1/30/2012

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 http://www.trca.on.ca/careers/job/126641

Good Birding!

Brett





1/13/2012

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.