By Robyn Perkins
After a week of high winds and few birds, on September 30 the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory completed its fall season. With approximately 3,944 birds banded, this has been the busiest fall for captures in our 27 years of mist-netting.
Although we see them infrequently in the spring, we captured our first gray catbird during fall monitoring. Nashville warblers also make this list. Range maps for this species suggest they are not found in Alberta, but we capture one or two every few years. This year we captured an astonishing five!
Likewise, several other species broke their banding records, including Canada warblers, with 186 banded, surpassing the record of 163 set in 2018.
This species is designated as ‘At Risk,’ due primarily to habitat loss on its wintering grounds in South America. It is encouraging to see their numbers potentially on the rise.
Alongside these unusual captures were some exciting sightings. Among them was a golden eagle. Although juvenile bald eagles are commonly mistaken as golden eagles, since it takes them about five years to get the characteristic white head and tail, golden eagles are actually uncommon locally. In fact, on September 21 we spotted our first golden eagle since 2001 and only the sixth in 27 years in the fall.
This fall we also recorded a species that we had never seen before – a white-winged dove! With a native range only extending as far north as Texas, this seems to be impossible at first glance. However, there have been occasional sightings in Alberta, with one even seen in 2019 in a Slave Lake resident’s back yard. Although I have heard this species may have been released in Southern Alberta for sport, it is difficult to verify and I cannot easily explain why this bird found its way so far north.
The only program left to complete is owl migration monitoring, focusing on northern saw-whet owls and boreal owls. It has been slow, with only 48 saw-whets and one boreal banded. Unfortunately, the recent windy conditions have interfered with this program. Hopefully things pick up before owl monitoring concludes at the end of October.