Spring is underway!

It has been a whirlwind first two weeks at CHIP with a mixed bag of challenging weather and record numbers of birds! The first day of banding here in the Cypress Hills occurred on May 7th where we dealt with low temperatures and frozen nets, but eventually were able to open and capture three birds! Fortunately band totals steadily rose from there.

A brisk spring morning at CHIP - Colton Prins

A brisk spring morning at CHIP – Colton Prins


The big story this spring has been the record numbers of Chipping Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, and “Myrtle” Warblers that have been banded at the station this spring. The previous record for Clay-coloreds banded in a spring was 16 in 2010 and this year as of May 22, we are sitting at 61 new CCSP banded with 26 being captured on May 17th alone! A similar pattern has been noted with Chipping Sparrows. The previous record was 106 in 2011 while we are currently sitting at 306 with 111 of those being banded on May 20th. An even more impressive capture of “Myrtle” Warblers has occurred this year with 274 birds banded thus far. To put that into perspective, the previous record for a spring was 37 MYWA in 2013! May 20th was by far our busiest day with 246 new birds banded where 103 of those were Myrtles. With four consecutive days of 100+ new bandings from May 17th to 20th we are well on our way to setting a new spring record for CHIP.

On May 13th we were fortunate enough to capture a surprise Nashville Warbler. This species has been steadily increasing on the breeding grounds in northeastern Alberta and on migration in southern parts of the province. This is CHIP’s first capture of this species during the Spring Migration.

Nashville Warbler - Kim Wetten

Nashville Warbler – Kim Wetten

Another nice capture was a Gray-cheeked Thrush banded on May 17th. This arctic breeder does migrate through southeastern Alberta in small numbers but this is only the third time this species has been banded at CHIP.

Gray-cheeked Thrush - Kim Wetten

Gray-cheeked Thrush – Kim Wetten

The school group season is upon us and on May 22nd our first group of Kindergarten and Grade Two students arrived at the station. It’s always fun to be able to show these eager young children the diverse species of birds that grace the Cypress Hills during migration and try to instill in them an interest in the natural world. The Cypress Hills Interpretive Program does a great job with these children and even simulates how to extract birds from mist nets by using Christmas ornament birds in a net set up just for them. The kids really seem to enjoy it, and so do the banders!

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Fall Wraps Up

Fall passerine migration monitoring has now ended.  Weather this fall has been particularly challenging with high winds, precipitation and cool weather on many mornings.  On October 3, there was nearly an inch of snow at the station.

October3, 2013 at the Cypress Hills Station (photo: Colton Prins)

October 3, 2013 at the Cypress Hills Station (photo: Colton Prins)

This hatch year Harris’s Sparrow from September 19 is the first individual of this species ever captured at CHIP. Harris’s Sparrows are never a common bird in Alberta, but some do pass through during migration. They seem to be more abundant this year as a minimum of four individuals have been seen around the banding station.

Harris's Sparrow (photo: Colton Prins)

Harris’s Sparrow (photo: Colton Prins)

It has also been an exceptional year for Brown Creepers at CHIP as six individuals have already been banded this fall. That number shatters the previous fall record of zero.

Brown Creeper (photo: Colton Prins)

Brown Creeper (photo: Colton Prins)

This adult female Belted Kingfisher was a real treat as the majority of the BEKIs we have caught have been juveniles. If you look closely, three generations of flight feathers can be identified allowing us to age this bird as an after second year.

Belted Kingfisher wing detail (photo: Colton Prins)

Belted Kingfisher wing detail (photo: Colton Prins)

Dark-eyed Juncos are a fairly common capture during the latter half of fall migration. The majority banded are of the northern and eastern “Slate-colored” race but other subspecies also move through. “Pink-sided” Juncos, such as the one pictured below, breed at higher elevations in pine forests of the Cypress Hills, the only place they occur regularly in Canada.

"Pink-sided" Junco (photo: Colton Prins)

“Pink-sided” Junco (photo: Colton Prins)

This Spotted Towhee caught on October 9 was the only one captured during fall migration. Also that day were 3 Harris’s and 2 Fox sparrows observed in the census area.

Spotted Towhee (photo: Colton Prins)

Spotted Towhee (photo: Colton Prins)

Northern Saw-whet Owl monitoring began on September 25 and despite the poor weather monitoring has been possible the majority of the nights. This hatch year female was the first owl captured this year at the Elkwater Lake site. Saw-whet Owl calls are played on repeat to draw the birds into the banding site where they are captured in mist nets and specialized owl nets. Black lights are used to aid in aging owls as fresh feathers will glow bright pink under the UV while older generations of feathers only show a hint of coloration. Owl monitoring will continue until the end of October.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (photo: Colton Prins)

Northern Saw-whet Owl (photo: Colton Prins)

Quiz Bird!

This species has two distinct sub-populations. The Eastern “Yellow” subspecies is rarely reported west of Quebec, while the “Western” subspecies is regularly caught during fall migration in the Cypress Hills.

Quizbird.

Quizbird.

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Fall Migration….

The MAPS season was completed at the end of July with a total of 409 new indiduals banded at the three stations.  The most common capture during MAPS by far was Least Flycatcher with 51 new bandings.

View of the Elkwater Lake and Migration Monitoring Station on the left (photo: Colton Prins)

View of the west arm of Elkwater Lake from the Migration Monitoring Station (photo: Colton Prins)

With the end of the MAPS season came the beginning of Fall Migration. The first day of fall monitoring season began on August 2, 2013.  August was steady with a total of 605 birds banded.  The busiest day was August 28 when 54 birds of 21 species and forms were banded – an incredible diversity!

A rare East meets West, Kingbird Style. Captured on August 28. (photo: Colton Prins)

A rare East meets West, Kingbird Style. Captured on August 28. (photo: Colton Prins)

Though all of the kingbirds caught so far this fall have been hatch year birds, adults have bright orange  or red feathers hidden within their crowns. These bright feathers are usually only visible when a kingbird is defending its territory or chasing off a predator.

Early September started with a lull but on September 4 a total of 64 birds were banded, 35 of them being Yellow Warblers. Most individuals of this species are easily aged by the colour of the underside of the bill. Hatch year birds show a fleshy colour on the bill while adult bills are entirely grey similar to the colour of pencil lead.

Yellow Warbler (photo: Colton Prins)

Yellow Warbler (photo: Colton Prins)

One of the most memorable birds was this hatch year Belted Kingfisher. These birds breed in the park and can be heard nearly every day calling around the banding station, but rarely end up in the nets due to their size and habits of flying over water. Kingfishers hunt from perches or by hovering over water and plunging in after small fish which they grasp easily with their heavy serrated bill.

Belted Kingfisher (photo: Colton Prins)

Belted Kingfisher (photo: Colton Prins)

One of two Magnolia Warblers captured on September 10 (photo: Colton Prins)

One of two Magnolia Warblers captured on September 10 (photo: Colton Prins)

A long overdue species for the staion was Blue-headed Vireo. This handsomely bright specimen was the 102nd full species to be captured at the migration station since the project started in 2010.

CHIP's first Blue-headed Vireo - and a 'stonker' he is! (photo: Colton Prins)

CHIP’s first Blue-headed Vireo – and a ‘stonker’ he is! (photo: Colton Prins)

Another notable milestone – Cypress Hills banded it’s 10,000th bird on September 10, 2013!  Here is a quiz bird to celebrate….Good luck.

Celebration Quiz Bird: Hint - it's a sparrow. First person to respond in the comments section wins $6 million dollars.

Celebration Quiz Bird: Hint – it’s a sparrow. First person to reply in the comments section wins $6 million dollars.

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MAPS Program

June has flown by with MAPS periods 5 and 6 concluded and more periods to come! With the migratory study over, we have been busy catching and re-catching local birds in the areas of Spruce Coulee, Old Baldy and Rodeo Grounds. With rain, wind, hail, thunderstorms and even tornados, the park has been eventful and the birds are just as unsettled as the weather! Breeding characteristics are extremely evident, with plumages, brood patches, mating characteristics and cloacal protuberences clear as day on the majority of birds we catch. No signs of juveniles in our nets yet, but we are eager to catch the first of the summer!

American Redstarts (photo: Colton Prins)

American Redstarts (photo: Colton Prins)

One of our most common catches in Rodeo Grounds is the American Redstart; these birds love the deciduous forest that grows in the marshy area. This pair was caught together, perhaps chasing, but both displaying obvious breeding characteristics. Although young males can be very similar in color to the female, this particular female had a very wrinkled brood patch, indicating that we may be catching their young soon enough!

Downy Woodpecker (photo: Morganne Wall)

Downy Woodpecker (photo: Morganne Wall)

These past two MAPS periods have allowed us quite a bit of practice with woodpeckers; this female Downy was a change from the usual Sapsuckers we have been catching. Without a red patch of feathers atop her nape, she is easily sexed. Aging these woodpeckers can be tricky, with feather tracts enabling us to age past the third year, and with their long tongues, woodpeckers cannot be skulled effectively, as their tongues wrap around their skull!

Red-naped Sapsucker (photo: Colton Prins)

Red-naped Sapsucker (photo: Colton Prins)

An uncommon catch for CHIP was the Wilson’s Snipe above! Although these birds can be seen, and their winnowing heard, all over the park, they rarely hit the nets, and this one nearly avoided capture. These shorebirds nest in wet, grassy areas, thus proving Rodeo Grounds to be a great home. These birds use their long bills to probe mud in search of their meal, invertebrates! This individual was thought to be female, as she seemed to be watching a nest around the station, and had a possible brood patch forming.

Wilson's Snipe (photo: Colton Prins)

Wilson’s Snipe (photo: Colton Prins)

Quiz Bird!!

This bird is uncommon to the park, but believed to breed in the past. Its green plumage made it an interesting sight to see in the net, compared to those of the same Empidonax family!

Quiz Bird

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Spring Migration Winds Down

The final week of CHIP spring migration monitoring has brought some varied weather to the station.  The last of the neotropical migrants have been trickling through and many local breeding species began nest building and courting. Captures have slowed down greatly, with days averaging only 20 birds. Although the majority of birds caught are our common breeders such as Yellow Warblers, Least Flycatchers, American Robins and White-crowned Sparrows, we have been fortunate to capture some less common local species, such as this male Lazuli Bunting. Photos do little justice to their aqua-marine blue plumage, which is unlike any other species in North America.

Lazuli Bunting (photo: Colton Prins)
Lazuli Bunting (photo: Colton Prins)

Another treat was this female Black-and-white Warbler! This species migrates readily through CHIP, although we rarely catch many during spring.   These birds are easily identified by their contrasting black and white stripes, as well as their nuthatch-like creeping on branches and trees.

Black-and-white Warbler (photo: Colton Prins)

Black-and-white Warbler (photo: Colton Prins)

With Yellow Warblers being one of the most common species around the station, yellow is a prevalent color flittering among the trees! This week brought the arrival of another bright bird, the American Goldfinch! These beautiful black and yellow birds can be seen and heard all around CHIP, and most are seen chasing or flocking above in the trees. Note the molt limit in the greater covers and compare the left wing tertials to the right.

American Goldfinch (photo: Colton Prins)

American Goldfinch (photo: Colton Prins)

Although the nets are sized to target smaller docile passerines for banding at CHIP, occasionally larger, more aggressive species are captured. A surprise was awaiting us in the net, as a Common Grackle had managed to stay in the net long enough for extraction. These big and powerful blackbirds produce beautiful iridescence in their feathers, and contrast nicely with their black body plumage.

Common Grackle (photo: Colton Prins)

Common Grackle (photo: Colton Prins)

We were fortunate enough to catch two Pine Siskins within the same net run which allowed us to compare the differences in flight feathers for aging purposes. The bird on the left (second year) shows lighter coloration on the primaries, secondaries, and tertials, as well as lacks the white edging that is present  on the bird on the right (after second year). 

Pine Siskins (photo: Colton Prins)

Pine Siskins (photo: Colton Prins)

Finally, our quiz bird for the period. A nest we have kept watch on over the spring has produced some fledglings!

Guess what kind of baby bird this is?

Guess what kind of baby bird this is?

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Spring Migration Update

The second week of CHIP spring migration monitoring 2013 has been full of weather activity.  High winds and rain have been bringing new arrivals and keeping many migrants in the park. With temperatures staying cool after thunderstorms at the station, many new species, both local and migrants, have been spotted enjoying the habitat along the lakeshore. The busiest day for migration was May 25th when 68 birds were banded of 22 species! Many breeding locals have been seen assembling nests, displaying breeding interest, and the first gosling at the station was seen, revealing more juveniles on the way!

Splashes of color have been common in and around the station, as the numbers of Baltimore Orioles, Western Tanagers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Wilson’s Warblers, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers continue to arrive in the park. This pair of Baltimore Orioles is easily identified by their bright plumage and musical calls, even in the hand.

Baltimore Orioles (photo: Cyndi Smith)

Baltimore Orioles (photo: Cyndi Smith)

Blackpoll Warblers have been captured at a record high this spring at the station, with 20 banded on May 25! These birds are not our most common warbler species, and it was a nice surprise to see so many passing through, likely due to the poor weather. Besides their distinct plumage, Blackpolls are easily identified by their bright yellow legs and feet.

Blackpoll Warblers (photo: Cyndi Smith)

Blackpoll Warblers (photo: Cyndi Smith)

This week brought the arrival of the resident Common Yellowthroats to the park and we have already caught quite a large collection of both sexes. These warblers are abundant at the station, as they favor the emergent around marshes. They are easily identified by their chatty calls.

Common Yellowthroat (photo: Cyndi Smith)

Common Yellowthroat (photo: Colton Prins)

An interesting surprise this week was the capture of a female American Crow! As common as they are they don’t often get captured as teh mist nets are designed for passerines robin-sized and smaller.  It was a rare treat to hold such a powerful Corvid in the hand, and band her too!

American Crow (photo: Cyndi Smith)

American Crow (photo: Colton Prins)

With Red-winged Blackbirds abundant around the station, catching them is no difficult task. Aging these birds is straight forward when viewing the underwing coverts. As seen below, a stark contrast can be observed between the adult blackish feathers and the formative brownish feathers, thus revealing this to be a second year male.

Red-winged Blackbird (photo: Cyndi Smith)

Red-winged Blackbird (photo: Cyndi Smith)

Finally, this week’s quiz bird… What species is this? (Hint?**It does not even breed in it’s namesake state*) . The first person to answer correctly wins a High-Five –  yes High-Fives are cool again.

Spring Quiz Bird #2

Spring Quiz Bird #2 (photo: Cyndi Smith)

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Spring Migration Monitoring kicks off at Cypress Hills

The first week of Spring Migration Monitoring at Cypress Hills for the fourth consecutive year was underway as of May 15. The station has yet to leaf out due to the cool temperatures of the adjacent lake but local breeders are returning.  Although migrants seem somewhat delayed in the area, a good push of “Myrtle” Warblers was already in evidence this week.  A special treat was this stunning “Audubon’s” Warbler, the local breeding form of Yellow-rumped Warbler in the Cypress Hills.

photo 2

“Audubon’s” Warbler (Yellow-rumped Warbler) (photo: Yousif Attia)

An unexpected capture was this male White-winged Crossbill. Although both species of crossbills are year-round residents in the park, the White-winged Crossbill seems to be more consistently captured while the Red Crossbill tends to be cyclical; 2012 was an irruption year. Despite being closely related, the demeanor of crossbills in the hand is very different. White-winged are very docile and calm while Red are feisty to say the least, often drawing blood from an unsuspecting bander.

photo 1

White-winged Crossbill (photo: Yousif Attia)

The majority of species this week are temperate migrants, those that spend the winter north of Mexico. These Clay-colored and Lincoln’s sparrows were among many captured this week.

photo 4 (2)

Clay-colored Sparrow (photo: Yousif Attia)

photo 1 (2)

Lincoln’s Sparrow (photo: Yousif Attia)

Some of the earliest Neotropical Migrants, those that winter in the tropics have also begun to trickle through. The Blackpoll Warbler is a champion among migrants, wintering as far south as Argentina and breeding well into Alaska! This guy was carrying a lot of fat to fuel his migration but still weighed less than 10 grams…

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler (photo: Yousif Attia)

A sight for sore eyes after the long winter was this Yellow Warbler.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler (photo: Yousif Attia)

This pair of “Myrtle” Warblers nicely displays the sexual dimorphism often found in this family of birds.

"Myrtle" Warblers (Yellow-rumped Warblers)

“Myrtle” Warblers (Yellow-rumped Warblers) (photo: Yousif Attia)

Another nice highlight this week was this SY (second year) male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  Notice the strongly contrasting alula and primaries versus the fresh alternate greater coverts on the wing. Don’t be fooled by cuteness…. they pack a powerful bite!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (photo: Cyndi Smith)

Non-passerines on the Elkwater Lake this week included the resident White-winged Scoters and Red-necked Grebes as well as a number of migrant waterfowl on their way north.

A view of Elkwater Lake east along the banding station

A view of Elkwater Lake east along the banding station (photo: Yousif Attia)

Lastly, a quiz bird…. What species is patiently waiting to be extracted, banded, processed and released?

Spring Quiz Bird #1 - the first person to answer in the comments section wins a "thumbs up"

Spring Quiz Bird #1 – the first person to answer in the comments section wins a “thumbs up” (photo: Yousif Attia)

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