This has to be my favourite spot in all of the FBS study area – Hemlock Lake. Officially, the lake has no name but the abundance of hemlock here made for a convenient and appropriate namesake. I always visit in May, even though we haven’t conducted any fieldwork here since our trial MAPS station was shut down in 2009. It’s just one of those places. It has skinks and otters, lots of Winter Wrens, Brown Creepers and other South Frontenac goodies. On the downside it does seem to have a lot of Deer Ticks. I’ve been bitten twice, both times requiring doses of Doxycycline. It would be an incredible spot for a cottage if not for the aforementioned bloodsuckers and also the tangled mess of downed trees and thick coverage of raspberry canes (the site has endured what appears to have been an outbreak of Hemlock Borer). It’s a rugged place indeed. So rugged that it forced us to discontinue our MAPS station here after only two visits. At the end of each of those field days we felt well and truly knackered. I do hope that no road or cottage ever ends up at Hemlock Lake – it’s rampant wildness is its charm.
After a prolonged and complicated change of address it felt good to stroll through Frontenac woods again! The field season has begun. Our plans are full, as usual, but our focus will shift from the more specific pursuits of recent years back to the bigger picture. Point counts, point counts and more point counts are in order. In addition to widespread surveying there will also be demographic monitoring (MAPS and nest searching/atlassing) and a role in a collaborative project with Bird Studies Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service to examine the current population status of Cerulean Warblers in Ontario. The Frontenac Arch is THE hotspot for Cerulean Warblers in Canada. About a half dozen were heard singing this morning amongst the emerging foliage of the forest canopy.
I still marvel at the number of species with provincially or nationally critical connections to the Frontenac Arch region. The Gray Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides) is a perfect example. This is Ontario’s largest snake, growing up to 2.5 meters in length. This species has retracted considerably from its historical range but they seem to be holding on in the Arch – a familiar trend. I found this meter-long individual warming itself on the road this morning. After a bit of resistance from it I was able to move it off the road to safety. Unfortunately, collisions with vehicles are one of its main threats.
Frontenac Bird Studies – 2013
Time flies when you’re having fun studying birds! We launched FBS with our first season no less than five years ago. This year, our fifth consecutive, we will be branching into some new and exciting territory and also revisit all of the familiar survey routes that we established way back in 2009 – it promises to be a big year for FBS. Read on for more information on our activities this season.
In 2009 we completed surveys at over 150 point count stations throughout our study area. We surveyed along roadways, off the beaten path, and in everything from rock barren habitat to mature Sugar Maple-Oak forests. This June we will return to these routes for another round of counts, which will be a key contribution to our growing dataset on local population trends.
Since the beginning we’ve made it an annual priority to address locally occurring rare and declining species through monitoring and research. After three years dedicated to Prairie Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrushes, we are now turning our attention to Cerulean Warblers in collaboration with an Ontario-wide initiative led by Bird Studies Canada. Cerulean Warblers are now considered Threatened in Ontario and have been recommended as nationally Endangered by COSEWIC. Frontenac Provincial Park has a substantial percentage of Canada’s breeding Ceruleans, further evidence of the importance of the park and the Frontenac Arch overall to Species at Risk.
Filling in the Gaps
As if we need more to do! Our focus on Prairie Warblers and Louisianas over the last four years has carried us to familiar haunts, largely the rock barrens and pristine stream valleys in Frontenac Provincial Park. Key sections of the 5000 ha wilderness park have yet to be explored and as a result, some of the less common nesting species have only been rarely encountered if not missed altogether. Providing that our feet can take the punishment, our plan is to close some of these gaps with exploratory searches for these “missing” species in 2013.
For the past three years we’ve had great success with our annual Frontenac Biothon, which was both a valuable data gathering event and also a fundraiser. This year we will stay true to the same basic formula but with a focus on collecting breeding evidence for the park’s bird species – essentially a 24-hour mini-atlas! Thanks a bunch to all who have supported us in the past. We hope you’ll make another pledge this year! Click here for more information and/or to make a donation to the Frontenac Avian Atlas Day.
The 2012 season of our Frontenac Breeding Birds program is officially wrapped. All reports and data have been submitted and our attention has already shifted to 2013. We are particularly excited about this upcoming season, our fifth, as we will be turning our attention to new subjects after having just completed three consecutive years of monitoring Louisiana Waterthrush and Prairie Warbler. We will reveal our plans in the coming months once our preparations are completed.
A big thanks are due to all of our readers, sponsors and friends who continue to make FBS possible!
Our fourth consecutive season of Monitoring Avian Productivity & Survivorship (M.A.P.S) is well underway; nearly half finished, actually. We’ve now completed our third of seven visits to each station. As previously discussed results from our first three years of M.A.P.S indicated a sharp, incremental decline in abundance and diversity of terrestrial avifauna in Frontenac woodlands and rock barrens since 2009. The breadth and severity of the decline was foremost in our minds as we walked the trodden paths from usual empty net to empty net in 2011. Hope springs eternal and a new season began in early June 2012. Below is an update on this year’s results to date for Maplewood and Rock Ridge.
First the good news. Numbers of birds are up from last year at MABO, although still considerably lower than in 2009. For comparison, in 2009 we captured 91 birds total through visits 1-3 (72 new/19 rec) while we’ve captured 60 (39 new/21 rec) for the same period in 2012. Very pleased to see that Nashville Warblers and Northern Waterthrushes have returned to the site. We banded a whopping eight Northern Waterthrushes here in 2009 but didn’t even hear or see one a year ago. We’ve banded two adults of each species so far in 2012. Annual totals of Veery and Wood Thrush have been relatively consistent in abundance since 2009 and have returned in expected numbers again this year. Two new species have been recorded for the site; a singing Brown Creeper was detected on June 7 and White-throated Sparrows have been recorded singing on each visit. Notable absentees so far include cuckoos, Hermit Thrush and Field Sparrow.
It’s been a strong year for Yellow-rumped Warblers at MABO. I’ve also observed an unusually high number of adults feeding fledged young in Frontenac Provincial Park this spring/summer – good signs for this northern species in the region. While it’s still too early to judge this M.A.P.S season at MABO, with less than half of the work completed, we are seeing some positive signs of a possible rebound. Weather conditions have been closer to normal during this breeding season than any previous season since our studies began.
American Redstarts are one of the most commonly sampled species at MABO, although they are infrequent nesters within the station boundaries proper. They mainly occupy habitats at the edges of the station but we do manage to capture them later on in the summer when adults and young disperse. In 2009 at least two pairs nested along the shrubby perimeters of small wetlands within the station but they’ve not returned since. Gorgeous bird – one of my favourites.
Rock Ridge (RRID)
While things seem promising at MABO, the same cannot be stated for Rock Ridge (RRID) where numbers are a little down from last season and at least a few species seem to be struggling: most notably Eastern Towhee and Field Sparrow. Both are species of conservation concern due to significant negative trends evident in continental BBS and MAPS data. At our stations these species have consistently decreased in abundance annually since 2009. Urban expansion and changing rural landuse practices seem to be the most commonly suggested causes for the declines in both species, although these issues are less applicable in our region. On the other hand, White-throated Sparrows appear to have rebounded nicely after a near no-show in 2011. Also, the only Pine Warbler that we’ve banded during M.A.P.S was spotted feeding fledged young on June 28, 2012. The bird was originally banded as an immature male on July 18, 2010.
2011 was not a good year for cuckoos. For the first time we failed to capture one during a M.A.P.S season. This Black-billed was a welcome capture on June 18, 2012 at RRID. However, their numbers are clearly down from our first two seasons. This is true for most species at the station – present but substantially fewer in number. Rock Ridge begins to shine in July when birds abandon territories in search of food with their young so it will be interesting to see how the year will pan out at the station.