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Today we were joined by a good friend of mine, Julien who came up from Bella Coola for a visit this weekend. Fortunately, our fervent prayers were answered as the rain lessened to a slight drizzle before fizzling out allowing us to open the nets and catch some birds. The drop in temperature (1°C at opening) overnight resulted in a rapid descent of the snow line which once the clouds lifted sat half way down the Niuts.

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We were all very happy to get back to banding after the forced day of inaction. Captures began slow and steady with the first net check after opening yielding 5 new birds and a recaptured American Robin. Activity continued to ramp up with the peak capture round occurring at 9:00am.

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A Nashville Warbler

Activity and consequently birds in our nets decreased from this point as the day wore on. The day was filled with excitement as we banded our second and third hatch year female Nashville Warblers of the season! This is a station record as the previous high was two in a season (achieved in 2007 and 2008). With the addition of this years 3 Nashville Warblers the station now has banded a total of 10 since its inception in 2006. Orange-crowned Warblers topped the banding chart for the first time this season with 19 individuals banded and 1 recapture. Due to our geographic location we capture two of the subspecies of this rather inconspicuous warbler. The more brightly coloured coastal subspecies is called Lutescens while its more drab and grey interior cousin is termed Orestera. Dave both extracted and banded his first

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A Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow today! This grassland species can look much like a Lincoln’s Sparrow at first glance. However, upon closer inspection one will see that they are much paler overall with crisp streaking on their chest, a pale line down their crown, pinker legs, (often) yellow lores and tertials that extend in length beyond their secondaries. Interestingly, this last trait seems to hold true for most grassland birds and may be an adaptation for obtaining extra lift when taking off from the ground versus from a perch.  All in all the day of banding was a huge success with a final tally of 82 birds banded and 3 recaptures. At some point during the day we surpassed the 1700 mark ending at 1733 birds banded and 223 recaptures for the season.

The excitement wan’t contained to just the banding as the flocks of Yellow-rumpeds and mobs of Kinglets were still in attendance. Census went well as there were a multitude of species about and I had some good looks at both a juvenile and an adult male Northern Harrier soaring above the long grasses in the field south of the station. Upon nearing the end of the field a small “cute” sparrow flushed out of the grasses and alighted on a fence post. Something was different about this sparrow as its legs seemed over large for its small dumpy body. I pulled out Avery’s camera and zoomed in as best I could slowly moving forward trying to get the best image possible before I spooked the bird. Once I snapped several shots I continued to study this small inquisitive bird through my binoculars.

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The Le Conte’s Sparrow

It seemed somewhat familiar but I couldn’t place it. Later on I showed the pictures to Avery and after consulting a good friend and fellow birder/bander of his we all concluded that it was a Le Conte’s Sparrow! This the first record for TLBO and a species that Avery has been expecting to detect for a while now. Le Conte’s breed in damp sedge meadows in the prairies and southern boreal and as such were one of my constant companions during my last job in the remote bogs, swamps and fens of northern Alberta. Their hissing buzz-like song kept me sane amidst the hum of black flies and mosquitos during the many hours that I spent waist deep in water awaiting my ride (helicopter) to the next site

Later on, while on a net round we spotted a large soaring raptor moving south along the Potatoes. Fortunately while circling the dark bird gave us good views of a white band across its tail and corresponding white splotches near the wing tips which identified it as a Golden Eagle, our first of the season! Throughout the day the pipits were strangely absent, likely choosing other fields instead of the once north of the lab to forage in. This meant that we were only able to briefly test out the new “pipit fence” for 20 minutes at the end of the day. The inspiration came when a flock of 20 Mountain Bluebirds made a brief and late appearance. Alas, lady luck was not on our side as after 20 minutes of waiting all we had to show for our efforts was a lone Savannah Sparrow that we unintentionally flushed into the “pipit fence” while we were trying to close up the nets.

All in all it was another fantastic day in this beautiful valley. Catch you all tomorrow at the same time and place.

Species Band Recap
Orange-crowned Warbler 19 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 16
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 13
Lincoln’s Sparrow 13
White-crowned Sparrow 10
Nashville Warbler 2
American Robin 1 1
Common Yellowthroat 1 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
Hermit Thrush 1
Swainson’s Thrush 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Oregon Junco 1

Birds Banded 82
Species Banded 15
Birds Recapped 3
Species Recapped 3
Species on Census 44
Species Recorded 57
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1733

 

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The weather system that thwarted our owling aspirations last night stayed through the night and greeted us this morning with low clouds and a constant patter on the metal roof of our cabin. Unfortunately that meant no banding which was a bit of a let down as we were hoping to repeat yesterday’s performance with the addition of some Horned Larks along with a few members of the throng of pipits by way of our newly fashioned “pipit fence”.

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The wet shuttered up lab. Always a sad sight.

The bright side of days like today are that even though we do not open the nets we still have to perform census and spend some time at the station doing some observations in order to get an idea of what birds are around in the poor weather. Leaving Avery to put some finishing touches on his presentation for tomorrow as well as to continue proofing this years banding data Dave and I set out in the rain to the station.

On a side note my irritable car stereo has decided to consistently function after four months of playing dead so I subjected Dave to some Leonard Cohen which so far he has been very receptive to.

Census went well as there were may birds in attendance (34 species). It was a bit bittersweet as it made census very exciting but on the other hand was also disappointing that we were not banding any of the beauties that surrounded us.

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Sapsucker sign

One of the resident Red-naped Sapsuckers that Dave first observed on the last “Weather Day” (Sept. 16th) was still working the same aspen in virtually the same spot that I have seen him in every day since. As we walked the route the trees were veritably dripping with Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and water of course, with two Hammonds Flycatchers, some Orange-crowned Warblers and Chickadees mixed in. In a shrubby section we encountered the largest flock of White-crowned sparrows (30 plus individuals) that I have seen at the station with some Golden-crowned and Lincoln’s mixed in. The fun was not over as while we were crossing the lower field we saw two decent sized flocks of waterfowl descending into one of the two ponds on the north end of the lake. Upon arriving at the first pond there were only a few Mallards in attendance so we decided to make the trek across the Homathko and along the north shore to get a good look at the second pond. We were rewarded by a mixed flock of Mallards, American Wigeons, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Wood Ducks, Green-winged Teals and a lone Ring-necked Duck. We then birded our way back to the station and around the net lanes finishing off at the oxbow before heading back to the cabin for hot tea and fresh muffins (courtesy of Avery).

Despite the disappointment of another weather day our hopes are high that the rain will abate soon and that the mobs of kinglets, throngs of pipits and swarms of Yellow-rumps will still be in attendance for banding tomorrow. Depending if the rain eases up some we may venture out on a duck viewing expedition on the nearby lakes that we visited on the last weather day.

Also, a friendly reminder to those of you who are residents of the valley and the surrounding area. Tomorrow night Avery is giving a talk and Q and A about the station and the importance of banding and migration monitoring. The event will be at the Tatla Lake Community Hall and doors at 6:30 pm with the talk beginning around 7 pm. All are more than welcome and admission is free with the added incentive tea and cookies as well. If the weather permits we will be owling afterwards and everyone is welcome to join.

Happy Friday!

 

Sept 20: Long-eared Owl

Last night the rain seemed to let up just in time for Avery and I to set off on another session of owling. As we were driving into the station he spotted an owl perched just off the road near the lab. We couldn’t get a close look at it before it flew off, so after we parked we went and had a look around to see if we could spot it again. Based on it’s size Avery thought it might be a long-eared owl, but we didn’t have any luck finding it in the direction it had flown. Thinking we had missed our chance, we headed out to open the owl nets as the moon cast a pleasant glow on the treetops. Just as we were nearing them, we spotted our bird, a long-eared owl! Avery snapped a quick picture and then started creeping toward it using his headlamp to mask the pursuit. Alas, as he was just within range to hand-catch the owl a stick underfoot gave him away and off it went. Although we didn’t get a chance to band this bird, we were both thrilled with the sighting and it seemed a good omen for the night to come. Unfortunately, after the first net check the rain clouds returned, and as the moon vanished we had to close the nets for the night under persistent rain. Although no saw-whets on this night, it was still well worth the trip to spot TLBO’s first record of a long-eared owl!

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Long-eared Owl

Sachi got things started this morning and was just processing his first batch of birds as we arrived at the station. As Avery and I were finishing our first trip around the nets we were treated with a beautiful view of the Niuts with patchy clouds shrouding bits here and there. IMG_20180920_081154_resized_20180920_034953212 (2) The morning was picking up nicely with Lincoln’s Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Orange-crowned Warblers leading the way. We could tell pretty early that this was going to be a big day at TLBO, and sure enough during the 10:05 net check we were slammed at net 13 with almost twenty birds. Audubon’s and Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warblers, and more Orange-Crowned Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. All the activity  gave me more practice extracting and banding these beauties. It has been a steep learning curve, but Avery and Sachi have been very patient and generous with tips to help me wrap my head around the various techniques, and I am feeling more confident each day as a result.

During the 12:05 net check I was delighted to see my first sharp-shinned hawk of the season, netted beside the Homathko. It was a pleasure to watch Avery extract this compact little hawk, a hatch-year male.

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Sharp-shinned hawk

 

A few steps further on the net round and I had another first; extracting a woodpecker. It was a hatch-year male downy woodpecker, and was quite calm during the extraction. I can’t say the same for when it came time to band this fella. Plenty of squawking and kicking kept me on my toes.

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Downy woodpecker

The final net round yielded more Ruby-crowned Kinglets and put us at 95 birds banded for the day, so far the record for the season! It was a whirlwind of a day, and we still had some energy left to finish working on a little side project; Avery’s “pipit fence”. He has been cutting panels of old nets during downtime throughout the past week. We finally had everything together to get this new setup ready for tomorrow. We are excited to see what grassland birds we can catch using these two panel nets. There have regularly been large flocks of pipits and larks in the area and hopefully sometime soon we will get a chance to band a few!

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Avery and Sachi working on the “Pipit Fence”

-Dave Gonnella

Species Band Recap
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 35
Yellow-rumped Warbler 18
Orange-crowned Warbler 16
Lincoln’s Sparrow 7
Song Sparrow 6 2
Warbling Vireo 3
Common Yellowthroat 3
White-crowned Sparrow 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hermit Thrush 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 95
Species Banded 13
Birds Recapped 3
Species Recapped 2
Species on Census 33
Species Recorded 49
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1651

 

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One of 3 Saw-whets banded last night

A clear and calm evening last night meant at last we had some good owling conditions and Sachi and Dave were not denied. It took a little while but eventually they did catch three! Unfortunately the owls’ delay in arriving meant that Peter and Roma who stopped in for the first hour, returned home empty handed. Roma was kind enough to bring down some delicious fresh ginger cake!

This morning the two owlers slept in an extra hour while I opened the nets. The first rays of sun hitting the Niuts was spectacular as always, it is a scene that really provides a continual argument for getting up early! The good weather overnight seemingly encouraged more birds to leave than arrived and it was fairly quiet around the station for most of the morning. An early bonus in the nets was an adult female Spotted Towhee, the 4th we have banded this year.

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After Sachi left on census it became even quieter and Dave and I had consecutive net rounds without catching any birds. Fortunately it picked up a little bit in time for our visit from the Alexis Creek school group. With the ~25 kids and 5 adults it was a packed house by our normally quiet standards! We had a surprise treat for them as just before they arrived I noticed a group of chickadees and Kinglets mobbing something in one of the pines beside the station. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a roosting Northern Saw-whet Owl! After our first banding demonstration we went and viewed the owl with the aid of my spotting scope. Unsurprisingly, it was a unanimous hit! To the best of my knowledge this is the first record of a Saw-whet during the day-time monitoring period.

It is always a treat having the school groups visit and we have been particularly lucky to have three (and possibly a fourth to come) local school groups visit this year. There can be few more inspiring ways to expose youth to nature than through the up-close experience provided by bird banding. This is one of the foremost reasons why BC Spaces for Nature and several locals and others with ties to the valley have been working to keep the bird observatory operating the past few years (and hopefully indefinitely!).

Tomorrow looks like more rain but hopefully we can get out for another night of owling tonight.

Species Band Recap
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Yellow-rumped Warbler 4
Lincoln’s Sparrow 3 3
Song Sparrow 2 3
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Spotted Towhee 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1
Common Yellowthroat 1

Birds Banded 18
Species Banded 8
Birds Recapped 7
Species Recapped 3
Species on Census 29
Species Recorded 40
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1556

As I promised on a Facebook post on the 14th here is a shot of one of the two “oh so” charming Northern Saw-whets that we caught during our owling sojourn last night. Now that the end of the season is in sight we will be increasing the frequency of our owling outings in the hopes of catching more of these oddly charismatic little creatures.

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More than a bit sleep deprived from our late night of owling I set out to the station to open nets letting Avery have a much needed extra hour of shut eye so that at least one of us was somewhat fresh for the two school groups that were to arrive midmorning. My lack of sleep was rewarded by the splendour of the sun’s first rays on the tips of the Niuts. This early morning magic though fleeting, consistently occurs on days when the mountains are visible from the valley floor. Despite its regularity it never ceases to ellicit from me a smile of astonishment and awe.

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The photos never quite do the splendour of the Niuts justice.

The birds must have known that the kids were coming for they did not hold back as the first net check yielded 8 beauties. This set the pace as the station was hopping with both birds and youngsters for most of the morning. At some point during the process of banding the veritable flood of birds coming in Avery banded our 1500th bird of the season but milestone went unnoticed due to the constant activity and excitement.

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From the swamps of the boreal, a Swamp Sparrow!

The Tatla Lake school group arrived first and we split them in half with the first group accompanying me on a net round and the remainder watching Avery band the birds that we had collected on the previous net round. Upon returning to the station we swapped groups and continued checking the nets and processing birds. We employed the same strategy for the Tsi Del Del group. the kids were treated to some treasures like our first Swamp Sparrow of the season (that Avery forgot to put a band on in all the excitement!) and our third Fox Sparrow. Amidst the flurry of activity we passed a second milestone as we banded our 250th Swainson’s Thrush of the season with the honours going to an after hatch year of unknown gender. With the high energy of the morning Avery and I had a blast and both the school groups were wonderful guests. The Tatla school has been coming down annually for many years and we hope that the Tsi Del Del kids can do the same. We are always very pleased to share our knowledge and love of birds with the hopes of either sparking or cultivating interest and appreciation in the next generation. It was readily apparent that many of these youngsters were already budding naturalists with abundant excitement and enthusiasm about the natural treasures that surround them in their beautiful home.

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Avery passing on a small portion of his vast knowledge about aging and sexing birds.                                Photo Credit Roma Shaughnessy

Census did not uncover any new species for the season but confirmed the continued presence of a Varied Thrush as it sang its delightfully off-tune song from a hidden perch somewhere in the trees. A Horned Grebe made an appearance on the lake after being last detected August 24th. What with the school groups and the busy day of banding (60 birds banded and 3 recaptures) Avery and I did not have very much additional time for our daily observations.

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Yours truly and some of the lovely students from Tatla Lake returning from a productive net round. Photo Credit Roma Shaughnessy

After digging through banding records from the past 11 years we discovered that our current season total of 1538 is a TLBO record for birds banded by September 18th!

We will likely try our hands at owling again tonight as the weather has improved and conditions look like they will be decent. Tomorrow we are hosting the Alexis Creek school group. We hope that the birds have a second wind and can again put on as good a show as they did for the youngsters today!

Species Band Recap
Yellow-rumped Warbler 12
Lincoln’s Sparrow 11
Orange-crowned Warbler 8
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 7
Song Sparrow 5 2
White-crowned Sparrow 3 1
Swainson’s Thrush 3
Hermit Thrush 2
Common Yellowthroat 2
Wilson’s Warbler 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Savannah Sparrow 1
Fox Sparrow 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1

Birds Banded 60
Species Banded 15
Birds Recapped 3
Species Recapped 2
Species on Census 38
Species Recorded 47
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1538

At last we got a break from the rain that hit us over the weekend with a calm overcast morning sprinkled with a couple lingering little cloudbursts in the late morning. We were treated to a parting of the clouds around the time we were driving home revealing the now snowy peaks of the Niuts.

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A latish adult Vesper Sparrow

The morning was birdy right from the get-go with single White-throated and Fox Sparrows calling beside the banding lab and a number of other birds noted while opening nets. We started at a moderate pace catching a few Hermit Thrush, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats in the first hour. Dave also pulled a Vesper Sparrow out of net 13, a species we haven’t caught for several weeks. As has been the pattern of late, things slowed considerably banding-wise around the time Sachi left to go on census.

His census was a birdy affair with good flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets present and a few goodies mixed in. Among these were single late Least and Dusky Flycatchers and a couple Pacific Wrens. A lone Varied Thrush called from the east side of the valley. We have yet to record many of them so far this year, indicating it is likely a low year for them.

As the morning progressed we had a very large mixed flock pass by the station heading towards the nets, unsurprisingly, this yielded a catch of around 15 birds. Included were our first few “Myrtle” Yellow-rumped Warblers. “Myrtles” are the boreal and Eastern subspecies that arrive in the valley later than the resident Western “Audubon’s” subspecies.

While I was banding this batch of birds Sachi and Dave did the next net check and I soon heard an excited voice over the walkie-talkie exclaiming “We caught a Harrier!”. It has taken a while this year but at last we banded our first Northern Harrier. As expected, it was caught in the “Harrier” net. This beauty was a young male (sexed by wing length)!

Taking advantage of a lull in the banding I set about transforming one of our old nets into a two panel “Pipit net”. Basically this just meant chopping the other three panels off it. Our plan is two set up a string of three two panel nets to attempt to catch the numerous American Pipits and Horned Larks that have been visiting the field the past couple weeks. We just need to find to time to cut up another net and get one of our old bent net poles cut in half as well. Hopefully we can get this going soon as it should be fun!

While I thought all the excitement was over for the day, Sachi brought back one last treat in the form of our first Nashville Warbler of the season! We normally catch one most years and it typically comes late in the season. This one had obviously read the script!

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A hatch-year female Nashville WArbler

In the end we finished with a respectable 60 birds banded and 4 recaptures. Another great day in the Tatlayoko Valley!

Species Band Recap
Yellow-rumped Warbler 12
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 11
Common Yellowthroat 5 1
Song Sparrow 5 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 5 1
Hermit Thrush 4
White-crowned Sparrow 4
Swainson’s Thrush 2
Orange-crowned Warbler 2
Yellow Warbler 2
Black-capped Chickadee 1 1
Northern Harrier 1
Pacific Wren 1
Nashville Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Savannah Sparrow 1
Vesper Sparrow 1
Oregon Junco 1

Birds Banded 60
Species Banded 18
Birds Recapped 4
Species Recapped 4
Species on Census 40
Species Recorded 55
SEASON TOTAL BANDED 1478

 

 

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.