Posted | filed under Weekly Reports.

The trees are turning colours, the breeze is getting nippy, and the air has that amazing smell that can only mean one thing… Autumn is here. Fall migration monitoring may have started over a month ago, but it has only really started to feel like fall this past week. Plants and weather aside, there have been other signs of the changing of seasons at the observatory. For starters, our species diversity is shrinking rapidly; most of our warbler species as well as many sparrow species and the vireos, tanagers, blackbirds, and many others are gone save the last few straggling individuals. This is a bittersweet time – I love autumn. I love the warm but not hot weather, the lack of biting insects and the colours and smells, but hate saying goodbye to the beautiful songbirds that filled my summer days. I am taking time to appreciate every bird that gets caught because I know it could very well be the last one of that species that I will see until May. It isn’t all downhill though, that is the other sign of the arrival of fall: the diversity may be dropping, but it is starting to be slightly offset by the arrival of some of the far northern breeders. There are over a dozen species that we only see in early spring and then again in late fall as they travel to and from the tundra and high-arctic. This week we have encountered a few of these quintessential fall species. We banded both a slate-coloured junco and a golden-crowned sparrow and have seen several Lapland longspurs flying overhead as well as a golden-crowned kinglet foraging. The junco is the least impressive of the bunch, they can be found anywhere north of here that has thick coniferous forests, the longspur, though, spent their summer breeding up on the tundra right on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. The kinglet is a neat little northern breeder – they aren’t just passing through, they are actually arriving here – this is where they will spend their winter. Another species of bird that is synonymous with fall in the birding world will also arrive soon. Northern saw-whet owls breed all over northern Canada, including here is the Lesser Slave Lake region. Although they are present all summer, they are spread out in large breeding territories deep in coniferous forests; only in the fall do they become abundant and common in all forest types as they migrate south (to northern United States) for the winter. This year, like every year since 2004, we will be conducting saw-whet owl monitoring. Starting September 1 I will be out every night playing the owl’s breeding call near an array of nets in the hopes of catching saw-whets and banding them. Owl banding is one of the best things about fall. Last year we had the lowest capture rate on record, and most of the other stations across Canada reported similar results. Here’s hoping this year makes up for it.