Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Resighting another green tagged Turkey Vulture

Earlier this summer, my friend Fran Kerbs emailed me a photo of one of the Turkey Vultures I had tagged back in 2012.  Except the photo was from 11 km away and 2 years after I had tagged it.

Fran spotted C37 on June 6, 2014 along route #99 near Craven Saskatchewan.  I tagged this bird on August 6th, 2012 near the town of Earl Grey in Saskatchewan.  This is a remarkably close resighting of a young Turkey Vulture 2 years after fledging, based on the 153 km average of other resighted young TUVU.  It is also amazing, considering this bird likely had migrated south possibly to Venezuela twice already in its lifetime!  It is believed, based on the tagging research we have been doing, that Turkey Vultures do not breed until 6 years of age.  One year later, I wonder where C37 is now?  Mexico? Venezuela?  

Thanks for helping to track these neat birds Fran!  And thanks for letting me share your sighting.

 Here is C37, still downy white after being tagged on August 6, 2012.
C37 and C38 back in their man-made cave where Turkey Vultures nest in Saskatchewan.
C37 on June 6, 2014, along Route #99 in the Qu'Appelle Valley with an untagged vulture.  Photo by Fran Kerbs.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Opposed to the Wind Farm At Chaplin Lake

I have never really deviated from my bird banding posts here on this blog, but today I would like to share with you my letter that I have sent to the Environmental Assessment Unit at the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment.  

After spending a long time banding Ferruginous Hawks around Chaplin Lake and this spring banding Sanderlings along the dykes of Chaplin Lake, I feel a deep connection to this place and have an understanding of what this place means to birds in general.  I feel to not voice my concern about the proposed wind farm that is to go just north of this important bird area, would be a disservice to the organisms I have held in my hand.  
Two Sandlerings ready to be released this spring, 2015. 

Sunrise over Chaplin Lake.  

Dear Environmental Assessment Unit,

I would like to send this email to express my concern for the location of the proposed wind farm at Chaplin lake.  There are two major issues I have with the proposal.

First, Chaplin Lake is an internationally recognized Important Bird Area.  Millions of shorebirds use it as an important refueling station during their migration north to the Arctic.  To place a wind farm directly north of this area seems incredibly ill planned.  According to The State of Canada's Birds (2012), shorebirds as a group have seen dramatic population declines in Canada over the last 40 years, with population losses close to 50%!  Additionally, research by Stewart et al (2007) found that shorebirds experienced the second highest collision rate with wind turbines as a group.  So we know that a huge number of shorebirds use this area, we know that shorebirds are highly susceptible to mortality due to collisions with turbines, AND we know that shorebirds as a group are declining in Canada.  So I am having a hard time understanding why this placement of wind turbines in this recognized Important Bird Area is a good idea... or why this proposal has even made it to this stage frankly.

My second major concern is the placement of a large portion of the turbines in native grasslands.  Saskatchewan only has approximately 20% of native prairie remaining in the province.  Species at risk, such as Sprague's Pipits, Ferruginous Hawks, and Bobolinks, along with other birds such as Baird's Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks, and Upland Sandpipers readily use these remaining patches of native prairie.  In fact, I have banded many Ferruginous Hawks nestlings in this area, data for which the Conservation Data Centre has on file.  The State of Canada's Birds (2012) also undeniably shows that grassland songbirds as a group have experienced dramatic declines in Canada over the last 40 years.  In addition, research by Leddy et al. (1999) showed that turbines negatively influenced nest densities of grassland songbirds due to human presence at turbines, noise of the turbines and the motion of the turbines as possible causes.  The authors recommended that turbines should be placed in cropland so that grassland songbirds are not negatively impacted by wind turbines.  So again, we know that native prairie is becoming an increasingly rare ecosystem in Saskatchewan, we know that many species, including species at risk use this grassland around Chaplin, we know that grassland songbirds as entire group have seen major declines in Canada, AND we know that turbines decrease the nesting density of grassland songbirds.  So as with my first point above, I am still perplexed why this site is even being considered for a wind farm!

What’s the solution?  I am all for wind power generation!  We need to dramatically alter our energy production in this province from coal to a low carbon emission alternative such as wind, to help fight climate change.  However, we do not need to sacrifice wildlife by placing these turbines in the wrong places.  We have 80% of southern Saskatchewan covered in cropland, where grassland songbirds do not nest.  Move the wind farm away from Chaplin lake and put it in cropland.  Compensate landowners appropriately for accommodating the turbine on their land.  The benefits of wind energy for climate change are very important.  As long as we are intelligent about where we place these turbines, they can have low impact on wildlife as well. 

Thank you for taking the time to consider my opinion on this proposed wind farm and I hope common sense will prevail and the birds of Chaplin Lake and the surrounding prairie will not be impacted by an ill-conceived plan.  


Jared Clarke

Leddy, K.L., Higgins, K.F., & Naugle, D.E. (1999) Effects of wind turbines on upland nesting birds in conservation reserve program grasslands. Wilson Bulletin111, 100-104.

State of Canada's Birds.

Stewart, G.B., Pullin, A.S., and C.F. Coles. 2007. Poor evidence-base for assessment of windfarm impact on birds. Environmental Conservation34, 1-11.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Will these Yellow-headed Blackbirds come back?

This summer, I started a project on two sloughs around our farm near Edenwold, SK.  Yellow-headed Blackbirds are beautiful birds when you actually have a close look at them and get over the fact they are 'blackbirds'.  

Two year old breeding males have striking yellow heads and throats, a black mask and bill, with a jet black bodies, and white primary coverts.  First year males, lack the bright yellow, instead have a dull yellow head, and a brownish body.  Generally, these young males do not hold their own territory.  The females on the other hand, have a brownish body plumage, with some yellow on their head and throat.  Males are bold and flashy to attract their mates and females are more cryptic to hide while incubating.  

Male Yellow-headed Blackbird
Female Yellow-headed Blackbird

There are a number of interesting things about Yellow-headed Blackbirds.  Males hold territories and may attract multiple females into their territory to nest.  This mating strategy is polygamy.  The male will sometimes help the first female who nests in his territory to feed her offspring, but the rest of the females must care for their brood entirely on their own.  This summer, I believe one male had 4 females in his territory, but they can apparently have up to 8 females.  Males defend their territory from predators and other rival males.  Female yellow-heads weave a basket nest, amongst the cattails that hangs over top of the water.  Prime nesting territory seems to be where the water is deeper, but the cattails are still tall.  
A Yellow-headed Blackbird nest with 4 eggs.  

We have a high density of Yellow-headed Blackbirds nesting all around us as the water level has been high around here for the last 5 years.  On our slough maybe 30 meters from our house we had at least 20 yellow-head active nests, over the course of the summer.  This abundant local population provides a great opportunity to study this species, while keeping my carbon footprint associated with the project low.  

The question I am interested in is nest site fidelity of female yellow-heads.  In other words, how often do females return to the same slough year after year to build their nest.  So to study this, I began marking the birds with small plastic colour bands so that individuals can be identified with a camera, binoculars or a spotting scope.  On the two pictures below you can see the colour bands clearly on their legs.  
The colour band sequence on this female is left leg, red over metal, right leg, yellow over red.  
The colour band sequence on this male is left leg, yellow over red, right leg, red over metal.  The opposite of the above female. 

This summer (2015), I captured and colour banded 17 adult yellow-heads on two sloughs.  Now we wait to see who comes back.     

Can you see the band on this females leg?  

 During the winter, Yellow-headed Blackbirds form large flocks.  This one was down the road from our place in September and even includes a male red-winged blackbird.  I wonder where this flock is now.