Posted | filed under Weekly Reports.

On October 3, Fall Migration Monitoring at the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory ended after 84 days. We normally end on September 30, and this is the first time since 2008 that we pushed into October due to the unseasonably warm weather, which may have delayed movements of some short-distance migrants. It remains unclear if the slow end to fall is due to warm weather, extreme forest fire and smoke activity, or something else entirely.

Preliminarily, we encountered nearly 48,000 birds of 147 species – 7,000 birds short of last fall (in large part due to 4,000 fewer Myrtle Warblers being counted overhead), but with eighteen more species identified. Notable highlights included an influx of Semipalmated Plovers following a lull since 2017 and Sanderlings for the first time in twelve years. Our station’s rocky shoreline is poor habitat for most shorebirds which are common on Devonshire’s sandy beaches. We see Bald Eagles near daily, but both juvenile and adult Golden Eagles joined 2023’s tally. Bohemian Waxwings arrived early with multiple sightings – we have detected this species during fall only once, in 2021.

Above: This little American Tree Sparrow was crowned our last songbird banded of 2023. As a bird hatched last year or earlier, this bird has already traveled from its tundra breeding grounds to winter somewhere between southern Alberta and northern Texas at least twice. It was a nice bookend to the year after the first songbird banded of 2023 was also an American Tree Sparrow during Spring Migration Monitoring.

While we recorded good observational data, between wildlife and poor weather, we were only able to have our nets open for 68% of our standard monitoring hours. The loss of our nets was acute in August, which only achieved 43% of possible netting effort because Black Bears often forced us to keep our ground level nets closed. Perhaps for this reason, after five consecutive years of over 3,000 banded birds each, this year we see a return to average with 2,604 birds banded of 62 species. The last songbird banded was an American Tree Sparrow – a short-distance migrant targeted by our modest season extension.

Despite half the number of Myrtle Warblers being banded this year compared to last, they retain the first-place position, as always, with 516 banded, followed by Tennessee Warbler (337 bands), Swainson’s Thrush (328), American Redstart (159), and White-Throated Sparrows (86). One of our usual Top 5 species, the Yellow Warbler, saw the sharpest drop in numbers, from their record high of 391 last fall to a meager 57 banded this fall.

Above: This was just the sixth Townsend’s Solitaire we have ever banded. They breed in the Yukon or British Columbia before crossing over Alberta to find their wintering grounds in the central United States down through northern Mexico.

Even though the season’s preliminary band totals were average overall, there were two record-breakers. Gambell’s White-Crowned Sparrows broke their previous 2017 record of 37 with 47 banded this fall and Purple Finches set a dramatic new high with quadruple their previous record of 11 in 2015 with 43 banded. Honourable mentions go out to our rare fall captures of LeConte’s Sparrow, Common Grackles, Belted Kingfisher, Lapland Longspur and, just last week, our sixth ever Townsend’s Solitaire.

All that remains is the Owl Migration Monitoring program that runs until the end of October. No Boreal Owls have been captured yet, but we have banded a modest 57 Northern Saw-whets thus far. Our Family Owl Nights are October 13 and 14. Space is limited and filling fast. For more information, contact the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation at or (780) 849-8240.

By Bronwyn Robinson, Assistant Bander and Robyn Perkins, Bander-in-Charge

Preliminary totals for all species banded during Fall Migration Monitoring 2023 from most banded to least:

“Myrtle” Warbler516Chipping Sparrow12
Tennessee Warbler337Common Yellowthroat12
Swainson’s Thrush328Hermit Thrush10
American Redstart159Song Sparrow10
White-throated Sparrow86Cedar Waxwing8
“Slate-coloured” Junco83Swamp Sparrow8
Ovenbird70Blue Jay7
Yellow Warbler57Warbling Vireo7
Alder Flycatcher55Cape May Warbler6
Black-and-white Warbler54Brown Creeper5
Orange-crowned Warbler54Downy Woodpecker5
Red-eyed Vireo52Savannah Sparrow5
Black-capped Chickadee49Yellow-bellied Flycatcher5
Canada Warbler49Blue-headed Vireo4
“Gambel’s” White-crowned Sparrow47“Western” Palm Warbler4
Bay-breasted Warbler46Gray-cheeked Thrush3
Purple Finch43Hairy Woodpecker3
Lincoln’s Sparrow40Black-throated Green Warbler2
Mourning Warbler39Common Grackle2
Northern Waterthrush35Eastern Phoebe2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet35“Yellow-shafted” Flicker2
Philadelphia Vireo27Belted Kingfisher1
Least Flycatcher26Fox Sparrow1
Sharp-shinned Hawk25Golden-crowned Kinglet1
Western Tanager25Lapland Longspur1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak24Le Conte’s Sparrow1
Wilson’s Warbler24Red-breasted Nuthatch1
Clay-coloured Sparrow23Townsend’s Solitaire1
Magnolia Warbler20Western Wood-Pewee1
American Tree Sparrow19Yellow-bellied Sapsucker1
American Robin14Total number of birds banded2,604
Blackpoll Warbler12Total number of species banded62