We have three stations set up for MAPS. Our first visit to the first one was on Wednesday; we made our first visit to the second on Friday, and were out to the third station today. Although they all share some features, be it bird species or landscape, they are all pretty unique from one another. Hemlock Lake is set along the edge of a small lake. The west shore is full of deadfall trees, and, as the site’s name suggests, hemlock is predominant there. Rock Ridge, our third site, is also set on a lake, but while Hemlock Lake is mostly forest, Rock Ridge is mostly pine and rock barrens. Both of these sites are very picturesque, with many postcard photo ops around the site.
If the other two are about the landscape, then Maplewood Bog, our second site, is about the birds. Well, really, all three sites are about the birds, but with Maplewood that’s the feature that makes it stand out from the others. This is in part because there really isn’t the same sort of postcard landscape at the site. Both of the other sites have great vistas looking out over their respective lakes. Maplewood, however, is set into the forest. As per its name, the site’s most prominent feature is a largeish bog set in the middle of the mostly maple and oak forest (we tried out the name Oakwood Bog, but it just didn’t roll off the tongue as well).
Though there is the one large bog in the centre, Maplewood has numerous smaller bogs, vernal pools, swamps, and wet spots. This is somewhat deliberate (the inclusion of these within the station boundaries, not their existence – we can’t take credit for that), as such habitat offers the low, shrubby growth that is crucial for successful mistnetting. In order for a mistnet to catch birds, the birds must be traveling at the level of the net. For them to be moving at net level, there must be suitable low vegetation structure. In a typical mature forest, most of the vegetation is found in the tree canopies. At human level there is mostly just tree trunks, or sometimes sparse young saplings waiting for a big adult to fall and open up a patch of sunlight. These little wet bits are often the best habitat for catching birds in, as it brings the birds down to net level. Unfortunately, they can be a bit wet to walk in. Dan did his best to select the driest bits for the net lanes.
N for Nice? It really is a nice site. What it lacks in vistas it makes up for in easy walking and great bird diversity. This is the only one of our three sites with nesting Cerulean Warblers and Yellow-throated Vireos. Scarlet Tanagers are also common, but we didn’t catch any of these species on our first visit to the site. In the summer they typically favour the tree canopies, rarely coming down low except, perhaps, to drink and bathe. Our best chances for catching them will be later in the summer, once the young birds fledge. Adults will often lead their families to edge habitat and low scrubby areas. I’m not exactly sure what it is that draws them there, but it’s probably to do with food – greater food abundance or foraging opportunities in the increased structural diversity of the scrubby habitat. Late in the summer and into the fall these habitats start hopping with birds as the young-of-the-year disperse out of their natal territories. Gobs in the bogs. Even at this point in the season, of the first days at each of our three sites Maplewood was the busiest, with 26 captures. When we arrived at the site, at 5 am, the woods were just alive with birdsong.
A forest specialty that we did catch was the Wood Thrush above. They are a declining species and so are a target species for our projects. Wood Thrushes are notoriously hard to photograph, or at least to get a good photo of. They have a habit of dropping their head down to their chest, giving them a hump-backed look. This one happens to be a second-year bird – that is, in its second calendar year (meaning last year, 2008, was when it was hatched, its first calendar year). One of the tell-tale features that you can look for in thrushes of all species are these pale streaks up the shafts of some of their wing or head feathers. The feathers of baby thrushes all have these pale streaks, and while the bird will replace most of them in the fall before it migrates, they often hold on to some of them through the spring and summer (but it’s one of those absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence sort of things – if you notice them it’s definitive of age, but if you don’t then the age is ambiguous and needs to be determined by other criteria). In this photo a few of the feathers on the bird’s forehead still bear those pale streaks.
Red-eyed Vireos are one of the most common species of deciduous forests and are present at all of our sites in good numbers. They are well-named birds, as the eyes of the adults really are a vibrant ruby-red when highlighted by the sun (in the shade they’re still a rich matte red). The eyes of young-of-the-year are a mouse-brown, so it’s easy to tell the young from the adults in the fall, at least if you can get a good look at their eyes. Their irises gradually change colour over the course of the winter. This individual looks like it has a speckled throat, but all those little gray dots are actually feather mites. I have no idea how these mites get on the bird in the first place, but once present they settle in on the feathers and feed on the barbs. In most birds you notice them on the wing feathers, so I was surprised to see them on the throat of this guy. I guess it was one of the few places he couldn’t preen them from.
We’re starting to get into deer fly season, and as the sun crests the treetops they all come out of wherever they spent the night, and start their endless circling of your head. After a long few hours of this at Hemlock Lake a couple days before, I bought some of those deer fly sticky traps for use on future outings. I tried them out at Maplewood on Friday. They proved remarkably effective, distracting the flies from my neck and trapping them on the tape where they could do no harm. This was my collection at the end of the morning.
The deer flies were just as irritating to the birds as to me while I was trying to photograph them. This Common Yellowthroat took matters into his own beak when one landed on his back. He held on to it and left with it when I let him go.
The same thing was repeated by this Veery as I was taking photos of it. This gave me an idea for the fate of the flies stuck to the back of my cap, and as birds were released I offered them a deer fly for their troubles. Most of them snapped it up right away and departed with it.
This Field Sparrow has a mosquito in his mouth. We caught him before the deer flies were out, but there were still plenty of mosquitoes in the early morning cool. He actually snapped it out of the air where it hovered near his face as I took a few photos. Even the sparrows, chickadees and finches, which we think of traditionally as seed-eaters due to their presence at our feeders in the winter, are insectivores in the summer. Insects offer substantially more nutrition and protein than seed does, which is important with all the energy the birds expend in raising a family (or two) over the summer months. Birds that stick around for our winters have evolved to be able to switch their diet to seeds for the cold months, when insects are hard to find, and those that are unable to make the dietary change fly south to where insects are around all year.