Greg’s Myrtle-Mania Blog

Dear Readers,

Please let me introduce myself.  My name is Greg Mitchell and I am a Post-doctoral Fellow at Western University.  I have been studying songbirds for eight years, and my research focuses on the period of time between breeding and migration (the post-fledging/pre-migratory period), as well as on migration.  This fall I am working at the Cabot Head Research Station (CHRS) and the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory and studying the migratory behavior of yellow-rumped warblers.  For me this is a bit of nostalgic experience because I studied yellow-rumped warblers during my Masters degree.  Yellow-rumps are one of the most versatile and hardy warblers in North America; although most individuals migrate south in the fall, some will stay and can survive the winter in SW Nova Scotia by foraging on frozen fruit.

There are a couple layers to my research at the CHRS.  First, I have setup nine automated telemetry receiving stations, spanning from Tobermory to Lake Erie.  Each station is comprised of a small tower, multiple antennae (Yagi Antennae like the ones you see on peoples homes), and a radio receiver.  I place small (0.38 g) radio transmitters on the yellow-rumps we catch here at the station and use the towers to track the timing and direction of their migration movements.  If a bird passes within 15 km of a tower, the tower will receive a radio signal from the bird’s transmitter and time stamp when the signal was received.  By looking at the timing of the signals received at each tower and the direction of the antenna that received the signals, I will be able to reconstruct the migration routes of the yellow-rumps we catch here at the station.  I will also get all kinds of cool additional natural history information, such as data regarding how long birds stopover to rest and refuel at or near the research station before resuming their migration, what kinds of weather conditions individuals are choosing to depart under, and determining whether or not some individuals are migrating during the day (this has yet to be definitely described in this species, but we have plenty of anecdotal evidence that they do).

I am also locating birds on a daily basis in the landscape surrounding the research station.  I hope to use this data to determine stopover habitat requirements of yellow-rumps during fall migration.  To date, I have placed radio transmitters on nine juvenile birds.  These birds appear to use a variety of forest and forest-edge habitats and are often associated with multiple other individuals in mixed species flocks.  I am very curious to find out if we will observe similar patterns in adults.  We haven’t caught any adults to date, but I imagine we will start seeing them move through in the next couple days.

Anyhow, I feel extremely fortunate to be doing research here at the station (the scenery is incredible) and my fellow cabin mates (Andrew, Nick, and Pat) have made the experience that much better.

Until next time,