Acacia Spencer-Hills from the Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO) holds a bird that was just banded near Pedder Bay Marina in Metchosin. The RPBO is made up of several volunteers from Victoria that capture and and band birds to track their migrations and learn more about various species.

Bird banders making new discoveries

At 6 a.m., Acacia Spencer-Hills is out and about, walking through the forest near Pedder Bay Marina in Metchosin.

  • Sep. 25, 2015 10:00 a.m.

— Pamela Roth

At 6 a.m., Acacia Spencer-Hills is out and about, walking through the forest near Pedder Bay Marina in Metchosin.

She’s among a group of volunteers checking 15 nets every half hour set up in the area to catch birds. With each check, Spencer-Hills never knows what she’ll find.

“It’s kind of exciting. Every time you go it’s different. Sometimes you’ll walk up to a net and there’s seven birds in it,” said the 28-year-old. “It’s like opening a present almost. You get to see a lot of different birds.”

For the last 26 years, the Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO) – made up of several volunteers from Victoria – has been capturing and banding birds to track their migrations and learn more about various species.

Two monitoring sites in the Pedder Bay area cover an area of about nine square kilometres. The locations have allowed RPBO to monitor more than 60 different species of birds.

The banders catch approximately 3,000 birds at each station every year. The next few weeks are expected to be the busiest as birds get ready to head south for the winter.

“It’s basically a pre cursor to any sort of study that you want to do,” said Spencer-Hills. “It’s interesting to see the variations in individual birds. You’ll get two fox sparrows, but their face will look different or they’ll have a different eye colour. It’s pretty fascinating.”

Once the birds are carefully removed from the net, they are taken to one of the two central banding stations where their age, sex, species, wing length and fat deposits are recorded.

At the banding station, Rebecca Clarke-Coates never knows what she’ll find when she reaches into a cloth bag with a bird inside.

“I like to guess, based on the size,” she says, as she pulls out an orange-crowned warbler. Lying still on its back, Clarke-Coates places a tiny band on the bird’s leg and measures the size of its wing.

“The warblers are very calm. They don’t struggle. It’s nice,” she says.

Once banded, the group tries to capture the bird again to determine how well it’s doing since its previous capture. The data is shared with conservation organizations, students and researchers.

One of the most interesting things for Rick Schortinghuis is learning how long the birds live. On one occasion, a rufous hummingbird was captured eight years after it was banded.

“That’s very exciting,” said Schortinghuis. “They go back and forth to Mexico every winter so it comes back to the same house it was banded at.”

In order to find out where some birds breed, RPBO conducted a study two years ago with fox sparrows, placing 30 geo locators the size of a nickel in a little backpack over the bird’s wings to measure longitude. The group recaptured 10 of those birds and found they were breeding in western Alaska.

In a regular season, RPBO typically sees three to four species that are rare for the region, such as the grey cheeked thrush found last year – the first the group has ever recorded. This year the group caught a magnolia warbler that managed to fly over the Rocky Mountains even though they weigh 11 to 12 grams.

“Having them in your hand is much more interesting than seeing them in the field. I found that saying – a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush is completely true,” said Spencer-Hills. “You see things with them that you’d never see perching in a tree.”

The passerine migration monitoring and banding takes place until Oct. 15. The banding of northern saw-whet owls runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 31. Last season, more than 1,110 owls were banded.

RPBO is volunteer run and almost entirely volunteer staffed. Anyone interested in volunteering can email volunteer@rpbo.org.

 

 

Just Posted

Victoria Fire Department advises cigarette safety after two fires started in one week

Two separate fires caused by cigarette butts were avoidable

VicPD faces ‘significant pressure’ following Victoria’s 2019 budget decision

Chief Const. Del Manak says council continues to micromanage his department

28 years later: Dunahee disappearance remains largest investigation in Victoria police history

The four-year old Victoria boy went missing without a trace on March 24, 1991

Saanich could become the new home of the world’s largest gnome

Galey Farms could find out Tuesday whether it will host the eight-metre-tall structure

Protective human chain forms around Victoria mosque for Friday prayer

Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

‘Families torn apart:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask., that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea were mitigating factors

Jr. B Cougars advance to both league finals and provincials

Victoria beats Nanaimo 4-3 in Game 6 Friday night to win series

Vancouver Island motorists attempted CPR on victim in fatal Highway 4 crash

Collision took place west of Whiskey Creek; man in his 70s died

Greater Victoria Wanted List for the week of March 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: When do you think the next major earthquake will hit Vancouver Island?

According to seismologists, Vancouver Island is overdue for a magnitude 7 earthquake.… Continue reading

WestJet sticking with Boeing 737 Max once planes certified to fly

WestJet had expected to add two more of the planes this year to increase its fleet to 13

B.C. driver caught going 207 km/h on motorcycle along Okanagan Highway

A motorcyclist was caught by Kelowna RCMP going 207 km/h on Highway 97C

Motorcyclist dies after three-vehicle crash on old Island Highway

Accident happened at 12:15 p.m. Friday near Country Club Centre in Nanaimo

Most Read