Hello again to all my fellow bird-enthusiasts! As of April 20 the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory is back in action. Our start date of April 20 is the earliest since 2004 thanks to the unseasonably warm weather through the first half of April. Our decision to open the lab typically depends when the snow melts from the net-lanes and when daytime temperatures consistently rise about 0. The way this spring was, we probably could have started weeks ago if only all our permits had been in place. Once again the lab is staffed by Richard Krikun and myself Nicole Linfoot; this year we will also be joined by Jacob, a first-year university student from Ontario, who is starting up May 4. Although we won’t be conducting any of our own independent research projects (besides the core monitoring programs) this year, we do plan to help out with a project being conducted by the University of Manitoba so it will be nice to have the third set of hands.
With no snow to speak of and the ice already (rapidly) disappearing from the lake it feels like it is mid-May making it kind of weird being out at the observatory not observing species of bird that seem like they should be here but actually won’t be around for weeks. That is not to say that birds aren’t around. We have been counting thousands of migrating American robins, hundreds of blackbirds as well as plenty of tundra swans, a species that is normally already done passing through by the time we get going. There have also been handfuls of dark-eyed juncos, myrtle warblers and American tree sparrows flitting by through the forest. One species that we have seen in really good numbers that we find very surprising is the greater white-fronted goose. White-fronts are by far the most common species of goose that migrates through our area but we don’t normally see them until the second week of May. It will be interesting to see how this spring pans out with species showing up three weeks sooner than expected – hopefully it doesn’t mean we will have a very slow second half of the season.
View of the lake at the Bird Observatory
Although migration overhead has been good, the banding has been pretty slow. We are averaging a paltry three birds a day. On the first day though, one of the three birds banded was a very special bird. It was a Townsend’s solitaire and it was only the second of its species ever banded at the LSLBO and more excitingly (for me anyways) it was the first one that I have banded. Townsend’s solitaire are a member of the thrush family, so a relatives of robins and one of our top-banded-species, Swainson’s thrush. Slave Lake is well outside what their range-maps show in field guides – they are a montane/foothill species. They do, however, show up here on occasion because Marten Hills and Swan Hills are both extensions of the foothills region. We watched this particular individual foraging around the lab for several minutes and did our best to ‘will’ it into a net, and for once it worked. The bird took a major turn of the path right into one of our nets.