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Sept. 16: A Weather Day

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Snow on the Potatoes

The image above about sums up the day as it began at nearly 0°C and rain in the valley bottom with the snow line only about half way up the Potatoes. With the addition of a strong wind out of the north these three factors lead to a “Weather Day” meaning that we did not open any nets.

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Dave birding the oxbow

Even on days like today where we are unable to band we still perform our daily census. So it was that Dave and I headed down to the station in the cold pouring rain to perform census and hour or so of observations in order to get a decent idea of who was around. Despite the poor weather we were still able to detect 31 species with the most numerous by far being Yellow-rumped Warblers. Otherwise there were no major surprises and we headed home after a couple hours of birding to rejoin Avery who had taken the opportunity to have a much deserved day off and work on his upcoming presentation back at the cabin.

After a quiet afternoon we were spurred into action by a sighting of both an American Golden Plover and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper up at nearby Eagle Lake! Once the rain had lessened we loaded up in my car and drove the Eagle to Tatla Lake loop stopping first at Eagle Lake, then Pinto Lake and ending at Graham Lake before heading back home. Alas we did not see a Buff-breasted Sandpiper but instead saw three American Golden Plovers, one at Eagle and the other two at Pinto! While at Eagle we also saw a flock of 27 Sandhill Cranes fly overhead. The other major highlights were all at Graham Lake where we saw 19 Long-billed Dowitchers with 7 Pectoral Sandpipers mixed in as well as the trifecta of Teals (the 3 Cinnamon Teals as the highlight) and a lone Rusty Blackbird!

All in all it was a fun and successful afternoon of birding adventures which we celebrated by purchasing 5 lbs of frozen rhubarb and a package of chocolate hedgehogs from the historic Graham Lake Manor. Fingers crossed that the weather improves allowing us to return to business as usual on the morrow.

 

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Hello and happy Saturday!  Kat here again.  I’m wrapping up my time volunteering here at TLBO and heading back south tomorrow, so I’m checking back in with another post and to say farewell!

Today was quite a day to end on, with a lot of excitement both during banding hours and after.  The morning began a bit warmer than in recent days, but the valley was socked in with mist and low clouds.  I was hoping that the Niuts would make one last sunrise appearance for me before my departure, but alas, they remained aloof in their blanket of clouds.  A lovely day of birding commenced nonetheless.

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Dave and I working our way through some of the many birds caught today

I flushed two Wilson’s Snipes from the path as we made the rounds to open the nets.  They circled the fields for several minutes, and I tried to catch a good look at them, which the cloudy lighting made a bit tricky.

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A Pacific Wren

Net rounds followed, with our first net check turning up a Pacific wren heartily tangled in net 1—our second of the season, and the first that I’ve seen.  Our next several rounds were primarily comprised of Lincoln’s Sparrows and Song Sparrows. Despite my best intentions, I find myself hoping that a sparrow bopping around in a net is a Lincoln’s, and tend to feel a tinge of disappointment when I find out it’s a Song Sparrow instead.  They’re both great, wonderful, lovely birds… but the Lincoln’s are just a tad prettier, daintier, a bit more dignified in their antics (seemingly) and a smidge easier to extract (sometimes).  Plus, the Song Sparrows tend to kick harder and more persistently.  One can’t help but pick semi-favorites, it seems.

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A stunning male Common Yellowthroat

I enjoyed my customary mid-morning snack (peanut butter, jam, and potato chip sandwich) just in time for the biggest bird bevy of the day—14 birds in net 14!  Eleven Yellow-Rumped warblers, two Ruby-Crowned kinglets, and an Orange-Crowned Warbler – we were stoked!  I will very immodestly express my excitement at my steady improvement with bird extracting.  I have a lot to learn still, but I’ve gotten better, and the mechanics of the net are making more sense to me.  I very much look forward to visiting more banding stations in the future.

We enjoyed a visitor today, a local named Ed, who accompanied us on some net rounds and chatted about his own bird viewings in the valley.  We then finished the day on a high note, hitting our season high banding total at 73 new birds banded.  And, as a bonus, the sun started to break through the clouds right as we were finishing up at the station.  We returned home for a quick lunch, and then headed out on afternoon adventure. Our destination was Chilko Lake and we had high hopes of seeing grizzly bears.  The salmon are dying off, and we figured our chances were pretty good.

And right we were!  The weather was lovely, with sun showers and rainbows arcing over the valley.  We stopped at several spots, checking the valley floor and riversides for signs of bears (and birds, of course).  I enjoyed watching the streaks and darts of pink beneath the rippling surface of the water, the salmon making their determined way upstream.  At last, opposite us on the shore of Chilko Lake, Avery spotted a mama grizzly and her cub.  The two moseyed along the water’s edge, the cub getting distracted occasionally and then running to catch up.  We watched and admired before heading back to the car. En route we spotted another grizzly, this one alone, a bit downstream.  It ventured into the water and begin swimming across towards some boaters, but veered off and entered the trees at a safe distance.  Satisfied with our experience, we headed home.

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The far off Grizzly mama bear and her cub

It was a quite a day, and a great way to end my time volunteering.  It’s been a wonderful experience!  Avery, Sachi, and Morgan were excellent teachers, and Tatlayoko Lake and the valley are more beautiful than I anticipated. Best of all, the work itself has been invigorating and fun.  I am thrilled to see what I can do next with my new skills, and excited to check back in on the blog myself and see how the season ends up.

Species Band Recap
Lincoln’s Sparrow 14 1
Song Sparrow 12 7
Yellow-rumped Warbler 12
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 10
Orange-crowned Warbler 5
Hermit Thrush 3 1
Swainson’s Thrush 3 1
Wilson’s Warbler 3
Pacific Wren 2
Common Yellowthroat 2
White-crowned Sparrow 2
Golden-crowned Sparrow 2
Hammond’s Flycatcher 1
Warbling Vireo 1
Yellow Warbler 1

Birds Banded 73
Species Banded 15
Birds Recapped 10
Species Recapped 4
Species on Census 38
Species Recorded 52
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1418

Last night the four of us went down to the station for our second night of owling of the season as it was we at last got another cold and calm night. Immediately upon arriving we were greeted by the call of the resident Great-horned Owl in the fading light. Shortly after setting up the nets we were joined by a group from the B.C. Nature Camp who brought not only their many warm layers but also bright smiles and enthusiasm in the hopes that we might net a few Owls. As some of you may already know owling can be very hit and miss, with the general trend of netting little to no owls whenever you have company. Fortunately tonight defied the odds as we caught two Saw-whets on our first round with the Naturalists! After processing, photographing and releasing our two little friends everyone but Kat and I departed with smiles en route to their warm beds. We continued to do net checks for another hour and half as our monitoring protocol generally spans a total of 3 hours. Much to our disappointment we saw neither talon nor feather, nor heard even a single toot of another owl during the rest of the monitoring period. Thus with the hour hand nearing midnight we headed home for some shut-eye of our own.

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This afternoon’s view from our deck.

Despite the grudging retreat of the snow and clouds, this morning began with a windy chill (2°C). Bird activity was slow as we had only banded 12 birds by the time I returned from census.

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A Wilson’s Warbler

During that time we did however add two new birds to this season’s list, the first of which was an adult California Gull seen by yours truly on census. The second was a Varied Thrush which is a species that we have been expecting to detect for a while now. Alas, it did not grace us with its stunning plumage and instead played hard to get by calling in the distance as it flew overhead.  With the addition of these two species our season total now sits at a rather respectable 132 species detected.  After only having two fleeting glimpses of Horned Larks over the past week Avery and Kat were surrounded by a flock of 6 as they were walking back to the lab across the field. The Larks circled around them calling and giving them both nice views of their plumage before landing in the field 20m away. This was an especially special moment for Kat who had spent the previous 4 months working with a different subspecies of Horned Larks down near Olympia Washington. Another indication that fall is truly upon us is that I had my first few good flocks of waterfowl in the lagoon. They were comprised of a group of 17 Ring-necked Ducks and 19 American Wigeons. These are not new species but their congregation in numbers is a first for the season and hopefully a sign of things to come.

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The stunning pair of after hatch year Wilson’s, female on the left and male on the right.

Back to banding. An increase in bird activity and captures coincided with my return from census. The change was minimal enough that both Avery and I agree that it never really felt like a busy day. That said our final tally of birds banded was 45 which is a good deal higher than our current daily average of 32. As can be seen on the table below the spread of species was rather equitable with Song Sparrows in the top spot closely followed by Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Lincoln’s Sparrows. We also had a good showing of Wilson’s Warblers with the highlight being a stunning after hatch year duo which were both caught on the closing round in net 13.

Catch you all tomorrow at the same place but potentially not the same time for if the weather permits we will make an afternoon foray to Chilko Lake with the hopes of seeing some Grizzly Bears!

Species Band Recap
Song Sparrow 8
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 7
Lincoln’s Sparrow 6
Wilson’s Warbler 5
White-crowned Sparrow 4
Oregon Junco 3
Warbling Vireo 2
Hermit Thrush 2
Swainson’s Thrush 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 1 1
Hammond’s Flycatcher 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 1

 

Birds Banded 45
Species Banded 14
Birds Recapped 1
Species Recapped 1
Species on Census 31
Species Recorded 48
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1345

Sept. 13: Lucky 13(00)

An arctic front arrived last night bringing snowfall on the slopes only a couple hundred metres above the valley floor. When Sachi and I got up this morning it was slushing lightly and we even got a very light dusting of proper snow shortly after arriving at the station. A brisk wind was blowing which, coupled with the cold (0C), stopped us from opening our nets until 8:30 when we decided to run our two closest nets. By 9:30 it was warming up slightly so we opened most of the rest of the nets (nets 14 and 18 were too windy) for what was left of the morning.

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I had suspected that the cold front would have pushed quite a few birds in with it as well as bringing those higher elevation species down to the valley floor but, with the exception of abundant American Pipits this did not seem to be the case. The wind dropped detection rates but we did notice quite a few Lincoln’s Sparrows around still and three Northern Harriers were seen foraging over the field in front of the banding lab. So far it has been a low year for them so it was nice to see multiples in one day. Another notable sighting was that of two Wilson’s Snipe, one on census for Sachi and a little later one for the rest of us near the station. There were still a few late flycatchers around with single Hammonds, Dusky and Pacific-slope Flycatchers all noted.

The catch in our nets was very low with just 7 birds banded and one recaptured. However, this was enough to push us up to another milestone; our 1300th bird banded for the season was a nice hatch-year male Common Yellowthroat!

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Common Yellowthroat, bird #1300 of the year!

Fortunately the weather is clearing up a little as I write this and if the wind dies down it could be a good night for owling. We have been severely hampered thus far with uncooperative weather and with the exception of tonight the rest of the weekend looks likely to be a write-off as well.

Species Band Recap
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2
Oregon Junco 2
Swainson’s Thrush 1
American Robin 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Song Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 7
Species Banded 5
Birds Recapped 1
Species Recapped 1
Species on Census 28
Species Recorded 40
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1300

Last night’s rain left the valley cool and refreshed with a fragrant blanket of much appreciated moisture down low and a dusting of snow up high. River Dragons (my name for long valley bottom clouds) stretched the length of the valley, slowly retreating upwards over the course of the day.

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A River Dragon flying low along the base of the Niuts

We had our third group of visitors from the B.C. Nature field camp and the birds failed to disappoint as we caught five between opening and our first net check. They were treated to some variety in the form of a couple of Swainson’s, a Yellow Warbler, a Lincoln’s and an adult Golden-crowned Sparrow. The rain and cool temps (low of 6°C and high of 13°C) appeared to contribute to the high bird activity as our captures were consistent throughout the day with our final tally landing just above average with 33 birds banded. There were no new bird species banded today as the list was made up of the usual suspects. There was a small cohort of Swainson’s made up of almost equal parts hatch years and adults with 5 banded and 2 recaptures. One of these recaptures was an inter-annual that was banded last year on August 30th (2017). These inter-annual recaptures are both exciting and encouraging as they indicates site fidelity on the part of the individual.

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One of the two Hermit Thrushes banded today. Note the rufous tail.

Part way through the day we were visited by a local Botanist and Wilderness Dweller Chris as well as a young man Jonas who has been staying with her. Again the birds cooperated as we had two rounds of beauties to band while they were around.

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The back of the head of a male Hairy Woodpecker

For the second day running Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers were in large attendance with mobs of them along the census route as well as high up in the aspens around the net lanes. Alas they were foraging too high and all but 3 Yellow-rumpeds and 2 Kinglets avoided capture. Avery detected our second Pacific Wren of the season as he heard it calling near the lab. While on census I had my second visitation of the season from a Horned Lark as it flew calling in its sweet tinkling cascade overhead. With the lack of wind there were finally some waterfowl feeding on the lagoon on the north end of the lake. The mixed flock was comprised of Mallards, a lone Northern Pintail, a couple American Wigeons and a large group of Green-winged Teals.

We also welcomed a new volunteer today, Dave who will be with us for the remainder of the season. Like Colin he spent his summer conducting Marbled Murrelet surveys along the Oregon Coast.

Species Band Recap
Lincoln’s Sparrow 8 1
Swainson’s Thrush 5 2
Song Sparrow 3 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Hermit Thrush 2
Orange-crowned Warbler 2
MacGillivray’s Warbler 2
Yellow Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 1
Savannah Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 33
Species Banded 13
Birds Recapped 5
Species Recapped 3
Species on Census 41
Species Recorded 52
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1293

 

It was back to cool temperatures for net opening today with a brisk 2C showing on the thermometer. The birds didn’t seem to mind too much and for the second day in a row we were able to catch a few birds for the BC Nature field camp visitors who have been taking it in turns to come visit us for ~45 minutes each morning before their scheduled field trips. This visit sparrows were on the agenda as we caught a couple Savannah, along with single Golden-crowned and Song Sparrows. A juvenile Cooper’s Hawk graced us with a flyover as we walked back across the field from our first net check.

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Adult White-crowned Sparrow

After the group left things continued to be quite slow in the nets though a large flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers passed through. In attendance were a smattering of the usual suspects such as Yellow, Wilson’s and Orange-crowned Warblers, Warbling Vireo and several Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Sachi had a productive census (a break from the wind we had the past couple days definitely helped with detection rates!) with good numbers of the expected species around. Savannah, Song and Lincoln’s Sparrows in particular really increased with ~35 individuals detected of all three. A lone Red Crossbill and a season high of three Red-necked Grebes were also notable additions from census.

We closed the nets early today in order to hike the Butler Peak trail over West Branch, the next valley over to the northwest and the northern access of the Niuts. It was a pleasant drive over and we decided to go all-in and try to drive as far up the very poor mining road that is the first part of the trail. Unfortunately this proved to be a mistake fatal to our plans as when we arrived as far as we could go we heard the unmistakable hiss of air escaping a tire. It was proving difficult to lower the spare tire so we decided to drive back down as far as we could on our slow leak to avoid being stuck up on the mountain with a fully flat tire. This proved to be an excellent decision as when we got down to the main access road and put the spare on it too proved to be flat! After much wandering around and assistance from several helpful locals we finally were able to make it back to our lodgings on the rejuvenated spare tire.

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Tatlayoko Lake as seen from the old mine site

Yesterday afternoon’s activities were much more relaxing and pleasant. After lunch we decided to drive up to Skinner meadows and the old mine site overlooking the valley. Both provided stunning views, a hint of which I’ll share in photo form.

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The Niuts as viewed from Skinner Meadows

Species Band
Song Sparrow 5 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 4 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 4
Swainson’s Thrush 2
Savannah Sparrow 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 22
Species Banded 10
Birds Recapped 2
Species Recapped 2
Species on Census 41
Species Recorded 53
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1260

This morning we were joined by our first of four groups of folks from the B.C. Nature Field Camp that will be in the valley for the next few days. They arrived just in time for our first net round during which we were fortunate enough to catch a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, a Swainson’s and a Hermit Thrush. Our Swainson’s numbers have dwindled around the station over the last week as they have been departing on their journey south. We are hopeful that the Hermit numbers will begin to grow as they are the later migrant of the two. Catching these two similar species on the same net round was also very fortuitous as it gave us an opportunity to illustrate the subtle differences between the two species with the birds in hand.

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Today’s group from the B.C. Nature Field Camp

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Your truly banding a Kinglet

As you may have guessed from the title we had an over-abundance of kinglets, if that is even possible. We banded a wapping 13 Golden-crowned Kinglets today! Previously we had only banded 3 and observed a handful here and there as they do not tend to frequent the areas around our nets, instead preferring the cover of more mature forest that is found on the slopes both to the east and west of the station. For a reason only known to the kinglets themselves they held court at the station today with a further 16 individuals detected through observations. In comparison we only banded 2 of their courtly cousins the Ruby-crowned Kinglet which is by far a more regular visitor to the station. The day stayed steady with a handful of birds being caught in each round resulting with an above average tally of 35 birds banded and no recaptures. This last stat is rather unusual and today may actually be the first day of the season, besides “Day 1”, where we have not processed a single recapture.

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A “Kingly” Crown with the orange indicating a male Golden-crowned Kinglet

Likely due to the very strong wind out of the south census was very slow with only 25 species detected. There were a few species on the move as I saw a total of 90 Yellow-rumpeds, 40 Cedar Waxwings and a flock of 30 Pipits moving across the landscape. The lagoon was almost fully devoid of life except for the lone Belted Kingfisher which patrolled the edges looking for an easy snack. When I reached the north end of the lake which is the last stop on my census route the lake was a mass of waves and whitecaps. As I scanned the waves to the south my spirits slowly dropped as there seemed to be no life out on the choppy waters. Moving west my hopes rose slightly at the shape of a Red-necked Grebe head bent into the wind as it braved the waves. Finally, I turned my gaze to the long stretch of the northern shore where most days I can catch a glimpse of Spotted Sandpipers foraging. A white shape caught my eye bobbing buoyantly about 2m from the shore. It was smaller than a gull and looked to be frantically feeding and jumping the waves that were too large for it to float over. I quickly made my way across the fallen tree that serves as a bridge over the mouth of the Homathko to get a closer look at the mystery bird. A few of the B.C. Nature folks were also having a gander while they waited for their lakeshore walk to commence. After snapping several shots and watching it for close to 10 minutes I set out back to the station. Despite not having much experience with Phalaropes and none with this particular species I knew beyond a doubt that it was a Phalarope and suspected that it might even be of the “Red” variety. I told Avery that I had a “Mystery” bird that I needed an opinion on and when he saw the image he let out an excited shout as it was the station’s first ever Red Phalarope! This sighting completes the trinity as both Red-necked and Wilson’s have been seen at the station in the past.

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The station’s first ever Red Phalarope!

Well, there you have it. Another lovely day in this beautiful valley.

Until next time.

Species Band Recap
Golden-crowned Kinglet 13
Warbling Vireo 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Orange-crowned Warbler 2
Wilson’s Warbler 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2
Pacific-slope Flycatcher 1
Hermit Thrush 1
Swainson’s Thrush 1
Cedar Waxwing 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Song Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 35
Species Banded 15
Birds Recapped 0
Species Recapped 0
Species on Census 24
Species Recorded 42
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1238