Here is a word that every Kerns student needs to learn; serendipity. It means chance, luck, fate, destiny, or happenstance. If you are a bander, you embrace all of these ideas and live life believing in serendipity. Here I am pushing my luck, so I should get to the point. On February 15th, a bander at Ruthven Park made a great discovery connecting her to the Kerns Public students. Ruthven Park is located 585 km south of us. It lies In Cayuga country - the land between Lake Erie and lake Ontario, just south of Hamilton. The bander was Nancy Furber, who, as luck would have it, is a friend of the Hilliardton Marsh and journeyed here a couple of falls ago to help us band owls. Nancy Furber and Rick Ludkin got us involved in Snow Bunting banding, which is lucky for us. Nancy had her traps out on Feb. 15th and captured a bird that was banded by the Kerns kids on Jan. 6th, 2013. On that particular day, Joanne had to wait until the afternoon to band, as temperatures were too cold that morning. As luck would have it, she happened to have a very keen student who urged her to keep the traps set after school to allow them to catch more birds. So it came to pass that after school, instead of heading home, Brodie, Neil and Joanne banded a bird that otherwise may never have been banded. After being banded, who knows where this bird wandered. This bird had the chance to carry his band somewhere north, or maybe east, perhaps even as far as Greenland. All we know for sure is that it made it all the way to Cayuga country to find itself in another trap to complete this loop in its history and give us some insight into the wanderings of these beautiful birds.
To add to the mystery of these winter travellers, we also had a bunting banded by the Kerns kids show up this winter in a trap set out by our friends Glen and Theresa, who have also journeyed to the Marsh and actually helped us band Snow Buntings at the Kerns site one weekend. This bird was caught by Glenn and Theresa at their site near King City, just north of Toronto. Another piece of the puzzle we can add is that another bird the Kerns kids banded two years ago was captured by another bander in the south, a fellow named David Lamble, last winter near Guelph, Ontario. These lucky encounters have allowed researchers at the University of Windsor, who are studying the movements of Snow Buntings, to conclude that our northern population of buntings mix with southern populations and do not represent a distinct population. Early on, researchers speculated that our buntings might only migrate as far south as the Little Clay Belt to feed in the winter, and then migrate back north to breed on the tundra.
The last birds to report on are two birds that were banded by the Kerns kids last winter that showed up in the Gaspe Bay Peninsula two months later, presumably on their way to Greenland. We cannot wait for one of the “Kerns birds” to show up in Greenland to establish that as a potential breeding destination for birds found wintering here. So how did the Kerns birds get to Gaspe Bay? Did they travel south, then hug the north shore of Lake Ontario until they found the St Lawrence and used that historical river as a handrail guiding their migration? Or did the buntings simply fly east from our area until they reached Gaspe Bay? We will never know for sure. I do know that I am extremely proud of the fine work these students are doing and that they are adding a great deal to the research that is being done one these handsome, winter-hardy birds. The work they are doing is also appreciated by the wider banding community, and most certainly by the Canadian Snow Bunting Network. Every bird they band gives us a chance to find out where these birds travel, if we get lucky enough to have them retrapped by another bander. Most banders will tell you that the more we start to find out about the movements of birds the more questions we have. Right now, I certainly have more questions than answers. One thing I do know for sure is, if you ask a Kerns student why so many of the birds they band get caught by other banders, they will smile and simply tell you it is serendipity!
By Bruce Murphy
When I arrived at the Marsh at close to 10am on Sunday morning and saw that people had already arrived a half an hour before me, I should have realized we were going to have our largest Family Day banding event ever. The smiles on our guest’s faces were matched by ours as we excitedly greeted so many folks and their families, to share with us a brisk sunny day in the boreal homeland. We estimate that about 150 individuals bundled up to observe how we band birds in the winter. The only flaw in our plans for the day was that very few birds showed up for the occasion this year.
Every year, birders look forward to getting the winter finch forecast, which is based upon eye witness reports across the province on the abundance of various berry and cone producing bushes and trees. This year’s reports attested to the abundance of seeds of every description, particularly birch, which is one of the favorites of redpolls. With such a seed bounty, the northern finches have stayed further north and are not coming to local feeders much due to the availability of wild food. Though some local feeders are being visited by goldfinches and purple finches, the finches have not deigned to frequent the feeders at the Marsh, despite having kept the feeders full in anticipation of Family Day. We were only visited by a handful of chickadees, a few woodpeckers and one white breasted nuthatch. On the Family Day weekend, we managed to catch 8 previously banded chickadees and 2 new Hairy Woodpeckers. The oldest chickadee retrap was from 4 years ago, with the others having been banded at the Marsh two weeks previously on World Wetland Day.
For me, one of the highlights of the day was the arrival of Joanne Goddard, who showed us how to band Lapland Longspurs. She was able to capture and band 9 Lapland Longspurs in connection with the research that we are doing with the Canadian Snow Bunting Banding Project. Lapland Longspurs, and occasionally Horned Larks, can be found in mixed flocks with the Snow Buntings. So far this year, we have banded over 600 Snow Buntings and 60 Lapland Longspurs , and we were excited to introduce our guests to these wonderful birds.
It is always a pleasure to see the faces of young kids when they see a bird up close for the first time, and to have so many of these new faces on a chilly brilliant day was a special treat indeed. Guests were able to warm up by an open fire with some delicious bannock cooked, by Kim Adair, and some hot chocolate attended to by Mark Milton. As well, volunteer Gisselle Bradley cooked 100 hotdogs for our visitors, and for one happy Marsh dog (Chewie), who was occasionally rewarded either for her advanced mooching skills or by gravity having its way with “mitted” kids.
Every great day at the Marsh happens with the help of volunteers, and we would like to thank the following: Giant Tiger for providing the food that was prepared by Gisele Bradley and Kim Adair; Colin- James Hibbs and his grandfather Tim, for shoveling the deck (AKA “the launching pad”) and the path to the outhouse and fire pit; bird extractors Jacob Lachapelle, Andrea Curran, and Jason Grant; and
finally directors Mark Milton, Serge Gendron, Mike Werner, Shelbey Hearn, and Joanne Goddard for helping make this day run so smoothly.
But the biggest “Thank You” must go to the many visitors who ventured out with their families to share the great outdoors with us, and to those individuals who financially support days like this by purchasing memberships or sponsoring tree swallow boxes. Seeing so many who value their connection to nature and the need to pass those values on to their children will continue to be our inspiration for making the Marsh accessible to more people in the future.
Our next banding event will be a St Patrick’s Day celebration on Sunday March 16th. “Top of the morning to you…. And the rest of the day to you!” Hope to see you in March, and remember to wear green!
Our first public HMREC activity of 2014 will be a Family Day outing on Sunday, February the 16th. Come and join us for a day of snowshoeing, bird banding and other activities. The local populations of winter finches are beginning to make more use of feeding stations now, so we have a pretty good chance of banding something other than Black-capped Chickadees. Festivities will begin at 10:30am and will go until about 2:00pm. We will be supplying hot chocolate and bannock cooked over an open fire, as well as hot dogs. We will also have snowshoes available for those who wish to partake and don't have their own. The event takes place at the south end of the Marsh, at "The Birdhouse" building. The entrance is opposite Wool Mill Road, approximately 2 km north of the Hwy. 569 bridge. Watch for the Red-winged Blackbird sign on the left. Limited parking is available on site, so you may be directed to park along Wool Mill Road. Please do not park on Hwy. 569 due to heavier traffic volumes combined with narrow shoulders and snowbanks.
What to Bring:
- Warm clothes and good winter boots
- Camera and/or binoculars
- Snowshoes (optional)
- Drinking water and snacks
The day will also be an opportunity to renew memberships and to inquire about opportunities to volunteer at the Marsh. Hope to see you there.
Our Annual General Meeting for 2013 will be held Friday, November 8th at 6:00 PM at the Horne Granite curling rink. The night promises to be fun with guest speakers and Ducks Unlimited and wildlife prints for silent auction.