now been double checked  all of our data  is in a format where we can access it for ourselves and researchers . The best part of all this work is that she enjoyed doing it and I never really asked her it was an initiative she took on and wanted to be sure we were set.
     People may who know me know that one of my favourite words when it comes to banding is serendipity.  Well Sarah was the perfect case of that has we were so lucky to have someone with her strength to make sure our data has integrity moving forward. Her skill sets were such a mesh for the needs of our research.  You might call it "Sarah dipity"

only our 3rd ever belted king fisher 

    In addition to that  Sarah was excellent  teaching kids and adults alike and absolutely  thrived at the marsh.  Her knowledge of birds and banding have her on the cusp of getting her banding license  and I know she will move on to do great things.  If we had the chance to offer her a full time job we would without hesitation but alas the internship was for 6 months so we had to say goodbye.  We will have the chance to see her at the  Ontario bird banding meeting  at bird studies Canada  and I have a feeling we will be seeing her back at the marsh someday. After all where else in Ontario can you band 50 boreal in one season.  Hopefully one day someone will talk her into doing her masters and she will come back to the marsh to put motus transmitters on some owls for us one day. The future is very bright for Sarah, its definitely not a matter of chance!!! Good luck Sarah we already miss you
one of the many boreal Sarah banded 

Sarah with a Piliated

Sunday, 26 November 2017

moving day sadness...... looking for silver lining

C Can getting delivered  to house all of our donated  items  from the dorm  until we can find a new home for  them and those that will come to use them. Thanks to JPL storage for helping us out.

Yesterday ended a great run for the marsh and its volunteers. Yesterday we had to move our dorm from above the hilliardton community hall. The township had let us  use their upstairs for 2 years which is why we have been able to attract volunteers to the marsh in such great numbers and quality over the past two years. The ability to house volunteers and researchers at the marsh has translated into increased coverage at the nets. We have helped a great number of people interested in banding and extraction either gain their permit or get close to obtaining one. We have also been able to help a number of people go on to get jobs at other research centers and we have been able to attract some international volunteers to the marsh.
volunteers Louis Churman and Mike Werner  lending a hand 
      The biggest thing I am proud of though is that we really arrived as a banding family. Volunteers quickly discovered that coming to the marsh is not just a chance to see and band  so many amazingly beautiful boreal birds but that it is equally important to be immersed in a low key learning environment that stresses congeniality and fun along with doing research and greeting school groups and the public. It was an opportunity to see young people interact and be so thrilled and excited to see new species and to pass their enthusiasm and joy to our visitors. In essence having the ability to house volunteers allows us to be an efficient  bird observatory.... go figure!!!

     The bad news is that we are now in a "c can self storage unit"" all of the bunk beds,  couches,    chairs are now in limbo as are we  until we can forge ahead  with a new plan for housing volunteers.
      The new plan is being debated right now  but needless to say is going to involve a fund raising drive . The board of directors is meeting shortly to determine which one of our options we will pursue in order to deal with this issue. We always knew that the dorm above the community hall would some day come to an end  we were hoping to get one more banding season under our belt before we had to make the move.

    So stay tuned  for an announcement about our new plan and hopefully there are some generous people out there who would like to help us out by making a donation to the cause. Like so many bird observatories housing volunteers is often one of the biggest challenges but once we have this issue taken care of  the marsh will be able to settle into thinking more about research and delivering programs to school groups and the visiting public. The good news for folks in Canada is that the marsh is a registered charity so we can issue tax receipts if people would like to make a donation.  In early January we will be announcing the drive and how benefactors  will be recognized. Until then you can check out our website at Its time to start thinking about banding redpolls and pine grosbeaks  which will hopefully be finding feeders at the marsh soon. Stay tuned for more exciting news at the Hilliardton marsh.

Volunteers of the year Ed and Ethan Quinton back to help move beds this past Wednesday to get ready for the bigger move  yesterday. We took a break from moving long enough to band 1 tree sparrow and retrap 12 chickadees and this 6 year old hairy woodpecker that Ethan is holding . Ethan proving if you keep your eyes closed it doe not hurt 

Monday, 20 November 2017

In denial owl nets come down

Definitely time to take down frozen nets  this frozen section of net  was held up to the sun for effect these pieces are dime size I do not want people thinking  we had an ice storm

The history of owl banding  at the marsh has been  full of surprises  and every year folks ask me for predictions  and I am always looking for any clue to divine what is going to happen in the upcoming season. I feel the pressure to predict most keenly from volunteer banders who are making travel decision based on when we can attempt to band owls  and when owls will be done . This year despite  when we have been able to band in years past it was apparent early that the season was coming to an end early. We kept looking at long term forecasts and the  opportunities for windows of good weather and friendly winds and moon phase always seemed to conspire against us. Yet the banders kept talking me into keeping the nets on poles  despite having lots of help to take them all down. This week all of the banders terms came to an end and yet the nets were still "up"  Up means they were still on poles and furled meaning that we cannot catch owls but we still had to go out and take them all down. Chased away by the storm that hit today (Saturday Nov 18th) Ethan Quinton and I headed out on the 17th under sunny skies at -8 Celsius to take down all of the nets. The ropes and knots were so frozen that some of them I had to gnaw at with my teeth to loosen up to untie. It seems every year I am taking these nets  down in terrible cold and  the only reason I can think of is denial. I am in denial every year that the owl banding season is actually over and I always try and convince myself that there will be a push of boreal owls . The very last owl we had in a net was on November 7th it was  a boreal owl we had banded on October 20th so we knew it was time to quit.

Ethan Quinton  never shy of the camera or helping out 

     Many banders have two banding season within a season. The normal protocol banding season then something referred to as non standard banding because it is outside of the protocol. The protocol is an attempt to band on the same  day with the same calls  for the same period of time every year so we can compare year to year.  One year we were able to attempt (non standard) to band owls right into December  and in fact banded 2 long eared owls in early December  so if conditions warrant we can push the season.  Owl banding almost defies a protocol because every year is very unique and the biggest factor really comes down to weather  This year however at this time ,the weather has told us no!

    In my defense I used to have a quote above my desk at university written in capital letter "Those who do not learn from history are condemned to relive it". It is hard when you have keen people who are there to hopefully band owls  to tell them that the season is over  and it is time to take  down  the nets. Clearly they were the ones  denial!  At least that is what I told myself as Ethan and I  dealt with snow depth and cold temperatures as we packed the nets into the back of his truck.
Sadly the weather said no to trying for more owls  Ethan rests before we take a long walk back to the truck.

     The final word on the season is that we banded 275 northern sawwhets  50 boreal owls and 31 long eared owls . Thanks to all who helped  wish you could have been here to help Ethan and I today. I will be sure to get the nets down earlier next year.......yah right!!!

One of the saddest sights for me is a net lane without a net!!!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

I migrated to meet banders in New Jersey from around the world!!!

It was with great excitement and anticipation that I packed my bags, put my posters for my presentation in the car and pointed the bow south to attend the 2nd international bird observatory conference in Cape May New Jersey. It was going to be a chance to mingle with birders from across the globe and to learn more about what is happening around the world and to connect with and learn from banders.   I had lot of time to anticipate what was about to happen as I was travelling 18 hours in a rental not wanting to trust my ageing corolla to the gathering of banders.  Despite all of my musings about how great the conference was going to be nothing prepared for how wonderful the conference was and how much I was going to learn in the upcoming week.

banders touring the sea watch station

    It turns out there were 98 banders from as far away as South Korea and Israel quite a gathering from Europe and Scandinavia and Iceland, Mexico and Costa Rica and a great collection  of banders from the U.S. and Canada. It was a great opportunity to put faces to names that I had frequently exchanged information about sawwhet owls. It was wonderful to connect with Canadian banders as well and I met banders from Tadoussac Quebec where we have long been inspired by their boreal owl banding and we even re trapped a siskin banded there. On the West coast I met Anne Nightingale who is the inspiration for the Rocky point bird observatory where they banded 1400 sawwhets this past season. Also in attendance was Stephan Menu from Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory , Stu Mackenzie from Long Point Bird Observatory and Patricia Campsall from  Lesser Slave lake bird Observatory and Ricky Dunn who has been a great inspiration in the Canadian Migration Monitoring network.

     One of the things I was not prepared for was the absolute parade of jaw dropping inspirational work that banders are doing around the world and the emphasis so may have on providing quality educational opportunities to get the public interested in birds. Another takeaway from the conference was the need to publish as much information as we can to convey information to other researchers and the public to  understand more about what is happening to birds worldwide and at a local level.  I had always thought we would be waiting for graduate students to do the writing from our data but we have been urged as banders to get the word out so more people have a sense of what we are seeing with the hope of informing conservation decisions. The adage of Partners in Flight “to keep common birds common” may well depend on bird observatories doing a better job getting their information out to scientists and the public.

Needless to say I am making plans to attend the 3rd  international bird observatory conference  I cannot say enough about it and as always it was hard to say goodbye to new friends but I was keen to return home with so many new ideas.
tree swallows in flight
     In addition to all of the talks on a mosaic of different topics we had the chance to do some fun bird watching at Cape May which is a migratory hotspot and a place I have always wanted to visit and the cape did not disappoint. While touring one of the hawk watch stations I had the chance  with others to take in a movement of over 10,000 tree swallows flying overhead at one time an experience that I tried to video but feel I really captured  deep . It is something I had never experienced before and really drove home the point especially as we know how much trouble they are in the North. Keeping common birds common!!!  Sometimes dragging myself out of bed into the cold of 4 am to get to net lanes in time I periodically question why do we band birds?  People ask me this very question all of the time.  After seeing that swarm of tree swallows and thinking of what the future holds and the role bird observatories have around the world. I will never have trouble answering that question ever again. 


black backed gull soaring over Atlantic common on the beach rare in the north !!