home page button
banner photo for MBO trip -- meeting site.

A bird in the hand is a subject for science.

Here is a selection of cropped and resized images from the photographs I took during our visit to the McGill Bird Observatory.

The original page provided only the photos. A few words and a video have now been added. I hope they will convey the enjoyment, and even thrills, we experienced.

Thanks go to Nick Acheson for arranging this very interesting and enjoyable morning activity for MAUT retirees. Also thanks to Simon Duval for telling and showing us so much about the birds and the research.

In some of my pages, like this one, I have arranged for the text to become larger when you mouse over it. This can be annoying at times, especially when you are aiming for a hyperlink, but it can also be very useful for people who are finding reading glasses ever more necessary.

Be aware that each image is a link to the original photograph, so don't click on any image unless you really want the big picture.

Click on an image for the original (large) photograph (about 3 Meg)

photo  DSC06357.JPG resized for the web
photo  DSC06374.JPG resized for the web

We met shortly after 6:00AM on a cool (6oC) May morning. The researchers and volunteers had already set up the nets, and a few early catches had been brought to the research cabin.

In a way we were lucky that the pace was slow, because it gave Simon more time to talk with us and show us the features they measure, observe and catalogue for each bird. It also provided more time for photgraphing some of the birds outside the cabin before they were released.

Apparently the weather further south had held up some of the migrating birds. While delayed, they would have fed and stored enough energy to make a longer flight to their summer habitat without the need to touch down for refuelling here.

The soft, light-weight netting, stretched out here and there along narrow trails between the shrubs and trees, harmlessly stops a bird in low flight. The bird drops into a pocket, from which it is carefully retreived by one of the researchers or assistants and carried back to the cabin in a soft cloth bag tagged with the net location ID.

The nets are set up for operation 5 hours a day during the spring and the fall migrations. They catch both resident and migrating birds during that time. Research staff check the nets frequently, so captured birds are quickly studied and released. In the confident hands of the researchers, the birds show little, if any, sign of stress.

photo  DSC06394.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06396.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06392.JPG resized for the web

A male Red-winged Blackbird was one of the first birds to pose for a photo shoot.

It had patiently served as a subject for demonstrating the basic observational and banding procedures in the research cabin.

photo  DSC06400.JPG resized for the web

A White-throated Sparrow (above).

photo  DSC06407.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06410.JPG resized for the web

Close up, each bird has its points of beauty. The Solitary Sandpiper was a good size for showing and discussing the features being monitored.

The leg thickness was measured in order to select the appropriate diameter for the coded band which the bird would be given. By convention, the band is always placed on the right leg so researchers know where to look quickly to see if a bird has been banded already.

Among the other observations is a wing length measurement, beak length for some birds, fat store, which varies according to its migration stage and fitness, and the type and colour of key feathers to assess age and sex. Resident females which show signs of having a clutch are given a fast track through the process and are quickly released for maternal duty.

photo  DSC06411.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06414.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06425.JPG resized for the web

Many birds are released into the air from the hand, but birds like the solitary sandpiper are placed down on the ground with a runway ahead to allow them a typical controlled take-off.

In the photograph below, taken just before release, one can see clearly the small band which had been installed on the right leg of the sandpiper.

photo  DSC06426.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06436.JPG resized for the web

This beautifully coloured Chestnut-sided Warbler seemed to enjoy playing to the cameras.

photo  DSC06442.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06449.JPG resized for the web

At one point during a walk around the net trails we saw several Turkey Vultures flying overhead.

photo  DSC06461.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06462.JPG resized for the web

The greatest excitement that morning was the arrival of a American Woodcock, this is a very rare event. As such, Simon decided he should consult their primary reference book in order to correctly record the appropriate data.

photo  DSC06467.JPG resized for the web

By gently blowing the feathers on its belly, Simon could see it was a female with a brood patch, which meant she was nesting in the area.

photo  DSC06464.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06476.JPG resized for the web

This is one bird which did have its bill length measured.

photo  DSC06495.JPG resized for the web

House Wren (apparently not inclined to lift its tail in this position).

photo  DSC06504.JPG resized for the web

Here are a few snaps of a female Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

photo  DSC06508.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06510.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06514.JPG resized for the web

The next few are birds seen at a distance on the trail. My light-weight Sony Cyber-Shot has only a 15x zoom, but, with digital image stabilization, it does a pretty good job. The main problem which will motivate me to spend the money on a somewhat heavier, better camera is the need for mechanical manual focus when there is unavoidable forground interference (often branches or grasses). The so-called manual focus I have is only useful if the subject waits while I navigate through the menu, buttons, knobs and rocker switches. Birds don't wait.

photo  DSC06515.JPG resized for the web

Eastern Kingbird.

photo  DSC06516.JPG resized for the web

Yellow Warblers (above and below).

photo  DSC06523.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06521.JPG resized for the web

A flutter of wings and leaves: Female Red-winged Blackbirds were finding something interesting in a bush.

photo  DSC06522.JPG resized for the web

Another female Red-winged Blackbird was down at the water.

photo  DSC06524.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06529.JPG resized for the web

Least Sandpipers were busily moving about, but well-camouflaged among the dry reeds. You will see what I mean if you click through to the original photographs. Told they were there by Susan, I saw them first by watching for movement. Through the camera, they were more difficult to see. I zoomed in, took the photo, and had to enlarge the images on screen to be sure they were captured in the picture.

photo  DSC06530.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06531.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06533.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06534.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06535.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06536.JPG resized for the web

A Red-tailed Hawk flew over as we headed back to the cabin.

On our return, we had a good close up look at a magnificent Common Grackle which was being registered. (The two photos below).

photo  DSC06547.JPG resized for the web

Common Grackle.

photo  DSC06548.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06558.JPG resized for the web

Northern Waterthrush

photo  DSC06559.JPG resized for the web

The last attractive little bird I watched being examined and then photographed outside was a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

photo  DSC06562.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06564.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06567.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06568.JPG resized for the web photo  DSC06569.JPG resized for the web

This is the good man who decided to take a group photo for us, but was not in it himself.

Below Video: Solitary Sandpiper, Turkey Vultures, Woodcock surprise.

Mouse over for controls (some browsers may not show the video). You can Download a larger mp4 version (640x480) of the video.