Gifts of a Local Nature

This holiday season, please consider giving GIFTS OF A LOCAL NATURE for your friends, colleagues and loved ones.

These gifts are UNIQUE because, like TRCA’s work, they aren’t symbolic at all. THEY ARE REAL! We will band a real bird at TTPBRS. We will build and locate a real nest box for a bird family. We will plant real trees.

Each gift comes with:
- An attractive certificate;
- A one-year membership to the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station; and
- A tax receipt.

So this holiday season, GO WILD! Visit to purchase your GIFTS OF A LOCAL NATURE.


Last arrivals

                                                HY Townsend's solitaire

                                                                           Boreal owl                                                                                                                                                           
A few stragglers and late arrivals showed up during our last couple of days of standard banding! Boreal owls are an irruptive species with a lot of them moving south every 5 to 7 years. Looking at other Northern banding station totals, Boreals were moving south this fall. We managed to band a young female on Thursday,a first for the banding station.  If that wasn't enough of a pleasant surprise we  banded a young Townsend's solitaire on Friday ! This was a first for the Park and definitely a first for the banding station. This was a "lifer" for most of the banding team.


Wrapping up

We are in our final week of operation for this fall. The numbers of land bird migrants has dropped dramatically. But what is lacking in quantity, we are seeing in quality. We have banded 3 barred owls, ( 4 were seen at one time ), 3 Northern shrikes, with more still trickling through.

  Adult Common redpoll
The flocks for winter finches are showing up, with Common redpolls and Pine siskins. Singles of Evening grosbeak, Pine grosbeaks and White-winged crossbills have been observed.
We will finish the standard monitoring on Sunday the 11th.
It has been a long, but rewarding season! As my first year as coordinator, it has been tremendous. I am looking forward to many more years, running the station, working with an amazing group of volunteers that go above and beyond.
Also to the people that come by every weekend and drop in on there birding travels to say Hi and see what is moving through!
I will post the season's totals after we close down, we are standing around 4,300 birds for the fall!


Late October

        Northern shrike
 Orange-crowned warbler
                   Pine siskin
Late October has been a busy time for the banding team at TTPBRS! Kinglets have moved through in droves, and Black-capped chickadees and Dark-eyed juncos are making an appearance.
Winter species are showing up in smaller numbers, with Pine siskins and American tree sparrows representing.
The owls have slowed a bit, but this could be weather related as less favourable nights have been the norm this last week. We will continue until next weekend until the clocks go back and take away an hour of owl banding time. We are currently at 13 Northern saw-whet owls and 1 Barred owl.
The raptors move through the station sporadically, and 7 Sharp-shinned and 3 Cooper's hawks are all we have managed to band. Yesterday, a large number of Red-tailed hawks moved over in the strong north wind.
We are currently managing a duck trap, to document and follow waterfowl movement through the park. Waterfowl stage in the cells and open water around and in the park, and we document the numbers, arrival and departure dates, and monitor the large wintering flocks. With the banding, we will see if the waterfowl are moving through or wintering in the Park. To date we have managed to band nearly 20 Mallards, and a handful of Canada geese. As the season progresses we are hoping to band some of the other species that frequent the area.
Our banding total to date is over 4100 birds! Most species we expect have been well represented, and it will be interesting to compare the numbers when the season is over.
We will be at the station until Nov. 11th. so please drop by and observe some of the late migrants that are moving through.
Some of the highlights observed are Red phalarope, Brant and Snow buntings and Eastern bluebirds have been observed. 


October highlights...

As we head into the middle of October, the numbers of birds passing through TTPBRS this fall has been impressive to say the least!
We have banded over 3500 birds so far, with both species of kinglets dominating the numbers.
We are attempting a few hours of owl banding each morning and have banded 9 Northern  saw-whet owls so far, and this rather impressive young Barred owl.
If the second half of October is anything like the first, I could see the station banding over 4000 birds for the fall season..... fingers crossed!


1st day of autumn !

As we near the end of September, we found the month has been rather slow!
At the end of August we had banded over 1000 birds, as the end of September draws closer we stand at under 700. The summer-like weather slowed down the migration, somedays to a crawl!.
As we move into fall, the sparrows, thrushs and kinglets will dominate the daily totals, and our numbers will climb.
We are operating out of the new lab, so if you haven't already stopped by, please do so.

 HY male Rose-breasted grosbeak

                                        Adult male Black-throated blue warbler


September banding

Monday started quite well with a total of 88 birds banded. A variety of passerines made up the total, and this Hatch year Broad-winged hawk. These birds are seldom caught at hawk banding stations, so on showing up in a passerine net was a nice bonus!
The rest of the week so far has been quite slow, and we are hoping the front passing through this weekend, will pick the flight up again!


Red-tailed hawk

   Grey-cheeked thrush

Red-eyed vireo     

 Blackpoll warbler
A slow week for the banding station. We did manage a few fall warblers, thrushes and vireos. A bonus was this Hatch Year Red-tailed hawk. With the passage of this last cold front, the bird numbers should start to increase this week.

All photos courtesy of Charlotte England


September has started slow compared to August! we finished out August with 1001 birds and have only added a couple of  hundred new birds so far. The raptor nets have produced 2 female Sharp-shinned hawks and this female Coper's hawk today.
The raptor flight has only just started to trickle through TTPBRS and we are expecting our new hawk set-up to produce a good number of raptors this fall.
Warblers have been the bulk of the daily banding totals. We have caught and banded 21 species so far this fall!
Thrushes are starting to make an appearance, and we got our first Wood thrush yesterday....


Least sandpiper

 Baltimore oriole

 Chestnut-sided warbler
The TTPBRS officially opened on Aug 5th. The migration had only just started to trickle through, but the masses of Cedar waxwings and Baltimore orioles kept  us busy banding. A few migrants made the totals on the next weeks logs. Local Yellow warblers made way for migrants from furher north.
As the last two weeks progresses European starlings descended  on the park and on some days dominated the banding totals !
Flycatchers and the beginning of the warbler movement have been evident this week. A few birds made the highlight list with the banding af a Black-billed cuckoo last weekend and also a Northern mockingbird, a station first.
A trio of Belted kingfishers, and a first year Least sandpiper were also a nice surprise.
As we approach September, we are expecting the species numbers' to start to build, and also the first raptors to move along the shoreline.
As of today Aug 23rd we are at 539 birds banded.  


As a bird bander, summer is not time off during the spring and fall migration monitoring. I run a Grassland bird survey, in conjuction with the Couchiching Conservancy and the MNR. We are looking at a group of birds whos numbers have been declining in the past few years. We are color banding them so the multitude of birders that come to the study area can participate in the project by reporting the band numbers they observe to the Conservancy. We are conducting the survey on the Carden Alvar, north of Kirkfield.
As August aproaches we are preparing for the fall monitoring at Tommy Thompson Park. We will open the station on August 5th, and continue until November 11th.
We are open to the public on weekends and holidays so please feel free to drop by and observe the bird banding operation.


With 2722 birds banded this spring, the daunting task of entering data has started!
That total was comprised of 83 species. That included 2 hybrids and 1 race.
We had 8 species with totals in the triple digits, with Yellow-rumped warbler topping the totals with 408 individuals banded !
The total of the 8 species comprised more that half the season's total

Yellow-rumped warbler                     408
Nashville warbler                               216
White-throated sparrow                     183
Swainson's thrush                              150
Red-winged blackbird                       130
Western palm warbler                       129
Yellow warbler                                 119
Nashville warbler                              103

                     TOTAL                      1528


Today we closed down the banding station for the spring migration.The last week has been slow, with a few straggler warblers, thrushes and flycatchers. Cedar waxwings made up any numbers we banded.
We ended the season with over 2800 birds banded. This included 2 hybrids and 1 race.
We will start the fall migration monitoring on August 5th. A special thank you to all the volunteers that participated in the spring season, and hope to see you all again this fall! 


The last two weeks at the park have been outstanding !
May 3rd saw a huge "fall-out"day. We were lucky to have a few banders and extractors volunteering that day, and we were able to band 390 birds! Although the banders didn't get out of the banding lab much that day, they did a fantastic job and kept the pace up all day.
Our concerns on a day like that is the length of time we hold the birds. This was monitored constantly during the day, and at any point we have had birds to long, we would release them without banding.
The following days produced good numbers until it slowed down on the 14th
The bulk if the birds were Yellow-rumped warblers to start, then we caught good numbers of the other warblers until the weekend when thrush numbers were more dominant.

Our total for the season is over 2000 birds with 3 weeks still to go. The weather patterns have produced significant fall-outs at most research stations.


Week of April 22nd - 29th

The week started the same as the previous week, with Monday and Tuesday having rain and strong winds.
Wednesday cleared and the weather co-operated for the rest of the week.
The migration is still slow, except for a good movement of Red-winged blackbirds.
Yellow-rumped warblers  were starting to show up in small numbers, along with a couple of other warbler species. With the next southern flow, we should be seeing the numbers increase.

                                  Male Orange-crowned warbler
The species that breed in the park are well on their way defending territories and building nests.

Species banded

Hermit thrush                                                        8
American robin                                                        2
Brown thrasher                                                        1
House wren                                                             1
Yellow-rumped warbler                                            18
Western palm warbler                                               2
Black & white warbler                                              2
Blue grey gnatcatcher                                              1
Townsend's X Black-throated grey warbler hybrid     1
Dark-eyed junco                                                     5
White-throated sparrow                                        14
Fox sparrow                                                           1
American goldfinch                                                 2
Red-winged blackbird                                           33
Common grackle                                                    5
Brown-headed cowbird                                          1     



On Wednesday last week, a small distinctly marked warbler was extracted from a mist net and brought into the banding lab.
The extractor knew it was unusual, and upon being asked what his guess would be, he said,"Townsend's warbler"
Upon removing from the bird bag we all initially agreed with his guess!!
Upon further scrutiny, we noticed it was not quite right...the face pattern was Townsend's warbler, but the rest didn't match!!
We all decided it was a hybrid....with a Black-throated grey warbler!!
As neither of these birds occur in Eastern Canada, we took a lot of photographs, and banded and took all measurements and data we needed.
The photos were sent to the experts, and within a day we had e-mails back confirming out conclusions!!
This was a fantastic and probable first for Ontario.
We were informed that it isn't a common hybrid on the West coat where these birds occur!
We are now researching older documents to see what has been documented on this bird!

We will keep you posted...
All photos courtesy of Amanda Guercio


April 15 - 22

This week at the banding station was almost a carbon-copy for weather pattern as last week!
Sunday was a good day but turned on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday cleared up with south winds, and a good movement of birds.White-throated sparrows and Yellow-rumped warblers showed well this week, and a movement of SY male and female Red-winged blackbirds brought the totals up.
Warblers were represented by only two species so far, Yellow-rumped and Western palm.
The next southerly flow should bring the diversity and numbers we are waiting for!


Golden-crowned kinglet                1
Ruby-crowned kinglet                   4
Brown creeper                              3
Winter wren                                  2
House wren                                  1
Yellow-rumped warbler               22
Western palm warbler                   1
Northern rough-winged swallow   8
Hermit thrush                              14 
American robin                            3
Yellow-bellied sapsucker              1
Yellow-shafted flicker                   3
White-throated sparrow              28
Swamp sparrow                           6
Song sparrow                               8
Dark-eyed junco                           8
American goldfinch                        3
Red-winged blackbird                  33
Brown-headed cowbird                 1

Total : 150           Species : 19


April 8 - 14

This week was the start of a typical early spring movement. With Sunday having south winds, bird numbers increased with a total of 41 birds for the day.
As weather usually does it changed back to north winds and strengthened on Monday and Tuesday closing down the banding operation.
We managed to band the rest of the week, with average numbers seen.
We were re-trapping a lot of the "migrant" species, indicating they were not moving out at night. They were feeding up, and most re-trap weights were up from the initial capture weights.
After this strong front moves through we are expecting a good push of birds....

TOTALS week of April 8 - 14

Eastern phoebe                      15
Golden-crowned kinglet           26
Ruby-crowned kinglet               2 
Winter wren                             3
Brown creeper                         9
American robin                        4
Hermit thrush                         10
Fox sparrow                           6
Song sparrow                        11
Field sparrow                          1
Swamp sparrow                      2
Savannah sparrow                   1
American tree sparrow           11
Slate-colored junco                11
American goldfinch                  1
Western palm warbler              1
Myrtle warbler                         1
 Red-winged blackbird             3
Brown-headed cowbird            5

TOTAL species   19   TOTAL  birds  124

Photo courtesy of Sara Stratton


first week....

The first week has been slow. As temperatures and weather patterns return to "Normal" early spring, the birds reacted accordingly!
With only one day of double digits, we were seeing only a few of the early bird's in with the birds that breed  in the park, and others that had wintered there.
As the temperatures  rose near the end of the week, the numbers of long-tailed ducks started to decrease...a sure sign of spring!

Banding totals for April 1st thru 7th

Eastern phoebe                        3
American robin                         2
Hermit thrush                           1
Golden-crowned kinglet             5 
American tree sparrow              7
Dark-eyed junco                      2
Song sparrow                        11
Fox sparrow                            3
Swamp sparrow                       1
Winter wren                             1
Northern cardinal                      1
Red-winged blackbird                1
Brown-headed cowbird              1

TOTAL 39 birds of 13 species
                                    female Northern cardinal



Spring season

Hi to all,
My name is Nigel Shaw, I am the new bird bander coordinating the Research Station this year. We will be officially starting up the spring season this Sunday, April 1st.
I am looking forward to working with the dedicated group of volunteers that have contributed their own time to run the banding and research program.
I will post results and sightings as we progress through the season. I will follow Brett's format, as I found it informative and entertaining as I followed last years progress!


The migration of a banding coordinator

Brett Tryon with Tree Swallow 

After 6 seasons at TTPBRS, this little bird has decided to spread her wings. It has been a rewarding three years and an experience I will never forget. To hold a wild bird in one’s hand is a privilege, and something that most people will never experience in a lifetime. To do it every day for a living is almost unheard of.  I take with me some incredible memories: the first-record Worm-eating Warbler that I banded, the Baltimore Oriole that sang in my hand, the Northern Shrike that pierced my finger with its razor sharp bill, and the rare Whip-poor-will whose softness took my breath away. These are just some highlights - every bird is special and every day has been a learning experience.

I have been fortunate to work outdoors in Toronto’s urban wilderness, a side to the city that many people have yet to explore. By achieving the unthinkable feat of getting up hours before dawn, I have been able to experience wonders of nature that only occur in those final moments of darkness. I have watched the full moon setting over the sleeping city; I have seen the sun rise over the misty lake; and I have listened to the dawn chorus as hundreds of birds awaken the world with song. 

What I will miss most is the TTPBRS family – the volunteers that have made my job possible. Although life pulls people in different directions, many of the volunteers have returned season after season. Their dedication and enthusiasm constantly inspires me. It takes a unique individual to get up so early and dedicate a full day of their time without pay, simply out of passion and good will.  With only one paid staff member, the volunteers are the backbone of this program. They have been so fun to work with and have taught me so much. I want to thank all of the following volunteers who I have worked with throughout the years:

Stephen Campbell
Theresa Carlin
Andrea Chreston
Lisa Chou
Antonio Coral
John Crawford
Bronwyn Dalziel
Marc Dupuis Desormeaux
Charlotte England
Mark Field
Tom Flinn
Attila Fust
Andrea Geboers
Stephanie Hung
Andrew Jano
Don Johnston
Andreas Jonsson
Bindu Kaimal
Bob Kortright
Laura Arnot Kucey
Priscilla Lai
Jan McDonald
Larry Menard
Theresa McKenzie
Lisa Myslicki
Denise Potter
Paul Prior
Elisabeth Purves
Whitney Pyper
Glenn Reed
Maya Ricker-Wilson
Emily Rondel
Sachiko Schott
Josh Shook
Zak Smith
Zoe Southcott
Ian Sturdee
Dell Tune
Bert Vanderzon
Paul Xamin
Juan Zuloaga

The search is on for a new Coordinator, so if you are interested in applying, please visit

Good Birding!



Owls at Tommy Thompson Park

Tommy Thompson Park (TTP) is a popular winter hangout for owls, and for those who seek them. The largest existing greenspace on the Toronto waterfront, TTP provides critical habitat for owls during the harshest months of the year. Ten owl species have been observed at TTP, but the most common owls are Great Horned, Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet.  

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Theresa McKenzie)

During the winter many birders and photographers visit TTP in search of owls. Some regulars even know which trees to check, as owls often have favorite roosting locations. Unfortunately, the well-worn paths leading right up to the trunks of such trees are a clear indication that people are getting too close for comfort. Over the years there have also been many accounts of people crowding around owls, causing them to fly away and even pruning or breaking branches in order to get better photographs. There is no doubt that people’s intentions are good – we love owls so much that we will spend hours in the cold and wind just to get a glimpse of them! The question is can we love them to death?
If you think that this is a bold or unrealistic question, considering the following story. A Snowy Owl turned up one winter at a construction site in Michigan, where it remained for the season. Birders and photographers flocked to see it over the course of the winter. Not surprisingly, there were many complaints about the owl being harassed. There were accounts of groups literally surrounding the owl, people flushing the owl into traffic, and some individuals even trespassing onto private property in order to get better photos. The temptation to get a good shot seems to preclude common sense and consideration for animal welfare. When one conscientious birder suggested on the local birding forum that people should not approach the owl so closely, he was met with much opposition. People commented on how healthy the owl seemed to be. One photographer, who had clearly flushed the owl, asserted that its behavior of flying around was a result of it being in good health and exploring its surroundings.  In early spring the owl was found dead, and a necropsy revealed that this “healthy” bird had in fact died of malnutrition. It isn’t out of the question to assume that the hoards of people harassing this owl on a daily basis interfered with its ability to hunt successfully and caused it to waste precious energy in an attempt to escape their advances. While people may not have directly caused the owl’s demise, they no doubt made matters worse.
Owls budget their time and energy very carefully. Food is scarce during the winter, and an owl must be a successful hunter in order to survive. Distracting an owl from its prey or causing it to fly away and abandon its intended meal disrupts this process.  A roosting owl on the other hand, is attempting to rest and save its energy for the long night of hunting ahead. Whenever a sleeping owl is flushed, it is forced to waste its precious energy.
Some species like Long-eared Owls tend to be quite skittish and have a tendency to flush easily, so it is important to keep a good distance from them. The Northern Saw-whet Owl has a different defence mechanism; rather than fly away and draw attention to itself, it sits very still in hopes of not being seen. These owls might let you get very close, but don’t be fooled into thinking that they are comfortable with your presence; they consider you to be a predator.  Their eyes wide open and staring at you and upright, elongated posture are tell-tale signs of stress.  An owl should not be focused on you: it should either be sleeping with its eyes closed on focusing intently on prey. If you see an owl exhibiting these sings, simply back off and give it space.
Considering the stress that one individual can place on an owl, it is easy to see how problematic it can be when the location of an owl is posted or shared by word of mouth. It isn’t long before the owl is being bombarded by multitudes of people.  As TTP is such a popular destination and so easily accessible, there has been growing concern over the impacts that people have on its owls. In order to address these concerns and take a proactive approach to the issue, TRCA has developed an Owl Viewing and Reporting Policy. This document was written after careful consideration of scientific literature and various owl management strategies. By following the simple guidelines, you can help ensure that our beloved owls continue to thrive at Tommy Thompson Park.