Packing for a Birding Workshop

I just got confirmation a few weeks ago that I, along with nine others, will be attending the inaugural Young Ornithologists’ Workshop at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory (BBO) in Tofield, Alberta in early August.

In contrast to my Long Point Bird Observatory workshop (2012) and internship near LPBO at The Tip (2013) in Ontario, I’ll be driving to Beaverhill (which is about 90 minutes away), so I’ll be packing a little differently; here’s my packing post from 2013. Since I’ll be a Team Leader at BBO as well as a participant, I thought a packing post might be helpful for some of the young birders and anyone else who might be attending a similar birding or naturalist workshop, especially those who might not have camping experience or who might be looking for new camping gadgets and gear.

My first piece of advice is to pack light, but pack smart. There’s nothing more frustrating than overpacking and then having to haul everything, especially the unnecessary items, around. Especially if the trip is short, keep your packing list to a minimum.

Clothing

Don’t bring your best clothes. Bring things that can get dirty and possibly even ripped or torn (think thorns, branches, and maybe barbed wire fences) and think layers, no matter what the season. In Alberta, even in the summer the early mornings and evenings can be cool, and extra layers are also helpful against mosquitoes and ticks. Polyester and other fast-drying tops and bottoms (including underwear and socks) are great if you need to wash anything. I’m also going to bring my microfiber towel that absorbs a lot of water but dries quickly; my mother found it on Amazon.ca. AT BBO, there’s the possibility of going on the water and maybe swimming during the workshop, so don’t forget to bring a swimsuit.

Bring some warmer layers just in case — a fleece top, heavier socks, a winter hat, a neck gaiter, and a light pair of gloves. Inexpensive nitrile garden gloves are good; they’re waterproof and give you a good grip for binoculars and cameras. My mother swears by the selection, quality, and price at Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware stores.

For rain gear, I’ve had a women’s L.L. Bean Trail Model rain jacket for the past few years. It’s made from waterproof TEK2.5 ripstop nylon with a ceramic coating and is both waterproof and breathable, which is nice when you’re in it for hours at a time. It’s also light enough to wear in the summer. It has a hood, packs down to nothing, and there are versions for women, men, and kids. Everyone in my family has one and finds them very useful on the farm. The exchange rate with the U.S. is a little better now, and while the price of L.L. Bean items can be high for Canadians without a sale, they don’t charge additional shipping fees. (Full disclosure — L.L. Bean is a recent sponsor of my segment on Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds radio show, but all of the L.L. Bean items I own were bought by my mother long before the sponsorship began.)

I like wearing baseball caps for rain and sun and have a variety from the Long Point Bird Observatory and Cornell Lab of Ornithology; besides the protection they offer, their sale supports bird conservation organizations. However, especially if you have shorter hair, ball caps don’t provide a lot of shade protection for ears or the back of the neck, so you might want a hat with more coverage.

Bonus points if your shoes or boots are waterproof or water resistant, especially if you’ll be spending any time in the mud. In addition to a pair of lightweight, waterproof hiking boots, especially if you’re travelling by vehicle, I’d recommend tossing a pair of rubber boots in the trunk, just in case. The boots I wear almost year-round, except in the coldest winter weather, are women’s Ropers, which are leather with a forged steel shank and double-stitched seams; you can buy them at UFA farm supply stores in Alberta, or at Lammle’s western wear. They’re not waterproof though, and they can be heavy, so I ‘ve been considering a new pair of Keen hiking boots. And I will put in a plug for Smartwool or Thorlo socks.

As for bottoms, I usually wear jeans instead of shorts because of ticks, mosquitoes, thorns, and the possibility of barbed wire. However, since my 4H NWT trip last summer, I’ve become a fan of MEC ripstop nylon convertible pants — they’re light, breathable, easy to wash and fast to dry, convert to shorts when needed, fit well, and very comfortable. And lighter than jeans. You can find them made by different companies, including (I believe) Columbia, which you can find at sporting goods stores, such as Cabela’s, Bass Pro, and Sport Chek.

Bedding

Temperatures in Alberta are cool at night even in the summer, so bring a sleeping bag that is rated for a pretty low temperature. Sleeping on the ground can be uncomfortable, so an air mattress or a sleeping pad makes for more restful sleep. For the NWT trip last summer, I was going to take a pad but at the last minute borrowed an old air mattress from my aunt and uncle. The mattress inflated with a pump which wasn’t that much work, but the self-inflating mattresses others had were better — lighter and much less to carry. My mother just bought a lower priced MEC reactor sleeping pad for my brothers and me to use this summer, and it seems pretty comfortable. Don’t forget a pillow and maybe a small extra blanket (preferably fleece/microfibre in case it gets wet).

Toiletries/Personal Items:

I’m not going to mention much here because everyone has particular preferences. I have fair skin and burn if I’m not careful, so sunscreen is imperative. And bug spray! Of course, soap and shampoo (and possibly conditioner), but if water access is limited, dry shampoo works very well; brands I’ve found that work well and can be found easily are Batiste, Not Your Mother’s, and Aveeno dry shampoos. Baby wipes can also come in handy for a variety of uses when water is in short supply; and a washcloth or two for when water is available (microfiber rather than cotton, so it dries quickly — if you can’t find them in the bath department, look in the household cleaning section.) Less is definitely more when it comes to toiletries. Also, try to avoid any highly scented products to help keep the mosquitoes away. Water bottles are a necessity and if you aren’t flying, bring a few extras and fill them at home before you leave.

Since we’ll be camping for a week, bring a small amount of any medicine/first aid items you’d like to have on hand: bandaids, Advil or Tylenol, Vitamin C for a sore throat, Tums, antibacterial ointment like Polysporin, tweezers for tick removal, antihistamine tablets (like Benadryl) in case of allergic reactions to plants or insects, and so on.

Camping Tech:

This will be my first time camping with a phone, and since we’ll have limited electricity, I’m bringing a car charger, our Eton BoostTurbine Portable Charger with a hand crank, and a solar charger.

At Long Point we woke before sunrise to set up the mist nests and in retrospect, a headlight instead of just a flashlight would have been very helpful. My youngest brother swears by headlamps for chores in the winter; he has a Fenix HP 300 as well as a Boruit (5000 lumens). The Boruit is fairly inexpensive and available from Amazon.ca. Decide how much light you need or want, and how much you’re willing to spend.

I would also recommend at least a pocket knife, or a Swiss Army knife, Leatherman, or similar multi-tool.

A small backpack for day trips is useful, especially if you’ve packed everything else in a larger pack.

Birding:

Binoculars are a must, but if you don’t have a pair, ask around and you may be able to borrow some from a friend or acquaintance. If you’re searching for any items, consider posting to your local birding listserv as many members are willing to help young birders.

If you have a spotting scope, it can be a great piece of equipment to bring. While it can be bulky, the views of far-off birds are all worth the weight. If you don’t have a scope, though, don’t worry. Most bird observatories have one and will lend it out to the young birders attending the workshop or camp.

Notebooks are an easy way to keep track of your notes, observations, and sketches — I learned at Long Point that if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t count! Bring pens, pencils (small Ikea pencils are great!), coloured pencils, a pencil sharpener (or penknife), erasers, and notebooks. BBO will supply notebooks (Long Point did as well), but if you like Rite-In-The-Rain notebooks, you can find them at Peavey Marts in Alberta.

Decide before you start to pack if you really want to carry your camera around everywhere, and whether you’re going to take lots of photographs or just the occasional snap. This will affect what you pack. If you are bringing anything that needs batteries, bring extra batteries and/or make sure that your batteries are fully charged before leaving home. Also bring enough, or extra, empty SD (memory) cards. You might also want to bring a new clean plastic bag for your camera and/or scope in case you’re out all day in the rain.

This might sound counter-intuitive for a stay at a bird observatory, but I suggest not bringing a field guide, since they’re usually heavy and most observatories have a shelf of field guides available to use. You might also want to consider some field guide/birding apps, which you can download to your mobile device before you get to the workshop. I recommend the eBird Mobile app (free iTunes and Google Play), Birdseye North American (free), Merlin Bird ID (free), Bird Codes (free), and the Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America ($19.99). For more about birding apps and birding with your phone, here’s a post I wrote earlier this month.

Miscellaneous:

I’d also suggest a variety of plastic bags, from smaller Ziploc bags for toiletries to larger garbage bags (the clear kind are good for scopes) for your backpack, scope, sleeping bag, and delicate electronics that should be kept dry.

Some stores my family and I like where we’ve had good luck finding sturdy and waterproof clothing and equipment, for birding, camping, farm chores, and country living:

MEC (Canada)

Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware (Canada)

L.L. Bean (US)

Cabela’s (Canada)

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If I’ve missed anything, or you’ve found something to be very useful for birding/nature camps or workshops, please leave a comment below.

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A Yellow Warbler we banded at LPBO ,and I imagine that we’ll be banding many of them at BBO too!

New Program for Young Canadian Birders

I’m delighted to help spread the word about a new workshop for young Canadian birders!

Named for the chairman and co-founder of the Beaverhill Bird Observatory (BBO) near Tofield, Alberta, the Geoff Holroyd Young Ornithologists’ Workshop is being offered by the BBO this summer. This new education program is based on the longstanding Doug Tarry Young Ornithologists’ Workshop at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario.

The Beaverhill Bird Observatory banding station

The Beaverhill Bird Observatory banding station

The new workshop will provide up to eight birders between the ages of 15 and 18 with “a practical, working knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of birds [and] other wildlife and their conservation”. Here’s more from the application form:

“Participants will be immersed in the daily, hands on work of field ornithology while they learn about the BBO’s migration monitoring program and participate in the running of a banding lab. They will improve their bird identification while being trained in the skills and art of handling and banding birds, aging and sexing techniques, bird behaviour and the life histories and conservation concerns of species. The students will be tenting and sharing camp duties, another necessary skill for a field biologist. Field trips to surrounding areas, nocturnal work and talks by experts on natural history topics will be offered in the afternoons and evenings.”

The dates for the workshop are Sunday, July 31st to Saturday, August 6th. Young birders from across Canada are welcome to apply. The deadline to apply is May 15th and applications with all of the details (Click Here), should be sent to helentrefry AT gmail DOT com.

According to Geoff Holroyd, the times he spent at Long Point Bird Observatory in his youth were instrumental in developing his birding skills and also his commitment to working with birds as a career. The Beaverhill Bird Observatory hopes to build on this tradition by offering another program in Canada where young birders can improve tehir skills and learn about the conservation issues facing local birds and wildlife.

I had such a wonderful time at the workshop (and follow-up Young Ornithologists’ Internship the year after) at Long Point, so I think another program, especially one in western Canada, is an opportunity not to be missed. These programs give young birders important new skills as well as the chance to meet other young naturalists who share similar passions.

Good luck to all the applicants!

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Back from the YOW, Part 3

Aug. 12: By the end of today I will be the only YOW left at Old Cut. This morning we opened the nets at 5:45 and they stayed open until noon. Today was the best day yet for migrants and larger birds. Canada Warblers, one Baltimore Oriole, one Brown Thrasher, one Northern Flicker, one Chestnut-sided Warbler, and one Blue-winged Warbler were some of the highlights of the banding this morning.

In the late afternoon after everyone had left, Ana and I went for a walk around Long Point Provincial Park. We walked along the beach where hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls were, then we went through the campsites where there was a Northern Mockingbird hopping on the ground. On our way back to Old Cut, we made a detour and walked through a wetland conservation area. While there, for about an hour, dozens of Common Grackles flew constantly over our heads, heading for their roost sites, and many Cedar Waxwing sat in trees gleaning insects.

Hatch-year male Canada Warbler,

Brown Thrasher,

You have to have a special license to band gnatcatchers because their legs are so small; in fact the smallest band LPBO has will fit right over a gnatcatcher leg. So if Blue-gray Gnatcatchers get caught in the LPBO nets, they are let go,

For banding all of the large birds and some of the migrants, we had our names drawn from a hat to see who would have the chance with the really neat birds. Unfortunately my name wasn’t chosen, so I didn’t get to band any of the really neat birds.

This Northern Flicker made quite a lot of noise while being handled,

This Chestnut-sided Warbler was molting its tail feathers so it didn’t have much of a tail,

Arguably the best catch of the day, a Blue-winged Warbler,

Aug. 13 (the last day): It was very different waking up in my bedroom without Katie and Saskia. Ana, Matt, and I opened the nets at 7 am and on the first net round we caught a bird that LPBO doesn’t catch much of in the fall — a male Hooded Warbler, and I got to band it! On our Big Day we saw a Hooded Warbler, but you get a whole new look at a bird in the hand.

Hooded Warbler,

Stu dropped me off at the airport in Hamilton at 5:15 pm and six hours later I was back in the Edmonton airport. My parents were waiting, and after a long drive we were home just after midnight.

I have never had so much fun at a camp or workshop before as I had at the YOW! It was very hard to leave Long Point, I made some great new friends, learned so much, and visited some beautiful places. I can’t wait to return to Long Point as an intern, volunteer, or just for a visit. I would especially like to be able to show my family Long Point.

I learned so much at the YOW from so many people — from censusing and banding birds, to making a study skin, to learning about molt patterns, aging, and sexing birds. At the beginning of the workshop, we each received a YOW participants reference guide, which is full of great reading material and wonderful information on banding.

I will never forget the great learning experiences, and the great fun I had at Long Point! Thank you to everyone at LPBO, Bird Studies Canada, and the Doug Tarry family!

Back from the YOW, Part 2

I didn’t think I would have to write three parts, but I will have to!

Aug. 8: Today was our last day at the Tip, and we were all very sad to leave.

There are thousands of gulls at the very tip and Ana thought, as a last tribute, we should run all the way to the Tip and scare all the gulls. It was a plan, and that’s what we did!

On the boat ride back, we stopped at a very large sandbar, about half way between the Tip and Old Cut, with many Ring-billed Gulls, Common Terns, and about a dozen Caspian Terns. There were also a good number of shorebirds — Semipalmated Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Killdeer, one Semipalmated Plover, and one Ruddy Turnstone.

We all made it back to Old Cut in one piece, except one oar which came back in two pieces.

At the very Tip,

Thousands of gulls and terns at the sandbar,

Ruddy Turnstone,

Aug. 9: Today was the first day the YOWs were officially able to band. The first passerine I banded was a Swainson’s Thrush! The birds we caught in the nets today were excellent, and we banded 43 birds of 21 species. The most exciting bird we caught in the mist nets was a Common Grackle because of its size. Birds American Robin-size and bigger do fly into the nets but they are big and strong enough to get out, so it’s very exciting to get a large bird that stayed in the net.

When banding, there are usually two people at work: the bander who bands, takes the measurements, weighs, ages, and sexes the bird; and the scribe, who writes down the species, banding code, band size, measurements, and reminds the bander if s/he has forgotten anything.

Common Grackle,

Banding my second bird, a Blackburnian Warbler,

In late morning, Jody Allair took us to one of his field stations, where he does his species at risk work. Jody led us on an hour-and-a-half walk. He showed us three very special nests that past YOWs had never seen: There were two Louisiana Waterthrush nests, Hooded Warbler, and Acadian Flycatcher nests.

Hooded Warbler nest,

Acadian Flycatcher nest,

Louisiana Waterthrush nests,

While walking through the woods we heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and saw two Broad-winged Hawks. When we got back to the road we walked along it for a while and saw Indigo Buntings, Eastern Towhees, and a young Raccoon. In the afternoon we visited Bird Studies Canada headquarters and saw where Stu, Jody, and Liza work.

Aug. 10: Today was our Big Day! The weather wasn’t the best at the start, but we definitely made the most of the day! Jody was with us all morning and afternoon and drove us around. Without Jody, we probably would have had a very low total. We visited St. William’s Forest, Backus Woods, Townsend Sewage Lagoons, Bird Studies Canada, Long Point Provincial Park, and Big Creek National Wildlife area. We saw so many great birds but the best were Least Bitterns, Hooded Warblers, Great Egrets, White-rumped Sandpipers, and one Stilt Sandpiper! In total we saw 102 species, not the YOW record but we were all really happy with our total!

All the species we saw on our Big Day:

Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Wood Duck, Mallard, American Black Duck/Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Redhead, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Wild Turkey, Pied-billed Grebe, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, King Rail, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, American Woodcock, Bonaparte’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Forster’s Tern, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Alder/Willow Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Horned Lark, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Marsh Wren, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Swainson’s Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.

Least Bittern,

Aug. 11: More banding this morning, but no particularly exciting species. Stu showed those of us who don’t already have them how to set-up eBird accounts, and Katie entered all of the numbers from our Big Day into eBird.

In the afternoon, Mary Gartshore came to teach us how to make study skins. We each had a bird, killed from a window strike or that had been hit by a car to work on. Most of the YOWs had Baltimore Orioles, and I had a Red-winged Blackbird.

Warning, some of the photos below, taken during the skinning bee, are not for the faint-hearted!

Mary showing us how to remove the skull (yes, that is yellow cornmeal, which is used as an absorbent),

The body, and other parts of my bird,

My blackbird on a stick,

Stay tuned for part three! I hope to get it up as soon possible too.

Back from the YOW, Part 1

Wow! I don’t know exactly where to start, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning. I had an amazing experience at the YOW (Doug Tarry Young Ornithologists’ Workshop) at Long Point, Ontario. I have so much to write about that I’m going to post about my adventures at Long Point in two (maybe more) parts.

Aug. 3rd: I arrived a day early for the YOW to make sure I was at Long Point in time the program to start on the 4th. I flew on my own from Edmonton, Alberta, to Hamilton, Ontario, a nonstop direct flight on WestJet.  Stuart Mackenzie, LPBO Program Coordinator, picked me up at the airport and drove me to Old Cut.

When I arrived LPBO, I met Ana, LPBO assistant co-ordinator, and Matt, an LPBO intern. This year’s YOW program was run by Stu, Ana, Matt, and Jody, biologist and science educator. It was great being at Old Cut, because you could walk around the area and watch birds, which was perfect.

An Eastern Wood-Pewee,

Aug. 4th: The other YOWs arrived around lunchtime — four boys and two other girls. Saskia is from British Columbia, Katie from Ontario, Justin from Ontario, Cody from Ontario, Antoine from Quebec, and Eitan from Pennsylvania (he is Canadian-American). In the afternoon, Matt and Ana showed us how to put up and take down mist nets, used to catch the birds for banding. In the evening we went on a mock census walk to familiarize ourselves with the route. Ana and Matt go on census every morning starting around 7am for an hour.

Aug. 5th: We woke up at 5:45, ate breakfast, then opened the 14 nets at 6 am. That morning was the first day of watching banding for the YOWs, we didn’t band anything but it was still very neat to watch Ana and Matt banding. Most of the birds we caught were hatch-year Gray Catbirds, and many of them were re-traps. Three of the species we caught in the nets were life birds for me, American Redstart, Carolina Wren, and Black-and-White Warblers.

A Carolina Wren,

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In the afternoon we had a trip planned, but Matt, Ana, and Liza (from the Birds Studies Canada office) wouldn’t tell us where we were going. We drove about 10 minutes north of Old Cut to Pterophylla farm run by Mary Gartshore. When we arrived, I saw two hummingbird feeders, with about 20 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flying around. First, Mary told us a little about what she does at her farm, then she showed us her Australian Shepherd  puppies which were very cute.

Saskia with one of Mary’s puppies,

While we were with the puppies, David Okines, an Ontario hummingbird bander and president of the Ontario Bird Banding Association, was catching the hummingbirds with a net placed over the feeders; he could raise or lower the net with some string that he was able to control from the back door of his car. None of us had any idea that we were going to have the chance to band hummingbirds, and for all of us this was the first bird we have ever banded. The bands for hummingbirds are so small. I think we all had a fear a losing a band and two did get lost. I found it quite hard to band hummingbirds because they are so small and their legs are so short. All of us were very excited to band hummingbirds and we couldn’t thank Mr. Okines enough for the opportunity.

Hummingbird bands come on a sheet of aluminum which have to be cut out, shaped, and filed,

Weighing the hummingbird (the bird is put in a little tube to immobilize it), as you can see it  weighed 1.7 grams,

If you put hummingbirds on their backs, they don’t move,

Aug. 6th: There was more banding today, with the highlights being Mourning Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, American Robin, and Rose-breasted  Grosbeak. I wasn’t present for all the banding because Katie, Saskia, Stu, and I went on the hour-long census walk. We were able to count 30 species on the census route.

In the afternoon we prepared for our boat trip to the Tip of Long Point, we were all very excited about it! The boat ride, with a small motorboat took about two hours, and on the the way we stopped at some sandbars to look at the gulls, terns, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Sanderlings. The Tip is one of the most beautiful places I have been to. Although there were people walking along the beaches, our group were the only people inland. Once we had brought all of our supplies to the house, Stu told us to get ready for a scavenger hunt.

He split us up into two teams, and we each had quite a few things we had to collect: sand from both beaches, evidence of a reptile, driftwood, photo of a Monarch, milkweed pod, a piece of the lighthouse, a Fowler’s Toad, and a few more objects. My team did quite well, we found all but two objects. One of the objects we didn’t find, but the other team found a small Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle, a turtle that is threatened provincially and nationally. The turtle they found was quite small but they can grow to be very large.

Katie and the turtle,

Aug. 7th: Our Tip census started at 7:15. We saw Great Blue Heron, Green Herons, Traill’s Flycatcher, Red-breasted Mergansers, Field Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Barn Swallows, Yellow Warblers,  Cedar Waxwings, Ring-billed Gulls, just to name a few.

From 10:30 to 1:00 Ana showed us how to conduct a Breeding Bird Survey, though of course there aren’t any breeding birds at this time of year. Most of the birds we had already seen on census, but we did see a Red Fox and a Sharp-shinned Hawk being chased by a Eastern Kingbird. From 1:00 to 4:30 we went swimming and played monkey in the middle in beautiful Lake Erie, which was lots of fun! At 5:30 we started our Monarch butterfly survey, the goal being to count as many Monarchs on our census route, and we also were to count other butterflies we saw on the route. We counted 91 Monarchs, three Painted Ladies, one Orange Sulphur, four Cabbage Whites, one Northern Crescent, and one Red Admiral. While looking for butterflies, Saskia found a Fowler’s Toad, an other threatened species.

Painted Lady,

Stay tuned for part two! I hope to get it up as soon possible.

YOW/Long Point activities

Between our town’s fair last week (which I worked at — I’m an Agricultural Society director now, just like both of my parents — and attended for all three days) and leaving for Long Point on Friday, I thought I’d write up a quick post listing the activities the participants of the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop will be doing during our 10 days (these are from the fact sheet we received last month):

Daily bird banding (most mornings)
Local woodlot birding hikes
Trip to Tip and Breakwater Research Stations
Breeding bird census training
Orienteering
Marsh monitoring
Captive birds of prey demonstration
Tour of Bird Studies Canada headquarters
Tours natural areas
Birding Big Day
Study skin preparation
Species at Risk research

I’m especially interested to learn about bird banding and preparing study skins. We’ll also get to go swimming in Lake Erie, and our field trip to the remote field stations on Long Point means travel by boat, which I am looking forward to.

We will be staying mostly at the Old Cut Research Station, which has a Visitor Centre attached. The station/visitor centre has a small library, living room, office space, lab, six bedrooms with bunks. There is also the Tip station, which has two buildings for accommodations — the “House” and the “Cabin”. The “Cabin” can house up to six people in a communal loft and has propane lights, stove, fridge, indoor water pump, and an outhouse. There is no shower, but Lake Erie is very close! The “House” has running water, bath, limited electricity (provided by solar panels), wood stove, and 4 bedrooms. The Breakwater station is about 10 km from Old Cut. It consists of a very small cabin with bunks and mattresses for up to 4 people in one very small, communal bedroom. I won’t have access to the internet except for essential communication, so I won’t have any posts until I return, unless I can set some posts up in the next few days before I leave. But our house, garden, and farm got hailed out on Saturday, the last day of the fair, and in addition to getting ready to leave, I’ve been painting the house with my brothers because the hail took off lots of the paint on the west side. My parents and I are actually leaving home tomorrow evening, because my flight is at 7 am on Friday, and we live almost three hours away from the airport. If we stay at an airport hotel, we all get a little more sleep.

I will about my trip as soon as I return!

Off to Long Point!

I just found out yesterday by email that I’ve been accepted to the one-week Young Ornithologists’ Workshop at the Long Point Bird Observatory (LPBO) in Ontario, on Lake Erie. I’m so very excited and happy to have been selected, especially because only six young birders, ages 13 to 17, are chosen each year. The workshop is sponsored by the Doug Tarry Natural History Fund, and I just have to pay for my transportation to and from Hamilton or London.

I learned about the program last year through the Bird Studies Canada (BSC) website when I signed up for Project FeederWatch. Bird Studies Canada is the country’s national wild bird conservation organization. The Long Point Bird Observatory at Port Rowan, Ontario, was established in 1960 as a bird banding station and over the years grew to include not just local but also regionalnational, and even international programs, such as Project FeederWatch, Canada’s Christmas Bird Count, and the Baillie Birdathon. With the scope of the work and programs growing, LPBO was renamed Bird Studies Canada in 1998. The actual programs at Long Point work toward the conservation of local breeding and migratory birds and their habitats, and include everything from local school and community outreach programs to the Young Ornithologists’ Workshops. Since 1986, Long Point has been a United Nations World Biosphere Reserve.

The deadline for the application was April 30th, and until Friday I was waiting nervously. Along with the application form, I wrote two essays, one on why I would like to attend the workshop and the other on my favorite bird (I couldn’t choose just one so I wrote about the Hummingbird family), and also a letter of recommendation from the president of our naturalist society, who is the program head of Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation at the local college in town. I will probably turn both of my essays into posts next week.

I was so excited to get the acceptance email yesterday morning, but now an even longer wait will begin because the workshop isn’t until the beginning of August, from the 4th to 12th. I am very, very excited and hope to see many new birds while in Ontario. I’m looking forward to meeting other young birders and also all the workshops. The workshop focuses on training in field ornithology and other hands-on learning, which is terrific because these are things I can’t really learn around home. I’ve read and watched online videos about bird banding, and read artist Diana Sudyka’s Tiny Aviary blog posts about preparing specimens, but now I will have the chance to learn to do these things myself. We’ll be living and working at the Observatory’s Old Cut field station, and will also go on various excursions including the Tip of Long Point, weather permitting. You can see some wonderful photographs taken at Long Point in jormungund’s Flickr photostream.

Here is some more information about the workshop from the website: “Participants learn how to identify, age and sex birds, and to study their populations and behaviour. Careful and skilled instructors teach the secrets of bird handling and banding techniques, how to prepare specimens for scientific study, and an array of bird censusing techniques. Regular afternoon field trips are taken to places of biological interest within the internationally designated Long Point Biosphere Reserve. Evenings too are busy with slide presentations and nocturnal field work.” Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

The full name of the program is the Doug Tarry Bird Young Ornithologists’ Workshop, named for Mr. Tarry who was a humanitarian and naturalist. The workshop/natural history camp at the Long Point Bird Observatory was started in the 1970s and its goal is, as the BSC website writes, to “foster the development of ornithological interests in Canadian teenagers”.

I’m hoping my parents can drive me to Ontario, because I’d get to see so many more birds and maybe stop off at Point Pelee on the way home, but because we farm it’s hard to get away in August so I may have to fly.

If you’d like to see Long Point for yourself, here are some very good YouTube videos, all by Nathan Cox

Bird Banding at the Long Point Bird Observatory

Owl banding at the Long Point Bird Observatory

Long Point Marsh by month

Birding and Long Point, Part 1

Birding and Long Point, Part 2

Birding and Long Point, Part 3