Friday, December 2, 2011

Snow Bunting Banding

This summer Oliver Love sent out a request for volunteer bird bandings to help study Snow Buntings across Canada this winter. Of course, without many birds to band around here during the winter, I have jumped at the opportunity. We are still waiting for a bit of snow around here before we start heading out, but I thought I would just post a bit information on the Snow Bunting.

The Snow Bunting is a small passerine that nests in Canada's Arctic. It comes down to Saskatchewan during the winter in small to very large flocks. The bird is easily identifiable with its white body and black back, wings and tail. While in flight the bird is easily to ID with its long black and white wings.

Oliver and his team of student researchers have been working on Snow Buntings on Canada's East Bay Island. Since 2007 his team have banded an amazing 1000 Snow Buntings on this tiny little island in the Arctic. They have also been doing some really amazing research using geolocators, colour banding and sound recording devices. They are studying signals of male quality, mating strategies, reproductive physiology and the migratory connectivity of the Snow Bunting population on East Bay Island. For more information on all of this research, check out the first "Snow Bunting Report" published by Oliver and his crew earlier this week. Some fascinating information in here.

You can also check out the Canadian Snow Bunting Network website.

We'd also like to thank Sun Country Farms in Langham, SK for their help in acquiring the feed we need to catch the birds. Thanks Sun Country Farms! :)

I look forward to posting once we start catching some birds!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

A little bird feeder banding

This weekend we got out and set up a net to try to trap and band some of the birds frequenting our bird feeders. We have been trapping Black-capped Chickadees here at our farm since February 12, 2010. On November 11, we captured 11 unbanded Black-capped Chickadees and 2 chickadees that already wore bands. The two recaptured chickadees were banded at our feeders on Feb 13, 2010, and on Feb 21, 2010. That was approximately 21 months ago!

Band #2031-73210 was originally aged as a Second Year bird, meaning it was hatched in 2009, so it is now ~2.5 years old, while #2031-73202 was originally aged as a After Second Year bird, which means it hatched in 2008 or earlier, so it is atleast 3.5 years old and may be older. These birds weighed 12.6g and 12.2g on Nov 11, 2011, and 13.6g and 12.4g on their initial capture dates. This photo shows the wing of Chickadees #202. You can see the greater coverts have nice bold white edges. The primary coverts are nice and broad with some white peppering the middle of the feathers. These two characteristics suggest this is an older bird, which is confirmed by the band it was wearing.

We had been seeing this bird at the feeder for a couple of days and were excited to capture it. It is a White-throated Sparrow. This is a tan-striped bird, as you will notice the white and black crown, and white throat are not very colourful. We hope it survives the winter! Normally these birds will winter in the southeastern United States.

To learn more about White-throated Sparrows check out this website (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A big surprise in Wascana Centre!

Well the snow fell on Sunday this week and already a Northern Hawk Owl shows up in the Centre just yesterday (Nov 7, 2011)!!

This is the second NHOW that has been in Regina in the last three years. This is a very unique find as the Northern Hawk Owl spends almost all of its time in the forests of northern Saskatchewan. It is quite unusual to find it south on the prairies. Margaret Belcher's "Birds of Regina" (1980) makes no mention of Hawk Owls in Regina.

We were able to capture this bird this morning and band it.
The bird weighed 330 gram, with a wing chord of 227mm. I aged it as an AHY as it had retained primaries, secondaries, primary coverts, alula, and median and lesser coverts. However, the greater coverts were all replace. You can see this in the photo below.

The bird was originally spotted by Dan Sawatsky on his street in southern Regina. I later saw it in the Habitat Conservation Area in Wascana Centre. This morning it was in the Display Ponds.

Kim Mann snapped this photo and allowed me to post it here. Thanks Kim!

56 NSWO to date

So things never really picked up for saw-whets this year. Our highest capture rate in one night was 9 birds. With this snow maybe a few might still be moving through....

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The owls still haven't arrived....

Last night I closed the nets at 22:15 (a little bit early...), after having them open for over three hours. No wind, the nets hung beautifully still. The full moon was out last night, but there was significant cloud cover, and there are still many leaves on the trees so shadows were cast on the nets. In the last 5 previous years, this is our peak weekend.

A seemingly ideal night for owls...

And yet no one hit the net. We didn't even hear any owls around.

Since my last post on October 2nd we have added 4 more owls, to a lackluster showing of 7 owls in total. A boring season so far.

We had friends Theo and Karen Kolkman out to check out the banding on Saturday and managed to atleast catch a single owl for them at 23:10. Here's Theo examining the owl.

The forecast has a few NW wind evenings coming up here and the temperature is dropping, so maybe, just maybe the owls will begin to move through our area. If not, I've got no idea as to what has happened to them this year.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Northern Saw-whet Banding 2011

Our first saw-whet owl of 2011

On Tuesday September 20th we pulled out the old nets and got the net lanes cleared in excited anticipation for our 6th year of banding here at Saw-whet Acres! Six years!... I can't believe we've been doing this for six years now.

2010 was a our lowest overall total captures in the 5 years we'd been banding here, so we have high hopes that 2011 will be better.
So far not so....

Since opening on the 20th, our nets have been open for 8 evenings and only captured 3 owls. This is significantly lower than another other year. Here are the numbers from the first day of the season, to October 1st, over the last 5 years.

2006 - 8 nights open - 42 owls
2007 - 8 nights open - 22 owls
2008 - 8 nights open - 49 owls
2009 - 5 nights open - 11 owls
2010 - 6 nights open - 29 owls
2011 - 8 nights open - 3 owls....

My guess as to why the migration has been so slow is the unseasonally warm, or I should say hot weather. This last week we have had up to 29 degrees Celscius on a number of days. The owls just don't seem to be moving yet. With this warm weather we have strong southerly winds, which I believe slows down the birds. The other option is they simply take a different path that is with the wind...

We'll just have to see how things progress this month....
Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sometimes you can read a band on a living birds leg!

Hi all,
One of the most exciting things for me as a birdwatcher/bird bander is finding a healthy living bird with a band on its leg.

If you have ever seen a songbird with a band on its leg, I would say good luck reading that band with binoculars or a spotting scope! Only a really cooperative bird is going to sit there until you read that band. It is difficult enough reading the number of a size 0A band in the hand!!

At this time of year, Mallards and Wood Ducks begin staging in the Waterfowl Park Display Ponds (which is right across from the Conexus Art Centre, in Regina). There can be up to 800 ducks in there at this time of year. When I go in to feed our injured captive waterfowl flock (snow geese, mute swans, Canada Geese, ducks, etc), all these other birds come over to enjoy the grain we put out. These ducks are so bold that they will come up to feed even when you are sitting 2 meters away.

This is a perfect time to watch for banded birds. A Mallards band is big enough that you can actually read the digits on it! So I was delighted to see atleast 4 birds carrying bands on their legs the other day. Out came the binos.

This male Mallard was one of the birds that had a band on his leg, as you can see. I was able to read off his band number - 1667-59235. Then I rushed back to the office to submit the data to and discover the info on this bird.

It turns out this bird was banded 7 km east of Mirror, Alberta on July 28, 2004!
It was aged as an After Hatch Year (meaning it was atleast 1 year old at the time, but we don't know if it was any more, could be 1, 5, or older we just can't tell). Regardless this bird was atleast 8 years old! He has done pretty good. Below is a copy of the Certificate of Appreciation USGS and CWS send you when you submit a band recovery. This is for the mallard above.

I also read the bands off of two other Mallards. Last year Lorne Scott and I banded about 20 Mallards in the Display Ponds on September 20, 2010. The two other banded birds were actually two of these birds. Back in the Display Ponds 364 days later!

Remember check those birds for bands! Every little piece of information can help understand more about these birds!