Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Wettest Coldest Spring 2012

I see that my last post on April 17 coincided with the start of the spring migratory season at the Albert Creek Bird Observatory where I volunteer.  The Observatory was open every day except for wet weather, which meant that I spent most of my days there until June 7, when it closed. Most indoor work stopped in my house.

I returned to the raven's nest a few times.  I didn't want to visit too often, for although I could view the nest from a distance and stay hidden on a path in the forest, the male raven knew when I arrived and would call out a warning to the female at the nest. I timed my last visit when I thought that if there were any hatchlings they would be big enough to see and ready to fledge. The forest was quiet as I stood on the path looking through binoculars at the nest. No warning raven call. No ravens flying around or sitting on other trees near the nest. The nest, itself, was also quiet. Had the babies fledged? Had the nest been abandoned for some reason? I'll never know, however, next spring I'll visit the location again in hopes of seeing that the ravens have returned to use the nest.

Ted Murphy-Kelly, Manager/Head Bander putting up nets
This was the 12th spring season for the Albert Creek Bird Observatory and its busiest, wettest and coldest. A record 4,133 of 57 species were banded. A record number of American Tree Sparrows were banded, 571, up from the previous high of 345 recorded in spring 2007. We were close to breaking records with a few other species.

Banders Jukka Jantunen and Ted Murphy-Kelly
The cool, wet weather, which included some late snowstorms (May 16-19), meant that the birds stayed longer in the area to feed and renew their energy to fly farther. Shorebirds migrating in mid-May landed to escape the wind, rain and snow. Birds, that may not normally visit Yukon, arrived with the strong winds. One such bird was a Gambel's white-crowned sparrow banded in 2011 at Fort Klamath, Oregon. The majority of our song birds in southeast Yukon come from the east through the prairies.

Busy day - birds are brought from the nets in a bag
One of the records we take with birds is the fat content. This is done by examining an indentation hidden by feathers at the base of the throat. The bander blows on the area to move the feathers to expose the spot and determines how hollow or full of fat it is. This spring, we saw a large number of sparrows with low fat levels. This meant that either the birds' migration path contained poor feed or that flying conditions were so bad, that all the stored fat was used up faster. As the weather continued to be cool and wet, people began finding dead sparrows in the forests.

Visitors and volunteers at any skill level are welcome. For more information about the birds banded or observed at all Yukon bird observatories, visit

View from the banding work table


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    1. Hi Susan. I have not got the hang of this editing process! Should have previewed my comment before publishing it! I hate seeing typos! Anyway, I just wanted to say how fascinating your posts are - lovely to read about your life in Canada - one of those special places in the world my husband and I would love to visit. We are most definately outdoors people too, and love the snow. Beautiful photographs. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  2. I have to say that to bird watch and band birds in your climate, you have to be truly committed!