Fall Migration Monitoring 2015

Fall Migration Monitoring (FMM) was conducted from August 4th through October 15th.  Noteworthy captures during FMM in 2015 included CHIPs first ever Hammond’s Flycatcher, Black-throated Blue Warbler (an extremely rare species in Alberta) and Townsend’s Solitaire!

CHIP's first Black-throated Blue Warbler, a rarity in Alberta (photo: Colton Prins)

The first Black-throated Blue Warbler capture at CHIP, a rarity in Alberta (photo: Colton Prins)


The first capture of a Townsend’s Solitaire for CHIP (photo: Colton Prins)

CHIP 2015 Sunrise_CLP

See you next year! (photo: Colton Prins)

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Spring Migration Monitoring 2015

Although we didn’t quite have the record numbers of new bandings this year as we did in 2014, we still had a pretty incredible start with 903 new birds banded. The weather cooperated at the beginning of the season and we were able to open on May 4th, which is the earliest we have been able to open since 2011. The fist week of May is usually fairly slow so we were shocked to band 92 birds on our first day out! The extremely mild winter and early spring in the Cypress Hills might have played a part in this early push of migrants. We had two days with over 150 birds, on May 14th (158) and May 19th (153), though we were unable to keep up to last years record of 249 in a single day. Once again “Myrtle” Warblers and Chipping Sparrows were the main culprits on our busiest days with a total of 254 and 90 banded respectively.


One of 254 “Myrtle” Yellow-rumped Warblers banded at CHIP this spring. (Photo: Colton Prins)

We had a record spring for a number of species Including Belted Kingfisher with 3 beating the previous record of 2 from 2011, House Wren with 22 almost doubling the 2011 record of 12, Gray-cheeked Thrush with 3 surpassing the previous record of 1, American Robin with 34 beating 2011’s record by 5, Brown Thrasher with 5  compared to the previous record of 2, Yellow Warbler with 99 birds surpassing the previous record of 87 from 2011, Blackpoll Warbler with 35 beating 2013’s record by 4,  and Red-winged Blackbirds with 58 surpassing the 2013 record by 22.


One of five Brown Thrashers banded at CHIP this spring. (Photo: Colton Prins)


One of three Gray-cheeked Thrushes banded at CHIP this spring. (Photo: Colton Prins)

We also had a great spring in the Grosbeak department. We tied previous records for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks with 6 individuals, and Black-headed Grosbeaks with 2. Black-headed Grosbeaks breed in the Cypress Hills and are sometimes caught during our MAPS season at our Old Baldy site, where as the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are strictly migrants through the hills making their way to and from the Boreal and Parkland zones in Alberta. These birds are stunning in the hand, and are some of the most vicious birds to handle, but it adds to the excitement of getting a splash of colour in the net.


A pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks banded at CHIP this spring. (Photo: Colton Prins)


Three of four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks banded in a single net run at CHIP on May 19, 2015. (Photo: Colton Prins)

A couple of the more interesting birds captured this spring included our second ever Northern Rough-winged Swallow and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The Northern Rough-winged Swallow is uncommon in the Cypress Hills and its always nice to see or hear one in with the flocks of Bank and Tree Swallows that frequent our banding station. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird was a wonderful surprise that wound up in net 11. Unfortunately for us we do not have the equipment to band such small birds but they are always a treat to get to handle and process.


CHIP’s second ever NRWS banded at Elkwater Lake. (Photo: Colton Prins)


Such a small bird! This Ruby-throated Hummingbird captured at CHIP weighed only 3.8 grams! (Photo: Colton Prins)

The most interesting bird of the spring was banded on May 19th in the middle of a 60+ bird net run consisting mainly of Chipping and Clay-colored Sparrows. This bird had our banders scratching their heads a bit as it showed intermediate characteristics between Chipping and Clay-colored Sparrows. After consulting a few experts in the field of bird identification the general consensus was that this indeed was a hybrid between those two species! This extremely unexpected bird is one of the rarest birds we have ever banded, though in a very different way than the vagrant species we catch occasionally.


A portrait of our Clay-colored X Chipping Sparrow Hybrid, showing off a very interesting facial pattern. (Photo: Colton Prins)


A full body shot of our Clay-colored X Chipping Sparrow Hybrid. This bird shows many intermediate characteristics between the two species including the primary projection. (Photo: Colton Prins)

Stay tuned as an update on the first half of our MAPS session is coming soon!

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Fall Migration Monitoring Part 2!

With lots of wind and rain the 2014 season ended with a bit of a whimper, though many interesting birds found their way into our mist nets. Even though we were only able to band on a record low of 56 days an 3301 net hours we still managed to band a total of  1185 new birds, surpassing the 2013 fall total by 63 individuals.

We were able two add two new species to our Fall Migration Monitoring list, one of which was only the second record of the species for Alberta, the other the Broad-winged Hawk mentioned in the last post. Record numbers for multiple species were also recorded. As mentioned in the previous post it was an incredible year for Belted Kingfishers with 13 banded. We doubled our fall records for Blue-headed Vireo and Harris’s Sparrow with 2 each. Only one previous HASP had been captured at CHIP in the fall of 2013. Other record numbers included  Tennessee Warbler (20), Blackpoll Warbler (9), Clay-colored Sparrow (72), Song Sparrow (47), Lincoln’s Sparrow (24), and  Swamp Sparrow (7).


An interesting comparison of a Clay-colored Sparrow (left) and Chipping Sparrow (right) showing the difference in flight feather length and the long tailed effect that it gives this young Clay-coloured Sparrow. (Photo Kim Wetten)

Another interesting bird captured this fall was a stunning Marsh Wren that wound up in net 12. This is only the third one to be captured at CHIP, the previous two in the falls of 2011 and 2012.


Marsh Wren captured at CHIP! (Photo: Kim Wetten)

It was a great year for raptors at chip with the Merlin in the spring, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, the Broad-winged Hawk from earlier this fall and this massive young female Cooper’s Hawk that ended up in net 5. Kim and I went for a little walk after a net run and noticed a large accipiter sitting in a tree close to net 12, as we walked back the bird flushed towards our net lanes. Not wanting to miss an awesome bird we sprinted down the net lanes in time to watch it bounce out of two nets and get hung up by a foot in the third. We both had a couple war wounds by the time she was banded and a couple photos were taken, but it was so worth it.

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Cooper’s Hawk in the hand! (Photo: Kim Wetten)


The weighing process… Eventually she lifted her tail off the table and we were able to get an accurate weight. (Photo: Kim Wetten)

The best bird of the fall and arguably the best bird ever captured at CHIP was this beautiful hatch-year Yellow-throated Vireo. Needless to say it was a first for CHIP and only the second ever recorded in Alberta! The first was captured and banded at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary some years ago. It was definitely a surprise to find sitting in the bottom trammel of net 1.  After the banding process we spent the time to take a few photos and document this incredible find.


Yellow-throated Vireo banded at CHIP!!! (Photo: Kim Wetten)

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The release! Yellow-throated Vireo at CHIP! Second Provincial record. (Photo: Kim Wetten)

To wrap it up I will make a quick note on this years NSWO project. Our new lab made it much more comfortable and easy to run the project this year. We were able to band a whopping 80 new Northern Saw-whet Owls this year, which was a new record for the Elkwater Lake site beating the previous record of 76 from 2011. Overall the weather cooperated and we were able to band most nights from the comfort of our lab.


Our BIC excited to be banding owls inside. Photo (Kim Wetten)


The first NSWO banded at CHIP in 2014. (Photo: Colton Prins)

We are looking forward to what 2015 has to bring! See you all soon.

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Fall Migration Monitoring Part 1!

August 5th, 2014 marked the first day of Fall Migration Monitoring. The first month of banding provided us with some very interesting bird species and quite good diversity. As is expected, most of the birds caught have been hatch year birds.

One of the favorite species caught reliably during fall migration are Belted Kingfishers. This species routinely get caught in our nets closest to the lake as they fish and move along the shoreline. The previous record for Belted Kingfishers was 5 in 2013– by the end of August we doubled that record in 2015. Most of the kingfishers we catch are hatch year birds that already know how to deliver a strong bite!


Belted Kingfisher (Photo: Kim Wetten)


Some of the highlights during the first part of fall migration included: Eastern Kingbird, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-headed Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, and Red-breasted Nuthatch. However a couple species were caught that deserve a bit more information.

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Eastern Kingbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, Blue-headed Vireo, and Red-breasted Nuthatch (Photos: Kim Wetten)

On August 25th we had a good day with 60 new birds and 7 recaptures but it was the wood-warbler diversity that really stood out. That day we caught 8 species of warblers including: Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, and an unexpected Canada Warbler. The hatch year male Canada Warbler was definitely a treat. These birds are rarely seen migrant in Cypress Hills stopping over between their breeding grounds in northern Alberta and their wintering grounds in South America.

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Canada Warbler and Black-and-white Warbler (Photos: Kim Wetten)

On August 26th we had a relatively slow day with about 21 birds but one bird helped make the day memorable. A beautiful hatch year light-morph Broad-winged Hawk was spotted by some visitors in the bottom trammel of net #2. After sprinting to the net, it was found calmly laying in the net with its wings spread and talons up in the air. After an easy extraction, it was banded with a lock-on band. This is a special type of band used for birds with strong bills that can open a normal band. Hawks are rarely caught in the our nets since the mesh size is designed for songbirds. This is the first time this species has been caught at CHIP during fall migration.



Broad-winged Hawk!!! (Photos:Kim Wetten)

The second half of FMM was pretty exciting! Stay tuned for an update.

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MAPS Part 2

The second half of MAPS this year was quite slow, but we had a few interesting birds wind up in the nets. We finished off the season with a total of 283 new banded birds of 34 species/forms. This represents the lowest number of new bandings during MAPS since 2010 when the last session of MAPS was cancelled due to a flood in the park.  New species banded for our MAPS total during our 2014 season include two Black-billed Magpies, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and an Intergrade Flicker. It was a great year for House Wrens as 46 new birds were banded, beating the previous record of 35 from 2011. Yellow Warblers and American Goldfinches also had a good showing with 32 and 12 new respectively tying the previous records also from 2011. Red-eyed Vireos, Song Sparrows and Pine Siskins were completely absent from this year`s banding totals though they had been captured in every previous year since the beginning of the project in 2010.


One of the highlights of the year was a gorgeous male Black-headed Grosbeak banded at the Old Baldy station on July 14th. This species breeds in the park but rarely ends up in our mist nets. Since 2010, a total of 5 have been banded during our MAPS program. This bird happened to be a new banding tick for the Bander-in-Charge!

Black-headed Grosbeak (photo: Kim Wetten)

Black-headed Grosbeak (photo: Kim Wetten)

Underwing Coverts of Black-headed Grosbeak (photo: Kim Wetten)

Underwing Coverts of Black-headed Grosbeak (photo: Kim Wetten)

Another fun bird captured this season was this gorgeous Brown Creeper at the Old Baldy site. Creepers too breed in the Cypress Hills but once again rarely hit the nets. This is the fourth one of its species captured at in the Cypress Hills during the MAPS season; the previous 3 were all banded in 2013. The tail feathers of Brown Creepers are very stiff, similar to woodpeckers, allowing them to support their bodies against the bark of trees as they forage.

Brown Creeper (photo: Kim Wetten)

Brown Creeper (photo: Kim Wetten)

With slower days, we were able to spend extra time on comparing similar birds. Slight differences between different age classes of birds could be studied in detail as well as the differences between males and females. This pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers shows quite well the differences between the sexes of this species. It was also fun to compare these adult birds to the drab plumage of juveniles of the species.

Male (left) and Female (right) Red-naped Sapsuckers (photo: Kim Wetten)

Male (left) and Female (right) Red-naped Sapsuckers (photo: Kim Wetten)

Juvenile Red-naped Sapsucker (photo: Kim Wetten)

Juvenile Red-naped Sapsucker (photo: Kim Wetten)

Overall it was a fun MAPS season and we are looking forward to next year!

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MAPS 2014

The MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) season is underway and interesting birds are being captured at all three of our sites. The breeding season is in full swing and the majority of birds being captured are showing strong breeding characteristics including brood patches and cloacal protuberances. Some species have already began molting their body and flight feathers in preparation for their migration back south in the fall.

Angry Bird (photo: Kim Wetten)

Angry Bird (photo: Kim Wetten)

On July 5th we captured our first juvenile birds of the summer at Old Baldy. Clay-colored Sparrows, a Yellow Warbler, and a Black-billed Magpie were the first young birds to be captured at the station. The juvenile magpie was especially feisty and once it started calling two adults came in to make sure we released their young in a timely manner.

Black-billed Magpie (photo: Kim Wetten)

Black-billed Magpie (photo: Kim Wetten)

There are multiple ways to tell juvenile birds from adults. Fleshy gapes, soft downy juvenile body feathers, and sometimes eye colour such as the blue eyes on the above magpie can all help to distinguish this year’s young. If all else fails skulling is a sure fire way to tell them apart. Young birds only have one layer of skull when they fledge and as they grow, a second layer starts to form at the back of the head and slowly covers the entire skull. This second layer can be seen through the skin of the bird when the feathers are gently moved out of the way. Though we skull every bird, it’s not always needed to help identify a young bird like was the case with this recently fledged Yellow Warbler.

Yellow Warbler (photo: Kim Wetten)

Yellow Warbler (photo: Kim Wetten)

During the MAPS season the vast majority of the bird species captured are quite expected and often birds are captured at the same sites year after year, but every once in a while something unexpected hits the net which is exactly what happened on July 5th at Old Baldy. A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak found its way into net 7! This was the first RBGR of the year for CHIP, a new banding tick for one of the banders, and the first time this species has been banded in the Cypress Hills during the MAPS Season. Later that same day a “Gambel’s” White-crowned Sparrow was also captured and banded which was an interesting and welcomed change from the frequently captured “Eastern” subspecies. This subspecies has only been captured once in the park during MAPS back in 2010 so it too was quite unexpected.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (photo: Colton Prins)

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (photo: Colton Prins)

Quiz — What type of bird nest is this?

Nest - Quiz

Nest – Quiz

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With a great start to spring neither the birds nor the banders at CHIP showed signs of slowing down. For the most part the weather cooperated. The record setting numbers of Chipping Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows and “Myrtle” continued to increase. We banded 77, 324, and 277 of each of these respectively.

Bank Swallow (photo: Kim Wetten)

Bank Swallow (photo: Kim Wetten)

Towards the end of Spring Migration a large number of Bank Swallows hit the nets. With 79 new Bank Swallows banded the previous record from 2012 was surpassed by 36 birds!

We also set a new spring record for Western Wood-Pewee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Song Sparrow and “Gambel’s” White-crowned Sparrow. Three new species to CHIP’s all-time list: Merlin, Violet-green Swallow, and Brewer’s Blackbird were also caught this spring. 2014 also marked the highest number of new bandings for any spring at CHIP besting the 2011 record by 286 birds! The final total was 1234, which coincidentally is the exact elevation of the Elkwater townsite in the Cypress Hills.

Western Tanager (photo: Kim Wetten)

Western Tanager (photo: Kim Wetten)

May 29th may have been the most exciting day at the banding station this spring. Not only did all three banders get new “banding ticks”, but two new species were added to CHIP’s all time banded list. While extracting a large group of Bank Swallows in net 8, one bird stuck out quite vibrantly. A single male Violet-green Swallow was in the net, a new species for CHIP! This species breeds in a few isolated locations in the southern prairies of Alberta, but is not regularly recorded in the Cypress Hills.

Violet-green Swallow (photo: Yousif Attia)

Violet-green Swallow (photo: Yousif Attia)

The excitement did not end there as CHIP’s first and only falcon species, a Merlin, ended up in net 12. Merlin’s have a large regional variation with multiple subspecies described. This individual was a second year male Richardson’s (Prairie) Merlin which makes it even more exciting.

Merlin (photo: Colton Prins)

Merlin (photo: Colton Prins)

The day continued to produce with this springs first Lazuli Bunting, second Black-billed Magpie, 29 Bank Swallows, and 46 Cedar Waxwings. The day’s total of new bands was 105!

Blackbirds or Icterids as a family have a reputation for being intelligent and even though Brewer’s Blackbirds are frequently seen around the netlanes at CHIP, they had never been banded here until this year. On the morning of June 3rd during the days first netrun two female Brewer’s were in net 11 side by side! A new species for CHIP! On June 8th another Brewer’s, this time a male, was captured and banded. On that same day a Common Grackle (one of two this spring), Brown-headed Cowbirds, and a Red-winged Blackbird were captured, making it a great day for blackbirds.

Brewer's Blackbird (photo: Kim Wetten)

Brewer’s Blackbird (photo: Kim Wetten)

As spring wrapped up we began preparing for the upcoming MAPS season. Three sites, Spruce Coulee, Rodeo Grounds, and Old Baldy will be used. Hopefully the success of an incredible spring will carry on through the breeding season.

Black-billed Magpie (photo: Yousif Attia)

Black-billed Magpie (photo: Yousif Attia)

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