Bird report: Slow spring, but busy fall for bird observatory

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In 2020, the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory (LSLBO) completed its 27th year of bird population monitoring in the Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park of northern Alberta. Dedicated to bird conservation through research and education, the LSLBO manages four core monitoring programs that contribute to national and international networks: spring migration monitoring, fall migration monitoring,
Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) – nesting birds, and fall owl migration monitoring.

Spring
Spring migration monitoring ran April 21 to June 10 for 44 out of a possible 51 days. Overall, fewer hours were spent in spring monitoring than in previous years because of poor weather and the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the number of staff. Approximately 57,000 birds of 146 identified species were observed.

Location of banding and band recovery for [1] a myrtle warbler banded at the LSLBO and found roughly three weeks later in Minnesota and [2] a northern saw-whet owl banded last year at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory and recaptured at the LSLBO; Google Earth imagery (create by LSLBO).

Only 59.4 per cent of possible net-hours happened. A net-hour is defined as the time an individual net has been opened. The nets are hung between trees to capture flying birds without harming them.

LSLBO banded a total of 512 birds of 39 species – the third lowest spring banding total.

There were an additional 78 recaptured banded birds, of which, the oldest was a 5+ year old black-and-white warbler.

Fall
Fall migration monitoring ran from July 12 to September 30. Two experienced assistants started in June, so it was staffed as well as previous years.

Over 53,000 birds of 127 identified species were counted across monitoring methods, including the first white-winged dove in our monitoring history.

Although poor weather resulted in below average mist-netting (only 65.7 per cent of possible net-hours), this was the busiest season for fall banding in the LSLBO’s history – with 3,966 birds of 60 species banded.

Total capture rates were almost double the fall average with 91.3 birds per 100 net-hours. Many species beat their previous records for number of banded birds.

An additional 316 recaptured banded birds were collected, with a myrtle warbler estimated to be 8+ years old as the oldest. Another myrtle warbler banded in the fall was recovered in Minnesota roughly three weeks later.

MAPS
Four MAPS sites were operated June 11 to August 5, completing our 27th year of MAPS contributions. Banding was a record high with 505 birds of 33 species across stations; double the MAPS average. Within an additional 213 recaptured birds, the oldest bird was a 10+ year old white-throated sparrow.

Of 65 detected species, 26 breed in at least one site.

Owls
Targeted fall owl migration monitoring was conducted for the 17th year on 37 nights, September 1 to October 31. LSLBO captured 82 saw-whet owls and one boreal owl; the fifth slowest year to date.

An owl banded last year by the Beaverhill Bird Observatory was recaptured.

Other projects
Additional collaborative projects included the second year of breeding bird surveys – assessing species in harvested forests (Vanderwell Contractors), continued collaboration on a landscape-level modeling project (University of Alberta), collecting water samples for eDNA analysis (University of Guelph), sharing a subset of monitoring data with eBird (Cornell Lab), and donating specimens to the Royal Alberta Museum.

Four scientific articles were published which the LSLBO collaborated with in various ways.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on education and outreach programs with the cancellation of school fieldtrips and community programs, as well as preventing public access to the station. New virtual and self-directed programs were developed for students, teachers, and the public to increase awareness of boreal bird ecology and LSLBO conservation programs.

The banding lab published weekly articles in The Leader and blogs on the LSLBO website and Facebook.

Editor’s note: The complete LSLBO Annual report is on the LSLBO’s website.

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