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It has been a very eventful past 24 hours, full of owls, kids and exciting birds, both in and out of the nets! Starting with the owls last night; similar to the previous night we did not have high hopes as there was rain on the horizon and it started to drizzle when we arrived to the station around 8:30pm. After 15 minutes it stopped, fortunately, so we opened the nets and were encouraged to hear two Northern Saw-whet Owls calling as we made our way back to the banding lab. We were joined by Sabina Harris with 5 kids in tow – regulars at our evening owl banding over the past few years. Tonight they were not to be disappointed as we caught three owls on the first net check, including one still in its juvenile plumage (uniform cinnamon belly). This was followed up by four more on the next net check ensuring that all our visitors got a chance to help release an owl after we banded them! For the final hour of the session the clouds parted and a near full moon came out which seemingly encouraged a trio of Great Horned Owls to serenade us with their hoots. In total we banded 11 Saw-whets, the second highest night we’ve ever had!

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Our first three Saw-whet Owls of the night, including the one still in juvenile plumage at right

With the nearly clear skies at midnight, when we left, it seemed like a night when birds would be migrating. Sure enough, this morning many of the sparrows that abounded yesterday had seemingly departed. There were still enough around that, along with a net-full of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a quartet of Hermit Thrushes, the first couple hours of the morning were fairly busy. Adding to the fray was a beautiful, and feisty, female Merlin of the northern tundrus subspecies. This is the 4th Merlin ever banded at TLBO and only the second from our standard nets. Also among our catch of 34 new birds for the day were our second Golden-crowned Sparrow of the season and fifth Least Flycatcher.

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A female “tundra” Merlin

The increase in Hermit Thrushes was likely due to the recent snowfall at higher elevations. Another bird that would have been knocked down to lower elevations was a Boreal Chickadee that briefly graced me with its presence in the pine beside the banding lab. We don’t record Boreal Chickadees here every year so this was a nice treat. Not to be outdone though, Sachi came back from census with a mile-wide grin and showed me pictures he’d taken of a juvenile Sabine’s Gull along the north shore of the lake! This is a first record for TLBO and one we have been expecting for some time now. With their scaled mushroom-brown back and black and white wing pattern they are, unusually for their clan, a gull to be admired.

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Juvenile Sabine’s Gull, hunkered down in the breeze

As if that wasn’t enough excitement we had the pleasure of hosting the Tsi Del Del elementary school group with 12 kids plus several parents/teachers in tow. While the bird activity in our nets had died down by the time they arrived we were able to show them a half dozen birds up close and personal. As most of the group were visiting us for a second time after their field trip here last year they already knew the drill and were eager to get a chance to remind us of what they remembered from last year.

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While it is a bit windy as I write this, conditions will hopefully calm down a bit this evening so that Sachi and the volunteers can get out for another night of owling!

Ebird list for the day: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59860188

Species Band Recap
Yellow-rumped Warbler 6
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Hermit Thrush 4
Swainson’s Thrush 3
Song Sparrow 3
Savannah Sparrow 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 1 1
Common Yellowthroat 1 1
Merlin 1
Least Flycatcher 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 34
Species Banded 16
Birds Recapped 2
Species Recapped 2
Species on Census 42
Species Recorded 63
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1213
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Over the past couple slow weeks it has become my ritual to make a “blog coffee” in order to provide some much needed coherency and inspiration when attempting to sum up the day’s events. Today took a welcomed turn away from what has become the norm over the past week. Before I get to the exciting events of the day I will first provide a quick recap of last night’s endeavours. As you may remember we went out for our first owling session on September 6th (over a week ago) which also happened to be Emily’s first night in the valley. Since then each night has been either windy, rainy, or some disappointing combination of the two which has resulted in no owling. The afternoon rain finally let up as the sun set and the wind died down creating the perfect window to go and try to catch some owls. Chanel, Emily and I  didn’t have to wait long as on our first net check we caught a Northern Saw-whet Owl! We continued on until a light drizzle turned into a full out rain forcing us to close our nets a 11:10. Fortunately, before being forced to close we had caught one more owl allowing Emily the pleasure of both extracting and banding her first Northern Saw-whet Owl. Needless to say catching some owls was a much needed morale boost after a very slow week of banding. I always wholeheartedly encourage anyone who lives near a banding station to come join us for Saw-whet Owl banding, you will not regret it! These otherworldly charismatic little creatures will hook you both literally and figuratively.

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The first decent snowfall on both the Niuts

Avery arrived to open nets solo as us three owlers attempted to catch a few more zees. My unsuccessful attempt at sleeping in was quite fortuitous as I arrived just in time to join Avery on the first net check and there were birds! They were along the road, in the trees, in the bushes, flying overhead and most importantly in our nets! Needless to say the high bird activity had us all excited. The first round yielded five birds which set the pace of the day as subsequent rounds continued to yield more. The growing numbers of Savannah Sparrows around the station was finally reflected in our banding totals with a whopping 26 banded on the day! Lincoln’s Sparrow made a solid effort with seven banded while we also had this season’s biggest catch of Yellow-rumped Warblers with a flock of six caught in net 16 and one later on in net 14. Of these seven Yellow-rumped Warblers two were of the Myrtle subspecies while the other five were Audubon’s. We caught a trio of late Empidonax flycatchers which consisted of a Pacific-slope, a Hammond’s and a Dusky Flycatcher.

The day’s banding efforts yielded smiles all round as we banded a total of 55 birds of 13 species with 5 recaptures. One of the marauding Northern Harriers flew into our hawk net staying caught just long enough for me to sprint half the distance from the banding lab to the net before escaping and gliding south. Avery had the excellent idea to move our two hawk nets that are situated along the edge of the Homathko to the north field out front of the station. It is our fervent hope that this new net location will catch a few more of the many Harriers that are moving through or one of the many Western Meadowlarks that frequent that part of the field.

The busy day of banding also made for a busy day of observations. Yellow-rumped Warblers were on the move with their first decent push of the season as we observed a total of 357 individuals (estimated 322 Audubon’s and 35 Myrtle).

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Our new Harrier/Meadowlark Net

Sparrows abounded with large numbers of most of the nine species that we detected. Savannah Sparrows were the most numerous with 106 individuals observed with White-crowned Sparrows claiming second place at 52. All the bird activity made for an engaging census culminating in 45 species detected. The Lewis’s Woodpecker was foraging along the old airstrip again today and the American Pipits came in at a season high of 140. A flock of 16 Horned Larks were intermittently joining the pipits in flight as they were continually stirred up by Harriers and Merlins. Avery added our 140th species of the season when he heard the call of a Barred Owl from across the Homathko to the northwest. This is just the third record of this species at TLBO in 13 seasons of monitoring.

It was a great day for all of us at the station and we hope that it signifies the beginning of a trend. If the weather holds Avery and our two volunteers will be back out tonight, hopefully catching lots of owls!

Link to today’s eBird Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59833369

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Species Band Recap
Savannah Sparrow 26
Lincoln’s Sparrow 7 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 7
Song Sparrow 4 1
Swainson’s Thrush 2 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Pacific-slope Flycatcher 1
Hammond’s Flycatcher 1
Dusky Flycatcher 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Oregon Junco 1

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Birds Banded 55
Species Banded 13
Birds Recapped 5
Species Recapped 3
Species on Census 45
Species Recorded 65
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1179

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One of our breakfast rituals is for Sachi to look through his Merlin bird App on his phone as we eat our granola and discuss what unusual birds might show up. This morning Lewis’ Woodpecker was among the candidates and I confidently stated “Nah, it’s too late for a Lewis’s”. Of course, when we arrived at the station our volunteers Emily and Chanel informed us that they had seen what they were sure was a Lewis’s Woodpecker down along the road by the south field yesterday afternoon! Lo and behold, on his way back from census Sachi spotted it along the fenceline at the south end of the old airstrip. I was able to join him and get a few record photos to spice up my humble pie that I was enthusiastically munching. To make matters worse, this is not even the latest record as now that I revisit our data I see we had one on Sept. 15 in 2013! In all seriousness though we were quite thrilled to see this unique looking bird of the arid west. They have a tendency to wander in the fall, pre-migration and this marks the 4th record for TLBO over the years.

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TLBO’s 4th ever Lewis’ Woodpecker

It was a topsy-turvy morning weather-wise as the wind would gust for a while, calm down, switch from South to North and back again and a couple light sprinkles of rain were thrown into the mix. This mish-mash didn’t seem to do much to change our luck with the birds in our nets but at least we were able to have all but one of our nets open for the duration of the morning for the first time in a few days. A mini-resurgence of Swainson’s Thrush was a bit of a surprise on this date with three banded and two more recaptured. While our numbers may not have been exceptional, just 18 birds banded, we did at least have a nice diversity in our catch with 12 species including a late MacGillivray’s Warbler and our second Fox Sparrow of the season.

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Synchronised banding – Chanel and Emily checking for fat on the birds they are processing

Outside of our nets there were less birds around than yesterday with no American Pipit flocks to speak of and fewer Yellow-rumped Warbler flocks. There continued to be a lot of Savannah Sparrows about and Northern Harriers were again frequent over the field in front of the banding lab. It can be tough to gauge the exact number of Harriers coming through as they seem to come back and forth over the fields to the north and south of the banding station but we reckoned there were at least five different individuals. One of these got our blood pumping as it flew towards and then banked right in front of our hawk net. Two Merlins were zipping around the field and we were able to compare the paler “Tundra” subspecies with the coastal “Black” subspecies, the more regular of the two here, as we had one of each.

My efforts in photographing birds this morning inspired me to put together our first quiz of the season as most of my shots fell into the “quiz shot” category (ie no other reason to keep them!). Click on each image for a larger version and please post your guesses in the comments below!

 

Ebird list for the day: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59802084

Species Band Recap
Lincoln’s Sparrow 4
Swainson’s Thrush 3 2
Orange-crowned Warbler 2
Warbling Vireo 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Savannah Sparrow 1
Fox Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 18
Species Banded 12
Birds Recapped 2
Species Recapped 1
Species on Census 34
Species Recorded 52
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1124

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An Unexpected Tern

After a multi-day hiatus the Niuts were up to their old tricks with their peaks turning a technicolor cranberry as we arrived to open nets. This was both Chanel and Emily’s first taste of the morning Niut magic and they were not disappointed. The wind, though somewhat lessened from yesterday, was present from the outset coming up from the south. This small decrease in the wind allowed us to open all but two nets first thing, providing a much needed morale boost. What the day lacked in numbers it made up for in variety for we banded nine birds consisting of eight species and three recaptures of three species. The most exciting bird of the day was our first Golden-crowned Sparrow of the season which was banded by Chanel. This species is annual albeit in modest numbers at the station as they make their way south and west from their breeding grounds at the treeline of the high alpine. The only Lincoln’s Sparrow of the day had the honours of being our 1100th bird banded this season. After several slow days it is a bit of a relief to reach this milestone.

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Our first banded Golden-crowned Sparrow of 2019

Despite the slow day on the banding front migration was very visible around the station. Hawks were out in earnest with seven different Northern Harriers passing through the north field looking for prey as they headed south. A snappy Merlin cruised around the north field pestering the handsome male Northern Harrier as he looked for an easy meal.

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Adult male Northern Harrier

The American Kestrels were back with two females and one male observed in their usual haunts at the edge of the field to the north of the station. A Red-tailed Hawk made a brief appearance both on census and then up at the station while a Sharp-shinned Hawk waited until the end of the day to emerge and be added to the list. Anecdotally, we have observed and caught much lower numbers of Sharp-shinned Hawks than in years previous. Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, American Pipits, Savannah Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows were out in larger numbers both around the station and along the census route.  We had our first seasonal push of Horned Larks with two separated groups of five observed during the course of the day. The biggest excitement of the day came while Emily was banding our 221st Swainson’s Thrush of the season when we heard Avery over the radio say, “There are two Caspian Terns flying over the station”! We all looked up and sure enough two Caspian Terns came into view and let out a few calls for good measure as they flew overhead. This is the station’s first record of Caspian Tern and our milestone 200th species that we have recorded over the course of 13 season’s of monitoring!

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One of the two Caspian Terns

This large Tern breeds along a variety of habitats along the edges of water. For better photos and more detailed information click on this link: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Caspian_Tern/overview

Today’s final tally was much more respectable and reflected the increased activity with 56 species identified on the day.

Link to today’s eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59776452

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Species Band Recap
Savannah Sparrow 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 1
Warbling Vireo 1
Swainson’s Thrush 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Oregon Junco 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Song Sparrow 1

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Birds Banded 9
Species Banded 8
Birds Recapped 3
Species Recapped 3
Species on Census 34
Species Recorded 56
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1106

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Sept. 12: Wind

We had been hoping to be able to get out owl banding last night but unfortunately a strong South wind was still blowing when we decided to turn in. Alas, it had not abated by the time we arose this morning and it is continuing to blow as I write this. We made a valiant attempt to band a few birds and were able to open up three of our nets; nets 1, 13 and 15 which are all reasonably sheltered from the south. There were few birds about and with a slight increase in the wind mid-morning we decided to close up having caught exactly zero birds!

What bird activity there was seemed mainly confined to flyovers with a few flocks of American Pipits, Yellow-rumped Warblers and the odd other species such as a Varied Thrush that Sachi picked out flying with two American Robins. With little happening at the station Emily joined Sachi on census and they picked out what they could in the blustery conditions fairing a bit better than us back at the nets, fortunately.

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Sachi found these big Moose tracks along the census route a couple days ago

After closing the nets at 9:50 I did a little trimming of Cottonwood/Aspen saplings along the trail while the others went for a walk up to the oxbow lake at the NW corner of the census area. En route they found a group of 25 Western Meadowlarks which is a fairly high count for here. Just before leaving the station we were treated to the exciting spectacle of a juvenile Northern Goshawk chasing a Northern Harrier over the field in front of the banding lab! A Goshawk would certainly make a meal of a Harrier but this encounter had a more playful rather than serious feel to it. Sachi has had a couple Goshawks on census recently but this was the first we had seen this year up by the lab.

Here’s hoping we can get some better weather soon!

Ebird list for the day: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59713231

Birds Banded 0
Species Banded 0
Birds Recapped 0
Species Recapped 0
Species on Census 33
Species Recorded 45
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1097

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South Field Niuts

Niut flavour of the day

We awoke to a calm morning with the smell of autumn in the brisk 5°C air. The reprieve from rain had us hopeful that the clement weather might bring in more birds and allow us to get back up to our daily banding average of 30 birds. There was some good bird activity when we arrived at the station with large mixed flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and some sparrow species mixed in. Both Lincoln’s and Song Sparrows were visible in abundance which had us confident that today would be an improvement on that past few days. We captured our first bird, a hatch-year Swainson’s Thrush upon net opening and a further three on the subsequent net round. This trend continued until the 9:10 net round when we pulled nine new birds out of our nets. I arrived back from census just in time to depart on the 9:40 net round where we caught an additional 5 birds one of which was our first Sharp-shinned Hawk of the season in one of our standard songbird nets! This is our third of the season overall, the other two of which were caught in each of our hawk nets that are situated along the Homathko.

Twenty-one of our 28 birds that we banded today were caught before 10am. This is the trend that we tend to expect as bird activity peaks roughly an hour and a half after sunrise which is when we conduct our daily census. Sparrows ruled the day with Song on top at 10 banded and Lincoln’s taking second with four. Common Yellowthroats and Swainson’s, our bread and butter species earlier on in the season had a little push with three each. The final tally of 28 birds banded of 10 species with 2 recaptures was a much welcomed increase in our banding totals after several days in the early September doldrums.

As our banding total would suggest sparrows made up most of our diversity and the bulk of our numbers today. We detected 9 of the 14 sparrow species that has been recorded at the station as well as adding a 15th! The newest addition to the station’s list was an American Tree Sparrow that I encountered while scanning through the ever present mixed flock of sparrows that forages along the road side east of the south field.

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TLBO’s first American Tree Sparrow!

American Tree Sparrows breed in areas of stunted thickets of willow, alder, spruce or birch where the northern treeline meets the arctic tundra. As such they tend to be later migrants, arriving in their wintering grounds of northern and central North America from October onwards. We were fortunate enough that this bird began its migration early as this species doesn’t tend to arrive in the valley until after we have left in October. While at Long Point Bird Observatory last fall I had both the pleasure and privilege to handle and band one of these classy birds. In response to the cold temperatures in both their breeding and wintering grounds these sparrows have very soft and downy body feathers. More information along with some better quality photos of this species can be found at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Tree_Sparrow/overview

On census I both heard and saw not one but FOUR White-throated Sparrows with a fifth coming later on at the station. Cold temperatures brought another small push of White-crowned Sparrows down from their higher elevation breeding habitats. A lone Golden-crowned Sparrow added some more variety to the numerous Song and Lincoln’s Sparrows along the road once again clinching the Zonotrichia trifecta. Yellow-rumped Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet numbers increased with 135 and 54 individuals spotted respectively. Our daily estimated total recovered from the past few days coming in at 58 species identified on the day.

Link to today’s eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59696394

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Species Band Recap
Song Sparrow 10 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow 4
Swainson’s Thrush 3
Common Yellowthroat 3
Yellow Warbler 2
Savannah Sparrow 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Oregon Junco 1

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Birds Banded 28
Species Banded 10
Birds Recapped 2
Species Recapped 1
Species on Census 37
Species Recorded 58
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1097

 

 

 

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We arrived at the station to the unwelcome sight of net 13 being laid out on the ground with several of the loops that attach the net trammels to the net poles severed. A couple large piles of bear scat were nearby so presumably this was the culprit. After I assessed the damage and gave a half-hearted attempt at trying to mend it it became apparent that the net was toast and we had to replace it. As this net seems to be among the most prone to “wildlife encounters” we swapped net 14 out for the brand new net and moved the “used” net over to net 13.

We always look forward to days when the school groups come down to visit the station and we were hoping that after the rain of the past two days that the weather would cooperate and that we would have plenty of birds to show the Tatla Lake School kids. The weather ended up being just fine; cool but clear with hardly a breath of wind, a perfect fall day! The birds, however, were a little less cooperative with slim pickings in our nets. This afforded Emily the opportunity to extract her first few birds and Chanel to band her first couple as well. Low bird numbers do make for good training conditions. A late adult male American Redstart was a nice catch early on as were two other Warblers, an Orange-crowned and a Yellow. We also caught an old recap Swainson’s Thrush that was originally banded here in 2013 as an adult making it at least 7 years old! Unfortunately, these all came before the school group arrived.

Sachi had a decent census with a duo of Northern Pygmy-owls tooting as well as the Great Horned Owl calling again. He also had a couple other raptors including a juvenile Northern Goshawk.

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The Catch! Sachi extracting the Northern Harrier

Just after Sachi arrived back at the station, so too did the school group and as most of the kids have been here multiple times they were eager to see some birds! While we waited for Sachi, Emily, Chanel and some of the early arrivers to get back from the net check we revisited the “nature names” that most of the kids had received last year after their 2018 visit to TLBO. These were based on the various birds they saw us band last year, luckily their were 14 kids then and we banded 14 species of bird. Among the few birds we caught during their time with us were a few Lincoln’s Sparrows and two Spotted Towhees, the latter a species that we don’t catch too frequently. The low bird numbers didn’t dampen spirits much fortunately and we were able make this a memorable visit for them as on their last net check before heading back to school for the afternoon we caught our first Northern Harrier of the season!

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As one would imagine this caused quite the frenzy of excitement and the cries of “We caught a hawk!” and “It’s not a hawk, it’s a Harrier!” came to us waiting back at the banding lab well before the first of those kids who had gone with Sachi to check the nets hove into view.

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Northern Harrier

After the school group departed a flock of 40 American Pipits landed in the field which prompted us to open up the “pipit fence”. The flock flew up and landed not far from the nets but, alas, none went close enough to get caught.

Ebird list for the day: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59669868

Species Band Recap
Lincoln’s Sparrow 7
Spotted Towhee 2
Swainson’s Thrush 1 1
Northern Harrier 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
American Redstart 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Song Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 16
Species Banded 9
Birds Recapped 1
Species Recapped 1
Species on Census 44
Species Recorded 50
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1069

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