Thursday, March 17, 2011

March 16, 17 - Winter Songbird Monitoring

Our Winter Songbird Monitoring program has finally come to a close, and it has been an exciting and amazingly successful pilot season. In total we banded 279 birds and recaptured 361 birds of 23 species. A full report will be coming shortly.

All of the winter residents are still around, but over these last two days of monitoring we have have been seeing and banding our first definite spring migrants. We originally defined mid-March as being the end point for our winter monitoring program and it seems to be well chosen. The winter residents will likely stay until mid to late-April. We will still continue monitoring these birds through re-sighting colour-banded birds and through birds detected during our Spring Monitoring Monitoring program.

It has been difficult to predict where the birds may be focusing their activity, but the area between the west side of the woodlot to the wetland has seen most of it lately. Part of this has been the kinglets, chickadees, and warblers using the willows which are starting to bud-out now. But even most of the sparrows have been in this area, feeding largely on the new shoots of grasses and other small plants. Spotted Towhees are also now on territory, and males are frequently seen on the tops of shrubs singing heartily, which has made re-sighting colour-banded birds a lot easier.

It is difficult to choose the favourite banded birds of the period, as the new spring migrants are nice to see again, but we have also had some interesting recaptures as well.

Two alternate plumaged male Audubon's Warblers (one on each day) were certainly a treat to see in the hand after a winter of mostly sparrows. There have been a few Audubon's and Myrtle Warblers around the banding area all winter. These were still in basic plumage when they were last seen, and the few that were caught had not started their spring pre-alternate molt. So these birds were true spring migrants. Another sure sign of spring was the first Rufous Hummingbird of the year on the 17th, an after second-year female, and a male was also heard on the same day. Marsh Wrens have been found at Iona Island all winter, but they always appeared to be few and far between, with only banded one up until the 16/17th. However, we have now banded six, all spring migrants, over the last two days. Several Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Song Sparrows, Fox Sparrows and Spotted Towhees were also banded recently, but it's difficult to say how many of these are spring migrants versus winter residents.

The recapture highlight from this period was a female Red-shafted Flicker that was originally banded on Dec 13, 2010. Also we managed to catch several Spotted Towhees, Song and Fox Sparrows that were originally banded in November, but have not been seen since. It is interesting that a number of them waited until mid-March to show up again. Perhaps they are starting to become restless before migration and are moving around Iona Island a bit more.

Other birds of note seen around Iona Island included 10-20 Violet-green Swallows, two male Tree Swallows fighting over a nest-box (a sure sign of spring!), at least three Virginia Rails calling from the wetland ponds, the wintering American Bittern, and a few Canvasback.

This concludes our Winter Songbird Monitoring season, a big thank you goes out to all of our volunteers! Stay tuned for updates from our Spring Migration Monitoring program starting on March 25. If you are interested in volunteering, send an email to

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