Saturday, October 31, 2009

surprise: a Yellow-breasted Chat in our nets!

the wait is probably worth it, although uploading a picture on dial-up is a test of patience. We too had to wait to almost the end of the season to get a new species for Cabot Head. So here's a picture of our first ever Yellow-breasted Chat!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

other visitors from the North... and one from the South!

As October continues to tumble gently towards November and colder weather, more denizens of the North are appearing on our shores. Some look like snow flakes, to prepare us for what to come: Snow Buntings in their fluttering flocks have been delighted us these last few days.

Over Georgian Bay, flocks of Long-tailed Ducks have been flying fast over the water. They seem eager to go somewhere, as we haven't seen them yet resting on the water.

But the big surprise came today (October 27), as warm air loaded with humidity was pushed from the south: in a net (B8 to be precise), a large, yellow, white, and green bird, with a strong beak and a harsh call, was probably as astonished as us to found itself in such predicament! It was (drum roll!!)... a Yellow-breasted Chat!

This species has not only never been banded here at Cabot Head, but also never observed before, and not only in the count area, but also in the broader region of the BPBO checklist (at least, to the best of our knowledge). We gleefully put a band on it, took all the precise measurements, and spent some time taking pictures (soon to come on the blog).

In migration time, always expect the unexpected! (as I like to repeat)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

visitors from the north and the night

The sun hadn't risen yet this morning when we checked nets for the first time. To our surprise, soon followed by delight, a strange form was in one net. It was a Northern Saw-whet Owl with a beheaded mouse in its beak! We gleefully brought it back to the banding lab to put a band on the owl. At release, we tried to give it back the mouse, but too stressed, it neglected the easy meal. That's unfortunate, but hopefully, this little young male would find another feast next night.

At the end of the morning, another visitor showed up, perched in the dead birch in front of our house. A diurnal kind of predator this time, this Northern Shrike tried its luck on our banded young male Northern Cardinal, with no luck. It flew away afterward.

Yesterday, on a hike, we also spotted a Northern Shrike in a wetland not far from the station. With the arrival of this denizen of the North, it is definitively starting to feel like the season is nearing its end: only 12 days of banding left...

Friday, October 16, 2009

fall harvest

It is certainly fall now, with the leaves in full regalia and the mercury plunging steadily. And with fall comes harvest of kinglets and sparrows and chickadees and woodpeckers! Many Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets can be seen now fluttering and twittering in the trees, as well as hanging upside-down in our nets! And when you get one, you're more than likely to get half a dozen or even more. Maybe Kinglets were not in mind when "a dime a dozen" was forged but it readily applied...

Sparrows of the North have also come down on the battered shores of Georgian Bay: the White-crowned Sparrows have been around already for a few weeks, all adults sporting their namesake diadem, while the young still need to deserve their own by surviving the winter, exhibiting only a shy and modest brown cap. On Tuesday 13, the first American Tree Sparrow was caught in our net, with a few others seen hopping freely in low shrubs. Delicately marked and very elegant indeed, this sparrow is one of my favourite! Another sparrow with a bicoloured bill, albeit much bigger, appeared from its northern haunts the following day: a very rufous Fox Sparrow was caught on Wednesday 14! Another one was also caught yesterday.

Various Bald Eagles, in all kind of attires, are seen quite regularly, like the 3 immatures seen at once one early morning, or the adult perched on what is (very) locally known as the "Eagle Tree", actually 2 Red Pine Trees offering their strong horizontal limbs on a strategic location, high on a bluff, overlooking wetlands, basin, and Georgian Bay.

The first flurries have been thoroughly enjoyed too! Crisp air, sun competing with clouds, leaves falling in nets, frosty morning: it is fall indeed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

bye bye summer, hello fall!

After an unbelievably warm and sunny end of summer, it feels like fall now, with plunging temperatures, rain, and colourful leaves.

The cohorts of birds have changed as well: mostly gone are the warblers and vireos. WE had a good variety of warblers, although numbers were low. The most abundant, as always, was the American Redstart. Black-and-White and Magnolia Warblers, Ovenbird and Common Yellowthroat were also observed and captured in good numbers. There are, of course, still some warblers coming through, most notably Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers but also some Nashville Warblers. The first Orange-crowned Warbler was detected on September 22nd.

A rare sight at Cabot Head, 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were seen on afternoon, on August 30th. A few Philadelphia Vireos were seen and banded during September.

September is also the time of migration for most Thrushes, and this fall, the Swainson's Thrush was captured in record number, with 49 banded. Some Gray-cheeked Thrushes have been banded as well, but in very small number this year compared to previous ones. Hermit Thrushes have just started to migrated through.

Now is the time for White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, for Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, for Juncos and Chickadees. I'll keep you posted! (I'll try...)

Monday, September 21, 2009

A kayak tour to remember

A couple of weeks ago, I went for a little paddle on Georgian
Bay. Very soon after leaving Wingfield Basin, I saw a huge bird flying
towards me... Sure enough, it was an immature Bald Eagle which veered
away inland at close range from my red kayak.

Not very far down the shore, another Bald Eagle was flying along the
shore as well! And shortly after it flew inland too, I spotted an
Otter watching me, head well above the water...

Not bad, not bad. On my way back, as I was paddling in the waves close
to shore with the wind in my back, a familiar though rare silhouette
appeared cruising below the treeline along the shore. I was delighted
and stunned to watch an adult Peregrine Falcon. It perched on a tree
at water edge. I turned around and approached it. I had a good look as
it took off again and veered around and perched again on a dead tree
very close to me. The gulls flying at the same time gave it a wide
berth and yelled at it. I would say it was a female, given its size.
An adult Peregrine Falcon in August on the Bruce at Cabot Head is not
frequent at all!

As I was going back "home", paddling in Wingfield Basin, the Merlin
was perched in the dead birch in front of Wingfield Cottage, as the
turkey family (the hen and its 8 poults) was foraging on the shore!
Nothing unusual there, but a nice touch to end my little tour. I did
some eskimo rolls just to celebrate!

Hope you enjoyed my little story!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

the fall migration monitoring has begun!

Hi all!

I know, I know, many of you don't like to hear the word "fall" in August, so maybe let's call the massive retreat from Northern Climes by our feathered friends the "post-breeding migration". How about that?

It's been 2 weeks that the mistnets have been open again at Cabot Head Research Station. As usual, August is slow and we've been catching mostly local birds, like American Redstarts (lots of them), Black-and-White Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Song Sparrows.

The first "true" migrant was a male Wilson's Warbler, caught on August 23rd. "True" because this species doesn't breed on the Bruce Peninsula. But all the aforementioned species are migrants too, they're just bidding their time for now.

Although not migrating at the moment, many Bald Eagles are regularly being seen at Cabot Head, most notably 5 immatures in one day (August 24). Bald Eagles seem too be more common and it is certainly a treat to see them on an almost daily basis!

On that same day of the 5 Eagles, an Olive-sided Flycatcher was very cooperative and give us all the time needed to make a proper identification. It is the first Olive-sided Flycatcher ever sighted in the fall at the station! It was a good day as the first Mourning Warbler was caught too.

So, the operation is running smoothly, thanks notably to the 2 dedivated volunteers, Glenn, from Toronto who's returning this fall after spending 3 weeks in spring, and Matthias, a young bander from Austria who's here for 6 weeks. Once again, BPBO is attracting people from around the world!

I'll try to be good and keep you posted on the major and minor events of beautiful Cabot Head (a place where you can watch at the same time otters fishing in Wingfield Basin and black bears ambling on its shoreline!)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

whimbrel and more in June

The migration monitoring at Cabot Head Research Station has now come to a close. Hard to believe but summer is almost upon us, and true, there has been at least a couple of warm days! It was a very good season, filled with many birds, good volunteers, and great time!

In closing the blog for the summer break, I wish to apologize for the few and irregular postings. I hope you out there enjoyed them anyway. And here's the last of the news!

A very rarely seen shorebird at Cabot Head, a Whimbrel was seen flying West and fast over Gerogian Bay on June 2. Migration usually winds down in June but this spring, we had good days and banded a record number of birds during the 12 days of coverage. Most of them were American Redstarts, a very common bird on the Bruce. There were also good numbers of late migrants like Yellow-bellied and Traill's Flycatchers, Red-eyed Vireos, Swainson's Thrushes, and Mourning and Canada Warblers.

Surprisingly enough, species diversity in June was still relatively high. Even though only 2 more species were added to the total (Whimbrel and Black-billed Cuckoo), 50 species of more were detected in 7 of the 12 days of monitoring. On June 4, on a clear, cool, and calm morning, 60 species were detected, including 13 species of warblers. In total, 91 species were detected during this period.

During the last week of banding though, the birds detected were mostly singing, establishing territories and building nests. Migration was slowing winding to a close and on June 12, the nets were furled for the last time this spring. In the same afternoon, they were taken down and stored away for the summer. But we'll be back!

Enjoy summer! So long for now!

Monday, June 01, 2009

more than 1,700 birds banded and counting

There are still lots of migrant birds moving through, even if we are already in June (though the cold temperatures can make us doubt about it!).

Last week, after 2 days of rain and fog and sometimes strong wind, it was still foggy on Friday morning, on May 29. Nonetheless, with no rain and wind, nets could be opened. And all these weather-grounded birds flew eagerly in the nets! In all, 126 birds were caught and banded and 5 recaptured, most of them in the first 4 hours, before the sky cleared and the sun shone again!

As I was by myself this day, it was a very busy and hectic day indeed, but exciting! We got the first Gray-cheeked Thrush of the spring! This day, there were significant numbers of late-migrant species, like Traill's Flycatcher (11 banded), Philadelphia Vireo (with an amazing 6 banded, when the highest number for an entire season was 4!). We also banded 12 Magnolia, 7 Canada, 6 Mourning and 5 Wilson's Warblers. Surprisingly enough, there were still White-crowned Sparrows around, with 4 banded!

The following day, May 30, was clear and cool. Most of the birds have taken advantage of the fair weather and moved on. Our "resident" immature Bald Eagle was still around though. High up, very high up, we also spotted 3 immature Bald Eagles riding a thermal alongside with 18 Broad-winged Hawks! Many Eagles have been seen this spring, with some individuals lingering around Wingfield Basin. An adult Bald Eagle was even seen in the afternoon of that day!

Today, dawn was greeted by the persistent song of a Whip-poor-will under an overcast sky and a light drizzle. We waited a bit before opening nets. And again, because of the overcast and impending rain, we got lots of birds in them: in less than an hour and a half of netting, we banded 34 birds: 5 Traill's Flycatchers, 4 Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, some Wilson's, Mourning, and Magnolia Warblers. And of course, the ubiquitous American Redstarts (a very common local breeder on the Bruce)!

Cabot Head seems to be a fine place for this species, with some birds faithfully returning springs after springs to it. Yesterday, for example, we recaptured one female with a well-worn band. It turned out she was banded as an After-Second-Year female on June 4, 2001! It means she was born at the latest in 1999 and is then at least 10 years old! According to the Banding Bird Lab website, the oldest American Redstart on record is 10 years and one month. "Our" bird has been recaptured every spring from 2003 and 2006, then skipped 2 years to be recaptured again this spring. She has survived 10 round trips to the West Indies (or Central America)! Amazing!

I am always in awe of the little (and big) miracles of migration!!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

after the peak!

we are entering now the later part of the spring migration: excitement is gearing down a notch, less birds and new species are to be expected, the peak (especially the peak of warblers) is behind us...

But it doesn't mean that this is over! Oh no! After the last big day of 103 banded birds, we are still getting decent days of banding, notably 52 birds in our nets on May 23, with 22 of them being American Redstarts! Cabot Head is a fine breeding place for them, as well as a good migration staging ground, so we get lots of this striking warbler. That day, we also got a Bobolink in the small shrubs at the tip: surprisingly enough, it was my first Bobolink at Cabot Head (even though more expert ears have picked up its faint flight calls many times). The first Blackpoll Warbler for the season was also detected on that day, as well as the Eastern Wood-Pewee.

On May 22, a very unexpected bird was seen and heard: almost dismissed at first as a Winter Wren, its very harsh and different call made us look more closely; to our delight, it was a MARSH WREN, a species almost never detected at Cabot Head for lack of the right habitat!! A Red-bellied Woodpecker was seen on May 24, another uncommon bird here.

Those last few days have been very quiet, banding-wise. However, the moult migration of Canada Goose has started: on the evening of May 25, the first flock of about 80-90 was loudly flying over the station, heading north to a quiet place. The next day, it's almost 500 Geese that moved through, flocks after flocks (from about 25 to 125 geese).

It is also on May 25 that we got the visit of an immature Bald Eagle. It seemed to like our Wingfield Basin as it took residence for hours at a time in a White Pine on the shore. The next day, an adult joined in, displaying its magnificent white head and tail. And later in the morning, a third Bald Eagle came in as well! This one is likely a 4-year-sold, as attested by the black terminal band on its white tail (the head being pure white). As if 3 Bald Eagles at the end of May wasn't a treat on itself, we spotted an Osprey flying towards one of the big marshy lakes of Cabot Head!

Today, the weather is foggy and rainy: no banding, then. But it didn't stop us from observing and getting 57 species! Most notably, as they were detected for the first time this spring, we had: 3 Horned Larks on the bay shore; one Philadelphia Vireo in a small bush with 2 Red-eyed Vireos; one buzzing Clay-coloured Sparrow at the tip; and finally, a Chimney Swift swooping bugs very low! The latter is very rarely seen at Cabot Head, and when seen, usually disappear in a wingbeat! But this one might have been disoriented by the low ceiling as it stayed around for quite some time...

Among late migrants, a Blackpoll Warbler was seen, and later heard. Two Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were foraging in the trees. Usually an early migrant, we were surprised to discover a Palm Warbler!

The fog was too heavy to see if our eagle friends were still around. We'll keep our eyes open for them!

Keep you posted!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

with a big, warm push from the South wind!

Today (Wednesday May 20) started calm and rather cool (only 6 degrees C at dawn), but our nets filled up quickly with all kinds of birds, as the temperature climbed up and a south wind started to pick up! For a solid 2 hours, it was almost non-stop banding. Then, the wind really increased to storm-like conditions, reducing the flow of birds and forcing us to close our nets one by one...

But the tally was awesome: 103 birds banded of 23 species! The most common of the day were the American Redstart, the Common Yellowthroat, the Least Flycatcher and the Magnolia Warbler! We had 16 species of warblers detected in total, with the first Mourning Warbler of the spring. Other new species for this spring were: Veery, Swainson's Thrush, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Indigo Bunting and Cedar Waxwing! So, 7 new species and lots of birds: it was a good day to migrate, riding a warm wave of weather!

Those last few days have been a mix of banding and non-banding days: windstorm and rain precluded banding 4 days out of the last week!! That might explain the big movement of today and the one on Friday (May 15), when we banded 85 birds of 23 species. That day, the most often banded was the Black&White Warbler, with 15 individuals, followed by the American Redstart. In all, 17 species of warblers were detected, including the first Tennessee and Bay-breasted of the season!

On Monday (May 18), a less busy day, we had more time to observe. On the flat mirror of Georgian Bay, a sight on itself to behold as it is rare to see the tormented Bay smooth as a baby's bottom, a flock of gulls was pecking at bugs on the surface. Among the usual Ring-billed Gulls were about 20 Bonaparte's Gulls! What a lovely sight! I find this gull to be exquisitely beautiful, delicate and refined! It was a real treat as we rarely see this species at Cabot Head, especially in the spring. But more excitement was too come: as the count period was nearing its end, I went again on the shore for a last baywatch. And my astonished eyes couldn't believe what they were seeing: close from shore and not far from my post, a RED-THROATED LOON in full breeding plumage was gently floating on the bay! This species is occasionally reported at Cabot Head, but in 6 years and a half of working here, it was my first observation of this slender loon. Everybody present at the station got a good look, as it obligingly stayed a while, diving from time to time. After maybe 10-15 minutes, it finally took off and flew away, its head typically held down! It was a great sighting and now it is a nice connection with Arctic memories!

What a spring!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

warblers, warblers, and more!

Things have quieted down since that first week… which brings it back to a more normal level for this time of year. This is good and bad – we did want to break every record ever made (and we were close on most of them!), but now we have more time to spend with each new bird. And since almost all the birds we get here are new to me (I started as very new to birding here, although I’ve had experience banding in England), it is very exciting.

The colourful warblers are now coming through in waves –Golden-winged (only one male caught in our nets!), Nashville, Orange-crowned, Northern Parula, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped (Myrtle), Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Pine, Palm, Black-and-white, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson’s and Canada. All are spectacular!

Hazel, from New Zealand, has now joined us, and has been here for about a week and a half, and is thoroughly enjoying herself as well. The weather has been spectacular, today in fact was only our second day of not being able to open nets at all due to rain. We had to comfort ourselves with crepes and maple syrup. Each day is a special day!

The goslings were born on the edge of the shipwreck, and carefully (with much prodding from their parents), took the leap of faith into the lake below. They swam ashore and now are filling themselves with grass around the cabin. One was weak and died, but the other four are still going strong. There’s actually another Canada Goose family that has joined the observatory property, with six goslings which look smaller than “our” family of four.

We’ve also had some exciting mammal sightings – coyote, fox, skunk, mouse, beaver, otter, and deer. And on the way to the cabin with Hazel we saw a bear and a cub grazing in a field on the side of Dyers Bay Rd. The full Canadian experience indeed!

And we’re still keeping our eyes out for the elusive Mississippi Kite…

Kat (the salamander expert)

And coming from Aotearoa (New Zealand), a land that is home to one introduced sparrow, it’s been a bewildering and exciting experience to be catching so many amazing and beautiful little birds. Will I ever remember their names, learn how to tell them apart and remember their own little songs? Each bird is on a mind boggling long distance journey; a journey that has been programmed into their tiny, determined little bodies.

The forest of stark white birches bursting into fresh green foliage is so far from the dense lush vegetation of the forest I work in. The smell of the pines, the open understory, the tiny brilliant spring flowers carpeting the forest floor (like little gems scattered about) are a world apart from the trees of Aotearoa laden with ferns, covered in mosses and home to perching plants escaping the problems of the forest floor.

And here I am seeing animals that we all associate with Canada…a beaver having breakfast on the shore, otter swimming by, a raccoon sitting on our porch at night. Truly a biologists dream holiday!

Hazel (from NZ DOC – Department of Conservation – fondly nicknamed here as DOCK – Department of Conservation and Killing, as lots of conservation programs in NZ involve eradicated introduced mammals as rats and stoats which otherwise would eradicate the native fauna…)

Not much else to say, besides that spring is always an exciting time, with the hope and joy of new birds every day: Most of the warbler species we get at Cabot Head have arrived in a span of about 10 days! The only missing for now are Tennessee, Blackpoll, Bay-breasted and Mourning. And maybe some unexpected ones, who knows?

Other birds to arrive in May are Flycatchers, with the first Least Flycatcher being detected on May 5 and the Great Crested Flycatcher on May 13. On May 6, we got our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which seemed greatly interested in its reflection in my sunglasses, by flying only a few inches from my face! Or it just wanted to make sure it wasn’t left undetected…


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The spring season is off to a great start!!

Greetings from the Cabot Head Bird Observatory!

We (Kat St. James - volunteer, Dan Harvey – volunteer, Paul – visiting friend) are huddled by the wood stove while Stéphane (station scientist) and Al (visiting friend) gamely look for raptors in some cool April showers. The nets are closed down for the day early due to the rain, and we’re having one of our very few slow bird days of the Spring. For the most part the weather has been warm and we’ve been catching an enormous number of birds (Stéphane tells us the technical term is a crapload. At least that’s what they say in France). We’ve actually caught more birds in our first week than any other week of banding, EVER. In fact, we’ve banded more than half of what is usually caught in an average spring season.

Some records so far:
The lightest bird: 4.8 g for a golden-crowned kinglet
The most Golden-crowned Kinglets: 424 so far (previous record was 241
The most Eastern Phoebes: 9

Stéphane’s heart has been warmed by the sight of many of his beloved raptors, including golden eagles, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, merlins, kestrels, broad-winged hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, rough-legged hawks, broad-winged hawks, coopers hawks, and osprey. Stéphane’s dream is to one day see a Mississippi Kite, for which he is saving a bottle of Champagne. I (Dan) saw one the other day in one of the mist nets, but quickly extracted it before Stéphane saw need to ruin his joy of discovery. I was hoping to see red-necked grebes and got a raftload of them at the dock of Dyer’s Bay! Cabot Head, the place where your wildest dreams come true! Kat had always wanted to see a Hermit Thrush and was quickly satisfied when we caught one on the second day. Generally, whenever Kat expresses her desire to see a bird it either shows up in a net or on census in short order. Kat on demand we call her.

Life in the cabin is filled with reading, cooking, meditating, yoga, exercising, CBC, and learning about birds. We’ve gone on a few hikes around the the pine barrens, up Middle Bluff, and to the lighthouse. I’ve been keeping my eye out for snakes (my area of study) and Kat for her salamanders but it’s been slim pickings so far (update on April 28: lots of snakes and salamanders in the Crane Lake area yesterday on a warm afternoon). In a week or so the weather is supposed to pick up and we expect rattlesnakes to start emerging from hibernation. We have seen an otter, raccoon, and beaver in the basin and a white-tailed deer and long-tailed weasel around the nets. There are also a couple of turkeys that are hanging around the property.

My favourite bird of the week so far? Hooded merganser. Kat: northern harrier. Stéphane: seeing one immature Golden Eagle soaring with 2 immature Bald Eagles and 3 Northern Harriers, while 2 Sandhill Cranes were flying not far…


Thursday, September 25, 2008

A busy day at the station... and more!

Today, on another warm morning, as if summer finally wants to prove something, calls were heard from everywhere as we opened the nets at dawn. Sure enough, the rustles in the leaves and multiple contact calls materialized in many a sparrow caught in our eager nets! An interesting palette of sparrows were captured, from the Song to the White-crowned, with the occasional Lincoln's and an interesting 4 Swampies (Swamp Sparrows, of course). But the most common were the dark-eyed Juncos (9 banded) and undoubtedly, the White-throated Sparrow (with 31 banded). All in all, we banded 75 birds, including a remarkable 7 Hermit Thrushes (which, for their first appearance this fall at the station, made a splash!). An American Redstart and a a few Red-eyed Vireo are noteworthy, not necessarily the latest in the season, but certainly after peak time for these species.

A flock of White-winged Crossbills was seen today, this species being regularly observed since the start of the fall monitoring this season.

Other interesting obs. and banding news: a yellow-billed Cuckoo was banded on 24 September; 2 Black Scoters were observed on Georgian Bay on 22 September (as well as several White-winged Scoters); A young Bald Eagle was perched on a big red Pine for a few hours on 19 September; A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was seen that same day too; a Snow Goose, all by itself, was observed flying high towards Georgian Bay on 18 September (a very uncommon sight at Cabot Head: I believe it's only the 2nd one!); and a Clay-coloured Sparrow on 16 September.

Even though mid-September has been relatively slow (up to those last few days), there is always something special to keep us happy! Not least among the magic moments is the reflection of... no, not the moon, but Jupiter on Wingfield Basin! Skies are so dark on the Bruce Peninsula that on a clear, moon-less night, we can have a Jupiter-lit body of water!!