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Round one of seven visits to all three MAPS was wrapped up on Saturday, June 6 with our first visit to the Rock Ridge MAPS site in Frontenac Provincial Park. Ontario Parks, particularly the staff at Frontenac, have been of great assistance to FBS getting established. Frontenac Provincial Park, a backcountry wilderness park with over 5000 hectares of incredibly diverse habitats is literally at the core of the Frontenac Breeding Birds program. In addition to the operation of Rock Ridge, we have also started conducting point counts and nest monitoring throughout the park, which will provide a rigorous baseline assessment of breeding bird abundance, species richness, distribution and habitat relationships. A big thanks are due to the following Ontario Parks staff for permitting us to run our project and for assisting in the development of the FBS initiative-Peter Dawson (park superintendant), Bert Korporral, Corina Brdar and Chris Robinson.
Our Rock Ridge Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) site feels, in many ways, like a world apart. The site is as unique as it is beautiful with extensive rock barrens and outcrops that tumble down over steep cliffs into deep clear lakes that shimmer aqua-green in the sun. The steep and rugged cliffs are home to Yellow-rumped Warblers, Pine Warblers, Purple Finches, Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Turkey Vultures to name a few. Frontenac Provincial Park underwent a series of burns about 80 years ago or so. At least one fire that the military had to be called in to put out was started by settlers in a dispute over rights to berry picking territory (blueberries and cranberries)! The human history of Frontenac Provincial Park, while rich and fascinating, has also played a key role in shaping what is there today. The burns of the 30′s have resulted in a large swath of what is best described as rock barren habitat with stunted and slow growing plant communities. This is a fascinating habitat and a clear favourite of Field Sparrows, Eastern Towhees and a few specialists of the region (more on that later this week).
The photo above was taken near the banding station during a brief sunny period on our visit. The view takes us over steep cliffs of conifers across to wetlands that include a small Black Spruce bog. The MAPS site also includes some more mature mixed-forest along the northwestern side. The White-throated Sparrow such as the one pictured above are one of the most abundant species at the station and their distinctive voices filled the air from all directions during our visit.
Access to Rock Ridge is at best an ordeal of mental and physical stamina! Waking up at 3am never gets easy and then to undertake a 30 minute drive followed by a 30 minute portage and 20 minute paddle….you get the picture. However, Rock Ridge is worth it. This is the view from the banding station where all of the captured birds during the six hours of mistnetting are processed (banded, measured, aged, sexed and released). There is just something of the untouched about the place that makes it all worthwhile and the birds are terrific as well. Actually, I had an hour or two of panic when we had caught a promising four birds on the first net check, which was followed by three consecutive rounds of absolutely nothing. Fortunately, a total of fifteen birds were captured during the following three net checks!
Speaking of birds, we ended the day having banded a total of 23 birds and 2 repeat captures for a total of 25. The most common of the lot were American Robins (4) followed by Red-eyed Vireo (3) and White-throated Sparrow (3). Nashville Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Scarlet Tanager and Purple Finch are also quite numerous at the site but all evaded our nets on the first day. There were also a few “singles of things” such as this second-calender year female Eastern Kingbird.
Black-and-white Warblers occur in significant numbers at all three MAPS stations. We managed to catch this sharp male from one of our “scrub” nets that is far from appropriate habitat for this species. They tend to be most common along the more maturely wooded slopes but they do seem to occur in some rather open and stunted habitats as well.
Cuckoos, both Black-billed and Yellow-billed are also found at all three MAPS sites. We captured this Black-billed and narrowly missed another in net 10 around late morning (they are a bit on the large side for 30mm mesh nets and tend to flop out when approached). The incredible abundance of forest tent caterpillars this year may produce a bumper crop of juv cuckoos in 2009!
Cedar Waxwings are late nesters and tend not to get down to business until late June-early July in Ontario. Wheeling flocks of Cedar Waxwings have been observed on a regular basis at our MAPS sites but this is the first of the species that we’ve caught. Seabrooke must have enjoyed the light of Rock Ridge as these bird portraits are particularly strong. Seabrooke has been a huge help to the operation of these MAPS stations as I’m doubtful that this could have been pulled off on my own. Look for her account of Rock Ridge on her marvelous blog later today!
In the end, our first visit to Rock Ridge was a productive one as we experienced no major incidents in accessing the site and the sample of breeding birds was very strong. I have a feeling that, more so than the other sites, the composition of species in our sample will change most sharply for Rock Ridge as the canopy birds descend and the site funnels a high number of late summer dispersing adults and young. That’s just my hunch…..
Rock Ridge- Visit 1 of 7