Monday, May 28, 2012

A Morning with Dad at Ruthven

On May 19th, Jordan, son number two, got his long awaited one-on-one time with Dad for an outing as we headed to Ruthven for bird banding morning.  Jordan's turn was overdue with Andrew's having happened back in December.  Jordan had often reminded me but neither of us had come up with what he wanted to do.  When Pete Scholten (moderator of Hamilton Birders group) let me know of the event Ruthven was holding, I suggested it to Jordan and he was quite excited about the idea of being able to hold birds and release them.  I was not at all pushing the idea as it's supposed to be something they want to do.  But it sure is nice if they want to find interest in something we can share over the years.

---Creation of this post interrupted by neighbourhood fire!---
Shed Fire
Nothing like a fire to get the neighbourhood out onto the street on a quiet Sunday evening.  While working on this post, I heard a good bang ("Really, not more fireworks again?") and then two very large bangs outside ("That was definitely not fireworks!").  It sounded like the back gate on a dump truck slamming shut just outside the house.  I grabbed my phone and headed quickly out the door.  When outside I could hear the crackle of fire and black smoke just starting to heading upwards into the darkening evening sky.  As it was definitely more than a crazy backyard campfire, I called 911 but had already been beaten by what I later found out was the neighbour just next door who obviously knew something was not right.  Thankfully no one was hurt or injured from what was "only" a shed on fire about 10 houses down.  The neighbours are guessing it might have been an ancient John Deer riding mower the shed owner uses and keeps there.  As for the large explosions, we could only guess at gas tanks exploding or the tires, maybe propane tanks?  Needless to say it had the entire street outside.  Our kids were sleeping already and will likely be quite upset tomorrow when they find out they missed it.
...back to the post ...actually, completion delayed till the next day 

Ruthven is a beautiful park in the form of a land trust donated from the Thompson family who had built a large mansion on the bank of the Grand River just north of Cayuga.  You can read about the history and the programs here.  Aside from the bird banding which happens in spring and fall, there are mansion tours and nice grounds with trails for walking through the Carolinian forest and along the Grand River.

We arrived at about 7:30 in the morning on good advice from Pete that the best hours were before 10am. The staff were already busily untangling a bird from the mist nets strung up all over the grounds. 

Pete Scholtens removing a bird from the mist nets.

The birds are thoroughly examined and identified, and then banded with a unique number which traces them back to this birding station.  They rank their health, measure them up, look for ticks, weigh them and keep a record of the bird for future reference.

Bird banding in process with the tools of
the trade in the foreground.
They had just finished banding a Magnolia Warbler which Jordan got to hold and release.

Jordan about to release a Magnolia Warbler
Of note, this little bird doesn't get to be added to my life list count.  The accepted "rules" are that the bird has to be seen in the wild and be free.  Getting caught in a mist net isn't really free!

Peter took Jordan and I and a few others on a hike along the Grand River trail where we enjoyed the perfect weather and sites and sounds of lots of birds.  Purple Martins (life bird) were noisily circling over some colony houses, nesting material being flown in for accommodation building.

female and male Purple Martins
female Purple Martin

A pair of Tree Swallows (life birds) were sunning on top of their nest box.  The iridescent blue wings contrast so vividly with the snowy white underparts on the male.

female and male Tree Swallows

We headed down the bank to the river and walked through the pink Dame's Rockets.  We first heard and then saw a Belted Kingfisher flying very high up, and I sighted a Red-headed woodpecker (life bird) flying up river.  Peter pointed out a Eastern Wood-Pewee (another life bird), and we saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker emptying a old tree knot of nesting material.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

An Indigo Bunting was seen by the rest of our group, but not by me.  For some reason, there have been a number of times that I've been places when others have see this bird, but it seems to allude me!

Jordan on the trail.

When we returned there were more birds to release.  A Red-bellied Woodpecker female was busy pecking at a staff worker's finger.  If you open up the picture and view it larger, you can actually see the serrated tip of it's tongue which it has to snag and pull out bugs from with the little holes it chisels in the trees.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Jordan got to see a Chipping Sparrow up close. Along with House Sparrows, these are fairly common in your back yard in Southern Ontario, but nice to see up close.

Chipping Sparrow

Here is a series of burst shots of Jordan releasing the sparrow converted into a GIF.  I love his face on about the 3rd frame.  He did this for every release. :)

Jordan releases a Chipping Sparrow into the bushes behind him.

A Gray Catbird was Jordan's last release.

Learning the bird-bander's hold.
Releasing a Gray Catbird

Ruthven is definitely a place to return to and from what I've seen so far, looks like a great place for a family for a day outing.  I hope to come back with the whole family some time soon.  The park staff encourage bringing the kids to see the banding.  Nice to see how good they were with the kids.

Jordan was very excited to tell of his fun when he returned home, confirming that it had been fun day for him, as well as for me.  Justin's up next.

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