Monday was the last day of my contract with Innis Point Bird Observatory. The spring migration monitoring wrapped up with a reasonably good day, despite some wind that required a few nets remain closed. Although it was a slow season compared to some other stations in Ontario, I enjoyed it, and the low capture volume allowed me to provide plenty of training to my two “interns” and a few other volunteers. I handed in my gate keys at the end of the day, and all that’s left is for me to computerize the data and get it sent off to them.
Yesterday was therefore my first day “off”, but I hardly spent it sitting around. In fact, I didn’t even get to sleep in much past my usual 3am wake-up time. At 3:45 the alarm went off and Dan and I climbed out of bed to head out to the first of Frontenac Bird Studies’ three MAPS sites.
MAPS stands for Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship. Basically it’s the banding program that fills in where migration monitoring leaves off. While migration monitoring (and the non-banding surveys of the Breeding Bird Survey) are able to detect and document the overall trends of bird populations and individual species, they are unable to say why they’re trending that way. In fact, no generalized surveys can give us really specific information – in order to know whether it’s habitat loss or pollution or environmental contaminants or something else very specific targeted research must be undertaken for each species. But it’s a pretty big haystack and often a fairly small needle. MAPS banding can kick-start the process by being able to give an idea of which part of the haystack the needle is in. The program documents “birth” rates by monitoring proportions of the different age classes in the population, and “death” rates (where death might mean either actual death or simply the departure of the individual to other localities – either way, it’s a loss of that breeding individual to the local population) by banding year after year and seeing who returns the following summer. If we know that there are lots of chicks but adult survivorship appears to be very low for a particular population, we can then focus our efforts on finding out why the adults aren’t returning.
There are over 500 MAPS stations in North America, but fewer than 10% of those are in Canada. Only thirteen stations have been established in Ontario, four of them are defunct, and three of the remaining eight are Dan’s. Part of the problem is the availability of skilled personnel – the US has some 2000 federally-permitted banders, while Canada only has about 200 (the last time I heard the stats, anyway). Another part of it is that so much of our landscape is remote and, often, inaccessible. A single MAPS station only requires seven visits over the course of a summer season, so they’re usually run on a volunteer basis and tend to be located within an easy drive from the bander’s home. But I suppose an additional part of it is just that Canadian banders haven’t embraced it the way Americans have; there have been, for instance, nearly four dozen MAPS stations set up in Alaska over the years, and while it’s certainly a large state, it’s hardly any more populous than much of Canada.
Anyway, enough with the background info. This was supposed to be a post about our outing yesterday. Last year Dan had set up three stations in or near Frontenac Provincial Park, but one of the three had to be retired early due to some unfortunate logistical difficulties (a shame, as it was quite a nice spot). He wanted to replace it this year so he would again be running three stations, and after much scouting of crown land along the Frontenac Arch north of the park he located a spot out near Sharbot Lake, about a half hour’s drive west of us, and about 19 km (12 mi) north of the other stations, as the crow flies.
It’s nestled between two small lakes, possibly oversized ponds depending on your point of view, the larger of the two only about 14 acres of water surface. This site is similar in many respects to the other two, but even the short distance north gives it a slightly more northern feel, with a greater proportion of conifers and several bird species not found (or found in lower numbers) at the other site. One of these species is the Black-throated Blue Warbler, of which Dan and I estimated 5-7 territorial males singing within our netting area alone. My short name for the species is simply “Blue” (Black-throated Green Warblers are “Greens”), and because the most dominant landform feature was the dual lakes we decided to call it Blue Lakes (Black-throated Blue Warbler Lakes being a bit of a mouthful).
Dan has already posted a summary of the morning’s banding, so I won’t repeat that here; you can head over to his post to read about what we found, including our first-ever banding of a Yellow-throated Vireo, a Hermit Thrush (another of those northern-feel species), and of course a Blue. Instead, I thought I’d highlight some of the other interesting things I found about the site during the morning.
The lakes themselves are actually more green than blue, being covered with plentiful pond lilies. We didn’t notice any fish, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not there, just that they weren’t close to shore. There were, however, plenty of frogs. Most of them seemed to be Mink Frogs, a species I hadn’t ever encountered prior to moving to eastern Ontario. There were also a few Green Frogs and Leopard Frogs thrown in for good measure. I spotted a few turtles basking on exposed logs, at least one of which was a Blanding’s, a Species At Risk in Ontario.
In the larger of the two lakes there were a few tall standing snags that still retained many of their larger branches. In a couple of these Great Blue Herons had built nests, and in one of them, at least, there were a couple of youngsters, getting near to the age where they will leave the nest. I didn’t bring my long lens with me, so the photo was taken by holding my camera up to my binoculars. I used to do all of my long-distance photos this way, before getting a DSLR, but the image quality isn’t nearly as good. As it turns out, the method is a whole lot easier when you’re using a point-and-shoot. I went back with Dan’s super-zoom camera after borrowing it from him the next time our paths crossed, but by that time the chicks were hunkered down again.
Speaking of nests, Dan was halfway through clearing out a net lane last week when he discovered this Chestnut-sided Warbler nest just a foot and a half from where he was cutting. She’s been studiously incubating over the last week, and was still present today; hopefully the habitat modifications haven’t put her off too much.
These flowers are growing abundantly in a couple areas of our site. I was quite taken with them; the flowers are just small, only about a centimeter (<1/2″) in diameter, held aloft on dainty thread-thin stems, and a cheerful orange accented with red. As far as I can tell, they’re Whorled Loosestrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia, although every photo I’ve looked at for the species has shown yellow flowers, not orange ones. Whorled Loosestrife is one of our native species, and is unrelated to the invasive Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) even though they share the same common name.
This plant grows at both Blue Lakes and Maplewood Bog. It may also be at Rock Ridge, though I haven’t noticed it there myself (it is on the official park checklist, though). It took me a while to figure out what it was: Sweetfern, Comptonia peregrina, though it’s not actually a fern at all and the name just refers to the similar appearance of the leaves. It also refers to the fragrance of them. The leaves can be crushed and steeped in hot water to make tea; it was a traditional Native American remedy for diarrhea and dyssentry, but it also tastes very pleasant. The intriguing burr-like balls are actually the plant’s seeds, and within that spiky exterior is an edible and tasty “nutlet”. I’ll have to try it next time I’m there.
Another plant starting to bear fruit already is the Dwarf Raspberry, sometimes known as Swamp Raspberry, Rubus pubescens. Despite its alternative name, it’s found in most northern forest conditions. Related to our domesticated raspberries, this one rarely grows more than half a meter (~18″) high. The berries are, as with all Rubus species, edible and sweet, but as each plant bears only a few fruit they make more of a treat than a snack.
At one spot along the shore an old fallen log had fetched up in the shallow mud leaving its top side exposed as it rotted. It’s been colonized by sedges and other plants, as well as one of my favourites, sundew – I believe these to be Round-leaved Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia. I wrote about some sundew at Rock Ridge last year, but I believe those were a different species, Spoon- or Spatulate-leaved Sundew, Drosera intermedia.
With the log so close to shore I was able to simply lean over to take a few photos, something I hadn’t been able to do at Rock Ridge. I even found a small patch of it growing at the shore edge there, where the water had become trapped and somewhat stagnant behind the grounded log.
And the last one, for today: this guy was hanging on one of the nets when I went to close up at the end of the morning. It’s a net-winged beetle, Caenia dimidiata but no common name. These guys are neat not only for their own appearance, but also because they are part of a mimicry complex that includes the Black-and-yellow Lichen Moth (below; taken at our last house). Presumably somebody in the complex tastes bad, and they all benefit from the learned avoidance behaviour of predators that the common aposematic colouration gives them.