Exciting Week!

Adult male 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.



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!