The 2020 TLBO Season Report has been posted here on our website. It can be found, along with all previous season reports, by clicking on the “Migratory Bird Count” button at the top-centre of this page.

We are also nearing the final month of our Birdathon fundraiser for the 2021 season and we are ever so close to reaching our fundraising goal. To date we have raised $3615 of the $4000 mark that we are hoping to hit. If you haven’t donated already, or know anyone who would be interested in making a contribution, please consider helping us ensure we can run our program again next year! Donations can be made through our Birdathon site and all contributors will receive a tax receipt. Please visit our team “Wandering Tatlers” page to donate:


Thank you again to everyone who helped make the 2020 season a success and we look forward to our return to this space next August.

Until then, stay safe and enjoy the birds wherever you may be!


MacGillivray’s Warbler

Our final day of the season was typically underwhelming. The migration monitoring season here at the TLBO is short, compared to most bird observatories, and each year we are reminded why. Whether it is flooding (2010 and 2011) or, more typically, steady near gale-force winds throughout the final days the season as was the case this year we are always made aware that it is time to call it quits on our time in the beautiful Tatlayoko Valley.DSCN9767

The south wind that forced us to close down early yesterday was unrelenting overnight and is still going strong now. This meant we could not do any banding today so we made the best of scouring the census area for whatever birds we could find. There were a few things about and we all walked around the net loop then up to the oxbow before census. This provided us with a few sparrows, including a nice Golden-crowned, a small flock of Pine Siskins and the occasional chatter of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. At the oxbow we noted a half dozen each of Green-winged Teal and Mallard while we disturbed both a Belted Kingfisher and Great Blue Heron from their hunting. A lone Varied Thrush was spotted fighting the wind as it passed overhead.

Sachi and Jac had a similarly quiet census though they did note four species of Raptors including Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Bald Eagle. A single American Wigeon braving the waves of the open lake was a bit of a peculiar sighting as they tend to prefer the more sheltered ponds just north of the lake.DSCN9758

While the others were doing census I took another walk around the net loop which provided me with a flyover Yellow Warbler, rather late for this species. I followed this with a quick sojourn over towards the pines to the east of the banding lab and here I was pleased to encounter two Townsend’s Solitaires that flew into the treetops before being blown across the valley.

At 10am we called it quits and moved on to getting a head start on the usual end of season vegetation management that we do each year around a few of the nets to keep vegetation height similar year to year.

Today’s eBird list can be viewed HERE

Daily Stats  
Birds Banded 0
Species Banded 0
Birds Recapped 0
Species Recapped 0
Species on Census 19
Species Recorded 32


September 28 is always reserved for a season summary here on the TLBO blog. As ever, it was an interesting season and while it was not as busy with birds in our nets as some years there was plenty of enjoyment to be had simply from getting to spend two months witnessing the passage of migrating birds in one of the most beautiful parts of BC.


August was atypically wet and the cool weather carrying through from the earlier summer presumably meant that reproductive success rate for many species was low. Most of the locally breeding warblers and species such as Swainson’s Thrush and Warbling Vireo that can be among our most regular in the nets during August had low to average totals banded. Interestingly, Song Sparrows had a slow start and initially we thought that they too must have had a poor summer but in hindsight they likely simply had a delayed breeding season as by the middle of the month we were catching quite a few juveniles. Come September their numbers would increase and we would finish with a nice even 200 banded, our most prolific bird of 2020 and the second highest total we’ve had of this species after the 230 banded in 2008.


The most banded (standard) species of the season: Song Sparrow

By the last week of August our banding numbers picked up to somewhere near the daily average (Fig. 1) for about a week before dropping again to pretty consistently below average through the first two weeks of September. As is often the case, this period was dominated by Lincoln’s Sparrows which peaked on September 14 when we banded 28 of the season’s total of 199. This contributed to our second busiest day of the season as we banded 73 birds. Meanwhile, other late August/early September stalwarts such as Common Yellowthroat (86 banded) and the aforementioned Swainson’s Thrush (124 banded) and Warbling Vireos (99 banded) all had low years. For the Thrushes this was not surprising as they were coming off back-to-back record numbers banded but for the Common Yellowthroats it is the second low year in a row and 2018 was no great shakes for them either.

Birds banded by day Chart_season end

Figure 1 Birds banded by day in 2020 vs average

After the Lincoln’s Sparrows peaked in mid-September the numbers of Ruby-crowned Kinglets steadily started increasing. It was a big year for them overall (including observations) but we would actually only catch 129 which is just a few birds above the average for this boom or bust species. This species and the Yellow-rumped Warblers are both quite variable in their numbers year to year and are also very erratic in where the flocks choose to forage in any given year. While both species were abundant this year we only caught 30 Yellow-rumpeds as they were mostly foraging in the area just east of the banding lab. For perspective, we banded over 300 in 2007 and 2013, two other high years for this species.

While we never catch many, Fox Sparrows had a great year by their standards with 20 banded being well above the previous season high of 13. This included one of the “Red” variety and one interesting bird that looked to perhaps be an integrade between the “Red” and the typical “Sooty” variety that we normally find here.

While banding numbers may have been low we had several notable highlights. To read more about each, click on the species name to go to the appropriate blog post. These included two new species for the TLBO. First off was a Gray-cheeked Thrush on August 19, the first bird of the morning as we returned to the banding lab from opening nets! The second was a Brewer’s Sparrow of the taverneri subspecies, AKA “Timberline” Sparrow that found it’s way into the bottom panel of Net 14 on September 6.

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Gray-cheeked Thrush!

Less rare highlights included a Veery (2nd banding record)  and a Blackpoll Warbler (6th banding record). The latter came on September 10, which would be a remarkable day as, in addition to the Blackpoll, we would catch our only Northern Harrier of the season as well as our first banding record of Green-winged Teal! Honourable mentions have to go to our 4th banding record of Belted Kingfisher (just the second from a standard net) on September 8; our first daytime capture of a Northern Saw-whet Owl, a juvenile that for some reason found its way into the bottom panel of Net 15 on September 22; and a “Slate-colored” Junco banded September 26, possibly a first for the TLBO.

Banding chart_2020

Figure 2 Banding timeline by season

In total we banded 1325 birds from our standard 12 net setup which we used for almost exactly the average amount of net hours. This is the third lowest season total in the 14 seasons of operation (fig. 2). We also banded an additional 200 “non-standard” birds, caught in our non-standard nets that included one songbird net (190 birds banded plus 21 recaps), setup near the Homathko between Nets 10 and 16 and 3 large gauge hawk nets.

We caught 224 recaptures from standard nets that included a few interesting inter-annuals. The most exciting of these was an 8 year old Swainson’s Thrush, banded as a hatch-year in 2012! A Red-eyed Vireo from 2017 was also a nice treat as we never band many of them. A further 21 recaptures came from non-standard nets.


Our first of 18 Northern Saw-whet Owls

Our Saw-whet Owl banding was hampered this year by poor weather throughout much of the last week of September which has made for just 9 night of owling. This has produced 18 owls so far and it is conceivable, though looking unlikely, that we may get in one more night still.


The season started with the milestone of our 250 000th bird detection since the inception of the TLBO reached on our first day of operation. While it is less straightforward to pull up the data on our total detections for each species this year/compared with previous years, I can say that overall we detected a single season record of 28 186 birds in 2020! This was helped out by a single day record of 3503 birds on September 25 when we experienced an impressive movement of over 2000 Yellow-rumped Warblers as well as good number of several other species.

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A very confiding Boreal Chickadee and our lone detection of the season

Noteworthy observations throughout the season were many, though most were the “regular irregulars” like Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Lapland Longspur, Magnolia Warblers and Clay-colored Sparrow. However, a few more infrequent occurrences included our 2nd records of American White Pelican and House Wren; our 3rd records of American Coot, Long-billed Dowitcher, Mew Gull, Common Tern and Blue Jay; and our 5th record of American Bittern.

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Our only Clay-colored Sparrow of 2020

And so, another wonderful season has been and gone. We are already eagerly looking ahead to ten months from now when the 2021 season begins. Until then, thank you to all our readers for following along with our adventures and keep an eye on this space for the full season report that will be posted in early November on the “Migratory Bird Count” page where each seasons report is available. Thank you as well to all those who donated to our Birdathon fundraiser, made private donations directly to BC Spaces for Nature and to those who contributed in a myriad of other ways. Finally, thanks to the Canadian Wildlife Service who were our primary funder in 2020. The 2020 TLBO project was run by BC Spaces for Nature and the Tatlayoko Lake Field Society who each poured many hours into ensuring that the program could run this year. Without them this program would no longer persist.

Until next year, best wishes from the TLBO 2020 banders:

Avery Bartels, Sachi Dell, Morgan Brown and Jac Curry

Season Totals including Non-standard
Species Band Recap
Lincoln’s Sparrow 239 31
Song Sparrow 217 86
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 157 1
Swainson’s Thrush 126 37
Common Yellowthroat 116 17
Warbling Vireo 114 5
Orange-crowned Warbler 71 3
American Redstart 44 7
Yellow Warbler 44 5
Wilson’s Warbler 42 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 36 0
Northern Waterthrush 34 5
MacGillivray’s Warbler 32 3
White-crowned Sparrow 31 0
Savannah Sparrow 26 0
Oregon Junco 23 0
Fox Sparrow 22 5
Dusky Flycatcher 20 7
Black-capped Chickadee 9 18
Cedar Waxwing 9 4
Hammond’s Flycatcher 9 0
Hermit Thrush 9 0
Alder Flycatcher 8 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 8 0
Pine Siskin 8 0
Traill’s Flycatcher 7 3
Willow Flycatcher 6 2
American Robin 5 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 5 0
Townsend’s Warbler 4 0
Red-eyed Vireo 3 2
Purple Finch 3 1
Downy Woodpecker 3 0
Pacific-slope Flycatcher 3 0
Red-breasted Nuthatch 3 0
Red-naped Sapsucker 2 0
Cassin’s Vireo 2 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2 0
White-throated Sparrow 2 0
Blackpoll Warbler 1 1
American Green-winged Teal 1 0
Northern Harrier 1 0
Northern Saw-whet Owl 1 0
Belted Kingfisher 1 0
Red-breasted Sapsucker 1 0
American Kestrel 1 0
Western Wood-pewee 1 0
Least Flycatcher 1 0
Steller’s Jay 1 0
Veery 1 0
Gray-cheeked Thrush 1 0
Varied Thrush 1 0
Nashville Warbler 1 0
Spotted Towhee 1 0
Chipping Sparrow 1 0
Brewer’s Sparrow 1 0
Western Tanager 1 0
Lazuli Bunting 1 0
Brown-headed Cowbird 1 0
Slate-colored Junco 1 0

Season Totals Total Standard
Banded 1525 1325
Species Banded 58 52
Recapped 245 224
Species Recapped 21 20
Species Recorded 140 n/a
Total Detections 28 186 n/a

The wind disappeared along with the day’s light resulting in a clear, calm and cold evening which is “the perfect storm” as it were for a night of owling. A light wind was blowing out of the south as we erected our full suite of owl nets while the brilliant light of the waxing gibbous moon shone overhead. The relative novelty of owling two nights in a row after such a long hiatus did not wear off and we caught a total of four new birds over the course of the session bringing our season total to 18!

To sex owls we use a combination of wing chord and weight. Owls, like other raptors, have what is called “reversed” sexual dimorphism, which means that females average large than males. To simplify, the range can be visualized by a somewhat flattened “bell curve” with the weightier and longer winged birds (females) on one end and the shorter winged, lighter birds (males) on the opposite end of the spectrum. The rest of the birds that make up the middle are simply assigned “unknown”. Because our audio lure is a recording of a male Saw-whet calling our sex ratios tend to be skewed with the majority of the birds that we catch each season being females, along with a handful of unknowns. With that in mind, you can imagine our pleasure at catching a feisty little male last night which, unsurprisingly, was our first of the season.


One of the quartet of hatch-year Saw-whets from last night – sex “unknown”

We awoke to a light breeze out of the south with a hint of rain in the air. Avery set out to the station to see about opening nets whilst Jac and I gathered our owl-addled brains, arriving an hour later. With the rain delaying opening Avery was able to note that visible migration was still underway, albeit lessened, as over 100 Yellow-rumped Warblers streamed overhead heading south over the course of a 10 minute “visible migration watch” in front of the lab. With the wind fully gusting, Avery departed for Census while Jac and yours truly kept a close eye on those nets that were still open. Sadly, visual migration had died down with the increase in wind leaving us with little to do but watch and wait.

Banding would be short and sweet as our nets were only open for an hour and a half during which time we caught and banded just five new birds, each of a different species. Arguably the highlight of the quintet was a very red Fox Sparrow that looked to be an intermediate between the “Red” and “Sooty” subspecies groups. Those five birds brought our season total up to 1,325 (1,525 non standard) new birds banded in 2020.


Our “Reddish” Fox Sparrow, lacking the wings bars and streaking on the back of a true “Red”

Just before census Avery spotted the darting white and iridescent shape of a late Violet-green Swallow as it flew into the wind on a southerly course. The wind made for a dull census as the “highlight” consisted of finding that the Red-necked Grebe who up until now could be reliably found out on the lake, no matter the weather, had elected to explore the calmer waters of the lagoon.


With no nets and little bird activity around we decided to get a head start on the “end of season” chores and clean up. While Avery attended to some net mending, Jac and I set about tackling some vegetation management. While removing small Aspen whips near net 14 I glimpsed two large-billed, bulky white shapes with black flight feathers, stalwartly flying into the wind – American White Pelicans (AWPE – species #140 of the season)! Even though they breed regularly up on the Chilcotin Plateau they are a very rare visitor to the station and as such this represents the TLBO’s second record, the first of which was back in 2018. To see photos of and learn more about this species click HERE.

To view today’s eBird checklist click HERE.

Sadly our season comes to a close tomorrow at which time Avery will compose our final blog post of 2020 where he will briefly summarize our monitoring efforts as well as some of the highlights that we observed over the course of the last two months.

It has been and continues to be a pleasure.

Stay tuned.


Species Band Recap
Common Yellowthroat 1
Fox Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1


Daily Season
Birds Banded 5 Total Banded 1525
Species Banded 5 Standard Banded 1325
Birds Recapped 0 Species Banded 58
Species Recapped 0 Total Recapped 245
Species on Census 20 Species Recapped 21
Species Recorded 41 Species Recorded 140

With a light wind, and no rain, Avery & I set out for our 9th owl banding attempt of the season. The wind stayed moderately strong throughout (a 4 on the Beaufort scale) and nets 9 & 10 stayed closed as we anticipated they would simply fill with leaves. The evening was a success and we banded two owls, both arriving in Owl Net 5, in separate rounds. The first was a second-year owl showing off the classic pattern of “milk-chocolate” old feathers on the inner primaries & secondaries and the “dark-chocolate” new outer primaries & secondaries. As the sky cleared & the moon shone, we anticipated that this might bode well for songbirds the next morning.

Sachi headed out to the station for the 7:05 net opening time with myself & Avery following, in time for the 8:05 net check. The wind wasn’t blowing as hard as the past couple days & the rain wasn’t falling. Both good signs. After yesterday’s windfall of migrating birds we expected that most, if not everything, had moved through already. However, not to be outdone by yesterdays blitz, the nets were full today!

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A nice adult male Ruby-crowned Kinglet, note the broad, rounded tips to primary coverts (feather tract immediately below Avery’s finger)

Upon leaving the ranch house, there was a light layer of frost on the windshield of Avery’s vehicle and we wondered if nets would be open already or if they would be partially frozen shut. Upon arrival, Sachi was running at full speed and had already five Ruby-crowned Kinglets while a further 14 birds were waiting to be banded as Sachi headed out on the next net round. Most of the morning continued like this with birds arriving i the lab and we would barely finish banding before needing to start the next round.

Throughout the day, there was the chilly nip in the air of fall, we had a very brief burst of drizzle which passed and provided some time to catch up. Due to wind, some nets were closed but most remained open. On average, we caught 8.6 birds per net check with a max of 23 (11:05). In total we caught 98 new birds across 16 species as well as 5 recaps. This meant we surpassed 1300 birds banded (from standard nets) and our season total now sits at 1320.

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Note the more uniform gray plumage, especially the slaty flanks on this hatch-year male “Slate-colored” Junco

With such a high velocity of birds, it is hard to choose a highlight and we had so many today. We started with a Dark-eyed Junco of the “Slate-colored” variety that was in with the initial batch of birds that Sachi had brought in just before Avery and I arrived at the station. We typically get the “Oregon” Juncos which are the locally breeding variety while “Slate-colored” breed across the Boreal from Alaska and northern BC right across to Newfoundland. While we will have to check throgh our banding records, this could be the first time we have banded a “Slate-colored” here!

A duo of hatch-year male Red-breasted Nuthatches, our second and third of the season, brightened up our catch, as did two late Yellow Warblers. While we banded a whopping 50 (!) Ruby-crowned Kinglets today there was just a single Golden-crowned Kinglet among them. We never catch big numbers of Golden-crowned but typically when we get a lot of Ruby-crowned (like this year) there will be a smattering of Golden-crowned in their midst. This year has not followed that trend as this was just the second one we’ve banded in 2020. A half-dozen Hermit Thrushes were more than welcome after having just a handful hit our nets this year. We were also pleased to finally catch a reasonable number of Yellow-rumped Warblers, the first day this season we can claim that despite having detected very large numbers about. Both “Myrtle” (6) and “Audubon’s” (5) subspecies were represented and we enjoyed the snappy dress of a adults males of each.


Adult male “Myrtle” Yellow-rumped Warbler – white throat and indistinct pale eyebrow

Considering how busy we were with banding, census was rather muted. There was still a decent movement of Yellow-rumped Warblers though nowhere near the high numbers posted yesterday. Most of the excitement came in the form of waterbirds with a Herring Gull out on the lake joining a Horned Grebe and duos of Red-necked Grebe and Common Merganser. A quartet of Northern Shovelers provided just our second sighting of this species this season.

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Adult male “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped warbler – yellow throat and lack of a pale eyebrow

As the morning wound down we witnessed some drama in the skies as a young Red-tailed Hawk chased down an Osprey that was carrying a fish. While they disappeared behind the trees between us and the airstrip, a minute later we saw an adult Bald Eagle making a bee-line for that area. It can be a hard life sometimes for an Osprey!

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Red-breasted Nuthatch, the black cap indicates this is a male

One final observation of note was a lone Rusty Blackbird that was first detected by Sachi, then a little later by Avery as it passed over the banding lab, calling. An extremely distant skein of high-flying geese tantalized us but they were so far off that Avery couldn’t pick them out in the scope and eventually lost them. Based on previous years’ observations they were most likely Greater White-fronted Geese but we had to put them down as simply “unidentified goose”.

Today’s eBird list can be viewed HERE .

Conditions seem great tonight for owling so fingers crossed that Sachi and I can come up with the goods!

Species Band Recap
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 50  
Yellow-rumped Warbler 11  
Song Sparrow 9 2
Hermit Thrush 6  
Lincoln’s Sparrow 6  
Warbling Vireo 2  
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2  
Yellow Warbler 2  
Savannah Sparrow 2  
Oregon Junco 2  
Black-capped Chickadee 1 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1  
Orange-crowned Warbler 1  
Fox Sparrow 1  
White-crowned Sparrow 1  
Slate-colored Junco 1  
Swainson’s Thrush   1

Daily   Season  
Birds Banded 98 Total Banded 1520
Species Banded 16 Standard Banded 1320
Birds Recapped 5 Species Banded 58
Species Recapped 3 Total Recapped 245
Species on Census 32 Species Recapped 21
Species Recorded 56 Species Recorded 139

With a string of unsuitable owling weather since our last outing on the 19th we decided to lower our standards last night in a desperate attempt to catch some owls. It turned out to be very short lived as we were forced to close our nets back up after testing out the first couple due to the force of the gusts. Like songbird monitoring owl monitoring is dependent on suitable environmental conditions which have recently not been in our favour. As as a consequence, this season’s effort has suffered with only seven full sessions thus far, making our target of ~13 out of reach with only four more nights until the end of the season.


The howling wind saw us through a rather restless night and continued on through to the morning shattering any hopes of banding that we may have harboured. Cup of coffee in hand, I sat and listened to the chorus of rain and wind as it rhythmically battered our south-facing windows, reminiscing about a night two years past when I endured gale-force winds in a rickety old cabin out at the Tip of Long Point, Ontario. Fortified by my “Cup of Joe”, I set out around 7:30 in order to have some time to get some observations before census.

The rain let up shortly before 8:00 as I made my way along the sodden net lanes. Rounding the corner past Net 10 I flushed an American Bittern from the banks of the Homathko just south of the “Kingfisher” Net! Being a rather shy species this is only the 5th record at the TLBO and the second time that I have had the pleasure of seeing this species. The first, was back in 2018 while I was volunteering out at the Tip at Long Point when I nearly stepped on one that, stock still in the shallows of one of the many wetlands had undoubtedly been trying to slip under my notice. Being a rather shy species they are most often heard vocalizing at both dusk and dawn in their breeding grounds. To hear their fabulously unique vocalizations as well as learn more about this species click HERE.


The stance of the day

Buoyed by my exciting encounter I decided to park myself near the Homathko to see if the poor weather would again spur migration as it had in the days previous. I was not to be disappointed as Yellow-rumped Warblers were again on the move south, accompanied by decent numbers of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and “Oregon” Dark-eyed Juncos along with American Robins, Varied Thrush and Northern Flickers in the skies above. With the wind still blowing too strong to open any of our nets Avery and Jac arrived around 8:30. Avery spelled me out as I set out on census while Jac assumed a position on the airstrip to monitor activity on the east side of the census area. It is rare to see such a level of visible migration in this valley so it was just as well that our nets were forced to remain closed thus enabling us to focus our undivided attention on the spectacle that was unfolding not far above our heads.


A cooperative “Myrtle” Yellow-rumped Warbler

Some spice would be added to the mix with our second detection this season of a Blue Jay as it called from within the forest west of the Homathko to go along with a Sora that was flushed from the trail nearby. Shortly after, a trio of Northern Rough-winged Swallows joined the fun as they danced in the wind heading south.

In addition to banding, our daily migration monitoring includes recording all our observations. However, today would be a day that was solely dedicated to observing the multitude of birds who were on the move southwards down the valley. Yellow-rumped Warblers were the most numerous as by our estimations we detected a staggering 2,187 individuals during the four and a half hours that we were present at the station. This is nearly doubled the previous high count of 1,150 set back in 2010 though it is worth noting that on that date there was not the constant observer effort as there was banding going on which tends to take up a good portion of our time. We also noted a large movement of “Oregon” Dark-eyed Juncos with a new TLBO high of 268. We don’t often get to see sizeable numbers of this species, presumably because, as one of the latest migrants, most  years they wait until early October to embark on their short distance migration. Northern Flicker (55), Varied Thrush (107), American Robin (128), American Pipit (115) and Ruby-crowned Kinglet (144) also had a strong presence, mainly along the Homathko for all but the pipits (in/over the north field).

It was interesting to note the different timing of birds passing through as I had most of the Robins, Kinglets and Juncos between 8:00 and 8:30. Meanwhile, Avery had most of the Varied Thrush and Northern Flickers over the subsequent hour.


A sad sight – good thing migration was full on

This season has been unusual in that we have gone 53 days without detecting a single Canada Goose (CANG). We had resigned ourselves to the most uncommon fate of missing them entirely so it was with some surprise that amidst the onslaught of crackling Kinglets, calling Yellow-rumpeds (of both sub-species) and rattling Juncos I heard the honk of geese and then subsequently saw five Canada’s languidly flapping their way south into the wind. By 11:00 migration had dwindled to a trickle and a half hour later we decided to pack up and head home. Interestingly, those five Canada’s helped us to attain a new milestone; 3,503 birds detected in a single day!

To view today’s eBird checklist click HERE.


Daily Season
Birds Banded 0 Total Banded 1422
Species Banded 0 Standard Banded 1222
Birds Recapped 0 Species Banded 58
Species Recapped 0 Total Recapped 240
Species on Census 25 Species Recapped 21
Species Recorded 52 Species Recorded 139

The wind was still blowing moderately hard this morning when we awoke but we were pleased to note that the rain had stopped and the skies were a mix of clear and dappled cloud. With everything still somewhat wet we opted to postpone our net opening a half hour and just got observations for this period. A Red-tailed Hawk, being half-heartedly harassed by a couple crows were our first detections while a smattering of Yellow-rumped Warblers gave us a taste of what was to come.

Once nets were opened Sachi stationed himself along the Homathko, near our MXA net as there was a fairly steady movement of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a few other bits and bobs passing low overhead, some stopping to forage in the riparian shrubbery. Over the course of an hour long vigil he detected over 500 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 50 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 20 “Oregon” Dark-eyed Juncos as well as a few Varied Thrush and American Robins – all heading south.

This male Hairy Woodpecker was engrossed in his pecking and barely noticed as I walked by

As I headed off on census my first birds were a quartet of Horned Larks, followed by a few American Pipits in with a little group of Yellow-rumpeds, again all flying south. After a few quiet minutes I ran into a foraging flock of another 30+ Yellow-rumpeds that was joined by the customary Ruby-crowned Kinglets as well as a pair of Mountain Chickadees and a confiding male Hairy Woodpecker. As I sifted through this flock, noting that they seemed to be at least half “Myrtles” I spotted something flying over. Once I had my binoculars on it it turned out to be a Rusty Blackbird, just the second we have detected this season! At the south end of the pine flats I noted a lone Fox Sparrow and as I crossed the south field a further 100+ Yellow-rumped Warblers flew over. The increasingly strong winds were picking up the raptors and I noted two Bald Eagles, an Osprey and the same Red-tailed Hawk seen earlier to go along with a duo of Northern Harriers I’d seen in the north field. A Merlin and a second Osprey also took to the skies after I had finished census. At the north beach I heard a Pacific Wren calling from the shrubs and I spent a little time after census scanning the lake before finally picking out a Horned Grebe, two young Herring Gulls and two distant Grebes that were probably Red-necked.

This Osprey was briefly bothered by a Merlin as it soared in front of the Niuts

By this time the wind had increased and with gusts threatening to hit a beaufort 6 we had to close our nets at 10:30. We managed to band 13 birds including a further four Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a couple late Wilson’s Warblers. The star of the show was undoubtedly our first Varied Thrush of the season, a hatch-year female, that Jac got to extract from Net 9 and then band. This catch prompted Sachi to note how much more calm they are than their cousins the American Robins who always put up rather more resistance when caught. We seem to catch a single one most years, almost always in the final week of the season. Who knows though, perhaps we will catch another as we still have 4 days of banding left!

The gorgeous tones of a Varied Thrush!

The eBird list for the day can be viewed HERE .

Species Band Recap
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4
Wilson’s Warbler 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 1 1
Swainson’s Thrush 1
Varied Thrush 1
Song Sparrow 1
Oregon Junco 1

Daily Season
Birds Banded 13 Total Banded 1422
Species Banded 8 Standard Banded 1222
Birds Recapped 1 Species Banded 58
Species Recapped 1 Total Recapped 240
Species on Census 23 Species Recapped 21
Species Recorded 41 Species Recorded 137

The day began with a fresh dusting of snow on the mountains, buckets of rain & a steady gale of that southerly wind. Expecting to be back at the ranch house by around 1030, we brought little more than our binoculars. At 7:30 am we headed down to the station to collect observations & complete the daily census. While birding by the Homathko, Avery & I were treated to a visible migration of approximately 115 Yellow-rumped Warblers. As we watched, the sun shone brighter, burning off the mist and the wind slowly died down. A fleeting view of a Northern Harrier confirmed that the weather must be improving.


At 8:45 am, 10 standard nets were opened. We had anticipated that this good weather would only last a few rounds, but the wind, which did increase, did not stop us from operating until scheduled closing time and we would band 16 birds across 8 species, including 2 recaps. This brings us to a total of 1209 birds banded from standard nets & 1409 from non-standard nets! 


Three Words: Golden-crowned Sparrow (GCSP)

A notable recapture today was a Swainson’s thrush that was originally caught three days ago. In those 3 days, this little bird put on a full 5 g (31.5 to 36.5) pushing its fat score from 1 to 5. This represents a 15% increase in the body weight of this bird. At this time of year, the diet of the Swainson’s Thrush will comprise mainly of berries as they prepare to migrate to Central & South America. To learn more about Swainson’s Thrush click HERE

The census included a reasonable showing of Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-crowned Sparrows & White-throated Sparrows (3) but the highlight was definitely the group of 400 Yellow-rumped Warblers passing overhead to go with an additional 575 which were observed throughout the day for a total of 975, the majority of which continue to be the Audubon’s sub-species. In total, census yielded 28 species including a Pacific Wren that was calling & hanging out near net 1. Maybe if we are “lucky” it will pay the nets a visit. A flock of 7 Mountain Bluebirds were also seen overhead. We have cordially invited them to visit the nets as well.

Pretty good for a day that started off so inauspicious that we didn’t even pack sandwiches.

Those Birders & their codes

If you’ve ever peered inside the notebook of a bander or super birder you’ve likely noticed a cryptic system of four letter codes that somehow represent bird species. Like many a millennial, Grandpa Jac has a deep love for abbreviations. What I love even more than T9 shortcuts are the 4 letter Alpha codes developed by the Institute for Bird Populations in 2003 (and updated annually ever since). So let’s dive in. 

Four Letter Alpha codes are standardized shorthand used to uniquely identify species of birds found in North & Central America (including the Caribbean region & Mexico) based on their standardized english names. Banders & other birders use this shorthand to help with keeping track of observations (for example, it’s a lot faster to write GWFG than it is to write Greater white fronted goose). Although they may appear intimidating at first glance, there is a method to the madness.

For birds with:

  • 1 word names: use the first 4 letters 
    • Bufflehead= BUFF, & Osprey = OSPR
  • 2 word names: use the first 2 letters for each name
    • Northern Harrier = NOHA, & American Robin = AMRO.
  • 3 word names are a little more tricky.
    • Typically, we use the first letter of the first 2 words and 2 letters of the last word. 
      • Great Blue Heron = GBHE, & Pied-billed Grebe = PBGR. 
    • BUT if the last 2 words are hyphenated we use the first 2 letters of the first word & the first letter of the last 2 words. 
      • Northern Pygmy-owl = NOPO, & Western Wood-peewee = WEWP.  (Can I get a WEWP WEWP? NOPO? Alright fine)
  • 4 word names get easier again as we use the first letter of each word 
    • Northern Saw-whet Owl = NSWO & Greater White Fronted Goose = GWFG. 

Of course there are some birds with similar initials so they have been given a hall pass & now have different codes to reduce confusion. For the Tatlayoko Field Station some notable ones are Northern Shrike (NSHR) & Northern Shoveler (NSHO). If the standard two word system was used for these birds they would both be NOSH. Unfortunately, I haven’t come up with a straightforward way to explain this so instead HERE is a LINK to all of the codes for BC birds.

To learn more about the history of this system check out THIS POST by the Institute of Bird Populations. Thanks to Kate St. John from ‘Outside my Window’ for their very helpful description of how bird codes work, which can be found HERE.


Three Words: Dark-eyed Junco = DEJU

Did I write this whole tutorial on four letter bird codes just so that I could keep telling bad jokes? You bet I did.

Today’s Grandpa Jac joke is:

What do two Warbling Vireos say when they see each other? Nothing. They just WAVI.

To see today’s ebird list click HERE.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet6
Lincoln’s Sparrow31
Orange-crowned Warbler1
Common Yellowthroat1
Song Sparrow1
Oregon Junco1
White-crowned Sparrow1
Swainson’s Thrush1

Birds Banded14Total Banded1409
Species Banded7Standard Banded1209
Birds Recapped2Species Banded57
Species Recapped2Total Recapped238
Species on Census28Species Recapped21
Species Recorded43Species Recorded137

We were relieved to see that the rains appeared to have moved on as dawn broke this morning. Th low cloud cover eventually burned off giving us dappled blue skies and a warming of temperatures that had not been felt for a few days. While the wind picked up around 11am we still had a decent day of banding with 33 birds banded along with 2 recaptures.


Who can resist a face like that of a Northern Saw-whet Owl?

The birds seemed to ease into the morning as activity remained light until shortly after I set off on census. Then, double-whammy, two great birds in a matter of minutes! First, Jac radioed to say she had a juvenile plumaged Northern Saw-whet Owl in Net 15. In the previous 14 seasons of banding we have never caught a Saw-whet during our daytime banding sessions so this was a real treat! As if that was not enough, as Sachi and Jac finished the net round they noted a Northern Shrike perched atop the snag behind nets 12/17. Fortunately, I was able to move into a gap near the banding lab and get a very distant look at it just before it flew off to the southwest. This represents what I believe is just the 6th record for the TLBO and the first since 2015 for this species. Shrikes are the only strictly predatory songbird in North America and are notorious for their habit of skewering their prey such as small birds, rodents and grasshoppers on thorns or barbwire.


Juvenile Saw-whets have uniform, cinnamon coloured underparts

Bouyed by these great birds I continued on my census to see if there were any such goodies for me. While I encountered the customary Yellow-rumped Warbler flock (interestingly, still mostly of the “Audubon’s” subspecies whereas in most years by now there should be a higher percentage of “Myrtles”) and a few other bits and bobs such as a flyover Townsend’s Solitaire and a pale, juvenile Red-tailed Hawk it was the standard fare that I encountered. DSCN9628

On the banding front, the Saw-whet Owl was followed up by a Sharp-shinned Hawk, our first adult of the season (!) that found its way into Net 9, appropriately, on the 9AM net check. The catch today was dominated by Ruby-crowned Kinglets with 11 banded, accounting for 1/3 of the birds banded. Two more Fox Sparrows increased our single season record to 18 (plus two caught in non-standard nets). An adult Swainson’s Thrush, with very high fat stores, that was just finishing up its moult provided us with what will likely be our final samples of the season for the moult-migrant project (see the Aug. 20 blog post) while a rather late Warbling Vireo was a  bit of a surprise.


An adult Sharp-shinned Hawk

Outside of the nets, a Cassin’s Finch made several flyovers of the banding lab. While we’ve detected this locally scarce species several times this year it has usually been in the same area around the south field, not up by the nets/banding lab. A wander over towards the pines east of the banding lab produced an incredibly confiding Boreal Chickadee that gave it’s wheezy scolding “chick-chickadee-dee” once as I walked past it, alerting me to its presence. It foraged and then took a little siesta as I enjoyed perhaps the best views I have ever had of this species. It was so accommodating that it even waited for Sachi and Jac to finish their net round and come over and enjoy it for a minute before we left it to its business. We don’t get Boreal Chickadees down here at the TLBO every year so it was very nice to get this final treat to cap off another superb day!

DSCN9638 (2)

A very confiding Boreal Chickadee, note the smaller cheek patch than its congeners

Today’s eBird list can be viewed HERE .

While the wind is fairly strong as I write this, we are hoping that by this evening it will calm down enough for us to go owl banding again. We almost decided to go out last night but a very light misty rain was falling at dusk, and still when we went to bed. As we were making up our minds a pair of Great Horned Owls alighted in a snag near the house and we all stepped out to enjoy them as they called for a few minutes before moving off.

Species Band Recap
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 11 1
Song Sparrow 6  
Lincoln’s Sparrow 3 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3  
Orange-crowned Warbler 2  
Common Yellowthroat 2  
Fox Sparrow 2  
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1  
Northern Saw-whet Owl 1  
Warbling Vireo 1  
Swainson’s Thrush 1  

Birds Banded33Total Banded1396
Species Banded11Standard Banded1195
Birds Recapped2Species Banded57
Species Recapped2Total Recapped236
Species on Census27Species Recapped21
Species Recorded49Species Recorded137

The forecast sadly proved to be true as the “Tatlayoko Drizzle” began in the evening and continued on through this morning allowing us to have a leisurely breakfast before heading down to the station in time for census.


Rain or shine finds us birding

Fortunately the Yellow-rumped Warblers were not too perturbed by the drizzle as they were still out in reasonable numbers with the our locally breeding “Audubon’s” comprising the bulk of the individuals with just a smattering of the northern breeding “Myrtles” mixed in. Raptors also had a decent showing as Jac and I encountered first a Northern Harrier as it soared through the field followed by a game of “musical perch” as first a Merlin, then a Red-tail and finally a Sharp-shinned Hawk exchanged positions atop a snag. Further on we would also add a second Harrier and then an Osprey as it circled high above the lake in the mists.

The excitement of the day came in the form of a relatively low flying tern headed northwards as we surveyed the pine flats. Fortunately we enjoyed good enough looks to rule out Arctic Tern leading to the final identification of the TLBO’s fourth record of COMMON TERN!

The shift of drizzle to full on rain heralded a premature end to our monitoring for the day, so here is to hoping that tomorrow’s weather is more cooperative!

To view today’s sightings via our eBird checklist click HERE.

Sept. 20: Oh-My-Gration

After a full day without power, myself & Sachi headed into the night with some skepticism considering the intermittent gusts of winds & partial clouds. Early on, we had a visit from Ambystoma macrodactylum aka the Long-toed Salamander, one of only 3 species found in the Cariboo region. These little salamanders are mostly nocturnal and spend most of the day holed-up in well, holes. However, they are not very skilled diggers so they will often make use of abandoned rodent burrows. These salamanders are named for their elongated fourth toe on the hind feet. For more about BC Salamanders click HERE.

Long Toed Salamander (Threatened)

With that coloring, their long toes is probably not the first thing you’ll notice.

By 10:00 pm, the winds had died down and the skies cleared to reveal a blanket of stars and ideal conditions for owl migration. The night yielded two hatch year owls from separate net rounds. Both eager to get back out and continue their first migration. In the valley north of the station, the glow of a house with power filled us with optimism for the possibility of electricity upon our return. We were not to be disappointed.

NSWO1 (2)

Hatch Year NSWO ready to hit the fly way

After a short lie-in to compensate for the late night, we were treated to a golden sunrise across the Niuts & tons of Yellow-rumped warblers at the ranch house. Only one of the Yellow-rumps made it into the net today, resulting in a fairly quiet but windy morning. Perhaps they are holding off for tomorrow. As the wind built throughout the day, several nets were closed early to ensure bird safety. Despite the warm temperatures, fall winds threaten.

In total, we caught 22 birds across 10 species including 5 recaps, this brings our total number of birds banded for the season to 1362 (including non-standard nets).

For the first time since my arrival, there were no harriers to be seen in the field. They are likely taking advantage of the good weather conditions to continue south. The aforementioned weather produced visible migration including a handful of Varied Thrush, 37 American Robins, 67 Pine Siskins & over 200 Yellow-rumped Warblers. There was a fair amount of activity on the Oxbow with quite a few Mallards, Green-winged teals & 9 Northern Pintails spotted. We are currently perched at 133 species observed this season.


Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) showing off that famous butter butt.

With the wind continuing to build throughout the evening & rain in the forecast, it is unlikely that the owl nets will open tonight. So I guess we will just have to enjoy the woodstove & dream of the Swamp Sparrows to come. 

Today’s Grandpa Jac joke is:

Why shouldn’t you tell a joke to a Swamp Hawk? Because they NOHA

To view today’s eBird list click HERE

Lincoln’s Sparrow12
Downy Woodpecker1
Warbling Vireo1
Swainson’s Thrush1
Yellow-rumped Warbler1
Song Sparrow31
Common Yellowthroat4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet5
Black-capped Chickadee1
Fox Sparrow1

Birds Banded17Total Banded1362
Species Banded8Standard Banded1167
Birds Recapped5Species Banded56
Species Recapped4Total Recapped234
Species on Census31Species Recapped20
Species Recorded47Species Recorded133