Occasionally news reaches us of uncontrolled bird slaughter on a
scale so huge you just feel there is simply no hope for avian
conservation and that we are all fighting a losing battle when it
comes to birds and the environment. Last year it was
Amur Falcons in India
but the scale of slaughter of migrant songbirds in Egypt makes that
pale in to insignificance!
Songbird slaughter in Egypt
I’m not sure if anything can be
done given the present political situation in Egypt. The truth of
the matter in these countries is that the culture is so different,
birds are simply viewed as a resource to be harvested like fish and
nobody really cares enough to change it. Governments pay lip service
to these issue but do precious little about it and it’s basically
impossible to police anyway! It's the same in Cypress, Malta and
some other Mediterranean countries.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK has
been very vocal and lobbied governments to change the laws relating
to the illegal trapping of songbirds but still it goes on. We have
contacted both the RSPB's media centre and BBC to ask if some
immediate attention can be brought to this issue - when you consider
how much time the world's media has spent on the royal birth in the
last few weeks you really do wonder where our priorities lie!
It’s totally depressing and it seems that we won’t be happy as a
species until there are no animals left on the planet!
Germany's largest wildlife
conservation group has drawn up a petition encouraging the Egyptian
government to act against uncontrolled bird slaughter. A link to an
English-language version is available to sign at the end of the
article - please take a moment to sign it!
lighter note the highlight of our summer was the installation of a
washroom at the banding station!
This was particularly welcome for the
VARC ladies who after 5 years of squatting behind bushes now have
their very own spa!
OK so it's not exactly a spa but it
is the nicest 'wilderness station' we've ever seen and with
increasing numbers of visitors, our schools and youth program and
now scheduled 'Family Days' it will definitely see plenty of use!
A huge thank you to Mike Nutter
Kyle Norris for designing and building this thing from
scratch, to the Home Depot in Port Coquitlam for supplying
all the materials at staff discounts, to Stacie Kalyn and
Dillon Consulting for providing funding for the materials, to
MHC Gutters for supplying and installing the gutter system for
free, to Superior Propane
for discounts for the gas hook-up and to TD Friends of the
Environment Foundation (TDFEF) for additional funding for this
After the songbird slaughter in
Egypt the kindness and generosity of all the people involved in this
project really restores your faith in human nature - thank you all
P.S. The building is designed to be
environmental friendly and pollution free incorporating an
incinerating toilet and is also bird friendly with Barn Swallow
nesting ledges above the covered main door and a Barn Owl nesting
box under the rear eaves (photos below) - all colour coordinated of
|And shortly after
it went up a visitor left a calling card at the station!
Speaking of youth groups we hosted the annual Catching The Spirit
(CtS) Youth group to the banding station in July. Some 20 plus kids
came out as part of a stewardship project set up for their summer
camps which included doing some invasive plant species removal work
at Colony Farm.
Catching the Spirit is an outdoor environmental stewardship and
learning program that encourages leadership development and social
responsibility for youth in the Metro Vancouver area.
Everyone had a great time and said that the trip to the banding
station was the highlight of their working weekend!
is dominated by hatch year birds in juvenal plumage all registering
10 on the cuteness scale and they don't come much cuter than this
newly and locally fledged Cedar Waxwing which almost looked too
young to have left the nest!
plumage is another characteristic of juvenile birds as demonstrated
by this hatch year (HY) Swainson's Thrush. Most songbirds spend the
first part of their lives either on or near the ground making them
very vulnerable to predation. Streaked/spotted and/or dull plumage
helps provide camouflage during this susceptible period of their
Another characteristic is the presence
of fault bars which can be see on the rectrices (tail feathers) of
the hatch year (HY) Swainson's Thrush in the photo below.
The conspicuous growth bars near the
tip of this young SWTH's tail tell us that this bird probably was
not well fed for two consecutive days, perhaps the first two days
after it fledged from its nest.
These so called ‘fault bars’ are the result of environmental or
nutritional stress that the bird encountered while it was growing in
the feathers. Groups of feathers on hatch year birds are grown
concurrently so a stress that results in a fault bar on the feathers
is distributed in an even line. Adult feathers are sequentially
grown so a fault line on the feathers is normally distributed in an
Fault bars are caused when actively growing feathers cease to grow
resulting in a dark line across the feathers. Young birds begin to
grow their rectrices as nestlings and growth continues after
fledgling. At this time the birds are dependent on their parents for
their nutrition (the food required for the energy and proteins
necessary for feather synthesis) but these adults are typically not
only feeding themselves but also several hungry fledglings. This is
a tremendously energetically taxing time for adults often resulting
in undernourished young and the presence of fault bars.
Fault bars can be useful as an ageing criterion but banders should
be aware that adults do sometimes lose all of their tail feathers at
once accidentally. When such accidentally lost feathers are regrown
adventitiously (outside the normal molt cycle), it is not unusual
for such adult replacement rectrices to have prominent fault bars
like those more often seen in juveniles.
hatching year (HY) male Hairy Woodpecker (HAWO) was showing an
extensive red juvenal crown patch. As mentioned in previous blogs
Peter Pyle's excellent book the Identification Guide to North
American Birds Part I suggests that both male and female Hairy and
Downy Woodpecker juveniles have a red juvenal crown but it has been
proven that those with an extensively red juvenal crown are, in
fact, males, while those with a black, or mostly black, juvenal
crown are young females.
This bird was already in the midst of it's first prebasic molt when
unlike most passerines it will molt primaries (photo below right)
but not corresponding primary coverts. Hatching year (HY)
woodpeckers normally retain all of their juvenal primary coverts in
this first prebasic molt.
During this males first prebasic
molt, its red juvenal crown will be lost and a red nuchal patch (on
the back of the head) characteristic of 'adult' males will molt in.
lots of opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of our aerial
insectivores in August when we were invited to talk to Terry
Donnelly at CBC radio. He also ran an article on the CBC website
which can be viewed here:
CBC News Article
We were then contacted for an interview with the Vancouver Sun and
also did a radio interview on Chris Cook’s weekly public affairs
program at CFUV Radio at UVic. The podcast can be heard by clicking
Global News has also been in touch and is coming out to the station
to interview us – so lots of profile for our Barn Swallows and more
opportunity to raise awareness of environmental issues as they
relate to birds.
When one considers the steady and
consistent decline of swallow species as can be seen in the graphs
below it is difficult to imagine how the current decline of
aerial insectivores can be forestalled, let alone reversed and time
is running out if we are to find the answers in time!
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
(Environment Canada, 2013. North
American Breeding Bird Survey - Canadian Trends Website,
Data-version 2011. Environment Canada, Gatineau, Quebec, K1A 0H3)
The articles were timely in that
August is always swallow month at Colony Farm as hatch year birds
like this Barn Swallow use the old fields to forage - they really
are such beautiful birds and it really is sad to see such
hatch year (HY) Northern Rough-winged Swallow was showing buffy
fringes to all of the lesser, median, greater coverts, alula and
tertials, diagnostic of birds in juvenal plumage. The barbs on the
outer primary (P9) discussed and
photographed using super-macro photography in the
summer blog last year were inconclusive to sex this particular bird.
summer is an exciting time for banders as birds undertake their
annual prebasic molt, molting back in to their basic or winter
non-breeding plumages, and it's the only time of the year when it is
possible to use every available age code. Accurate ageing and sexing
of landbirds in the hand requires a complete understanding of the
molt cycle of the individual species being studied and August is the
time to put all of that theory in to practice!
Birds in active molt give us an opportunity to see molt as it is
happening. This is particularly helpful to new banders who have an
opportunity to learn the sequence of events in both complete and
less than complete molts.
The photo below left shows a second year (SY) male American
Goldfinch (AMGO) at the start of its first definitive adult prebasic
molt. We discussed ageing and sexing AMGOs in a photo essay in the
May 2012 blog
when we said that two ageing shortcuts could be used by
banders for this species. First we look for a
buffy tip on the carpal covert and that in the
spring only second year birds molt their inner greater coverts as
part of their prealternate molt. So in spring SY AMGOs show three
generations of feathers; juvenal, first basic and first alternate
but in this photo we can now see FOUR generations of feathers:
Yellow arrows: Retained juvenal feathers (outer primaries P4-P9 and
corresponding primary coverts, outer secondaries S1-S6, outer
greater coverts carpal covert and alula, the red arrows pointing to
the buffy fringes on the retained juvenal carpal covert and alula
Purple arrow: First basic inner greater coverts replaced during the
birds 1st prebasic molt after the breeding season last year.
Blue arrow: First alternate inner greater coverts replaced during
the birds first prealternate molt during the late winter/early
spring this year.
Green arrows: Adult prebasic inner primaries (P1-P3), corresponding
primary coverts and tertials being replaced as part of the birds
adult prebasic molt now!
Molt may not seem like the
most exciting thing in the world but it is the holy grail for ageing
landbirds in the hand!
in heavy molt are not at their most attractive - this hatch year
(HY) Swainson's Thrush showing extensive pin feathers on its head
and molt limits in the making with median coverts, inner greater
coverts and carpal covert in sheath. Notice the olive edged emerging
inner greater coverts and buffy tear drops on the retained juvenal
outer greater coverts.
scruffy doesn't really do justice to describe this after second year
(ASY) male Common Yellowthroat (COYE) in the midst of its definitive
adult prebasic molt where all body and flight feathers will be
Adults in heavy prebasic molt like
this bird can often still be identified as second year (SY) or after
second year (ASY) until the alula feathers are lost. The alula
covert (indicated with the red arrow on photo right) is a key molt
limit in many species. It is part of the tract of median coverts and
molts with them prior to the molt of the main two lower alula
feathers which are among the last feathers replaced.
As can be seen in this photo there
is no contrast among the as-yet-unmolted alula feathers and the
molted alula covert - both are worn but too brightly colored to be
juvenal feathers. Within another week or so this bird would have to
be aged simply after hatch year (AHY)
The rectrices of the same bird
(bottom photo) are as yet unmolted and show
fairly heavy degree of wear but considering they belong to a COYE
which spend most of their lives skulking low down in wet thickets
and this bird has been through one long Neotropical migration and
likely an entire breeding season in and out of the brush feeding
hungry nestlings the degree of wear on these adult feathers was not
nearly as much as it would have been on retained juvenal feathers
and further supported our age determination that this bird was an
adult alive in at least its third calendar year going through
another definitive adult prebasic molt.
the significance of the alula covert (red arrow) can again be seen
in this photo of a hatch year (HY) White-crowned Sparrow (WCSP) in
the midst of its partial 1st prebasic molt. The sequence of events
in a partial 1st PB can be clearly seen here as this bird replaces
lesser, median, greater coverts, the alula covert and two innermost
tertials. White-crowned Sparrows are among the Emberizid family
which often show this key alula covert (A1) molt limit .
'Brown-eyed' Vireo was a good get for us in the old field habitat
where we band. Red-eyed Vireos are tree top birds preferring the mid
and upper canopy of taller trees and they rarely stray in to the low
elderberry brush and lower trees of the banding area.
This hatch year (HY) bird of unknown
sex was showing the very dull brown irises diagnostic of first year
birds versus the
bright red irises of adults.
Ageing warblers and vireos at this
time of the year requires close scrutiny as molt limits can be
difficult to see when hatch year (HY) birds still have very fresh
retained juvenal feathers. This wing of the above REVI is a good
example of this. Under magnification the contrast between replaced
lesser, median, greater coverts and carpal covert and retained
primary coverts and main alula feathers (A2/A3) can be seen the molt
limits indicated with red arrows between the outer greater covert
and inner primary covert and alula covert (A1) and main lower alula
feather (A2). Molt limits like this can be quite subtle with birds
in the hand and for this reason, especially after adults of these
same species begin to show signs of approaching the end of their
complete prebasic molt age should always be confirmed by additional
criteria such as skull ossification. In this instance eye colour was
also pretty conclusive!
Tail shape can also help being generally more tapered in hatch year
birds and more truncate in adults although determining the age of
birds by tail feather shape alone is generally not very reliable
because of individual variation and the possibility of accidental
loss and replacement (i.e., adventitious molt). Tail shape should
always therefore be used with caution and only in conjunction with
other ageing criteria (e.g. molt limits).
Another good get for us was this hatch year (HY) Brown Creeper
(BRCR) of unknown sex. Much is not known about molt in BRCR - the
1st prebasic molt apparently including few if any lesser or median
coverts, no greater coverts or tertials, but apparently the
obviously hadn't read the book as it had molted most median and
great coverts - the retained buffy fringed feathers illustrated with
the red arrow (photo blow left) and retrices R2-R5 on both side of
the tail leaving only the central retrices (R1) and outer retrices
(R6) as retained feathers! One of the most interesting things about
molt and ageing in landbirds is that there is always something new
Orange-crowned Warblers arrived in good numbers with both the
pacific coastal (lutescens) subspecies (below left) and the
duller, grayer Interior
(orestera) subspecies (below right) caught for
speaking of Interior subspecies this hatch year (HY) male
Black-throated Gray Warbler (BTYW) was likely also of the Interior
(halseii) subspecies based on size and showing very extensive
white in the rectrices (photo below right) than is normal in the
coastal subspecies (nigrescens).
The 1st prebasic molt is partial in
this species with all lesser, median, greater coverts, carpal covert
and greater alula covert replaced, the red arrow (photo below left)
pointing to the molt limit between replaced outer greater coverts
and retained primary coverts. First year males can be separated from
first year females by the mixed gray and black (rather than grayish)
crown and auriculars, distinct black centers to the back feathers
and median coverts with white tips usually without black shaft
streaks (blue arrow on wing photo below left) Compare this to the
coverts of the second year female in our June
2011 blog (white arrow on this photo)
Nashville Warblers are uncommon birds
for us in the Vancouver area and this drab hatch year (HY) female
was almost overlooked among a number of drab
HY female MacGillivray's Warblers
banded the same morning.
||The inner greater
coverts in sheath (red arrow on photos above and left) on this hatch
year (HY) Western Tanager show another molt limit in the making.
Many molt limits are only visible on birds in the hand but the one
on this bird would allow birders to identify this bird as a hatch
year female in the field.
Accurately ageing and sexing birds in the field both increases
enjoyment of birding and can add more accurately to baseline data
for those participating in citizen science projects like the
Breeding Bird Atlas.
cycles and plumages are complex in raptors and variable in timing,
location and sequence. It can be difficult to define certain molts
and plumages and sometimes unraveling them can seem like the
ultimate riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma!
This male Cooper's Hawk was aged after
hatch year (AHY) but likely a third year (TY) bird based on the
distinctive white spots on one or two lesser coverts and rump
feathers (red arrows - photos below) and buffy fringing. Other than
that the distinctive generations of feathers on the wing didn't
really seem to make sense! There appeared to be two obvious
generations of primaries and primary coverts, at least three
generations of secondaries including S1 in sheath and only central
rectrices replaced which according to the book was all wrong! Added
to that the iris was more orangish than yellowish orange and we
decided to call it a day and age it AHY!
Gorgeous bird nonetheless and we would
welcome any information from banders with ageing experience with
these tricky accipiters!
tricky was this tiny hatch year male Sharp-shinned Hawk showing the
very dull iris colour and buffy fringes to all coverts diagnostic of
first year birds.
|FIVE hatch year
(HY) Lazuli Buntings in one morning was a new record for us
and took our LAZB count to a season high record questioning whether
we should be changing our logo!
records tumbled for Hummingbirds too with record numbers of both
Anna's (ANHU) and Rufous (RUHU) Hummingbirds banded this year. In
fact the number of ANHUs were extraordinary sometimes outnumbering
RUHUs with 18 banded on one morning at Colony Farm. ANHU are now
common birds along the Pacific coast and throughout the Vancouver
area, their range having increased dramatically since the 1930s,
when they were found only in California and Baja California.
Towards the end of August many of the RUHUs had amassed large fat
deposits to fuel the energy demands of long distance migrations for
the these extraordinary little birds, one male weighing in at 4.3
grams which is a whole gram heavier than the lean body mass of a
male RUHU and as heavy as the average and much larger Anna's
This hatch year ANHU was coated in
thick, sticky pollen covering most of his head and body and looked
as though he had been totally immersed in a flower prior to capture!
deformities are not common in birds so to get two in one morning was
very unusual - a hatch year male Common Yellowthroat and after hatch
year (AHY) female 'Crossbill' Pigeon!
finally our first of the season Western Wood-Pewee (WEWP). Having
listened to them calling all summer along the edge of the riparian
woodland adjacent to our playback nets it was nice to finally catch
one - this hatch year bird (HY) of unknown sex showing the
conspicuous buffy wing bars diagnostic of birds in juvenal plumage.
Like most Tyrant flycatchers WEWP molt primarily on their
winter grounds so separating adults from hatch year birds is
Freshly molted wing bars of HY
flycatchers are buffy/cinnamon in appearance and fresh looking
having just grown in this summer. An adult bird now carrying 6-8
month old feathers that have been used for one long distance
migration, and which have been worn for an entire breeding season
appear worn and whitish, not buffy like this bird.
The photo below right shows the
smudged undertail coverts and extremely long primary tips extending
beyond the undertail coverts which easily separates WEWP from any of
the Empidonax flycatchers in the hand.
to Mark Habdas, Kerry Kenwood, Carol Matthews, Jason Jones, Debbie
Wheeler, Mike Nutter, Kyle Norris, Louise Routledge, Monica Nugent,
Sara Legros, Sarah Gray, Christine Bishop, Rufus Macintyre, Dev
Manky, Cyril Chan, Ivand Pulido, Kirsten Wilcox, Andrew Venning,
Kaye Simard, Lauren Orjala, Shannon LaFontaine,
Eric Demers and Eleanor Duifhuis, for their help with banding
in July and August.
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