Waterfront homes at Hemlock Lake

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Forest floor of regenerating coniferous forest

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Returned to the Hemlock Lake site yesterday to begin searching for mistnet locations and to get a better picture of the breeding bird community for our study. The visit was considerably more comfortable than my last when black flies were particularly menacing! This latest visit was cool with very few biting insects, which afforded me a great opportunity to get to know the site a bit better. What a difference a couple of weeks can make in the late spring! The emerging foliage was substantially further along, which created a much different looking landscape. Site visits in winter and early spring gave me a solid understanding of the scale, topography and structure of the site but I knew that it wouldn’t be possible to even consider positoning net locations until the canopy and understory had matured.

Upon entry to the site, I heard Eastern Towhee, Scarlet Tanager, Nashville Warbler and a concert of voice-battling Ovenbirds. Further along to where the forest turns from deciduous to mixed-coniferous, I encountered Black-and-white, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue and Blackburnian Warblers, all species we were expecting at the site. Also of interest were at least two territories of Winter Wren, one of the most vocally adept species on the planet! I was able to record a few seconds of one of our talented males holding territory in the site along with one of the unavoidable male Ovenbirds (click play to listen).

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Evidence of active nesting by many species included alarm calls, adults carrying nesting material and territorial disputes. I didn’t find a great number of nests but I did mark locations where a nest was suspected. I will have to return in a few days to a week to confirm presumed nest sites of Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler and Eastern Towhee among others.

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However, I did manage to find the nest of a Brown Creeper, which was discovered by patiently watching movements and behaviour of a pair in the standing dead timber at the edge of Hemlock Lake.  After sitting quietly for about 45 minutes, I was finally rewarded with the observation of an adult entering a tree with nesting material. The Brown Creeper places its nest almost exclusively in dead trees, between a loose flap of bark and the trunk. They build a hammock shaped nest of sticks and fibres, which is secured to the bark with insect-egg casings and spider silk. The nest will now be monitored with the goal of deriving a nest outcome. The information will be important to our demographic studies of breeding birds in the FBS study area and will be submitted to the Ontario Nest Records Scheme and Project Nestwatch for province-wide monitoring efforts. A closer view of the nest site is provided below.

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Brown Creeper nest site

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The most exciting discovery of the day led to this short video of a waterthrush carrying material to a nest in roots of an upturned tree along a clear moving stream. Northern Waterthrushes were quite vocal in the vicinity but this particular pair were all but silent except for some occassional contact calls between male and female. The calls were diagnostic of Louisiana Waterthrush but I will have to confirm identify of the nest owners at a later date. Northern Waterthrush are very similar in appearance with some subtle differences. It is best to distinguish the two by song, which are distinct. The Louisiana Waterthrush is a Species At Risk and a specialty of the Frontenac Arch region where an abundance of mature forest and clear moving streams provide suitable nesting habitat. The video is of less than ideal quality but one can clearly see an adult entering the roots about halfway up the screen to the left of the small tree trunk. The bird is more clearly seen at the end of the clip as it cryptically runs through the stream and out of the frame. Click here for HD version of this video clip.

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The Hemlock Lake MAPS station will begin operating in early June and continue with one visit per ten-day block through the final visit in late July. We will also be conducting a standardized nest monitoring study at this and the other two MAPS stations in the FBS study area. The site is turning out to be a terrific find and hopefully a long-term home for our research and monitoring programs.

Notable Species at Hemlock Lake (May 18,2009)

Great Blue Heron
Red-shouldered Hawk
Eastern Kingbird
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Wood Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush (migrant)
Northern Parula (migrant)
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Baltimore Oriole

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Scouting for M.A.P.S-Maplewood Bog

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Maplewood Bog MAPS Station

This is our preview of the Maplewood Bog MAPS site, one of three stations in our soon to be realized MAPS network in the FBS study area. The Hemlock Lake MAPS station was previewed here last week. Maplewood Bog (MABO) is another very interesting site and has more of a deciduous “flavour” than the other two stations in the area. The site was named after the abundance of maple here and the presence of several rich bog environments. A visit to the site yesterday afternoon revealed a diverse abundance of breeding birds, which included Black-and-white Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, American Redstarts, Ovenbirds, White-throated Sparrows, Blue-headed Vireo, Veery and a “good” number of Wood Thrushes.

Much like the Hemlock Lake site, the 20 hectare Maplewood Bog station is highly varied with dry oak-juniper savannah, mature decidous forest & patchy mixed forest as well as many streams, bogs and a large lake to the west. Eastern Towhee and Field Sparrows were common in the dryer open habitats, while Scarlet Tanagers and a Yellow-throated Vireo sang from the mature woodland less than 50m away.

Edges can be hard to find in this heavily wooded area of the Frontenac Arch. These edges are important features for sampling dispersing young birds in mid-late summer. Adult birds can be readily captured and banded in forest interior locations during the early part of the summer but these locations are often vacated once young have fledged. Therefore, in establishing a new MAPS site, we try to arrive at a balanced selection of interior and edge locations for mistnets, which should maximize sample for the extent of the breeding season. In this region, wetlands and clearings provide the important balance to forest-interior netting sites.

For me the most compelling aspect of this site is the abundance of deciduous forest species, particularly the thrushes. I encountered several Veery and at least three Wood Thrushes that seemed to be holding territories. With many more birds yet to arrive, this site should have a great mix of species and will be a very nice compliment to the more coniferous obligate species of Hemlock Lake. I managed to record this singing Wood Thrush with my new microphone and have uploaded a short piece of it below (click play button).

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Highlights of Species from Maplewood Bog (MABO) on May 13, 2009

Veery
Wood Thrush
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
American Redstart
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Great Crested Flycatcher
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Field Sparrow

Scouting for M.A.P.S- Hemlock Lake

Hemlock Lake MAPS Site
Hemlock Lake MAPS Site

All of the needed permits and agreements are now in place to move forward with more detailed planning for the installation of three Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) stations in our study area. With the study area being over 15,000 hectares in size, it has been a big project just to develop a basic framework for maximizing the utility of the MAPS program for the purposes of our Frontenac Breeding Birds initiative. From the beginning it was clear that one station would be good, two would be better and that three could be a powerfully instructive network of stations that could calculate and monitor avian demographics for an area of approximately 22,000 hectares (not bad for 21 days of fieldwork!). This initiative also represents the first major expansion of the MAPS program in Ontario since 1995 when a total of six stations were simultaneously initiated in 1995 at Kakabeka Falls in Northwestern Ontario, all of which closed in 1998 (there have been a few isolated stations added in the province since that time). It is our intention to continue adding stations in strategic areas as we move forward. However, establishing these first three will be important to understand appropriate criteria for future expansion and to test feasibility of specific landscape components for the MAPS program in this region.

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Young hardwood forest swamp

Selecting suitable sites for MAPS is a slightly tricky business as many factors have to be considered including access, habitat components, species assemblage as well as proximity of infrastructure, development and agricultural activity. In developing our MAPS network we were careful to consider sites that could be accessed relatively comfortably and that were fairly consistent in degree and type of anthropogenic pressure, habitat maturity and habitat structure. However, a hallmark of the Frontenac Axis is its heterogeneity, and it is true that something quite different can be found at any turn. All three of our sites are similar but will have distinct characteristics of slope, vegetation, hydrology and representative bird species. This will allow us to sample a broad array of breeding bird species and also provide the opportunity to study some species shared by all three stations that are occurring in differing landscape contexts.

The panoramic image above was taken from our new Hemlock Lake (codename HELA) site, which is a site that I’ve been very keen on since my first visit in January, 2009. The site is a spectacular example of the Frontenac Axis with shield-like features and characteristically southern forest elements. The 20ha site is focused around a small lake with hundreds of flooded snags. The perimeter of this lake is very rocky with meandering creeks and small wetlands. The habitat is predominantly successional coniferous forest with young hardwood communities, however mature mixed-forest and juniper-rock barrens are also abundant in the area. A visit to the site yesterday was very buggy to say the least but I did find an impressive community of birds, which seemed to be on territory within the site. A shortlist of the species mix is provided below. We will return to this site once the Black Flies have relented to set up for our first banding day in early June, 2009. It is going to be an absolute pleasure to spend seven summer mornings with the birds at Hemlock Lake!

Hemlock Lake (HELA) Species on May 7, 2009

Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Ovenbird
Brown Creeper
Hermit Thrush
Winter Wren
Pileated Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-throated Vireo
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Eastern Towhee
White-throated Sparrow
Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawks-Canoe Lake Road

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Incubating Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) occurs across much of the eastern half of North America with a northern limit of central Ontario and Maine. Formerly Ontario’s most abundant hawk species, Red-shouldered Hawks declined sharply in the last century due to habitat loss and fragmentation and resulting inter-specific competition with the Red-tailed Hawk. Red-shouldered Hawks are an area-sensitive species, preferring large tracts of mature, contiguous and primarily deciduous forest cover.  This species also prefers a closed canopy of 70% or greater for successful breeding (Badzinski 2005). Territory size for the lineatus subspecies averaged 192 hectares in a Maryland study with distance between nesting pairs ranging from .37 km to 1.27 km (Steward 1949). Interestingly, this species is considered a partial migrant as it is only those individuals that breed in the northern portion of the continental range that are known to migrate south. These migrant Red-shouldered Hawks that breed in Ontario migrate relatively short distances to the United States.

The rather unimpressive photo above was taken of a incubating parent, probably a female, along Canoe Lake Road on April 27, 2009.  A pair returned to this nesting location from previous years in late March and were highly vocal during the first two weeks of courtship. The male and female were often observed together coasting on thermal updrafts around mid-day near the nest site. The pair have been nearly silent since that time and are much more inconspicuous in general since eggs were laid in the last week or so. The nest itself, compacted and disheveled by the winter, was extensively renovated by the pair in the first few weeks, and has nearly doubled in overall size since late March. It is located in a mature ash between two small ridges. The presiding male has been observed on multiple occasions bringing food (mostly small mammals) to the incubating female. The incubation period is about 33 days, which suggests that young will hatch around late May (Palmer 1988).

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Cruising Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk was listed as a Species At Risk (Special Concern) in Canada (COSEWIC) and Ontario (COSSARO) until 2007 when it was delisted largely based on results of a pioneering citizen science project. Bird Studies Canada (BSC) and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) completed a thorough assessment of the population status of this uncommon raptor species by conducting annual roadside counts in southern and central Ontario from 1990-2006. The Red-shouldered Hawk and Spring Woodpecker Survey concluded that populations during that time period seemed to be stable in regions of Ontario with suitable habitat (central) and that the species was expanding northward. Of over 141 survey routes conducted during the project, there were a few that stood out in terms of the average number of hawks per route. Canoe Lake, Opinicon Lake, Otty Lake and Christie Lake, all routes located within the northern portion of the Frontenac Arch, had significantly higher counts of this species than anywhere else. This pattern of high population density in this region as well as The Land Between ecotone is also indicated by abundance and breeding evidence maps of the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas.

Protecting the ecological integrity of the Frontenac Arch and the Southern Shield region of Ontario is important to a vast array of species, including the Red-shouldered Hawk. The contributions of the Red-shouldered Hawk and Spring Woodpecker Survey and the continued efforts of the Kingston Field Naturalists have been of considerable significance to our understanding of this species in the Frontenac Arch region. While not a focal species at this time, Frontenac Bird Studies will be conducting surveys and nest-monitoring to lend further support for this remarkable hawk in Ontario’s woodlands.

Scouting for M.A.P.S

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2009 MAPS Habitat?

I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon scouting possible sites for our intended MAPS stations in the FBS study area. Frontenac Breeding Birds is the flagship program of Frontenac Bird Studies set for launch in mid-May, 2009. This program is being developed for the purpose of long-term inventory, monitoring and research of the region’s breeding bird populations. The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (OBBA) and North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) are two excellent sources of data that reveal long-term changes in population size and distribution of breeding birds. Across the continent, state/provincial atlas programs and BBS survey routes are extensive in coverage, providing an important foundation for monitoring bird populations. You may be thinking “why bother establishing Frontenac Breeding Birds?”

Both the OBBA and the BBS programs are devoted to monitoring bird populations at a broad scale, such as a province, state, country and/or continent. These programs are therefore “extensive” in their focus rather than “intensive”. Used in conjunction, these programs are a critical barometer of population trends that pinpoint regions or species of particular concern for conservation. The recently published 2nd edition of the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas clearly indicated a marked association of the Frontenac Arch ecotone as a sort of “stronghold” for many of Ontario’s bird species, including a high number of Species at Risk. The goal of our Frontenac Breeding Birds program is to take this important direction and further the understanding and awareness of bird populations in the Frontenac region by way of increased effort, an integrated approach to monitoring and by initiating more specific studies. Observational survey methods used by the OBBA and BBS were designed to index population size and range for North American bird species. Having this knowledge is a critical first step in the process of establishing priorities for conservation and research. The Frontenac Breeding Birds program represents an intensified and more comprehensive monitoring regime for breeding birds in the Frontenac Arch, a region of high conservation concern. Our approach will include annual monitoring of breeding bird demographics through the installation of a network of Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) stations.

Modeled after the Constant Effort Ringing scheme in the United Kingdom, the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program was initiated in 1989 to provide long-term demographic data for North American landbirds. After a four-year pilot study, the MAPS program was endorsed by Partners in Flight, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicating that MAPS was “the most important project in the nongame bird monitoring arena since the creation of the Breeding Bird Survey”. Over 1000 MAPS stations have been activated in the United States since 1989 contributing heavily to research, land management and conservation strategies. So far, Ontario has lagged behind in having less than 10 active MAPS stations in total. A MAPS network in the FBS study area will procure the first-ever index of demographics for local breeding bird populations and with subsequent annual monitoring, will serve as a barometer of the health and vitality of associated habitats. At the local and regional level, the incorporation of a MAPS network is a cost-efficient strategy for evaluating ecological stability in the landscape as a single station alone can yield vital rate statistics for an area up to 12,000 hectares from the centre of each station (due to post-fledging dispersal). This MAPS network would provide a valuable tool to evaluate management actions and various magnitudes and types of environmental and anthropogenic influence. We are also hoping to promote the MAPS program across southern and central Ontario where increased effort and participation could be of considerable ornithological and conservation value.

The majority of the FBS study area is privately-owned, which presents a challenge to find sites of a suitable nature and where permission to do the work can be obtained. Fortunately, the region has a good selection of protected land owned by the crown and municipal government. We are still in the process of selecting sites for MAPS but we are intending to install two or more stations in 2009 that will sample representative species and habitats of the region. The following is a sneak preview of some of these potential sites.

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Frontenac Provincial Park (near Dipper Bay, Birch Lake)

Mature deciduous forest interspersed with lakes, beaver ponds and ephemeral creeks is a dominant habitat type in the area. Valleys often contain a denser shrub layer, vernal pools and flooded forest. Ridges typically have characteristic upland oak-juniper savannah. Charactertistic tree species include Oak, Maple, Ash, Birch, Beech and lesser quantities of Ironwood, Basswood and Shagbark hickory to name a few. Barred Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk and Cerulean Warbler are common to these forests.

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Large Beaver Pond in hemlock forest type

This is an example of a large pond created by beavers in another tract to the north of Frontenac Provincial Park. This habitat is mixed-coniferous with cedar and hemlock being dominant tree species. These areas are characteristically wet with a dense understory of coniferous saplings and herbaceous plants. Wetlands occur throughout and include some bog environments. Typical bird species of this forest type should be Winter Wren, White-throated Sparrow, Magnolia Warbler and Hermit Thrush to name a few. The picture above is classic of the Frontenac Arch where the landscape transitions to Canadian Shield.

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Dan's eye-view of the forest interior

Here is a closer view of this habitat type. This will certainly be the most difficult terrain to navigate due to the dense growth and preponderance of wet and mossy dead snags and stumps. However, we will happily sacrifice our shins for the opportunity to learn more about this fascinating habitat and its inhabitants!

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Bog environment near Devil Lake Road

I visited this bog habitat in another tract to the east. This wetland already contains Swamp Sparrow and Wood Ducks and various woodpecker species (and a varied cast of vocal amphibians!). The number of wetlands of various kinds in the area is quite remarkable, which provides an interesting and ever changing blend of aquatic and terrestrial birds on any given hike. There are also acidic tamarack-spruce bogs in the area, which consist of carniverous plants and other truly northern specialties (more on these spruce bogs later).

The MAPS stations will begin operating in late May-early June, which gives us some time to finalize our site plans, order equipment and look forward to many early mornings with birds in summer 2009! Stay tuned for more details……