Whenever I get the urge to really rub it in about living in the boreal forest and how lucky we are to be doing bird research here, I always mention two species: boreal owls and pine grosbeaks. Being able to band a species in good numbers has very little to do with banders and has everything to do with the habitat that leads to their abundance. This year we are having our best year ever for banding pine grosbeaks.
At the time of this writing we are sitting at 126 pine grosbeaks banded. Our previous record was established back in 2012 when we banded 65 birds, so we are a mere 4 birds from doubling the previous record. Looking at stats I decided to look up the number of pine grosbeaks banded in the province over the years, and going all the way back to 1960, 3092 pine grosbeaks have been banded; the marsh has banded 433 before this year, representing 15% of all birds banded in the province.
A little marsh history needs to be told here. When we first started banding, we did not have a banding shed, and had a table that we situated against some spruce trees with a tarp for shelter. In 2000 the TERRA students built a shed that had a wood stove that allowed us to start banding birds in the winter. If you look at our pine grosbeak numbers since 2000, the marsh accounts for 35% of the provincial total and we are hoping to have continued influence on pine grosbeak research.
In 2015 and 2016, we helped the Canadian wildlife service colour band pine grosbeaks at the marsh and took a single feather from each bird to help with isotope analysis of the birds. This year we were excited to find a bird with a colour band that had been banded 2 winters ago, a moment which made me very excited because last winter, with ample food in the north, the pine grosbeaks did not come down and we were not able to band a single bird; so it was with great excitement that we celebrated a bird returning to the marsh after that journey. We are still waiting to hear about the findings of the isotope study, but will pass that along as soon as we know. The record for pine grosbeaks banded in Ontario by multiple banders was 300 in 1997, so we are almost half-way there.
One thing that birders do, and we at the marsh really enjoy doing, is spreading the bird word to other banders and birders. Recently the marsh was visited by a couple of birders who came to see pine grosbeaks all the way from Brampton and Kitchener. Bill Macdonald and Steve Rossi spent hours photographing pine grosbeaks at the marsh. It was the first time they had ever seen a pine grosbeak and it was well worth the trip. They were so excited that they bought marsh memberships on the spot. Steve even came back with two other friends, and Joe Branco and Peter Caufield also had the chance to see the impressive number of pine grosbeaks that have found the marsh.
A familiar name and face to the marsh is Nicole Richardson, who is back from her birding and banding world travels. She arrived just in time to band our 100th pine grosbeak, a feat I never imagined. This Friday, we were visited by Heidrun Schinke, a bander from Germany who I secretly believe convinced her daughter to get married in New Liskeard so she could come and band a pine grosbeak. The lengths we will go to see and band a pine grosbeak! Heidrun was also able to band an evening grosbeak and we enjoyed having a bander from Germany join us.
There is more to the pine grosbeak research story at the marsh. I just feel super lucky to have a part contributing a chapter to the story. It really is a shame they have “gross” in their name because despite the name being part of the size of their bill, “gros n’est pas!” If you were to ask a photographer the bright crimson colour may just be the reason snow is white. Stay posted to the marsh website for a chance to come out and see a pine gros-beak being banded up close - I promise you, won’t be “grossed out!”