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11/15/2010

Final week of fall migration

We couldn't have asked for better weather during our last week of migration monitoring. We had mild temperatures, little wind and lots of sunshine.

Although banding slowed down considerably, we had some exciting moments. On November 7 one of the volunteers spotted an American Avocet flying over Embayment D. On November 8 and 9 we had a White-winged Crossbill hanging out near the lab, following around a flock of American Goldfinches. On November 9 we had our first and only Long-eared Owl of the season. It was roosting between two of our nets and stayed there all day despite our frequent net checks. On November 10 a Rough-legged Hawk flew over the station, our third sighting this fall. While these hawks are sometimes seen in other parts of the park, they are rarely seen at the station.

We continued to see flocks of Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and American Pipits migrating overhead. Normally they keep moving, but we have been lucky to see some land on the beach.

American Pipit by volunteer Paul Xamin


On the last day of banding we finally captured an Eastern Towhee. We see these birds occasionally but don't catch them often.

Eastern Towhee


We were in for a surprise when we recaptured an American Tree Sparrow with an unfamiliar band number. I checked the database and sure enough, it wasn't in there. That meant that this bird was banded somewhere else. It is rare and exciting to catch a bird that was banded by another station, and it will be interesting to find out where this bird was coming from. Because all of the banding data from stations in Canada is sent to the Canadian Wildlife Service, we will be able to find out exactly where and when this bird was banded.

American Tree Sparrow 2430-36825


This has been a great season, and thank you to the many volunteers who made it possible!

11/04/2010

The tail end of migration



Fox Sparrow


The yodeling chorus of Long-tailed Ducks and the arrival of Snow Buntings can only mean one thing: winter is coming. Indeed, the ground has been covered in frost the last few days and it actually snowed here on Monday.

As the migratory window closes, most of the birds we are monitoring are those which will go no further than the Southern US, such as Winter Wrens, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, American Robins, Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows and Lincoln's Sparrows. Others will settle into TTP for the winter: Dark-eyed Juncos, Snow Buntings, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, American Goldfinches and Black-capped Chickadees.


American Tree Sparrow


From October 18 - 27 the winds were mostly blowing from the West/Southwest, not only preventing the birds at TTP from leaving, but keeping a new wave of migrants from arriving. Hence, we were capturing almost as many recaptures as unbanded birds. This data will be useful in our study of stopover ecology, showing how quickly birds put on fat and weight while they are at TTP.

Although the Soutwesterly winds kept most birds away, they did bring some special visitors. Cave Swallows, which breed in the Southern US, were blown into the Great Lakes and have been observed at various points on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie since October 26. We first observed them at the station on Saturday, when I noticed 5 swallows flying off of the North shore of Peninsula D. The combination of a square tail and buffy rump narrowed them down to either Cave or Cliff. Both species have black caps, and must be distinguished by the colour of their throats. Cliff Swallows have dark throats which blend in with the head colour, giving them a hooded appearance. Cave Swallows have a pale buffy throats, contrasting with the head to give them a "capped" appearance. Even in the flat light I was able to see the contrasting cap, helping me determine that they were Cave Swallows. As it turned out, other birders had seen Cave Swallows that morning at other spots on the spit.

This late in the fall, any swallow sighting is suspect because the more common swallow species have long since departed. In past years Cave Swallows have been reported into mid-November. If you see a swallow in late fall, take the time to study it well and make sure to report your sightings on Ontbirds.

10/09/2010

Exciting Week!



Adult male Whip-poor-will

Whip-poor-will!

This week we had a special treat when we caught a Whip-poor-will. This nocturnal species belongs to the nighjar family, a group of birds known as "goatsuckers" because of an old superstition that they would fly into barns at night to suck the teats of goats.

Whip-poor-wills are nocturnal, and like flycatchers they hop from a perch or the ground to snap insects out of the air. Although they have tiny bills, their mouths are huge. If you look closely at the picture, you will notice that the line of the mouth extends to the eye. When I was banding this bird, it opened its mouth so wide that I couldn't see its head! The whisker-like rictal bristles funnel insects into the mouth, protect the eyes from insects, or perform a sensory function which allows them to hone in on prey.

During they day Whip-poor-wills perch horizontally on a branch to roost, their cryptic plumage acting as the perfect camoufage. This makes them almost impossible to find, and it is rare to see one - much less band one! One would expect that it was caught during the first net check when the sun is barely up, but it flew into the net just before 9:00.

Chickadee Irruption

Chickadees have been taking over the park! Black-capped Chickadees are non-migratory, but when there are food shortages in the northern part of their breeding range, large numbers will move south into central and southern Ontario. This typically happens every 3-5 years, and sure enough the last irruption recorded at TTPBRS was in 2007. On October 7 we banded 52 chickadees, and October 8 we banded 63!

Hatch-year Black-capped Chickadee

American White Pelican

Just as we were about to tally up our observations today, I spotted a large white bird flying across the sky. We all grabbed our binoculars, and simultaneously gasped as we saw the large head and yellow bill, and black trailing edges of the wings. We went running towards the South shore of the peninsula and watched it fly over Embayment C towards Peninsula C, where it turned around and began flying back towards us. We had amazing looks as it flew over us, surprisingly low. It continued North until it hit the shore, turned East and then circled twice over Embayment D. We were hoping it would come down, but it continued East until it hit the main spine of the spit and turned North towards the mainland. The last record at the station was in 2005.



10/01/2010

Fallout


Thursday night's clear skies and strong North wind provided the ideal conditions for migration. Indeed, when I checked the radar this morning it looked like a heavy migration was taking place. Before I left for the station the birds had not yet landed, but when I arrived an hour before sunrise the darkness resounded with bird calls; the dry chips of Myrtle Warblers, the "zeets" of White-throated Sparrows, and the chirps of Hermit Thrushes.

Doppler radar at 5:38 am showing bird migration

The wind was too strong to open nets on the North side of the peninsula, so we opened 11 of the nets. That ended up being a good thing, because in our second net check we had over 100 birds! Luckily there were plenty of experienced extractors and helpers on hand, and we quickly removed the birds from the nets before shutting all of them. Then the banding began...

Once things calmed down, a couple of nets were re-opened. By the end of the day I had banded 157 birds! 85 of them were Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers! Luckily I have had lots of practice ageing and sexing Myrtles recently, so it is possible to process them in about 30 seconds. The other main species were Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, and Hermit Thrushes. Our one recapture was a male Black-throated Blue Warbler.

After second-year Male Black-throated Blue Warbler


Once I was able to go back outside, I was amazed. There were birds on every tree, shrub, and flower stalk. Even the paths were covered with Palm Warblers and Dark-eyed Juncos. I have never seen so many birds at TTPBRS - truly what I would call a fallout!

9/26/2010

Road Closures Today

For those of you planning to visit us today, keep in mind that the Toronto Waterfront Marathon will be causing several road closures. You may be able to get to the park, but unable to leave until 1:00. Check out the link for a detailed list of the closures:


http://www.torontowaterfrontmarathon.com/en/pdf/roadclosures2010.pdf

9/10/2010

Migration Monitoring: September 10



hatch-year Philadelphia Vireo

After days of wind and rain, today we had a reprieve! It was still too breezy to open all the nets, but the North wind brought a ton of birds here overnight. We had our busiest day this season, with a total of 68 birds banded (and that was with only half the nets open). There were lots of Philadelphia Vireos (above), which can be distinguished from Warbling Vireos from their yellow throat and more contrasting eye line. One of the highlights of the day was a male Scarlet Tanager in non-breeding (basic) plumage (pictured below).

after hatch-year male Scarlet Tanager

With the wind still blowing from the North, hopefully we'll get another wave of migrants tonight. Tomorrow is supposed to be a nice day too, so try to make it for a visit!

8/27/2010

Fall Migration Monitoring: August 27



Hatch-year Red-eyed Vireo


The north winds brought an abundance of birds this week, and we have been enjoying the mixed flocks of warblers, vireos, chickadees, flycatchers and nuthatches. Only a fraction have been caught in our nets though, as most of these birds have been staying high in the trees. Some of us are suffering from "warbler neck" but it is worth it!

Hatch-year male Wilson's Warbler

Black-billed Cuckoos have been seen frequently this month in the vicinity of the banding station. Yesterday we were in for a surprise when not one, but two cuckoos were spotted together. After the first bird was found, our attention was drawn to the motion of fluttering wings from behind some leaves. Sitting on the same branch was a juvenile cuckoo begging for food! Along with sightings of Black-billed Cuckoos througout the summer, this is a good indication that the species has bred at TTP.

After weeks of a Merlin hanging around the spit, we finally caught sight of one at the station yesterday. It was actively hunting the very flock of warblers that we were watching! It kept zooming past, swooping down low and giving us excellent looks. What an impressive bird to observe, with such speed and agility!

Thursday as we were going over the day's observations, a hawk flew past the lab. We all dropped what we were doing and ran out to see what it was. Quite unexpectedly, it turned out to be a Red-shouldered Hawk, a species very rarely seen at TTP. Luckily it was quite close and afforded excellent looks by 5 observers, all who saw the trademark windows, dark primary tips, narrowly banded tail, shape, etc. that distinguished it from any other potential raptor.

8/17/2010

Migration Monitoring: August 17



Adult female Cedar Waxwing

After the initial burst of activity from starlings and resident breeders, activitiy slowed down considerably at the station. The last week has been so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.

One of our biggest highlights was not even a bird - instead we caught a very interesting dragonfly. It was successfully extracted by Bronwyn Dalziel, and we were lucky to get some great photos before it flew away. It was identified as a Swamp Darner, a species which is quite rare in this region.


Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

Finally, today we had our first real wave of migrants. It is amazing how much faster time passes when you are catching birds! Today we banded 34 birds and recorded 11 new species, bringing our season total to 86 species.

This Baltimore Oriole was one of 6 caught in one net! It was a hatch-year bird, most likely born at TTP this summer. Evidently it has been feeding on honeysuckle berries, which are high in carotenoids - the pigment that produces reds, yellows and that brilliant orange that you can see in this bird. Most of the orioles we catch have the typical yellow plumage.

Hatch-year Baltimore Oriole

Banding Totals August 5 - 17

Species

Total

Yellow-shafted Flicker

3

Eastern Wood Pewee

2

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

1

Traill's Flycatcher

10

Least Flycatcher

2

Black-capped Chickadee

6

Swainson's Thrush

1

American Robin

10

Gray Catbird

3

Cedar Waxwing

4

European Starling

23

Warbling Vireo

15

Yellow Warbler

7

Magnolia Warbler

3

Myrtle Warbler

1

Black-and-white Warbler

2

Ovenbird

1

Northern Waterthrush

1

Canada Warbler

3

Northern Cardinal

1

Song Sparrow

5

Red-winged Blackbird

1

Baltimore Oriole

11

Total

116


























































8/08/2010

Weekend Update: August 7-8

Hatch-year Magnolia Warbler

This was our first weekend of the season, and the cold snap was much appreciated after the oppressive heat of Thursday. On Saturday morning I was quite surprised to be chilly for a change, but I wasn't complaining!
It was rather quiet, but we did have several new species: American Black Duck, Northern Cardinal, Tree Swallow, Cooper's Hawk, Myrtle Warbler, Magnolia Warbler and Canada Warbler. Until now the earliest a Magnolia was seen at the station was August 8, 2005. Canada Warblers haven't been this early since August 7, 2004.
Note: some of these species (such as the Northern Cardinal) were here all summer but just weren't detected on the first two days of migration monitoring.

Hatch-year female Canada Warbler

On Sunday we were having a great morning until the rain came and forced us to close early. We did manage to add American Wigeon and Common Merganser to the list though. Our season total is now 51 species, with 35 birds banded of 13 species.







8/05/2010

First Day of Fall Migration Monitoring



Northern Waterthrush

It felt good to get back to the station today. We were greeted by the resident breeders, including Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrows, Baltimore Orioles, Cedar Waxwings and Warbling Vireos. Most of the Red-winged Blackbirds have left, and now we have hundreds of European Starlings instead! Every time a huge flock swooped towards a net, there was a slight twinge of panic. One or two starlings is one thing, but a net full of them is another thing entirely...
Despite the heat and humidity, we managed to band 20 birds of 9 species. All breed at TTP except one: a Northern Waterthrush. This species does tend to be one of the early migrants, but it won't be surprising if migration is on the early side this year after such a productive summer.
As we were shutting nets, I noticed a caterpillar on the trunk of a European Birch, and I have never seen anything like it before. It turned out to be a White-marked Tussock Moth, quite a stunning creature.
White-marked Tussock Moth

Our season species list is up to 42 and counting. It is so much fun at the beginning, because every day promises new species to check off of the list!
Don't forget to visit us on the weekends, and get there early because we close the nets around 11:45. Trust me, with this heat you will want to get there in the wee hours!


6/09/2010

Spring Migration Monitoring: Week 9

Yellow Warbler male

June update

As May came to a close, migration slowed to a trickle. The breeding birds have provided lots of entertainment though. On Wednesday we were inside banding when suddenly we heard the distinctive vit-vit calls of Barn Swallows right outside the lab. We turned around to see a pair hovering in the doorway, no doubt scouting for nest locations!

The Tree Swallows have been kicked out of their nest box, either invaded by a House Wren or predated by a raccoon. They have been busy gathering material around the station to re-build a nest in the nest box next door. Hopefully they will have better luck this time! Native to North America, Cowbirds are considered nest parasites because the females lay their eggs in the nests of other species. Most birds have not evolved to be able to tell the difference between their own eggs and a cowbird egg or nestling, so they will care for them all the same. The Cowbird chicks hatch first and quickly out-compete the real offspring of the host species. As cruel as this seems, the cowbird strategy is incredibly smart. Some Yellow Warblers have evolved a counter-strategy – when they see a cowbird egg in their nest, they build a new nest on top of the old one. Last year a volunteer found a triple-decker!

On June 2 we caught our first youngster of the year: a very scruffy American Robin!

WEEK 9

Species

May-27

May-29

May-30

Jun-01

Jun-02

Jun-03

Eastern Wood Pewee

1

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

1

3

2

Traill's Flycatcher

8

3

2

3

1

Least Flycatcher

1

1

1

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

4

Gray-cheeked Thrush

4

6

7

1

Swainson's Thrush

9

2

2

1

1

American Robin

1

1

Gray Catbird

1

2

2

1

2

Brown Thrasher

1

1

Yellow Warbler

2

Magnolia Warbler

4

2

1

Blackpoll Warbler

1

1

1

2

American Redstart

1

2

1

Northern Waterthrush

2

1

Mourning Warbler

1

1

Common Yellowthroat

1

1

1

1

Wilson's Warbler

1

2

Song Sparrow

1

1

Lincoln's Sparrow

1

Red-winged Blackbird

1

1

1

3

1

Common Grackle

1

Baltimore Oriole

1

American Goldfinch

3

TOTAL

40

30

19

7

13

12