April 23rd was the big day this year – the day the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory began spring migration monitoring for its 21st year. Once again the Observatory will be run by Richard Krikun and myself, Nicole Linfoot. This year, however, we will be joined by a third person: Ryan, who is scheduled to start in a few days. It will be interesting to have some fresh blood out at the lab and we look forward to delegating all the menial… I mean really fun and educational task to him. For those of you who have been following the LSLBO updates for numerous years, you may be thinking that April 23rd seems a kind of early start to the season. You would be correct in that thinking; we don’t normally start until the 26-28. The reason behind this year’s start-date is simply that the snow had the courtesy to melt early allowing us access to the lab and our netlanes without the tiresome chore of shoveling. Also, it has consistently been warming to above zero (we do not band if the temperature is below zero) a couple hours after sunrise every day. Despite being gung-ho to start the season, we are off to a slow start banding-wise primarily due to poor weather. It may have been above zero, but rain, snow and wind have kept the nets shut for over half the days that we have been out there. In addition to our limited net hours, there really aren’t that many birds around; somehow, even with our early start, we still managed to miss the bulk of the dark-eyed junco and American tree sparrow migration. These two species breed up at the arctic treeline and they seem to chase the receding snow all the way there. They arrive in areas just as the snow melts and are gone a few days later. We only ended up catching a few stragglers; add to them a few local black-capped chickadees and some ruby-crowned kinglets and myrtle warblers and we arrive at a total of only 21 birds banded so far. The early migrants may be well past, but thankfully many other species are starting to arrive. Myrtle warblers are becoming more abundant by the day, and American robin and various blackbird species are forming a steady procession overhead during the early morning. Tundra swans and greater white-fronted geese just arrived late this week and are getting us back into practice counting/estimating large flock sizes. The highlight of opening week happened in April 26th. It was an overcast, dreary and overall lack-lustre day when late in the morning we started seeing more and more raptors passing overhead. We don’t normally see many raptor species in our area; the only ones we typically see decent numbers of are bald eagle, sharp-shinned hawk and northern harrier. Not that day though! In the matter of only a couple hours we had counted 96 raptors representing 10 species. In addition to higher-than-average numbers of the common species, we also saw many rough-legged hawk, peregrine falcon, broad-winged hawk, and more.