Every once in a while, we have the opportunity to be a part of something exciting, something that has not been done before. Such was the case for me this year, at our very own Hilliardton Marsh. First, it was really cool to contribute to The Marsh’s 20th year of spring migration monitoring, and being trained to band our smallest bird, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. That was so exciting! But what was even cooler was the opportunity to be a part of our first ever Fall migration monitoring program!
Every fall, starting around September 15th, Murph would be released from his teaching duties to take visiting school groups out the marsh, and show them the wonders of avian ecology via bird banding. But it was always a limited endeavour, as Murph would be swamped with both people and birds to manage. But this year, after 20 years of good spring migration coverage, we were able to launch our full fall program, with banding occurring every day, weather permitting, through the fall, from August 13th to October 17th.
With this super exciting new program, I was asked to talk a little about some of the highlights of our almost-finished fall season. My problem now is, “where do I start?” We have just finished celebrating Thanksgiving as I write this, and this has certainly been the season that keeps on giving!
In our songbird program, we were able to add two new species to our list of species that The Marsh has banded in the last 20 years; Eastern Phoebe, with the first of a total of 3 banded on August 4th, and even crazier, a hatching-year male Scarlet Tanager, on September 15th. Oddly, both were caught in the feeder nets, even though neither species visit bird feeders. We also banded a good number of species that we weren’t able to find or capture during the spring, including Fox Sparrow, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Rusty Blackbirds, Merlins, and American Kestrels, to name a few. There were also many species that we typically only capture one of in our spring season, that were banded in amazing numbers this fall, species such as Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parula, and Ovenbirds. Of these, we have banded more Northern Parulas this fall, than in all previous years combined!
We also able to partner with The Ontario Airboat Program, an Ontario-wide waterfowl-banding project, to monitor waterfowl populations in Ontario, and get recoveries when the ducks are shot in the US. As part of our partnership, we were able to target some fascinating, non-waterfowl species that call the Marsh their home, the secretive Soras and Virginia Rails that we hear all the time, but elude our prying eyes. Thanks to the airboat program, we were able to band our third new species for the Marsh tally, Virginia Rails. This brings our species list that have been banded at the Marsh to a whopping 145 species, over the last 20 years! Besides the excitement of banding new species, it was also awesome to get to learn about ducks and duck banding. A wee bit different from the little songbirds I’m used to banding!
And then, last but not least, we have the Marsh’s greatly anticipated program, owl banding. And this, our 15th year of owl monitoring was made very special by two important events. First, this year we banded our 6,000th Northern Saw-whet Owl for the Marsh, a huge milestone indeed! Now how long will it take us to band our 10,000th ?
Secondly, we had our best season ever last year for Long-eared Owls, with 7 banded, 5 of which came in to our playing the call of the Boreal Owl, right at the end of October. That sort of made us think “could we actually target Long-eared Owls? Would such a thing work?” So this year, we set up a new site, “Otus” for targeting he-who-shall-not-be named. Turns out we can actually say the name “Long-eared Owl” now, as since targeting them, we have banded 28 of them this season! That number is impressive enough, but is even cooler when you realize we have only banded a grand total of 31 in all previous years combined!!! Crazy! In total, we have banded thus far, 400 Northern Saw-whet Owls, 1 Boreal Owl, and 28 Long-eared Owls this season. And it’s not over yet, as our research continues past the peak of owl migration, around Thanksgiving.
And all of this has been made possible by the support and help of many people. So to everyone who has helped out in any way this fall, I want to give you a huge Thank You!!!
This has certainly been an awesome 1st Fall Season, the season that keeps on giving!
There will be a much more detailed report on our 2015 banding activity in the January edition of the Marsh Wren. Stay tuned!
NOTE: since this article was published our Long eared owl total is now at 121 and our boreal numbers are at 7