MAPS Visit 1-Hemlock Lake (HELA)

Black-and-white Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler

The first “official” day of the Frontenac Breeding Birds program began with both great anticipation and the sound of the alarm clock at a shockingly early hour! The first day at a shiny new MAPS station is usually filled with a lot of excitement mixed with a bit of drama and perhaps even a bit of anxiety. Stumbling through the one kilometre long “path” through the thick bush at 430am is then followed by a mad scramble to expeditiously locate net sites and erect the mistnets. This can be a trying experience however things always get easier once this procedure is out of the way. Our first visit of the year was to Hemlock Lake, a gorgeous site of mixed forest and wetlands on crown lands in the FBS study area. The most distinctive characteristic of the HELA station is the proliferation of Eastern Hemlock and the lake itself, which is full of drowned timber and a regenerating shoreline of trees felled by the infamous ice storm of 1998. This shoreline is now regenerating with a host of successional shrubs and saplings, which provides excellent edge habitats for sampling both adult and dispersing juvenile demographics.  Black-and-white Warbler (pictured above) is one of the most abundant species in the area, although just one male was captured this morning.

Hemlock Lake at dawn (S.Leckie)

Of the three MAPS stations we are running in 2009, Hemlock Lake is definitely the most rugged and arduous to traverse. There is a great amount of deadfall at the site and a lot of ups and downs over rock outcrops and small ridges and valleys. Wild Roses also provide a dense thorny covering for hidden snags and branches. While each of the twelve runs of the mistnets during the morning is an undertaking, the unique ecology, sights and sounds make it worthwhile and enjoyable.

Deciduous forest in northwest corner of HELA
Deciduous forest in northwest corner of HELA (S.Leckie)

The site also has large components of decidous forest at the boundaries of the station where Ovenbirds, Red-eyed Vireos and Scarlet Tanagers are common.

Mixed forest habitat (S.Leckie)

Mixed forest is more typical of the banding area, which is dotted by streams and ephemeral ponds. Gray Tree Frog, Winter Wren and Northern Waterthrush, among others, are found in these wetlands at Hemlock Lake. The most exciting find was of a fast moving Five-lined Skink, which thwarted any attempt to acquire a photograph. The Five-lined Skink is Ontario’s only species of lizard and is a designated Species at Risk.

From Royal Ontario Museum

The Five-lined Skink is Ontario’s only species of lizard, and it is split into two series of populations with distinct habitat preferences. The Carolinian populations, which are Endangered Nationally and Special Concern Provincially, occur in Carolinian forest and prefer wooded habitat with sandy soil and ground cover. They use woody debris as shelter and hibernate by burying themselves in the soil. The Great Lakes/St. Lawrence populations, which are Special Concern Provincially and Nationally, occur on the southern part of the Canadian Shield. Preferred habitat is on rocky outcrops in mixed coniferous and deciduous forests, where they can seek refuge from the elements and predators in rock crevices and fissures.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (S.Leckie)

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were also common throughout the Hemlock Lake station and are a dominant woodpecker species in forests of this type in the Frontenac Arch region.

Juvenile Brown Creeper (S.Leckie)

Brown Creepers are abundant at the site, due in part to the abundance of dead and decaying conifers along the shoreline of Hemlock Lake. We are already monitoring an active nest at the site and today captured this juvenile along with its parent (below). The two were released together at the net location where they were captured. All juvenile birds banded are released at locations where they were captured as they are often still dependent on their parents for feeding.

Adult Brown Creeper

Winter Wren nest in Eastern Hemlock

Speaking of nests, I discovered a Winter Wren nest at the site last week. The nest is located in a most unusual fashion as Winter Wrens typically build their dome shaped nests low to the ground in mossy stream banks and fallen logs. This particular nest was built on the end of a lateral Eastern Hemlock limb about eight feet off the ground! The photo below is of the entrance hole to the nest. The nest itself looks much like a ball of twigs and moss from below. Male Winter Wrens are known to continuously build nests throughout the summer, even after the female is tending eggs and young in one of his nests from earlier in the season. Males can build as many as twelve nests in a single breeding season! This particular nest is unlined and contains no eggs, which leads me to believe that it is one of these unused building projects. I will continue to check on this nest to note any change in occupancy and will begin my search for the active nest next week.

close-up of Winter Wren nest

Bird bag (S.Leckie)

A bird waiting for processing at the banding station. A fabulous set of bird bags for Frontenac Bird Studies was expertly prepared and delivered by Wendy Derbyshire (thanks mom!).

Seabrooke Leckie at the banding station
Seabrooke Leckie at the banding station

Research assistant Seabrooke Leckie processing birds at the shore of Hemlock Lake. These MAPS stations are spartan affairs as keeping things light and portable is a top priority! A total of 16 birds were captured during visit one to Hemlock Lake in 2009. Complete results are provided below. Overall, it was a fantastic start to the MAPS component of the Frontenac Breeding Birds and we have twenty more mornings and 251 more net checks at the MAPS stations still to come-a lot to look forward to!

HEMLOCK LAKE-Visit 1 of 7
Banding Results

Brown Creeper-2
Black-and-white Warbler-1
Northern Waterthrush-1
White-breasted Nuthatch-1
Eastern Towhee-1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak-2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker-2
American Robin-3
Blue Jay-2

Notable Observations

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (bounced out of net 2!)
Barred Owl
Pied-billed Grebe
Chestnut-sided Warblers
Black-throated Green Warblers
Hermit Thrush
Red-shouldered Hawk

3 thoughts on “MAPS Visit 1-Hemlock Lake (HELA)

  1. WOW! What a joy it must have been (after recovering from the 4 am thing) to hear such a wealth of birdsong & netting a good variety of locals. Too bad about that cuckoo! Maybe next time…

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