Spring avian migration monitoring began at the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory on April 17, 2023 for our 29th year of standardized monitoring. While we were excited to see the snow melted enough that our shovels were not needed to dig out the netlanes, the warm weather did not deliver us the rush of early migration we were hoping for. Instead, as April progressed, we seemed to mark absences more frequently than migration.
The first day to capture a bird was April 19 when an American Tree Sparrow became our first bird banded of 2023. While they have the same red cap of locally summering Chipping Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows have a ‘bicoloured’ bill in which the top mandible is black and the bottom is yellow, a red eyeline, and a dark circle on their chests. Moreover, this species is a medium-distance migrant which may winter as close as southern Alberta before shooting over the province to breed in the territories.
Other first day captures included two Slate-coloured Juncos. Mid to late April often sees large flocks of this species moving low through our canopy as they head north. However, Juncos are one of the absences we have been noting and it is unclear if they migrated earlier than April 17 or have not yet moved. Part of the mystery is that years with early Junco migration can often be seen from town, but none of our members have reported high counts of Juncos at their feeders. To-date only five Juncos have been banded, well below our spring average of 49 per spring. This species migration window is erratic, and we have banded anywhere from 0 to 237 during spring.
Despite the stillness of April, May has already been providing a steady increase in diversity such that we have observed 81 bird species with many first encounters in the last few days. Several species begin to fill the forest with birdsong as American Robins, Song Sparrows, Eastern Phoebes, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets join our resident Ruffed Grouse, Black-capped Chickadees, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Soon there will be too many species singing to reasonably fit in one sentence!
If you would like to help us celebrate the safe journeys undertaken by our migratory birds, be sure to mark your calendars for the 26th Annual Songbird Festival! A full schedule is available here, but you can expect a pancake breakfast, bird observatory tours, guided bird walks, and fun crafts and activities at the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation on May 27, 2023. On May 28 will be the 5K/10K Bird Walk/Run for which registration is already open. We hope to see you there.
By Robyn Perkins, LSLBO Bander-in-Charge