10/09/2010

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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.