Winter Population Monitoring – 2011 to 2012

October 31 – November 30, 2011

PICTURE OF THE MONTH:

One of our colour-banded House Finches, 2P, which seems to be staying around, as it was spotted on four more occasions over the course of November. (Photo by Simon Duval)

 THIS PERIODTHIS WINTER2011 TOTALSITE TOTAL
# birds (and species) banded231 (14)231 (14)4108 (87)35677 (108)
# birds (and species) repeat99 (8)99 (8)861 (50)6368 (68)
# birds (and species) return11 (3)11 (3)144 (21)951 (37)
# species observed4040162204
# net hours177.5177.59407.659024.7
# birds banded / 100 net hours130.1130.143.760.4

Note: table does not include nocturnal banding (owls)

Banders-in-charge: Bob Barnhurst, Simon Duval, Gay Gruner

Assistants: Christine Barrie, David Davey, Jean Demers, Alison Hackney, Lima Kayello, Lisa Keelty, Lance and Andrée Laviolette, Barbara MacDuff, Chris Murphy, Marilou Skelling, Clémence Soulard, Alex Stone, Rodger Titman

Notes: After an unusually quiet fall season, we were pleased to see winter get off to a busy start. The 231 birds banded this month is our second-highest monthly total for any winter (behind only November 2010), while the 40 species observed is close to the long-term average for November. Among the uncommon winter species observed this month were Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, American Pipit, and Rusty Blackbird – the pipit in fact representing our first record for the season, and becoming the 84th species observed at MBO in winter.

This month we kicked off an exciting new project at MBO, our feeder bird study. We know from experience that as soon as we stock our feeders at MBO, we see an influx of seed-eating species, including Mourning Dove, Black-capped Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, and American Goldfinch. Of course this is no surprise, as we have all seen these species at backyard feeders too. However, from banding these species at MBO in previous winters, we know that many of them must move around quite a bit during winter, given how few repeats we capture. To better learn how far these birds roam over the course of the season (and beyond), we are improving our chances of resighting House Finches and American Goldfinches by fitting them with unique alphanumeric colour bands. If the project is successful, we may consider expanding to other species next winter. Read full details on our project page, and if you are lucky enough to spot one of our birds, please send us the news through our reporting page.

While the finch project was getting launched, this year’s Northern Saw-whet Owl program was winding down. Banding continued nightly for the first week after the official end of the Fall Migration Monitoring Program, with one or two owls most nights, for a total of 9. We tried three more nights the following week when weather was favourable, and got four more owls, bringing our season total to 199 banded, plus 9 foreign recaptures. These were by far our highest totals for saw-whets, although they largely represented an increase in effort. Click here for a summary of the 2011 owling season.

This month’s top 10 [previous week’s rank in brackets]

# individuals bandedmean # individuals observed daily
1. House Finch (65) [-]1. Canada Goose (177) [1]
2. Slate-colored Junco (63) [3]2. American Crow (55) [4]
3. American Goldfinch (41) [-]3. European Starling (53) [5]
4. American Tree Sparrow (25) [2]4. Red-winged Blackbird (47) [2]
5. Northern Cardinal (11) [8]5. American Robin (45) [3]
6. Red-winged Blackbird (8) [5]6. House Finch (25) [-]
7. Mourning Dove (5) [-]7. Slate-colored Junco (24) [7]
8. Purple Finch (3) [-]8. Black-capped Chickadee (23) [8]
9. Blue Jay (2) [-]9. Mallard (20) [6]
9. Black-capped Chickadee (2) [8]10. American Goldfinch (15) [-]
9. Fox Sparrow (2) [-] 
9. Common Grackle (2) [-] 

Fitting well with our research plans, House Finch was the top species banded this month, while American Goldfinch took third place. Neither of them made the top ten during the final week of fall, but both were also in the top three last November, reflecting the degree to which operating our feeders in winter brings in these (and other) species. Slate-colored Junco took second place this month with a good number of late migrants still on the move, as is the case most years; similarly the good number of American Tree Sparrows in fourth place likely represented mostly late fall migrants, although in both cases we expect smaller numbers will remain at MBO through the winter. In fact, we had 5 returns this month, showing a significant amount of winter site fidelity. Although a considerable step down in numbers from the top four, the 11 Northern Cardinals in fifth place was an impressive count, given that this one-month total far exceeds our previous record of 7 for an entire winter. Given that we also banded a fall record of 14 individuals over the past three months, there is clearly an impressive increase in the local Northern Cardinal population!  This marks the third winter in a row that we have banded Red-winged Blackbirds, and for the first time Common Grackles too. Another pleasant surprise was Purple Finch, given that prior to the three banded this month, we had banded only two in all previous winters combined. Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, and Fox Sparrow rounded out the list with a modest two individuals each. Of note though, we had 59 Black-capped Chickadee repeats, so they are certainly still present in good numbers – it’s just that we seem to have already banded almost all of them!

The species observed were more consistent with results from the last week of fall, in that the top five species were the same, but shuffled around a bit, with American Crow and European Starling moving up and pushing down Red-winged Blackbird and American Robin, but leaving Canada Goose far out on top. The two newcomers to the list this month, again thanks to the feeders, were House Finch and American Goldfinch. The top ten was rounded out with the other usual suspects for November, namely Mallard, Black-capped Chickadee, and Slate-colored Junco.

Although present year-round, we almost never band Mourning Doves except in winter. With five banded this month, we have already more than doubled the total from last winter. (Photo by Simon Duval)


December 1 – 31, 2011

PICTURE OF THE MONTH:

Red-winged Blackbird seems like a peculiar “cover bird” for a December update, but with more of them banded this month than any species except American Goldfinch, this actually represents our recent efforts quite well. (Photo by Simon Duval)

 THIS MONTHTHIS WINTER2011 TOTALSITE TOTAL
# birds (and species) banded74 (8)305 (14)4182 (87)35751 (108)
# birds (and species) repeat45 (6)144 (8)906 (50)6413 (68)
# birds (and species) return10 (4)21 (4)154 (21)961 (37)
# species observed2744164204
# net hours74.5252.09482.159099.2
# birds banded / 100 net hours99.3121.044.160.5

Note: table does not include nocturnal banding (owls)

Banders-in-charge: Simon Duval, Gay Gruner

Assistants: David Davey, Barbara Frei, Alison Hackney, Lima Kayello, Lisa Keelty, Marilou Skelling, Rodger Titman

Notes: Having enjoyed a productive start to the winter monitoring program in November, we eased up a bit on effort this month, with only four banding dates scattered over the first half of December. Even so, we have already passed the 300 bird threshold for winter. More significantly, our two key target species for this winter are leading the way, with 75 American Goldfinches and 69 House Finches now banded with both the regular aluminum USGS bands and also white and black alphanumeric bands to increase our chances of getting sightings from observers off site. To date, we know they have visited the backyards of two of our regular volunteers in Senneville (just north of MBO), but we trust some are starting to range farther afield, and look forward to receiving reports on them. For more information, visit the finch study page, or go directly to the reporting form.

The number of species observed this month tapered off to 27, but that is actually not far from the December record of 32 set in 2005, when observations were spread over 14 days. Four new species for this winter were observed this month, all on December 1!  They were Great Horned Owl, Horned Lark, Bohemian Waxwing, and Snow Bunting. The lark and bunting were our first (and only) sightings of the year, bringing the total count for 2011 to 164, near the high end of our range of 158 to 166 over our previous six full years of operation.

This month’s top 10 [previous week’s rank in brackets]

# individuals bandedmean # individuals observed daily
1. American Goldfinch (34) [3]1. European Starling (153) [3]
2. Red-winged Blackbird (16) [6]2. American Crow (78) [2]
3. Slate-colored Junco (11) [2]3. Mallard (32) [9]
House Finch (4) [1]Red-winged Blackbird (23) [4]
5. Purple Finch (3) [8]5. House Finch (18) [6]
6. Blue Jay (2) [9]6. Black-capped Chickadee (18) [8]
7. Black-capped Chickadee (2) [9]6. American Goldfinch (18) [10]
8. American Tree Sparrow (2) [4]8. Mourning Dove (12) [-]
 9. Slate-colored Junco (12) [7]
 10. Canada Goose (11) [1]

All of the species banded this month were among November’s top ten, although they changed positions a fair bit. Of particular note, hardly any additional House Finches were banded, but American Goldfinches continued in good numbers and moved to the top of the list. The big surprise was Red-winged Blackbird, with more individuals banded this month than in any previous full winter. For the second month in a row, we banded 3 Purple Finches, also unexpected given our previous cumulative winter total of 2. After strong showings in November, we did not band any additional Mourning Doves or Northern Cardinals this month (and didn’t even recapture any of those banded earlier in the season). Reflecting our past experience that the finches we band at MBO soon move on, we only recaptured 4 of the 65 House Finches and 2 of the 41 American Goldfinches that we banded in November.

Except for the addition of Mourning Dove and loss of American Robin, the same species as in November populate our list of the most frequently observed species in December. After a long reign atop the list going back to the fifth week of fall (beginning of September), Canada Goose finally was dethroned, falling all the way to tenth place. Surprisingly, Mallard numbers actually increased during the same period. Large flocks allowed European Starling to take a rare turn on top of the list of species observed, with nearly twice as many individuals as American Crow. Despite a sharp drop in the count of House Finches captured, the mean number observed dropped only slightly from 25 to 18, while the mean number of American Goldfinches increased just a bit from 15 to 18.

We have now come to the end of our seventh full year of operation at MBO, and are working on our annual report, which we look forward to sharing early in 2012. Thank you to all who have contributed to this year’s projects, and we look forward to seeing you in the new year!

One of our many colour-banded American Goldfinches that we are now looking forward to receiving reports about from elsewhere. (Photo by Simon Duval)


January 1 – 31, 2012

PICTURE OF THE MONTH:

Although we did not band any birds this month due to the cold weather, we continued to see a number of the previously banded winter residents, including American Tree Sparrows. (Photo by Simon Duval)

 THIS MONTHTHIS WINTER2012 TOTALSITE TOTAL
# birds (and species) banded305 (14)35751 (108)
# birds (and species) repeat144 (8)6413 (68)
# birds (and species) return21 (4)961 (37)
# species observed184418204
# net hours252.059099.2
# birds banded / 100 net hours121.060.5

Note: table does not include nocturnal banding (owls)

Observers: Jean Demers, Gay Gruner, Barbara MacDuff, Clémence Soulard

Notes: As is often the case, January was too cold for any banding at MBO, so results this month are based on just three days of observation. With between 9 and 16 species observed on each of those days, most were our winter “regulars”, the one notable exception being a flock of 35 Cedar Waxwings on January 8. However, since we also recorded the species back on November 4, it wasn’t a new addition for this winter, and we remain at 44 species for the season with two months to go.

This month’s top 10 [previous month’s rank in brackets]

# individuals bandedmean # individuals observed daily
 1. European Starling (17) [1]
 2. Cedar Waxwing (12) [-]
 3. House Finch (11) [5]
 4. Slate-colored Junco (9) [9]
 5. Blue Jay (8) [-]
 5. American Crow (8) [2]
 5. Black-capped Chickadee (8) [6]
 8. American Goldfinch (6) [6]
 9. American Robin (5) [-]
 10. Northern Cardinal (4) [-]

European Starling remained the most abundant species for another month, but again due to a single large flock, in this case 50 individuals on January 8. Similarly, the flock of 35 Cedar Waxwings on the same day was responsible for that species reaching second place. Most of the month’s American Robins (11 out of 14) were seen the same day – the frugivores were traveling together it seems. It was also a particularly good day for Blue Jays though, with an unusually high winter count of 20 individuals.

Male Northern Cardinals always provide a welcome burst of colour in mid-winter. (Photo by Simon Duval)


February 1 – 29, 2012

PICTURE OF THE MONTH:

This Chipping Sparrow banded on February 23 is easily one of our biggest ever winter surprises, given that we have no previous observations during the season, and the earliest spring arrivals typically do not return until mid-April. (Photo by Gay Gruner)

 THIS MONTHTHIS WINTER2012 TOTALSITE TOTAL
# birds (and species) banded26 (8)331 (17)26 (8)35777 (108)
# birds (and species) repeat1 (1)145 (8)1 (1)6414 (68)
# birds (and species) return5 (4)26 (5)5 (4)966 (37)
# species observed184522204
# net hours15.0267.015.059114.2
# birds banded / 100 net hours173.3124.0173.360.5

Note: table does not include nocturnal banding (owls)

Banders-in-charge: Simon Duval, Gay Gruner

Assistants: Emily Board, Dan Brisebois, Chris Cloutier, Jean Demers, Nicole Doucet, Alison Hackney, Malcolm Johnson, James Junda, Barbara MacDuff, Mariner Palmer, George Panciuk, Clémence Soulard, Chick Taylor, Geoffrey Webster, Ryan Young

Notes: Winter conditions still limited our activities somewhat in February, but the weather eased up enough to let us fit in our first banding session of 2012 and two important site maintenance projects. Under beautiful sunny skies on February 15, a great team effort helped us get the cattails on Stoneycroft Pond back under control. Although it is a native plant, it expands aggressively, and without us cutting it back every couple of years, we would soon end up with the pond covered in cattails from one side to the other, significantly affecting its availability for species that require patches of open water. Since our primary objective at MBO is migration monitoring, it is critical that we maintain the consistency of habitat features as much as we can, so that we can be confident that any trends we detect reflect changes in populations rather than the suitability of our site. Cutting and removing the cattails is hard work, and we very much appreciate all the volunteers who came out to help share the load!  Later in the month, another team of volunteers came together to assist with cleaning out and repairing our existing collection of Tree Swallow and Wood Duck nest boxes, and to erect some additional Wood Duck boxes donated by George Panciuk and the city of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. We still have another four weeks until our Spring Migration Monitoring Program kicks off for an eighth year, but it’s always nice to have a good head start on preparations.

This month’s top 10 [previous month’s rank in brackets]

# individuals bandedmean # individuals observed daily
1. Black-capped Chickadee (7) [7]1. American Robin (26) [9]
1. Slate-colored Junco (7) [3]2. American Crow (10) [6]
3. American Goldfinch (4) [1]3. Black-capped Chickadee (9) [7]
4. Downy Woodpecker (2) [-]4. European Starling (7) [1]
4. Blue Jay (2) [6]5. Mourning Dove (6) [-]
4. American Tree Sparrow (2) [8]5. Blue Jay (6) [5]
7. Hairy Woodpecker (1) [-]7. Slate-colored Junco (5) [4]
7. Chipping Sparrow (1) [-]8. American Tree Sparrow (4) [-]
 9. American Goldfinch (3) [8]
 10. Red-tailed Hawk (2) [-]

The list of species banded reflects a single morning of effort on February 23. As noted in the caption for the photo of the month, the Chipping Sparrow was the big suprise, but the two woodpecker species were also banded for the first time this winter. After banding just 4 Black-capped Chickadees earlier this winter, we had 7 on this one day, suggesting that they may be moving around to some extent over the course of winter. We also had another 7 Slate-colored Juncos, but the finch bonanza from early winter has largely dried up, with just 4 more American Goldfinches this month, and no House Finches.

It has been a good winter for American Robins, but even so, seeing them on top of the list of species observed for February is quite a surprise (and especially considering the large margin over all other species). Their dominance is largely attributable to a significant count of 70 on February 23, perhaps representing an early wave of migrants. New species in the top ten this month were Mourning Dove, American Tree Sparrow, and Red-tailed Hawk, while Cedar Waxwing, House Finch, and Northern Cardinal dropped out. Compared to earlier in winter, the scarcity of Northern Cardinals and House Finches is quite a drastic change, although with House Finches at least, we are used to House Finch numbers dropping substantially in the new year most winters, even though the reasons behind that are not at all apparent. This month we only observed one House Finch on February 17, making us wonder where they have all gone. Thanks to our colour banding project and reports from Alison Hackney, we know that at least 13 of them visited her feeder in Senneville over the course of the month, so some at least have not moved far from MBO. Of course that leaves many others unaccounted for, and we hope that other observers will be able to give us updates on their locations using our reporting form.

The team of volunteers posing beside one of the new Wood Duck nest boxes at the end of our annual nest box maintenance day – thanks to all for helping with this important task!


March 1 – 27, 2012

PICTURE OF THE MONTH:

Red-winged Blackbirds are a sure sign of spring at MBO, and with warmer weather arriving earlier than usual this year, the males also showed up in larger numbers than usual (only in 2010 were they more abundant in March). (Photo by Simon Duval)

 THIS MONTHTHIS WINTER2012 TOTALSITE TOTAL
# birds (and species) banded49 (7)380 (18)75 (10)35826 (108)
# birds (and species) repeat13 (4)158 (8)14 (4)6427 (68)
# birds (and species) return21 (6)47 (7)26 (6)987 (37)
# species observed456349204
# net hours48.7315.763.759162.9
# birds banded / 100 net hours100.6120.4117.760.6

Note: table does not include nocturnal banding (owls)

Banders-in-charge: Simon Duval, Gay Gruner

Assistants: Jean Demers, Andrée-Anne Deschamps Leonard, Alison Hackney, James Junda, Lisa Keelty, Barbara MacDuff, Chris Murphy, Clémence Soulard

Notes: In 2010, we experienced an unusually early spring, but this year March was even warmer. The average high temperature for the month is usually just above freezing, but this year was 8 degrees Celsius – in large part due to an unprecedented stretch of five straight days mid-month with highs exceeding 20 degrees!   Not surprisingly, the birds responded to the prolonged mild conditions, and we noted record early arrivals for several species, including six that we have never previously observed during our “winter season”:  Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Hooded Merganser, American Kestrel, American Woodcock, and Eastern Phoebe. The total of 45 species observed this month is a new record for March by a large margin, and close to the single-month winter record of 48 species observed in November 2009. Meanwhile, the push of early migrants pushed this winter’s total to 63 species, well ahead of the previous season record of 58 set in the winter of 2009-2010. It is also worth noting that this month’s observations are based on fairly limited effort, five days between March 18 and 27, due to lingering snow and preparations for the spring program earlier in the month; with additional visits, the totals might have been even higher!  Of course we realize that our winter season is particularly vulnerable to variability in weather from year to year, so the records are not particularly meaningful – but they do offer a clear indication of how different March was this year.

This month’s top 10 [previous month’s rank in brackets]

# individuals bandedmean # individuals observed daily
1. American Tree Sparrow (27) [4]1. Canada Goose (981) [-]
2. Slate-colored Junco (9) [1]2. Mallard (25) [-]
3. American Goldfinch (8) [3]3. Red-winged Blackbird (24) [-]
4. Song Sparrow (2) [-]4. Common Grackle (17) [-]
5. Blue Jay (1) [4]5. American Crow (15) [2]
5. Black-capped Chickadee (1) [1]5. Black-capped Chickadee (15) [3]
5. Red-winged Blackbird (1) [-]7. American Tree Sparrow (13) [8]
 8. Greater Snow Goose (13) [-]
 9. American Robin (9) [1]
 10. Ring-billed Gull (7) [-]

Three mornings of banding were undertaken in March, and American Tree Sparrows dominated by a wide margin, accounting for over half of all individuals banded. That count is the highest in a single winter month, and exceeds the season total for all but one previous winter. We still managed to band a handful of “new” juncos and goldfinches, and the early Song Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds managed to get represented along with a lone Blue Jay and Black-capped Chicakdee.

The species observed this month represented a drastic shift from February’s results. None of this month’s top four species were observed last month, and the daily averages of both Canada Goose and Mallard were the highest ever for a winter period at MBO. The Red-winged Blackbird counts were also much higher than usual, although slightly lower than in March 2010, while we have never before had more a daily mean of 2 Common Grackles in any winter month, so 17 this month was quite a surprise. The influx of these four species pushed American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, and American Robin down the list, intermingled with other new arrivals in the form of Greater Snow Goose and Ring-billed Gull, as well as American Tree Sparrow, hanging close to last month’s ranking.

Even though it was an unusually mild winter, we discovered that our resident Red Squirrel had made a substantially insulated nest on the inner roof of our shed, surrounded by a rich crop of walnuts from one of the nearby trees! (Photo by Simon Duval)