Spring has to be every birder and
bander's favourite time as migration gets underway with the return
of migrant wood warblers in alternate plumage!
The first wave included both the
Audubon's (below left) and Myrtle (below right) groups of
Yellow-rumped Warbler this photo clearly showing the difference
between the two, Audubon's with the plain face and yellow throat
compared to Myrtle with the distinct supercilium and black auricular
and white throat. Myrtle Warblers breed further north in BC and we
see them in good numbers in the spring but less commonly in the
A trip to Point Pelee in Ontario at
the beginning of May produced 160 species of birds with 31 species
of wood warblers and although we can't boast the same diversity on
the west coast our ones are pretty gorgeous too!
Adult males are normally the first to
return like these three after second year (ASY) males - Townsend's
Warbler (right), Orange-crowned Warbler (below right) and Wilson's
Warbler (below left).
Setophaga warblers like the
Yellow-rumped and Townsend's above have extensive prealternate molts
in the late winter early spring which results in adult birds having
molt limits but unlike second (SY) birds which show 3 generations of
feathers, juvenal, first basic and first alternate, adult birds show
only two, adult basic and adult alternate.
The wing of the ASY male Myrtle
Warbler below is showing such a limit in the greater coverts (blue
arrow) having replaced all body and flight feathers in its
definitive adult prebasic molt after the breeding season last year
and the inner greater coverts again in its adult prealternate molt
spoken before about overlap in tail shape among the age groups in
Setophaga warblers and how tail shape alone is not therefore
reliable for ageing as all age classes can show rounded retrices.
But the outer retrices of the adult (ASY) male Myrtle Warbler below
is not only showing very truncate outer rects but also extensive
white on retrices r2 to r6 and extensive black centers to the
uppertail coverts (red arrow) both of which which are diagnostic of
constant stream of visitors kept us busy this spring with a Bird
Monitoring and Banding Workshop, Bird Identification Workshop, BCIT
(British Columbia Institute of Technology) field trip, TWO VARC
Family Days and a Young Naturalist's field trip among a number of
other individual visitors! (whew!)
Family Days are a lot of fun for both
parents and kids and the feedback we get from parents really makes
these events special and very worthwhile providing kids with a
unique opportunity to interact with wild birds and learn the
importance of safeguarding habitat for both breeding and migratory
A full house for our first spring Bird
Monitoring and Banding Workshop when another great group of people
from as far away as Alberta and Washington sacrificed their entire
weekend to learn about molt and ageing of NA landbirds in the hand.
Our Banding Workshop is gaining
notoriety and once again we were really overwhelmed with the
feedback we received from workshop participants and thank them all
for their very kind and generous course evaluations which can be
viewed on our
workshop testimonials page.
included our youngest every participant who was just shy of his 16th
birthday when he attended the course. His Mum said "he will do
anything to learn how to band" so how could we refuse him?!
He did an outstanding job and amazed
us all with his maturity and passion for birds and banding and left
the workshop inspired and wanting to do more - another convert!
Wilson's Snipe are most active at dawn
and dusk and we occasionally flush them on early morning net rounds
but their chunky bodies and fast flight make them very difficult to
catch in our nets and this one was only our third banded record at
the station. They can fly at speeds up to 60 kph but their European
relative the Great Snipe has the air speed record flying at speeds
up to 97 kph.
The word 'sniper' originated in the 1770s among soldiers in British
India. if a hunter was skilled enough to kill an elusive snipe, he
was called a sniper.
will "freeze" and rely on their cryptic coloration to escape
detection. This is an effect that is greatly enhanced for
color-blind predators (like most mammals) as can be seen in the
photo below right. The position of their eyes far back on their head
also gives them an exceptionally wide field of view, making it
nearly impossible for an animal (or bander!) to sneak up from behind
or above them!
of oohs and aaghs as the first wave of Western Tanagers arrived,
adult males like this one with the bright red head feathers, the
colour coming from a rare pigment in birds called rhodoxanthin not
made in their own bodies but likely obtained from insects in their
wing (below left) of the above ASY male is a good example of what
definitive adult plumage, with no discernible molt limits among the
coverts or alula, looks like in spring. Notice the uniformly adult
wing coverts and broad, truncate outer rectrices with a corner to
the inner web diagnostic of adult birds.
Savannah Sparrows returned to the old field habitat at Colony Farm
in early April, their loud, insect-like song resonating from the
fields. Savannah Sparrows have very strong site fidelity (called
natal philopatry) returning each year to the area where they
hatched. So precise is this drive that birds banded in previous
years are often caught in the very same net where they were
males generally arrive before females so early brightly coloured
birds like this are most likely adult males, this one showing glossy
black tertials replaced in the adult prealternate molt this spring
|In addition to
catching birds our J-trap is pretty successful at 'catching' Black
Bears which visit at night to take advantage of the sunflower hearts
in the feeder.
the trap and the feeder to make sure bears can visit and help
themselves to seed without wrecking the trap - some of these bears
are decent sized animals as can be seen from our trail cam photos!
first Lazuli Bunting for the season, this after second year (ASY)
male took our total of LAZB banded for the station to 57 which is
amazing considering they are such uncommon birds in the Vancouver
Waxwings retuned to the park at the end of May, their electric,
high-pitched trills filling the air as they fly around searching for
ripening Elderberry fruit.
CEDWs are such exotic looking birds and definitely one of the
favourites for visitors.
name 'waxwing' comes from the waxy red secretions found on the tips
of the flight feathers (primaries, secondaries and retrices). The
exact function of these tips is not known, but they are age related
as is the extent of yellow on the tips of the retrices.
The number and length of waxy tips together with the extent and
glossiness of the black patch at the base of the chin allows us to
determine sex, the black being brownish black and much less
extensive on females (below left) and extensive glossy black on
males (below right).
Waxwings (CEDW) red waxy appendages are usually restricted to the
secondary flight feathers of the wing, giving a usual maximum of
nine wax tips per wing (seven wax tips is by far the commonest
Rarely, some tail feathers will also have the tips of their shafts
red. More rarely still, small red wax tips can be seen on one
to a few inner primary wing feathers. This CEDW had large wax tips
on all eighteen secondaries, all twelve rectrices and, in addition,
small wax tips on the inner four primaries of each wing, for an
impressive grand total of 38 waxy appendages beating our previous
record of 36!
techie extraordinaire and all round good guy Kyle Norris who not
only manages to do pretty much all of the station maintenance
including mowing miles of trails and net lanes around the station
but also designed and built our state of the art electronic
Hummingbird trap trippers and remote playback system has just
completed the test phase on a new nest box camera for the station.
We are eventually hoping to deploy several of these as part of out
Tree Swallow nest box monitoring program.
custom designed and built the nest box camera system from scratch
with live streaming to the web and almost immediately
the box was occupied by Black-capped Chickadees!
We've all been totally captivated
watching Mum brood and the nestlings hatch and now both parents are
busy feeding hungry nestlings.
Click here to watch all of the live
action from the nest box but be warned it's totally addictive and
once you click on the link you'll have to keep it open on your task
bar to keep checking on the progress!!
to Mark Habdas, Kerry Kenwood, Carol Matthews, Jason Jones, Debbie
Wheeler, Sarah Gray, Mike Nutter, Kyle Norris, Louise Routledge,
Monica Nugent, Sara Legros, Christine Bishop, Rufus Macintyre, Cyril
Chan, Ivand Pulido, Andrew Venning, Kelly
Palmer-McCarty, Martine Cutbill, Jessie Russell, Yonase Gulbot, Kaye
Simard Ben Nickley, Danielle Zandbergen, Amber Richmond, Christian
Lunn, Eleanor Duifhuis and Cadi Schiffer for their help
with spring banding - as always VARC would not exist without the
energy, enthusiasm and commitment of all of our amazing staff and
And special thanks and photo credits to Leslie Bol for the VARC
Family Day photos.