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Archive for August, 2015

Despite another blustery day we managed to band our 1,000th bird of the season early this morning. The milestone bird turned out to be an after-hatch-year female Yellow Warbler that Chris pulled out of net 12 seconds before a Sharp-shinned Hawk hit the net (unfortunately the hawk bounced out before Chris could get to it). The high winds meant that we couldn’t open all the nets and we ended up closing down for good an hour early. With slightly under half our full net hours we, not surprisingly, finished the morning with just 11 birds banded.

Though activity was low, the morning was not without it’s highlights. A flock of 16 Black Swifts whirled about high overhead just before I set off on census, and Chris heard a solitary Solitary Sandpiper fly over. A stunning male Townsend’s Warbler was following a small flock of Yellow-rumps and the Lewis’ Woodpecker is still present, hawking grasshoppers like their going out of style.

P1010395

Adult male MacGillivray’s Warbler banded today

As is tradition on August 31 I will include here a brief mid-season report.

A few species, especially the frugivores, seem to have had bumper breeding seasons over the summer. Western Tanager (19) and American Robin (32) both have had record numbers banded and juvenile Swainson’s Thrush (191) in particular dominated our nets early on. Out of the first 140 Swainson’s Thrush we banded this season, just 10 were adults. We are also having above average numbers of Warbling Vireos (179) and Common Yellowthroats (127). On the flip side, all the early migrating warbler species, with the exception of Common Yellowthroat, are well below average. This includes Yellow and MacGillivray’s Warblers, Northern Waterthrush and American Redstart.

In general migration seems to be 1-2 weeks early this year. Warbling Vireos usually peak in the third or fourth week of August. This year they made their big push Aug. 11-17. Common Yellowthroats, which are normally at their most abundant in weeks 4-5, peaked during week 3.

Our top 10 birds banded so far are as follows:

Species Banded Recaps
Swainson’s Thrush 191 49
Warbling Vireo 179 11
Common Yellowthroat 127 52
Song Sparrow 78 45
Lincoln’s Sparrow 57 11
Northern Waterthrush 40 12
American Robin 32 0
Yellow Warbler 32 7
American Redstart 28 7
Wilson’s Warbler 30 0

Overall our total birds banded to date is 1,008 (1,005 from our standard net setup) which marks the first time we have ever reached 1,000 by the end of August. The chart below shows this season’s running banding tally compared with the previous nine years.

Mid-season graph

The black line is 2015

And, of course, here is our daily total for August 31!

Species Band Recap
Lincoln’s Sparrow 3 1
Wilson’s Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 1 1
Northern Waterthrush 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Savannah Sparrow 1

Birds banded 11
Species banded 8
Birds recaptured 2
Species recaptured 2
Species on census 26
Species Total 41
STANDARD TOTAL BANDED 1005
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1008

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Last night was wet and windy, and this morning when we woke up we were surprised to see fresh snow on the mountains. However, by the time of this writing most of that fresh snow has melted away. Still, it was very pretty and a little foreboding as there is still another month of “fall” banding to go and the forecast calls for more snow.

The wind continued all night and is still blowing strong. This resulted in a late start, low diversity and abundance observed, and several of the nets not being opened at all today. As such there is not much to write about… well other than the matter of our third “first banding” record of the season. We can now add American Kestrel to the list of birds banded at TLBO, as we caught a pair of young females today. After nearly a decade without banding any falcons, we banded two new species just this week.

Avery also spotted a Lazuli Bunting today, a species that has barely made an appearance at TLBO this season.

20150830_102732 P1010394

~Chutter

Species Band Recap
Warbling Vireo 3
American Kestrel 2
Common Yellowthroat 1 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Song Sparrow 2

~

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Birds banded 8
Species banded 5
Birds recaptured 3
Species recaptured 2
Species on census 19
Species Total 36
STANDARD TOTAL BANDED 994
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 997

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With severe rain forecast for the southwest of the province we anticipated not getting in much banding today. However, despite intermittent light showers throughout the morning we ended up being able to band from about 7:15 until 11:00. It was well worth it too as there were quite a few birds about. Yellow Warblers in particular were numerous and Warbling Vireos seemed to be back in town after virtually being non-existent the past week.

Census was good considering the weather, with a few highlights encountered. A flyover Solitary Sandpiper that I couldn’t pick out through the tree tops but could hear calling passed over. Our first Pacific Wren of the season scolded me from a bush about a yard away as I counted the waterfowl on the lagoon. Presumably the same Peregrine that has been hanging around the whole fall was enjoying the wind, chasing gulls and even looking vaguely interested in one of the four Great Blue Herons that picked up and started circling high above the valley.

Back at the station we got nice looks at a flock of 18 Horned Larks feeding in the field out front of the lab. The bird of the day though hit net 16 just in time, as we ended up closing down on the next round: TLBO’s first banding record of Clay-coloured Sparrow! We only added this species to the station’s checklist last year and now we got to appreciate this subtle beauty in the hand. Fantastic!

IMG_8040

Species Band Recap
Warbling Vireo 5
Yellow Warbler 4 1
Wilson’s Warbler 4
Savannah Sparrow 3
Common Yellowthroat 2 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2
Swainson’s Thrush 1
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Spotted Towhee 1
Clay-colored Sparrow 1

Birds banded 26
Species banded 11
Birds recaptured 2
Species recaptured 2
Species on census 32
Species Total 54
STANDARD TOTAL BANDED 988
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 989

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The strong winds from the south prevented us from banding. So instead, here is a guest blog from Andrew Harcombe, our boss and our volunteer this week. Enjoy.


Andrew P. Harcombe, Conservation Biologist, retired.

Andrew P. Harcombe, Conservation Biologist, retired.

An uncertain future

Today I turned 65. This past February, I retired as a biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). In my more than nine years of working for NCC, three projects stand out in my mind: Lac Du Bois, the Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area in the southern Okanagan, and the Tatlayoko Lake Bird Observatory.

Prior to working for NCC, I worked with the BC government in the Ministry of Environment. I and a small group of biologists were asked for advice on the conservation value of the Tatlayoko Lake Ranch being considered for purchase by NCC. In our opinion, the ranch had good values, especially for mule deer winter range, spring grizzly bear habitat and migrating songbirds.

A few years ago, after I had joined NCC as a staff biologist, the organization instigated a policy for identifying biodiversity targets on its properties and designing monitoring plans to ensure these values were maintained or enhanced. One of my job assignments was doing this for Tatlayoko Valley. Initially, we monitored breeding birds, fall bird migration, grizzly bears, and water quality and quantity. The Tatlayoko Lake Bird Observatory was our monitoring project for migrating birds. After its initial fall operation in 2006, we added involvement of volunteers as part of NCC’s Conservation Volunteers program. Each year since, during August and September, two professional bird banders and a cohort of conservation volunteers have captured, banded and collected related information on migrating birds. TLBO also became a member of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, a national group of bird observatories overseen by Bird Studies Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Scientists tell us that a minimum of 10 years of monitoring data is required to analyze bird population trends for fall migration. This year, we will have achieved that 10 year minimum at TLBO. To date, the station has banded 16,316 birds, representing 79 species. Of these, 1,641 have been recaptured by us at least once, sometimes from past years and sometimes from within the same season. In addition to valuable data on bird species, sex, age, size, weight and condition, TLBO also collects daily information on all bird species and numbers of each species observed during each six-hour banding session. Although some birds will be counted on multiple days, the sum of our daily estimated totals of all birds banded and observed (but not banded) exceeds 171,000. Information on weather, observer effort and visitors is also collected.

Since TLBO’s inception, I have been responsible for hiring the banders, ensuring that the station protocol is followed, annual reports are prepared, and all data are submitted to the monitoring network. Those data are available, upon request, to anyone involved in bird inventory or research. For the past six years, the banders have also prepared a daily blog describing the days highlights, creating quizzes for interested readers and providing pictures of some of the more interesting birds caught during the day.

Because NCC’s properties in the Tatlayoko Valley were acquired prior to there being a policy of raising a stewardship endowment as an integral part of the project costs, these projects are currently underfunded for long-term management actions such as target monitoring, infrastructure maintenance and weed management. Specific funds for running the TLBO have never been secured; funding to date has been cobbled together from existing funds and discretionary sources. Because discretionary funding is often hard to acquire, future funding for TLBO is in doubt.

TLBO provides significant value to both NCC’s conservation management in the Tatlayoko Valley and also to the national and international monitoring network. We need your support, and new funding sources, to ensure this important monitoring project continues. Continuation will allow bird trend information to remain current; this is especially important during this time of climate change. Conservation volunteers will continue to be involved, and this project’s legacy will be assured. I encourage our supporters and followers to ensure NCC receives strong messages of support for TLBO’s future.

Donate to the Tatlayoko Lake Bird Observatory

TLBO relies on public donations to maintain it’s bird banding program. If you would like to support this important work, please contact the Nature Conservancy of Canada:

British Columbia Regional Office
1-888-404-8428
bcoffice@natureconservancy.ca
www.natureconservancy.ca/bc

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Aug. 27: Dark Magic

Today was really all about one bird. One majestic, striking, feisty falcon. Aerodynamically fine-tuned to perfection, streamlined for high speed attack, effortlessly knifing through the air as it chased the kestrels and gulls in avian horse-play, turning on the turbo jets as a flock of American Pipits (our first of the season) flushed up out of the field in front of the station.

We had been watching it all morning until, as if by magic, this pint-sized predator deigned to grace us with it’s presence, up close and personal. Today TLBO banded it’s first ever Merlin!

There are two subspecies that occur regularly here, the widespread tundrus variety and the dark coastal subspecies: suckleyi. We seem to typically get more of the suckleyi birds and this female was one such individual.

IMG_8008

With this incredible showstopper overshadowing the rest of the morning, it’s hard to remember what else happened today. I recall that census produced many waterfowl on the lagoon including a big flock of American Wigeon with a smattering of Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Mallards and Buffleheads alongside. Our first Red-tailed Hawk of the season cruised over the station as well.

We continue to catch our typical mid-season fare of Swainson’s thrush, Common Yellowthroat and Lincoln’s sparrows. A couple Savannah Sparrows and American Redstarts added some class to our banding efforts.

Apparently the weekend is going to bring us some rain which should shake things up a bit and hopefully bring us some more birds. Here’s to another great day tomorrow!

IMG_8002

Species Band Recap
Common Yellowthroat 4 3
Swainson’s Thrush 4 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 3 1
Song Sparrow 2 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
American Robin 2
American Redstart 2
Savannah Sparrow 2
Merlin 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 1

Birds banded 24
Species banded 11
Birds recaptured 6
Species recaptured 4
Species on census 35
Species Total 50
STANDARD TOTAL BANDED 962
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 962

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Aug 26

It would seem that our amazing start has started to cool down. We knew it was unrealistic to expect those sorts of numbers to continue, but had been hoping anyways. Today we banded just 19 new birds despite a full 72 net hours. The benefit of being less busy was that Avery and our two volunteers, Gail and Andrew, were able to sneak off for an hour to look for hawk migration up the Potato Mountains. This resulted in some Sharp-shinned Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks and a Common Nighthawk.

Around the station we banded our second Red-breasted Nuthatch, fifth Vesper Sparrow, and a gorgeous adult male Spotted Towhee (sorry I forgot my camera at home). We also caught our second Ruffed Grouse of the season. Census turned up an impressive number of birds on the lagoon and the walk back from census turned up a lone Townsend’s Warbler and a small flock of Orange-crowned Warblers.

Since I forgot my camera at home here are some mammal related photos I took earlier. Deer are cute when they are far from our nets, and the mud was intended to show the diversity of mammals using the Homathko River for water. In the frame of the shot are a number of Beaver, Mink and rodent (likely Deer Mice) prints as well as a single bird track, but somehow I missed the Deer and Wolf/dog prints that were also in the same area.

Four mule deer

Four mule deer

Tracks in the mud

Tracks in the mud

~Chutter

Species Band Recap
Common Yellowthroat 6 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow 5 1
Swainson’s Thrush 2 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Spotted Towhee 1
Vesper Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 2

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Birds banded 19
Species banded 9
Birds recaptured 6
Species recaptured 4
Species on census 34
Species Total 49
STANDARD TOTAL BANDED 939

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The morning took a long time to warm up from the 2.5C we arrived to. When it finally did the bird activity picked up a bit. Yellow Warblers seem to be making a small push as we caught a season high 5, after banding a record low of 20 prior to today. We recaptured one as well, which was banded at the beginning of last season. Lincoln’s Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are also increasing noticeably along with the soon to be ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warblers. Other notables in the nets were our record 5th Spotted Towhee of the season (previous record 3), an adult female in very heavy moult, and another White-crowned Sparrow.

IMG_7967

When Andrew and I set off on census Chris challenged us to find two new species for the year. Despite having good numbers and diversity we, unfortunately, could not match the challenge…within our designated time frame at least. We did find our first Fox Sparrow of the season on the way back to the station. It was associating with a large (45+) flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers that also had several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Orange-crowned Warblers and a Yellow Warbler. Then, back at the station a Rusty Blackbird flew over. *Cha-ching*, make that two new species for the season!

Our friend the Lewis’ Woodpecker was still about and seems to be developing a bit of a sour relationship with the local American Kestrel family. The Kestrels have a favourite snag they perch in (sometimes the whole family at once) and the Lewie has taken to favouring this perch as well. At one point 4 of the Kestrels came in to surround the Woodpecker, seemingly out of curiosity as much as anything, and proceeded to hop from perch to perch around it. The woodpecker seemed fairly nonplussed though occasionally it would make a sudden lurch up the branch and startle the nearest Kestrel into flight. Eventually the Woodpecker flew down to its favourite feeding spot and two of the young Kestrels followed, which caused the Woodpecker to start taking the offensive and chase the Kestrels. A Merlin and a Sharp-shinned also joined the fray briefly, but lost interest quickly.

IMG_7962

It was a good day all round for raptors as Chris spotted a Northern Goshawk cruising through and our first adult male Northern Harrier of the season spent five minutes hunting over the field before carrying on further south.

Species Band Recap
Yellow Warbler 5 1
Swainson’s Thrush 5
Common Yellowthroat 3
Lincoln’s Sparrow 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Wilson’s Warbler 2
White-crowned Sparrow 2
Warbling Vireo 1 1
Hammond’s Flycatcher 1
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Spotted Towhee 1
Song Sparrow 6

Birds banded 28
Species banded 13
Birds recaptured 8
Species recaptured 3
Species on census 40
Species Total 63
STANDARD TOTAL BANDED 920
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 920

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Aug 24

For only the fourth time this season we managed to keep most of our nets open yet failed to beat our nine season average for birds per day. Hard to complain about that. Today’s census started off so good you know it could not last. Three of my first four species were: Sandhill Crane, Peregrine Falcon and Lewis’s Woodpecker. I doubt we have ever had such a hot start to census.

Banding turned up four recap Swainson’s Thrushes and three of them happened to be inter-annual. One of those birds was banded by Avery in 2011 as an after-hatch-year bird, so we know that bird was at least five years old. We also had an inter-annual female American Redstart. On top of that we also caught our first Ruffed Grouse of the season. These clumsy birds hit our nets fairly often, but are usually large and strong enough to free themselves. This particular bird was not.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Finally, I should answer my quiz from the 14th of August. Tiggywinkler and Isaac were both correct. The birds were an AHY Red-eyed Vireo, a HY White-crowned Sparrow and a Vesper Sparrow. All answers were good and mistakes made understandable. A Dark-eyed Junco would have a relatively longer tail with more rounded feathers and the white would be on multiple feathers. A Golden-crowned Sparrow would have a hint of yellow in front of the eye and on the forehead, though that would be difficult to discern at this distance.

~Chutter

Species Band Recap
Swainson’s Thrush 5 4
Common Yellowthroat 5 1
Warbling Vireo 3 2
Song Sparrow 2 3
Yellow Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Alder Flycatcher 1 1
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Northern Waterthrush 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Willow Flycatcher 1
American Redstart 1

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Birds banded 25
Species banded 12
Birds recaptured 15
Species recaptured 8
Species on census 34
Species Total 52
STANDARD TOTAL BANDED 892

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Another splendid morning to be in the Tatlayoko Valley. Andrew and Gail Harcombe are back for their annual volunteering stint and they were welcomed to the station by 2 Grey Wolves that I spotted sauntering across the field in front of the banding lab, literally as Andrew and Gail pulled in to the parking to at 6:40! To the best of my knowledge this is the first sighting of these majestic canines here at the station itself, although reports from elsewhere in the valley are fairly frequent and we have been hearing them regularly this fall. I tried to get a photo but the light was too low, and the results were blurry to the point of being difficult to tell if there was anything in the frame, let alone a Wolf.

This double-wow first act was to be the first of many highlights throughout the morning. Andrew joined me on census and we enjoyed a nice diversity of species as some of the later arrivals seem to be beginning to trickle in. Yellow-rumped Warbler numbers have been increasing the last couple days and a large flock of these guys also held an Orange-crowned Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Wilson’s Warbler and a couple Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The latter are another later-season migrant and the 4 we recorded on census was a season high. Way overhead I could just make out the calls of a flock of Mountain Bluebirds which we eventually spotted at least 7 of. I suspect there were probably more we couldn’t see though. This was our first sighting of this species for the 2015 season and was shortly followed by our first Steller’s Jay.

After census a Golden-crowned Sparrow was spotted by the back end of our net loop, also a first of the season. We have now recorded 107 species in the census area this season, which is already higher than two of the past three years August totals.

IMG_7931

Throughout the morning the nets kept catching at a steady rate. Of note were two previous year recaps of Swainson’s Thrush, both originally banded in 2012. One of these was recaptured last year on this very same date! Talk about impeccable timing. Also in our nets was our first of year Hairy Woodpecker, a hatch-year male. It has been a poor season so far for woodpeckers around the station so it was nice to finally catch one. On the topic of woodpeckers, the Lewis’ is still present and was seen several times throughout the day at various points around the station. Hopefully it sticks around for a while yet.

Species Band Recap
Swainson’s Thrush 8 2
Warbling Vireo 7 2
Song Sparrow 3 4
Common Yellowthroat 2 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2 1
Yellow Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Willow Flycatcher 1
American Robin 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
American Redstart 1
Spotted Towhee 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Alder Flycatcher 2
Red-eyed Vireo 2

Birds banded 33
Species banded 14
Birds recaptured 14
Species recaptured 7
Species on census 39
Species Total 56
STANDARD TOTAL BANDED 867
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 867

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This season started off incredibly busy, and has now settled into a pattern of being incredibly unpredictable. We seem to switch daily between busy days and more typical days, and days with diverse census results and days with dud censuses. Yesterday we banded just 26 birds and had only 19 species on census; my last two censuses have turned up just 28 and 25 species. So I was expecting a slow day today, but despite a slow start we ended up banding 32 birds banded today and I had 41 species on census.

Last night we tried for Saw-whet Owls, but were unsuccessful, partly owing to technological difficulties. Good to learn early in the owling season that Samsung Galaxy S3s have no function to keep the screen on for longer than 10 minutes, and the Sibley’s app will not run if the screen is not on and the app not showing. AKA enjoy running to the playback every ten minutes to refresh the screen and probably chasing away all the owls.

Today at the station was quite note-worthy. In addition to a remarkable diversity of waterfowl on the lagoon, we also banded our first Red-breasted Nuthatch of the season, and Avery spotted just our third Lewis’ Woodpecker ever. We had one in 2010 and then another in 2013, so hopefully they are about to colonize the valley. Despite established populations being fairly far away, the habitat here seems well suited to them and many locals would welcome any predator that might help with the exploding grasshopper population. While watching the bird for about 10 minutes we saw it capture and consume four flying grasshoppers.

IMG_7903 IMG_7910

~Chutter

Species Band Recap
Swainson’s Thrush 11 6
Common Yellowthroat 7
Warbling Vireo 2 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2 1
Dusky Flycatcher 2
Northern Waterthrush 2
Alder Flycatcher 1 2
American Redstart 1 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Robin 1
Oregon Junco 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Western Tanager 1

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Birds banded 32
Species banded 12
Birds recaptured 13
Species recaptured 7
Species on census 41
Species Total 58
STANDARD TOTAL BANDED 834

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