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2018 Season Finale

Well here it is, another season come and gone. We had our final hurrah last night and we finished on a high, banding four Northern Saw-whet Owls to bring our season total to 23 over ten nights of owling.

As those who have been following along will already know, we had a stellar season breaking the record for most birds banded in a season with 1911 (Fig. 1) as well as most individual birds detected at 26,788 taking into account census and observations. The season was pretty consistent, without the customary dip in capture rates that we expect in early/mid August (Fig. 2). It seems as if most species had better than average breeding seasons after the forest fires of 2017 produced our lowest season on record. This rebound was wonderful to witness, for our own excitement as well as for the birds’ sake!

banding chart 2018

Fig. 1: Birds banded over the course of each season 2006-2018

Chief among the species that had bumper breeding seasons were Swainson’s Thrushes which we caught in high numbers right from the get-go, being a regular breeding species on site. At the end of the season they were our most banded bird by a long shot with a record 253 banded! Of the other common breeding species Cedar Waxwings, American Redstart and Warbling Vireo also had great years.

As we moved into September and the later migrants Lincoln’s and Song Sparrows finally started making their move. After seemingly being among the few species to not have  a good breeding year locally both ended up being around the average for the previous 11 years. The big end of season push of Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers as well as Ruby-crowned Kinglets does not happen every year but it sure did this year leading to our busiest period of the season. From September 15 to 24 we banded 510 birds, accounting for over 1/4 of the season total and this despite not operating on two of those days due to rain! Another late season specialty that had a bumper year were White-crowned Sparrows which had their second highest season on record with 75 banded.

brid banded per day 2018

Fig. 2: Birds banded per day in 2018 compared to average

In addition to the songbird banding we had good success with our non-standard efforts. The hawk nets, especially HN7 were more productive than normal and provided several of our highlights including two Belted Kingfishers and a Merlin while HN4 caught us a Northern Harrier! For the first time we tried putting some two-panelled nets out in the field in an attempt to catch American Pipits and/or Horned Larks. While the concept for the “pipit fence” of three low nets in a row was concocted when the pipits first started showing up it was only set up on September 20. However, we were able to use it once on a large pipit flock that also contained 4 Lapland Longspurs (a rarely detected species here) and we succeeded in catching 2 American Pipits, the first ever banded at TLBO!

After last years off-the-charts owl numbers we were unsurprised to encounter more normal numbers this season. After initially having poor weather, we were able to get out most nights during the last week of the season and finished up with a respectable 23 Saw-whets. The big numbers of hatch-year birds last year was reflected in the somewhat higher than normal number of second-year birds (6) this year.

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One final Saw-whet Owl, caught in net 10 last night!

The numbers were not the only exceptional thing about the 2018 season as we also had a high diversity of species and added an extraordinary six species to the station list! This is more than we have added in any season since I first arrived here in 2010. Several of these were not particularly surprising and indeed could be considered overdue. These include Semipalmated Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, American Dipper and American White Pelican. However, the Red Phalarope on September 10 was a real surprise as was the Le Conte’s Sparrow on September 22! Both of these latter two are quite unusual for this locale and provided us (in particular Sachi, who found them both!) with quite the thrill.

Finally, it is not all about the birds. In the human realm, we had higher than normal visitor numbers as the BC Nature Field Camp (40+ people) were in the valley for 5 days. In addition, we had three different school groups come out – Tatla Lake, Tsi Del Del and Alexis Creek. The highlight for the Alexis Creek group was getting to see a roosting Northern Saw-whet Owl that we found near the banding lab! As per usual, the owl banding drew in many visitors once it got going.

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Sachi extracting a bird with the Tatla Lake School group. photo by Roma Shaughnessy

The 2018 season was only possible through the help of many people. Each season more locals from the valley get involved with the TLBO helping with everything from making us bird-bag carrying totes and lending equipment (Peter and Roma Shaughnessy) to giving cut-rates to our volunteers for cabin-stays (Audra Peterson) to helping organize the local school visits and the TLBO event (Chilcotin Ark Society, in particular Hana Kamea!). Scott Forrest and Barb Kane were kind enough to save us from a long season of camping by allowing us rent their cabins which were ideal for our stay.

Our funding is over 75% donations and the bulk of this is provided from the generousity of Joerg Fischer and Hannelore Ernst who continue to be our financial pillar without whom the station would be very much in jeopardy. In addition to their support for TLBO, after many years of living in the valley they donated their local properties to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, including the property on which we operate!

Other generous funders include Wendy Easton at the Canadian Wildlife Service who also bought us seven new mistnets, Avocet Tours, Chilcotin Ark Society and the kind folks who have contributed to my 2017 Birdathon fundraiser!

We look forward to seeing you all again in 2019!

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A final farewell to the banding lab for another season. photo by Roma Shaughnessy

Total Banded 1911 (14)
Species Banded 56
Total Recapped 253
Species Recapped 24
Species Recorded 137
Total Birds Detected 26,788

Species Band Recap
Swainson’s Thrush 253 32
Yellow-rumped Warbler 185 (1) 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow 181 25
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 155 6
Song Sparrow 147 78
Orange-crowned Warbler 144 7
Warbling Vireo 123 6
Common Yellowthroat 107 24
White-crowned Sparrow 75 17
Yellow Warbler 68 4
American Redstart 66 7
Northern Waterthrush 48 11
Wilson’s Warbler 44 0
Cedar Waxwing 33 3
MacGillivray’s Warbler 28 2
Savannah Sparrow 24 0
Oregon Junco 22 2
Hermit Thrush 22 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 21 0
Black-capped Chickadee 19 16
American Robin 15 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 14 (6) 0
Western Tanager 14 0
Golden-crowned Sparrow 11 2
Dusky Flycatcher 10 0
Red-eyed Vireo 9 1
Purple Finch 8 2
Willow Flycatcher 6 2
Chipping Sparrow 6 0
Hammond’s Flycatcher 5 0
Townsend’s Warbler 5 0
Vesper Sparrow 5 0
Pacific Wren 4 0
Spotted Towhee 4 0
Lazuli Bunting 4 0
Clay-colored Sparrow 3 1
Downy Woodpecker 3 0
Pacific-slope Flycatcher 3 0
Alder Flycatcher 3 0
Nashville Warbler 3 0
Fox Sparrow 3 0
Red-winged Blackbird 2 1
Belted Kingfisher 2 0
Hairy Woodpecker 2 0
Brown Creeper 2 0
American Pipit 2 0
Traill’s Flycatcher 2 0
Northern Harrier 1 0
Wilson’s Snipe 1 0
Red-naped Sapsucker 1 0
Merlin 1 0
Least Flycatcher 1 0
Mountain Chickadee 1 0
Gray Catbird 1 0
Magnolia Warbler 1 0
Swamp Sparrow 1 0
Pine Siskin 1 0
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Due to the drizzle that persisted all afternoon and evening we did not make it out owling last night. As a result both Avery and I opened the nets together for the first time in a while and were treated to the splendour of yet another Niut sunrise.

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The final Niut photo that I will post this season, so you best soak it up!

Our first net check yielded a pair of Audubon’s Yellow-rumpeds (male and female) in net six which gave us hope that we might still end the season with a bang.

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It’s a Creeper!

If we intended the word “bang” to mean lots of birds then our hopes were to be dashed as the birds only slowly trickled in net round after net round. The up-side of this was it gave Dave an opportunity to do most of the banding and extraction thus finely honing the skills that he has gained over the past three weeks. With the slow pace our goal became modest as we wanted to end the season with 1910 birds banded. After each round we kept creeping closer and closer to that target. Wait, did I say creeping? Well, as it happened the final bird that I banded of the season turned out to be just that, a Brown Creeper. This was only our third individual of this shy and solitary species banded this season. Due to their plumage, behaviour and high-pitched vocalizations they are an often overlooked species. As the name suggests they creep along the trunks of trees searching for small insects like spiders and the like that hide in the crevices of bark. You have to be either lucky, quiet and attentive or both to catch a glimpse of this special little bird, but when you do they are captivating. The gist of it is that it was a wonderful bird to end my season of banding at TLBO with.

During our slow “creep” towards 1910 we also banded two Golden-crowned Kinglets (also a male-left and female-right). The female was our last bird banded of the season (by Dave) and I had thought that it was also number 1910! Well, it turns out that I was mistaken and instead it was number 1911 which is one better than 1910. She was a dainty little creature and allowed me to photograph her in my open hand.

It was a beautiful final census of the season with the fall colours and golden sunlight surrounding me on my route down to the lake. I heard a Swamp Sparrow calling and had good looks as it foraged in the regenerating aspens near the edge of the Homathko. Incidentally this spot was only 10 meters away from where I saw a Swamp Sparrow over a year ago today on census (September 27, 2017). Golden-crowned Kinglets were out in force as I counted 30 (with the odd Ruby-crowned mixed in) while they foraged in the Cottonwoods along the road and on the north end of the lake.

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Looking south down Tatlayoko Lake

 

Once 1:05pm struck we set out to begin closing and taking down the songbird and hawk nets while leaving the owl nets set up for tonight’s final owling escapade. Once all the nets were packed away and poles safely stowed we bid adieu to Dave as he set out on his long journey back home to Seattle. It has been a lot of fun working with him over the past span of weeks and we wish him a safe journey and good luck in his future endeavours.

I have had a fantastic season and am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked alongside Avery in this enchanting valley. He has been a wonderful mentor and a lot of fun to work with. Also a big thank you to all the lovely residents of the valley who have welcomed and helped us during our time here.

This is NOT the final posting of the season so please stay tuned for tomorrow Avery will write up a “Season Finale” posting with highlights, photos, data and the like. It is going to be great so check back in at the same place and time for that.

Adieu.

Species Band Recap
Yellow-rumped Warbler 6
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
Brown Creeper 1
Oregon Junco 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 10
Species Banded 4
Birds Recapped 3
Species Recapped 2
Species on Census 26
Species Recorded 33
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1925

 

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Sept. 27: 1900…barely

Another calm night last night but the clouds had moved in by the time owling started. Fortunately, while this likely meant that there was not much owl movement during the session, there were still some carryovers from Tuesday night as Sachi and Dave caught 3 Saw-whets on the first net round! To add to the show they also snagged the first bat we have ever caught here at TLBO, the identification of which is pending. Linda and Deborah were out to  see the owling so they got to witness the excitement!

The overcast conditions were an indication of what was to come this morning as shortly after I opened the nets a light drizzle began. This came and went for a couple hours before settling into something more persistent, finally forcing us to close shortly after 11:00. The few hours we were able to operate were enough to give us a pretty good impression of what was around: not much. We caught a total of 2 birds, A common Yellowthroat and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet! The Yellowthroat though was a milestone bird being our 1900th bird of the season banded from the standard nets.

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HY male Common Yellowthroat, one of just two birds banded today!

Sachi’s census mirrored our efforts at the nets as he had a quiet hour en route to the lake where he encountered the usual smattering of waterfowl there and on the lagoon; American Wigeon, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye and Horned Grebe. If the weather clears this afternoon we will head back down to the station to do some final vegetation management and take out a couple dead snags that have fallen and are laying just above the height of net 14.

Species Band
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Common Yellowthroat 1

Birds Banded 2
Species Banded 2
Birds Recapped 0
Species Recapped 0
Species on Census 24
Species Recorded 29
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1915

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IMG_20180925_225548_resized_20180926_030057001Last night the lads were joined by Claire, Roma and Peter for owling. Fortunately the owls once again pulled through with another 3 added to the tally during the course of the night bringing the season total to 16. All three of our guests have come out already this season and each time we were owless while they were around so it was nice to finally catch an owl for them.

The full moon was still shinning brightly over the Niuts as I ate my morning granola and sipped a cup of joe. Tout seul I headed down to the station to open the nets in the beautiful early morning light. These clear calm nights have lead to a marked decrease in birds around the station which is reflected in our banding totals as they have been steadily decreasing over the past few days. The pace of the day felt sluggish with only a few birds caught in each round save one (where we were skunked). On the 9:35 net round Dave and I rounded the corner leading to net 9 and flushed a Wilson’s Snipe which cleverly chose the only avenue of escape thus avoiding capture in either net 9 or 10. With some grudging respect and disappointment we continued onwards to check the rest of the nets. When Dave returned from the subsequent round he had a surprise bird in hand. He was kind enough to let me band said bird which turned out to the the wily Wilson’s Snipe from the previous round! We consistently observe this species (albeit in low numbers) almost every season but this capture represents just our third banding record at the station and a great late season addition to our species banded list!

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The wily Snipe

The sluggish pace continued with the daily total looking to be rather dismal until we caught 7 new birds on the 12:35 round which sky rocketed the tally to 18 birds banded and 9 recaptures. Up until this point our numbers for birds banded and recaptured had been nearly even during the course of the day which shows that there were very few new arrivals around the station.

Linda Jonke joined us today and kept our spirits up with questions and conversation during the quiet net rounds. For the first time this season Avery took over census duties, leaving me and Dave to man the station. Census is always a welcome activity as it provides an hour of quiet birding which works wonders for the soul and Avery came back pleased.

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It was another picture perfect day here in the valley which we could have easily mistaken for a day in August if not for all of the bright fall colours. Another night of owling awaits which will with any luck include more Saw-whets in both our nets and hands.

Until Tomorrow.

Species Band Recap
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 4
Lincoln’s Sparrow 3
White-crowned Sparrow 2 5
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
Song Sparrow 1
Black-capped Chickadee 2
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 18
Species Banded 7
Birds Recapped 9
Species Recapped 4
Species on Census 24
Species Recorded 41
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1913

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Sept. 25: A Record Broken

The past two nights have been calm and clear making for good owling conditions and last night did not disappoint as Sachi and Dave caught three. It seems like we are in for more of the same tonight. The downside of these conditions is that they are also good for migration if you are a songbird. As such, the vast majority of the droves of birds that had been with us until Sunday have now departed leaving us with a distinct feeling that the season is drawing to a close.

IMG_20180925_111238_resized_20180925_033116404

At last the clouds lift!

The day started with low hanging clouds that shortly got even lower until we were enshrouded in a mist that didn’t dissipate until after 10:30. The moisture in the air overnight also meant that a few of the nets were a little frozen so these were opened a bit late. A trickle of birds found their way into the nets throughout the morning and around 10:00 we passed a milestone – our 1872 bird banded (in our standard nets – excluding hawk nets and the “pipit fence”) for the season which marks a new record for TLBO! The momentous bird was, fittingly, a White-crowned Sparrow, one of many species that we have been catching above average numbers for this season!

IMG_20180925_132907_resized_20180925_032417848

Female Hairy Woodpecker

The day finished with a treat when Sachi pulled our second Hairy Woodpecker of the season out of net 10. This one, like it’s predecessor was a hatch-year female.

After banding and lunch back at the cabin Sachi and I did a bit of extracurricular birding hitting Graham, Pinto and Eagle Lakes. While the expected waterfowl species were on Graham there were two latish juvenile Bonaparte’s Gulls as well. Pinto held a decent sized flock of long-billed Dowitchers, 36 in all that provided nice looks in fairly close. On the far shore a lone Pectoral Sandpiper foraged in the muddy margin. Our main quarry though was Sabine’s Gull, of which four were reported yesterday on Eagle Lake. Luck was on our side and we were not to come home empty-handed. When we arrived Sachi immediately spotted a lone gull on the water in the shallows of the bay. Indeed, a juvenile Sabine’s in all its splendour! A second one was noted shortly afterwards a bit further out. These were a lifer for Sachi and just the third time I have seen them in BC!

Now, back to the owls!

Species Band Recap
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6 1
White-crowned Sparrow 4 5
Lincoln’s Sparrow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 2
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Warbling Vireo 1
Hermit Thrush 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Song Sparrow 2

Birds Banded 20
Species Banded 9
Birds Recapped 8
Species Recapped 3
Species on Census 24
Species Recorded 40
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1895

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As Avery mentioned in yesterday’s posting we were joined by a group of local youngsters and their parents on last night’s owling expedition. The majority of the youngsters had been owling in years previous but sadly had yet to see an owl. Invariably we tend to catch owls once our visitors have left which is always a little disappointing. This year the owls have been more cooperative and tonight was no exception as we caught our first owl of the night on our first net round much to the delight of our guests! After showing the kids some of the intricacies of owl plumage, sexing by flight feather replacement and feather adaptions everyone but Dave and Avery departed for their beds. The lads stayed the full duration and caught one further owl bringing our season total to 10 in 6 sessions. Dave and I will be out there again tonight if the weather holds and with any luck we will catch more owls!

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To compensate for the late night the lads had a sleep in so I manned the station solo for the first hour or so. The first round was quiet with only a Common Yellowthroat and two White-crowned Sparrows one of which was a recapture. On my way back across the field I was treated to splendour of the sunrise over the Niuts. This range is so photogenic which is why it is featured in almost every blog post. Activity on the subsequent round was more elevated with 15 birds in our nets.

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The swampy Swamp Sparrow

I was very much relieved when Avery and Dave arrived midway through the round as the two extra set of hands allowed us to divide and conquer further avoiding a backlog of birds. We caught our second Swamp Sparrow of the season and this time remembered to put a band on it! Dave had the pleasure of both extracting and banding this lovely bird that by and large inhabits the wetlands of the boreal during its breeding season. We detect this species in most years (8 of 12) while only banding individuals in 6 of the 12 years that the station has been in operation. After the busy days we have had, today felt slow with only 43 birds banded and 7 recaptures.

Census was fun as usual despite it being a little less busy which could be due to the clear overnight conditions that are ideal for migration. Apart from the usual suspects I had sightings of a late Hammond’s Flycatcher, a Townsend’s Warbler (for the second day in a row) and three White-winged Crossbills. This last species is not unusual for the valley but it had been over three weeks since our last sighting. I got some rare good looks at one handsome individual before a Sharp-shinned Hawk drove it off. As if on cue the Belted Kingfisher then dive-bombed the Sharpie driving it off and taking its place on the perch.

Sadly there are only four more days left in the season, so after banding was over we stayed behind for a couple hours of much needed net repair. Avery showed both Dave and I “The Ropes” or dare I say “The Threads” before we all began working on repairing grouse holes in net 10.

Species Band Recap
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 12 3
White-crowned Sparrow 7 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 5
Song Sparrow 5
Orange-crowned Warbler 3
Common Yellowthroat 3
Hermit Thrush 2
Black-capped Chickadee 1 1
American Robin 1
Savannah Sparrow 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 43
Species Banded 13
Birds Recapped 7
Species Recapped 3
Species on Census 40
Species Recorded 48
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1875

 

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It was another action packed day with the late season push continuing in full force! In a very rare event, we actually had to close all the nets for an hour as we had caught so many birds! The views of the Niuts were particularly stunning today with the fall colors and the wispy clouds.

Last night we had a TLBO event at the community hall up in Tatla Lake. For the second season running this was organised by the Chilcotin Ark Society (CAS). A healthy turnout of 30 people attended the presentation I gave, followed by a Q and A and some socializing. A couple hardy locals then joined Sachi and Dave for our owling which, unfortunately, despite the full three hour session came up empty handed.

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As per usual, the owlers slept in and I opened up the nets solo this morning. It didn’t take long for things to get a bit overwhelming as I caught 12 birds on the first net check then on the 8:00 net round I was faced with 14 birds in net 14! Luckily the others arrived at this point and Sachi was able to start banding and Dave helped me clean out the net. Onwards to our next net, net 6 and it too was loaded, with close to 20 birds! At this point Sachi and Dave extracted these birds while I completed the net check and we closed all the nets to catch up with banding the backup of birds in the lab! While Sachi was away on census Dave and I powered through the plethora of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows. This last of which we banded a season high of 12!

Sachi once again had a great census with a total of 43 species and well over a hundred each of Yellow-rumped Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet! He managed to pull out another couple of great species both of which, while not necessarily rare for the region, had yet to be recorded at the TLBO – a young American Dipper foraging along the north shore of the lake, and a Pectoral Sandpiper (long overdue!) on the muddy strip at the back of the lagoon. He also picked out a Rusty  Blackbird, likely the same one we have been seeing intermittently for the past week or so.

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TLBO’s first American Dipper!

Back at the station, once we had cleared all the birds out of the lab Dave reopened the nets at 9:30 (~1hr lost). We continued to get good numbers of birds in the nets and Julien and I were treated to a Swamp Sparrow calling then showing itself along the Homathko just south of net 16. Alas, we did not catch it.

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One of TLBO’s first two American Pipits banded!

As Dave and I were coming back to the station across the field after the 11:30 net check we noticed a large flock of American Pipits foraging between us and our “pipit fence”. We radioed Sachi who was banding back at the lab to go and open the pipit nets and then Dave and I proceeded to walk the flock towards the nets. As they flushed up ahead of us we heard at least 4 Lapland Longspurs in among the ~90 pipits. It initially looked like we may catch a whole batch of pipits as they flew right towards the nets, however many of them obviously saw the nets as they veered away from them. However, two did not evade us and these represent the first two American Pipits banded at TLBO! By the end of the day, including the two pipits and a Savannah Sparrow caught in the “pipit fence” we had banded 99 birds, a new season record.

With any luck our owling efforts will bear more fruit tonight as we have several locals visiting us tonight. Stay tuned for tomorrows report!

Species Band Recap
Yellow-rumped Warbler 28 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 21 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 12
White-crowned Sparrow 12
Song Sparrow 6 2
Common Yellowthroat 5 1
Savannah Sparrow 3
Orange-crowned Warbler 2 1
Hermit Thrush 2
American Pipit 2
Oregon Junco 2
Warbling Vireo 1
Swainson’s Thrush 1
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 99
Species Banded 15
Birds Recapped 6
Species Recapped 5
Species on Census 41
Species Recorded 59
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1832

 

 

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