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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Teslin Lake - the end of the season 2014

A flock of Tundra Swans approaching
Towards the end of the season the weather was warmer than average so that there was almost no snow on the ground and the pond barely froze. Even though, partly due the colder weather earlier, many of the smaller passerines had disappeared there was plenty to watch during the last two weeks of the season. Particularly prominent were the swans but redpolls and eagles kept the migration counter busy as well. The peak of the Redpolls was fairly short as the main movement started on the 12th with 700 counted and right away followed by the highest count of 4300 on the 13th. 3000 were counted on the 14th and again 700 on the 15th followed by much more moderate numbers after that. There was a good number, particularly for the time of the year, of Pine Siskins on the move with the Redpolls including the high count of 259 on the 12th. During the peak days most of the Redpolls were heading west but later on when the numbers were already smaller the majority was heading north and even northeast on the 23rd when 500 were tallied. That day 3 Hoary Redpolls  were identified from the several flocks that landed briefly. Surprisingly, after being absent for most of the season, small numbers of both species of Crossbills were seen regularly. The annual Pine Grosbeak movement was pretty slow this year with the high count of only 44 on the 17th.

One of the many flocks of Common Redpolls zipping by the point

A flock of mostly Greater Scaups flying by
Interestingly almost all the swans seen were Tundra Swans and no big movement of Trumpeters was noticed even late in the season. The biggest swan flights seen were 1100 on the 15th, 5200 on the 16th, 3200 on the 17th, and 1700 on the 22nd. On each day the biggest numbers were seen in the afternoon. The season total was impressive 16 500 Tundras. As usual there were no big raptor days this late in the season but the raptor numbers were higher than average for the time of the year. The majority of raptors were Golden Eagles, of course, including 11 on the 13th, 37 on the 17th, 26 on the 25th and 18 on the 27th, the last day of operation. The high migration counts for Bald Eagle were 8 on the 17th and 24 on the 27th. 11 Rough-legged Hawks were seen on the 16th and 14 on the 18th. 8 Northern Harriers on the 16th was a really high count for that late a date as was the count of 7 Sharp-shinned Hawks the following day too. The 6 Northern Goshawks seen on the 27th tied the station day record.

An adult and a juvenile Tundra Swan
It was almost a record poor year for Boreal Chickadees at TLBO. This one visited the point in mid-October

No real rarities were seen but an American Dipper, flying along the lakeshore on the 27th, was a new species for TLBO as was Evening Grosbeak, three of which flew by on the 15th. A shorebird looking like a Dunlin, seen on the 19th, would've also been a new species had it been positively identified as such but the views weren't sufficient enough to confirm the species. A juvenile Yellow-billed Loon was seen on three different days, two Snow Geese were seen mixed in the swan flocks, one on the 15th and the other on the 17th, and an unidentified Ptarmigan was spotted on the opposite shore on the 23rd. Birds behind the usual departure time were few but included a Greater White-fronted Goose on the 15th, a Sandhill Crane on the 17th, an Osprey and two Varied Thrushes on the 18th, a Northern Shoveler on the 23rd and a Yellow-rumped Warbler on the 27th. The last effort for owl banding on the night of the 14th was a success with 4 Boreal Owls captured.

For about a week this juvenile Yellow-billed Loon was a regular sight around the point

A hatch-year (i.e. juvenile) Boreal Owl - one of about 40 banded this year!
 Below are the season's raptor counts, species organized in the order of abundance. Notice that these numbers include both the birds observed flying by the observatory in migration flight as well as birds just hanging around. Bald Eagle gets the biggest gain from this as there were a few local birds present throughout the season.

Red-tailed Hawk            581
Sharp-shinned Hawk      570
Golden Eagle                  293
Northern Harrier             285
Rough-legged Hawk       197
Bald Eagle                       183
American Kestrel            179
Merlin                               90
Northern Goshawk           84
Osprey                              54
Peregrine Falcon              34
Swainson's Hawk             13
Gyrfalcon                           2
Turkey Vulture                   1

= 2565 (+ a number of unidentified raptors)

Probably one of the locally born Bald Eagles, this juvenile visited the gull feeding station regularly for about a month
Finally, as the final thoughts of the season, it is time to thank various people for their efforts to keep the projects going. A big thank you for all the field volunteers, particularly Sarah Nägl, Ariel Lenske, Gwen Baluss, Julie Bauer, Vesta Mather and Chris Sukha, for all the help you provided. Doug Martens for providing the BIC with a comfortable accomodation, Ted Murphy-Kelly for the help with all the logistics, and the Schonewilles for dealing with the station gear and data related issues. Last but not the least, thanks for all our financial supporters! See you next year!

As most already know, these blog entries are provided by BIC Jukka Jantunen. From the station managers (Ben Schonewille & Ted Murphy-Kelly), also thank you to Jukka for his exceptional dedication and attention to detail with running the station once again this year.  Your hard work does not go unnoticed - our readers may be interested to know that Jukka spent nearly 600 hours at TLBO this fall, including over 275 hours conducting the visual migration counts !

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Teslin Lake update, October 10 2014

A mixed flock of Tundra and Trumpeter Swans passing the point

The end of September marks the end of the standard banding season but every year we continue with non-standard banding effort as long as we have adequate personnel or the weather turns too harsh to band. This year neither mattered as there simply were no birds along the net-lanes in early October. Our longest serving volunteer of the season, Sarah Nägl, moved on and continued her adventures on the 6th and Chris Sukha who came up from Mackenzie banding station headed back down the highway on the 8th. The weather was unsettled to say the least and we received snow on a few occasions early in the month. I didn't even check for this blog entry but I think with the little effort the weather allowed for us we were able to catch and band a whopping three birds!

It may well be that the same Horned Grebe has spent almost a month by TLBO. In that time the appearance has changed quite a bit as it has now molted into the winter plumage.

This Gray-cheeked Thrush foraged openly on the beach in the afternoon of Oct 1st
 No birds in the nets did not mean no birds period. The month started with a howling northwest wind and snow that, on the 1st, brought us so far the best flight of the season. Early morning many flocks of swans, cranes and ducks disappeared into the low hanging clouds and the strong wind kept us off the usual watch site at the tip forcing us to seek shelter from the south side shore where the visibility isn't quite the same as from the tip. In spite of the difficulties caused by the weather we counted about 3800 Tundra Swans, 800 ducks of various species, 250 Sandhill Cranes in many small flocks and over 400 raptors (Red-tailed Hawk 189, Golden Eagle 93, Sharp-shinned Hawk 64, Rough-legged Hawk 28 and Merlin 15). Both the number of Golden Eagles and of Merlins is a new one day record for the observatory! Other sightings of interest that day were also a record count of 48 Canvasbacks, 169 Snow Geese, the season 1st Snow Bunting and a Gray-cheeked Thrush that appeared on the beach in the afternoon looking for some warmth in the sun that had also appeared by then.

The heavy snowfall on the 9th was apparent in the accumulation on the back of this juvenile Thayer's Gull!
On the 9th, both this Lapland Longspur (above) and the American Pipit (below) were foraging on the about one foot wide bare belt along the shore that was kept snow free by the waves.

The next few days didn't offer much excitement. Two Mountain Bluebirds stopped at the tip briefly on the 3rd and 40 Canvasbacks and 15 Golden Eagles were seen on the 4th. On the 7th there was again some movement but nothing like on the 1st. That day 1200 swans were tallied, again mostly Tundras but this time also a good number (130) of Trumpeters mixed in too. Many flocks of swans were only heard as it was snowing heavily for about half of the day! After the snow stopped over 100 raptors were counted also, including Sharp-shinned Hawk 29, Golden Eagle 26, Red-tailed Hawk 24 and Rough-legged Hawk 20. Among the raptors there was one southbound Northern Hawk Owl. 400 more swans were seen on the 10th but other than that the visible migration was slow after the 7th. The most exciting bird of the period was an adult Black-legged Kittiwake that was seen just before a major snowfall started on the 9th and again on the 10th constituting the 2nd record for TLBO and only the 3rd fall and overall about the 7th record for the southern Yukon!

A distant, heavily cropped, document shot of the Kittiwake

A family of Tundra Swans landing at the creek mouth for a couple of minutes breather.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Teslin Lake update, September 30 2014

Raptor-eye view of TLBO (the small point in the middle on the foreshore)! This is what TLBO looks like from the raptor mountain often featured in photos of this blog. Photo © Vesta Mather
Well, this is a blog entry of a ten day period at TLBO unlike any other before. Sure there was rain and wind, lots of them, and even some snow but none of that bad weather can explain the nearly complete lack of birds in the nets. We only banded 38 birds (!!) during the day time effort and further 16 owls at night for a grand total of 54. Northern Shrike and Hermit Thrush, both on the 26th, were new species for the season. A Winter/Pacific Wren, a recent split where the identification criteria for non-vocalizing birds is yet to be established, was banded on the 22nd and was a new species for the site. TLBO's 1st ever Northern Saw-whet Owl was banded the same evening and amazingly another one was banded at our separate owl site the following night!

Winter/Pacific Wren

The 1st Northern Saw-whet Owl for TLBO! Below is the second one - so cute, so small!

The biggest news, however, were caused by the TLBO's 1st and roughly the Yukon's 5th Turkey Vulture that flew by on the 24th. Unfortunately it didn't come close enough for even record shots. On the same morning a juvenile Gyrfalcon put up a nice show by chasing some local gulls and sitting in various spruce trees for great scope views and some poor photos as it was so early in the morning that there was almost no light for photos. Another Gyrfalcon flew by on the 27th. Black-bellied Plover is a pretty common fall migrant in the Yukon so it may come as a surprise to our readers that the flocks of 11 and 17 birds seen on the 21st were only the 2nd and 3rd record for TLBO, something that the staff is equally baffled about!

An early morning juvenile Gyrfalcon

Other sightings of somewhat uncommon birds at TLBO included yet another Sanderling on the 21st, four Redheads and two Harlequin Ducks on the 23rd and an unidentified winter-plumaged Phalarope way out on the lake on the same day. A Belted Kingfisher seen on the 29th was the only bird seen that was behind its usual departure time. However, several species were seen for the first time this season: Long-tailed Duck and Long-billed Dowitcher on the 21st, and Tundra Swan, Ring-necked Duck and Glaucous Gull on the 23rd. Of uncommon migrants  72 Snow Geese were seen on the 24th and 82 on the 30th, 37 Canvasbacks on the 21st and 12 on the 23rd, and 13 Sandhill Cranes on the 21st, 69 on the 29th and 10 on the 30th.

Northern Pintail traveling with Canada Geese

A light-morph juvenile Harlan's Hawk is a funky looking thing!

Usually the big news at this time of the year are the big southbound flights of various species but so far we've had very few exciting movements happen. On the 21st under cloudy skies and rain 157 Lesser Scaup and 71 Pacific Loons were counted. Neither is a very high count but so far the highest for the season as was the count of 263 Canada Geese on the 23rd. On the 24th the wind turned north and the skies cleared, unfortunately, as the raptors climbed high and were very difficult to spot against the blue sky. We did manage to spot 195 of them, mostly Red-tailed (66) and Sharp-shinned Hawks (62) but also 16 American Kestrels and 10 Golden Eagles were seen. 119 White-winged Scoters on the following day was a record count for TLBO. On the 29th, without a warning from the weather forecast, the wind was suddenly blowing from northwest. With the wind came the first flight of Tundra Swans (615) and 305 raptors (123 Red-tails, 80 Rough-legged Hawks, 51 Sharp-shinns, and 27 Northern Harriers among others) were counted too. On the 30th as the snow flew a few more raptors were sailing the stormy nortwesterlies but no high counts were reached.

A seemingly black and white but actually wonderfully colorful Black-billed Magpie having some Burbot for breakfast

Chris Sukha (R) trying to prevent further bloodshed by holding the Shrike's bill as Jukka Jantunen (L) bands with already bleeding fingers! Photo © Sarah Nägl 

Here are the banding totals as of Sept 30 including birds banded as part of the owling effort (the number in brackets is the number banded since the last blog entry):

Sharp-shinned Hawk - 14
Solitary Sandpiper - 1
Wilson's Snipe - 1
Boreal Owl - 35 (17)
Northern Saw-whet Owl - 2 (2)
Belted Kingfisher - 9
Downy Woodpecker - 1
Western Wood-Pewee - 4
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - 3
Alder Flycatcher - 506
Least Flycatcher - 2
Hammond's Flycatcher - 8
Dusky Flycatcher - 4
Northern Shrike - 1 (1)
Warbling Vireo - 12
Gray Jay - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 16 (1)
Boreal Chickadee - 3
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 3
Winter/Pacific Wren - 1 (1)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 69 (2)
Gray-cheeked Thrush - 10
Swainson's Thrush - 49
Hermit Thrush - 1 (1)
American Robin - 9
Varied Thrush - 3
Tennessee Warbler - 1
Orange-crowned Warbler - 149
Yellow Warbler - 504
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 177 (5)
Townsend's Warbler - 10
Blackpoll Warbler - 61
American Redstart - 25
Northern Waterthrush - 48
Common Yellowthroat - 82 (3)
Wilson's Warbler - 164 (1)
American Tree Sparrow - 21 (5)
Chipping Sparrow - 15
Savannah Sparrow - 17
Fox Sparrow - 17 (1)
Lincoln's Sparrow - 9 (1)
White-crowned Sparrow - 15
Golden-crowned Sparrow - 1
Slate-coloured Junco - 139 (9)
Rusty Blackbird - 10 (1)
Brown-headed Cowbird - 2
Purple Finch - 3
White-winged Crossbill - 2
Common Redpoll - 1
Pine Siskin - 303 (6)

Total = 2544 (54) birds of 50 species