On your mark… get set…

Western Palm Warbler

The last day of March, and this morning found me down at the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station, helping to set up the site for the start of another fabulous spring migration season. The research station’s primary goals are to collect data on local and migratory bird populations to aid with conservation efforts here and afar, to promote awareness of birds and conservation through education programs and demonstrations, and to contribute to research initiatives by helping to collect data or providing a location or means for someone else to do so.

The primary, and initial, project run by the research station, through which these objectives are achieved, is the migration monitoring program. It involves constant-effort bird banding and surveys (that is, we’re out there every single morning for the entire migration period, weather permitting), which provides data on bird population numbers and demographics, including information such as adult:young and male:female ratios in the population, stuff that can’t be easily (or sometimes at all) obtained through non-banding means but that gives you an idea of, for instance, how successful the breeding season was this year. There are some 25 or so similar stations across Canada, each contributing valuable data to fill in their local piece of the puzzle. The birds are banded, measurements collected, and then safely released to return to their regular activities. The Palm Warbler in the top photo popped nearly straight up out of the hand before taking off for the nearby trees.

Yellow-throated Warbler

I’ve been volunteering since 2003. I love being down there, and would happily volunteer all season if I had some other means of making ends meet (who’s seen/read About A Boy? perhaps all I need to do is write a hit holiday song and I’ll be set). I like seeing who’s about every day, watching the migration ebb and flow across the season, the composition of species progressing and changing from week to week. On a daily basis, I like turning the corner to check a net, not knowing what we’ll find this time around. We’ve had some marvelous surprises show up, such as the above Yellow-throated Warbler, the only bird of this species I’ve seen (they’re normally more southerly in range).

Orange-crowned Warbler

I love the opportunity to hold such fragile, but beautiful, life in my hands, to feel the wonder of it. I enjoy seeing the birds up close, at a distance where you can marvel at the intricate feather patterns or subtle plumage details often lost in the field. Who’s seen the orange crown of an Orange-crowned Warbler? I have, but only with the bird in my hand. And who’s paid much attention to a Mourning Dove’s face, the subtle colours of the eye ring, the bright pink at the corner of its mouth, the small patch of iridescence on its neck? But you get a chance to see this when you study the bird up close.

Mourning Dove

Yes, I’m looking forward to returning. Ironically, tomorrow, the first day of banding, has been rained out (we don’t run in conditions that would threaten the welfare of the birds, though surveys are still a go – we’re less concerned about our own comfort). So we’ll be starting on Wednesday instead.

The setup this morning went smoothly, but was quiet for birds. We had a group of a dozen chickadees moving back and forth through the area, and there were some blackbirds and a few grackles that flew overhead throughout the morning, but not much moving in yet. Perhaps this warm spell will encourage some more movement from the south. Hermit Thrush, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, perhaps even Eastern Phoebe or Ruby-crowned Kinglet – they should all be around in the first week during a normal season, but the unusually cold weather might delay their arrival this year.

The park and station are open to the public on weekends and holidays, and anybody in the Toronto area who’s interested is invited to swing by Tommy Thompson Park on the Leslie Street Spit, and drop in during a spring or fall morning to check us out, learn about what we’re doing, and get a chance to see a little bird up close and personal.

Golden-crowned Kinglet