The spring period
was extremely busy for visitors to the Colony Farm banding station
with two bird monitoring and banding workshops, one bird
identification workshop, live breakfast TV, Canada's Parks Day
events and a host of group visits and monthly Family Days!
There were no weekends when we didn’t have visitors and it often
seemed as though people were outnumbering birds as spring migration
seemed to stall with only some 1,440 birds caught for banding during
April and May.
The lack of birds didn't deter the
media though when we were invited to host a very special breakfast
'live eye' for City TV with local TV presenter Thor Diakow.
The crew arrived early to make sure they could get a signal out of
the park which they managed to do with a giant telescopic aerial and
once set up and sound testing were done they were ready to broadcast
Out in the Field with the Vancouver Avian
Thor as a self-confessed birder was
the perfect person to host the show and like all visitors to the
station who hold and release a migratory bird was totally captivated
by their beauty, their phenomenal travels throughout the year and
the ecological intricacies they require to survive. He did a great
job of promoting VARC and our public outreach and education programs
to raise awareness of environmental issues as they relate to birds.
Despite W.C. Fields famous quote of
"Never work with animals or children" the show went off without a
hitch and we received numerous messages of congratulation via social
Thor below with the
'birds of the morning'...Scarlet Macaw and Yellow-billed Hornbill!
Despite a slow start to spring migration things did start to pick up
with the arrival of the first wood warblers like this stunning
second year (SY) male Audubon's Warbler in first alternate plumage.
Setophaga warblers like
Yellow-rumps have extensive prealternate molts in the late winter
early spring which result in both first year birds and adults having
The wing below of
the second year (SY) male Audubon's Warbler shown above is showing
such a prealternate molt limit and 3 generations of feathers.
During its preformative molt last
fall, this bird replaced all its greater coverts and the much darker
and nicely edged carpal covert and alula covert (A1), then stopped
the innermost greater coverts (GCs 4-10) and innermost tertial (S9)
were molted this spring (i.e. the prealternate molt limit is between
GC three and four and S8 and S9). Thus the three generations are:
GCs 4-10 and innermost tertial S9 - first alternate feathers most
recently molted feathers from the first prealternate molt this
spring (blue arrows); GCs 1-3, carpal covert and alula covert (A1) -
retained formative feathers from the preformative molt last fall
(red arrows); and finally, the lower main alula feathers (A2 & A3),
primary coverts, and remiges (primaries and secondaries) retained
An adult at this time of year would also show a molt limit from the
prealternate molt but only 2 generations of feathers - definitive
basic feathers from the prebasic molt last fall and definitive
alternate feathers from the prealternate molt this spring.
Click here to see an example of adult prealternate molt in
Yellow-rumped Warbler in spring.
Although lower numbers than normal of many species we did see higher
numbers of Orange-crowned Warblers, Lincoln's Sparrows and
Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a higher number than usual of spring
migrants carrying large fat loads presumably due to weather patterns
grounding the birds for longer periods in the park before continuing
north bound migration.
Birds from top-left clockwise: MacGillivray's Warbler,
Orange-crowned Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Lincoln's Sparrow.
We also saw higher than usual numbers of both Anna's and Rufous
Hummingbirds and the hot, dry weather resulted in early nesting
success and earlier than normal hatch year Rufous appearing.
We did a photo essay on our Hummingbird monitoring program with
information on ageing and sexing these small gorgeted Hummingbirds
in the hand in our
June 2012 blog.
Operation Emergency Peregrine Banding! (As told by Debbie Wheeler)
.......it all started with a Facebook message from Martina Versteeg,
from O.W.L. (Orphaned Wildlife) Rehabilitation Society.
"Does anyone know Derek Matthews' phone number - we have a Peregrine
Falcon that needs banding before being returned to its nest?"
Since I do know Derek's number, I phoned Martina to let her know
that he was currently off swanning around England, drinking London
Pride, eating bacon butties and bird watching in Norfolk. As I was
talking to her, it dawned on me that I actually have all of the
raptor banding equipment, since Derek is off swanning around England
etc. etc. So, I offered her my services, if required.
Thirty minutes later, I am in my car, heading through the Massey
Tunnel. wondering if I got pulled over by the police if they would
buy my story of an emergency bird banding under the Knight Street
Bridge? Not that I was speeding, or anything. I also wondered if I
could get some flashing lights and sirens.........well, it was an
I arrived under the Knight Street Bridge, at the end of Bridgeport
Road, but couldn't see anyone else there, even though I was supposed
to be meeting Bruce, from O.W.L. I was about to make a horrible
mistake and approach a dodgy-looking VW camper van in a lay-by just
down from the bridge to ask them if they had seen anyone with a
peregrine falcon, when a vehicle with an O.W.L. logo on went by.
Phew....that was close....
I did a quick U-turn, and followed the vehicle, right under the
Knight Street Bridge. As soon as I got out of the vehicle, the
screaming started. Both peregrine falcon adults were there, on top
of telegraph poles right by the bridge, and we could also make out a
young falcon sitting off to the right in a tree and another sitting
on top of one of the concrete pillars supporting the bridge. Whilst
semis, trucks and cars rumbled across over the bridge above our
heads, the wildlife under the bridge was just getting on with
things. For the peregrine falcons, that included guarding their
young and screeching at anyone that came too close.
So, we figured we should get things done sharpish, and got on with
banding the newly fledged peregrine falcon. She was not at all
impressed by her new piece of bling and gave me an "I'm going to
kill you!" look the whole time I was banding her. She was
magnificent though, even with her little downy crown of fluff still
on her slate grey and buffy head. Her eyes were black pools of
malevolence and if I had been a pigeon living under that bridge, I
would seriously consider moving to a new location ASAP.
All banded, she was ready to be released. We decided to let her go
on top of one the small buildings under the bridge, and as we made
our way there, the parents dive-bombed us, slicing through the air,
the wind whistling through their wings as they screeched by our
heads. It was definitely time to let their baby go! As Bruce
launched her up towards the roof of the building a gust of wind blew
under the bridge and she found her wings and sailed off into the
Job well done, and we have received reports that a young, banded
peregrine falcon has been seen under the bridge, so,
fingers-crossed, all's well that ends well.......unless you are a
pigeon living under that bridge.........
Great job Deb and great story! (apologies to non-Brits who don't
know what bacon butties or lay-bys are!!)
In addition to emergency Peregrine banding Deb also took the lead
this spring on a new special species study we are conducting on Tree
Swallows using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.
Radio frequency identification allows the unique identification of
individuals and automated recording of the presence of tagged birds
at fixed locations such as nest boxes.
swallows are familiar birds in coastal British Columbia, but their
abundance has declined in the last 40 years due to unknown causes.
Since they readily accept nest boxes, Tree Swallows represent an
ideal candidate species for the use of RFID technology. The main
objective of this project is to to develop RFID capability to study
the nesting behaviour of tree swallows in the park. The technology
is being used to better understand the connections between adult
nesting behaviour, and weather, food availability and nestling
growth and survival.
This research is using innovative technology to address important
ecological and conservation questions, while fostering new external
collaborations and providing students with a significant
experiential learning opportunities.
The first stage of this project consisted of acquiring the necessary
electronic parts and custom designing and building the RFID readers.
Enter Kyle Norris our resident techno genius and all-round good guy
who not only does all of VARC's maintenance but who has also
designed VARC's remote hummingbird trap-trippers and audio-lure
RFID is a means of contact-free electromagnetic communication
between a reader and a transponder. In this application, a passive
integrated transponder (PIT) tag weighing less than 0.004% of the
birds body mass is attached to the bird and transmits a unique
identification number to a reading device with an RFID circuit board
and antenna. Every time a bird with a PIT tag comes near the RFID
reader, the bird’s identity is recorded along with the date and time
of the visit. The resulting data can provide incredibly detailed
information about the behaviours of the tagged birds.
Designing the RFID circuit board was only the first part of the
puzzle - next came the design of the nest box and antenna. Kyle
ingeniously incorporated the antenna in to the design of the
entrance hole by winding the copper antenna around a plastic spool
the same diameter as the hole. The plastic spool was then inserted
in to the entrance hole thereby ensuring every time a tagged bird
entered the box the reader would be triggered.
Photos below show the size of PIT tag (below left) attached to the
bird measuring 10mm in length and weighing just 80 milligrams (0.08
of a gram) and the RFID reader (below right) showing the plastic
spool antenna which forms an integral part of the nest box entrance
That part completed Kyle commenced
construction of the nest boxes and housing for the electronics.
The next stage was to construct predator (both Black bear and
weasel!) proof posts and nest boxes....enter Kyle again - this time
as construction genius bedding posts sufficiently far in to the
ground to avoid them being knocked over by the resident black bears
in the park and then adding predator guards to prevent stoats and
weasels from predating the boxes!
Notice all of the predator guards neatly painted and colour matched
nest boxes and boxes to house the electronics...Kyle never
does things by half!
The boxes themselves were also custom designed with removable trays
to avoid undue disturbance to nests during monitoring and grooved
inside front panels (photo below left) to aid nestlings climbing
towards the entrance hole! We decided that these boxes were the most
desirable residences for Tree Swallows in Vancouver and we only just
persuaded Kyle not to add en-suite bathrooms!
All of this effort was rewarded by occupied boxes and successful
nests (photo below right). For any researchers working with Tree
Swallows we were also able to put together this
life size nestling chart
showing the development of nestlings from day 1 to day 12/13. There
is a very short window of time for banding nestlings, either day 11
or day 12 after hatching. Before day 11 nestling legs are usually
too swollen with fatty tissue and applying a band could squeeze and
damage the leg. Nestlings older than day 12 should not be handled
for any reason as doing so could cause them to leave the nest too
soon. We would be happy to provide any additional information on our
RFID study for researchers working with this species.
While on the subject of Tree Swallows don't forget to check out our
stunning image of the month
(Photo credit William Murdock)
Continuing on our theme of aerial insectivores regular readers of
the blog may remember the story of the pair of
Swallows which took up residence in the banding
pagoda last year and constructed their nest precariously on a
narrow, plastic extension plug above the banding table. As the story
didn't end well last year when the nest was predated by a weasel we
decided to construct a proper swallow ledge adjacent to the plug
just in case the birds returned this year.
We were amazed when
they did return and even more amazed to find that the male for sure
was a different bird to the one last year which was banded and even
more amazed when they ignored the newly installed swallow ledge
completely and proceeded to build their nest on the plug again in
exactly the same place as last year!
We immediately added a wooded ledge
beneath the nest to add some support and are happy to report 5
nestlings which at the time of writing are all doing well!
Still on the theme of Barn Swallows,
following a radio interview on the decline
of Barn Swallows in
we did for CBC radio, we were contacted by a lady for advice of
protecting Barn Swallow nests from predation by crows. She had
noticed a steady decline in recent years of swallows nesting at her
property and how with fewer swallows to deter crows nesting success
had reduced even further.
We suggested trying 3 inch gauge chicken wire (netting made from
galvanized wire twisted to form a hexagonal grid) to enclose the
area around the nest. Our thoughts were that as long as there was
sufficient space the swallows would still be able to access the nest
site but the crows would not.
We were delighted to
hear back from Linda in July saying that she had followed our advice
and was happy to report five babies who all learnt how to fly that
Colony Farm is well known for iconic birds such as Lazuli Bunting
which nest in the park and for other rare and uncommon species like
this Western Kingbird....
this Gray Catbird both caught for banding during this period.
Baby birds in full juvenal plumage started showing up in good
numbers in July. Many of these very recently fledged young birds are
incapable of sustained flight because their wings and tails are not
fully grown in, and are dependant upon parents for food. As we have
said before, we always give them first priority for rapid processing
at the banding station, and take them back as soon as possible to a
location near where they were captured.
such weekend virtually every bird banded was recently fledged and we
spent the entire time running backwards and forwards in the blazing
sun returning birds to the appropriate location. As we have 40 nets
covering an area of some 60 acres of old field habitat at Colony
Farm we calculated we ran a collective 50 kilometers or more
ferrying these baby birds back! Still we see this as another
advantage of volunteering with VARC - saving on gym memberships!
Note how different these birds look from their adult
counterparts, all showing many of the characteristics of birds in
juvenal plumage namely, streaked/spotted or dull plumage, very
loosely textured feathers, prominent gapes and the wispy traces of
natal down still clinging to many of these locally hatched birds.
Baby birds are everyone's favourites all scoring 10s on the cuteness
scale - clockwise from top left: Common Yellowthroat, American
Robin, Yellow Warbler and Pacific-slope Flycatcher.
few more - clockwise from top left again: Warbling Vireo, Wilson's
Warbler (HY male), Western Tanager (HY male) and Orange-crowned
said how different hatch year birds and birds in juvenal plumage
look from their adult counterparts and there couldn't be a better
example of that than this baby bird (answer at the end of the blog!)
And as locally hatched birds started to disperse it wasn't long
before we were receiving emails and photographs from the public of
our banded birds either in or adjacent to the park - this hatch year
American Robin was photographed in the community gardens close to
the banding station by a member of the public wanting to know what
type of bird it was!
And finally a reminder to both birders and banders that VARC will be
hosting the 2015 Western Bird Banding Association’s (WBBA) annual
meeting from September 4th – 7th.
The meeting theme, Banding across Borders, signifies the power of
partnerships across cultures and countries to leverage our
collective expertise to affect bird science, conservation and land
In addition to great talks and a keynote address from John Reynolds
of Simon Fraser University (SFU), there will also be informative
poster sessions, workshops and social events.
We have also arranged a number of exciting field trips which will be
led by some of BC’s best known birders so we would especially like
to extend a very warm welcome to the broader birding community to
attend these and/or any of the scientific sessions.
For a conference overview and registration information, please
We look forward to
welcoming everyone to Vancouver and beautiful British Columbia in
as always go to all of the dedicated VARC volunteers who during the
spring/summer period set alarm clocks as early as 3.45 am to get to
the banding station for 4.45 am on their weekends off - none of the
work we do would be possible without their help: Alice Sun, Amber
Richmond, Andrew Venning, Ben Davis, Ben Diamond, Britney
Niedzielski, Carol Matthews, Caroline Feischl, Cathleen Sarmiento,
Christine Bishop, Cyril Chan, Daniella Zandbergen, Debbie Wheeler,
Freddy Ellmark, Ivand Pulido, Jason Jones, Jeremy Rose, Jessie
Russell, Kate Gibson, Kerry Kenwood, Kyle Norris, Louise Routledge,
Mark Habdas, Martine Cutbill, Mike Nutter, Monica Nugent, Neil
Macleod, Niel Goodman, Rufus McIntyre, Sanjo Rose, Sara Legros,
Sarah Chalmers, Sarah Gray, Stephanie D'Agorne and Tiffany Khuu -
thank you all!
mystery bird - Lazuli Bunting!)