Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

“How Things Lead to Other Things: The Unexpected Results of Pursuing Birds”

May 18th

NOTE: Tickets ($40) must be purchased or reserved in advance by May 11, 2017. See details below

Can bird banding be a catalyst for social change? Find out May 18th at our annual Spring Gathering at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall. The evening will feature a banquet, silent auction fundraiser for environmental education, and a keynote presentation “How Things Lead to Other Things: The Unexpected Results of Pursuing Birds” with Rick Ludkin, an Ontario master bird bander and sponsor/educator of birders of all ages, near and far.

Rick Ludkin has a very diverse “history” in conservation birding, particularly with the “close encounters”, hands-on approach of traditional bird banding monitoring. It would be interesting to know exactly how many fragile Snow Buntings, Golden-winged Warblers, various Kenyan weavers and other birds he has held gently in his hands, to measure, band, and glance at for a fleeting moment before releasing. It must be in the many tens of 1000’s!  A children’s mental health expert by profession, Ludkin has always had a significant side-career.

He began bird banding in the 1970’s and in 1995 established a Canadian Migration Monitoring Station at Ruthven Park, Haldimand Bird Observatory. Hundreds of school children enjoy time banding and “scribing” about the migrating birds there with his team. Several field-work trips to the Arctic studying Northern Fulmars and Common Eiders, also gave Ludkin a love and respect for Snow Buntings and he later collaborated to create the Canadian Snow Bunting Network. In February, Ludkin and a small team spent a day banding the “Snow Buntings of Lanark County” at a popular stopover site for the migrant flocks at a property in Sheridan Rapids. In 2013 Rick Ludkin set out to a rural area of Western Kenya to help found the “Matangwe Bird Club” and has returned each year. The story of this transformative project and the diversity of birds Rick witnesses during his time there are stunning!

How far do the ripples generated reach, when children and communities develop acute knowledge and skills to study the wild species around them? Rick Ludkin will share his hopes and insights.

Details for the event are as follows:

MVFN’s Spring Gathering 2017 begins at 5:30 pm (doors open 5) with a reception and chance to share a drink with friends and bid in the silent auction. Dinner begins at 6:30 pm and then, sit back and enjoy the presentation! Tickets ($40) must be purchased or reserved by Thursday, May 11th and will be available in Almonte at Gilligallou Bird Inc., at The Blossom Shop, Carleton Place, and in Perth at The Office. Further info at To reserve your ticket/s for pick up at the venue, please contact MVFN’s Sylvia Miller at or 613-256-7825.


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MVFN Nature Notebook Recent Sighting and report: 

“We also had a very exciting experience last week-end. A bird bander came to our property to band the Snow Buntings. I had been in contact with the Snow Bunting Network for several years, pleading for them to send a bird bander to my place! There are several banding stations in Quebec, along the St Lawrence, and also around the Great Lakes, but nothing in between. My location is perfect, right in the middle!
Finally, Rick Ludkin, a veteran bird bander, came with his wife and a young apprentice and we caught and banded 89 Snow Buntings! It was an experience I will never forget. As an avid birder, I always wanted to observe a bird banding session, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would happen right in my kitchen!!” 
Lise Balthazar, Sheridan Rapids
Banding of the Lanark Snow Buntings:

My name is Lise Balthazar and I live in Lanark Highlands with my husband, Nat Capitanio. Every year, we have a large flock of Snow Buntings on our property; we feed them white millet. I had been in contact with the Snow Bunting Network, asking if they could send a bird bander to our property. Finally, on the week-end of February 11th, 2017, we had a veteran bird bander from the Waterloo area, Rick Ludkin and his wife, come to our property, along with a young apprentice from Montreal, Catherine Lavallée-Chouinard. We set up the traps, which are basically large cages on the ground with food in it; the birds make their way in to feed but can’t find their way out. As soon as several birds are trapped, time is of the essence. The birds are put into bags and brought to the banding station…which was our kitchen!!

Very quickly and expertly, Rick and Catherine pulled the birds out of the bags, measured them, determined the sex and age, checked the muscle mass and the fat and the weight. After all that, Rick would hand me each bird so that I could release it back into the wild. It was an exhilarating and emotional experience I will never forget.

We caught and banded a total of 89 Snow Buntings. We collected very important data which is sent to Canadian Wildlife Services. Snow Buntings are declining in numbers and the Snow Bunting Network is studying these beautiful little birds and their movements. They usually arrive in our area in December and leave at the beginning of March to go back to Groenland and Baffin Island to nest.

Lise Balthazar, Sheridan Rapids

The team at work in the kitchen.

Snow bunting banding release 2



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April 2012

“A Bird in Hand” presented by Lesley-Anne Howes, Canadian Wildlife Service

Looking into the unknown lives of birds using banding data: a lecture report by Cliff Bennett

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) 2011-12 natural history lecture series continued recently in Almonte. Guest speaker presenter for the seventh lecture “A Bird in Hand”, was Lesley Howes, biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Ottawa.

Howes delivered an informed presentation to the public and MVFN members on the more than one hundred years of bird banding across North and South America. Bird banding research seems to have begun with the demise of the mourning dove, a game bird which was at one time in danger of being eliminated, like the passenger pigeon. Scientists and conservationists needed to know the patterns and life-style of the bird so they could try to protect it. The North American Bird Banding Protocol was established in 1923 following the 1916 signing of the Protection of Migratory Birds Act by Canada and the USA. These Acts demanded research into the numbers and species of birds travelling over national borders. Today, more than ever, we need to know where birds go, what they do and what conservation strategies can be used, in order to ensure they will be healthy into the future. Then and now most of the birds banded in Canada can be tracked at one time or another to the USA or further away.

Did you know that a red knot, a small shorebird the size of a robin, which breeds in the High Arctic, showed up in the Strait of Magellan at the tip of South America? How do we know that individual came so far? It was found with a band on its leg which showed it had been banded in the North-West Territories.

Bird banding is one of the most useful strategies used to track bird species. In fact it’s one of the major activities leading to a better understanding not only of migration routes and distances, but behaviour, population dynamics, and habitat requirements of our migrating avian friends. Also as one MVFN member noted, perhaps even of physiology. Recently banding data showed that the Greenland wheatear, a type of flycatcher, breeds in the Canadian Arctic and flies across the Atlantic to winter in Russia! How can a bird that weighs only 20-25 grams fly the Atlantic non-stop? Perhaps there are yet to be discovered new aspects of muscle action?

Always active in field work all over the world, Lesley Howes has been involved in banding many of the more than 70,000,000 banded birds on record from all over the Americas since 1923. 300,000 of these birds were banded in Canada. Howes asked the audience which bird species they thought was the most often banded. No one guessed the correct answer, the mallard duck. Howes went on to explain that, of all birds banded in Canada, 30% of those found with bands are found elsewhere in Canada, 68% are found in the USA and the rest are found internationally. More and more, with climate change, birds are moving globally. Canadian birds found in Europe and European birds found in Canada have a danger of carrying diseases to these areas. Knowing where a banded bird has been will allow authorities to act promptly to protect others in the species.

There are many bird banding stations throughout Canada and the world. Volunteers are always needed and are welcome. To be involved in bird banding, however, you need a permit. This requires you have a project in mind and qualified people to conduct it. Most bird banding stations are at permanent locations. Typically, birds are caught in flight in gentle, fine mist nets and animals are examined in hand followed by release after banding. The bird is weighed, measured, sexed and aged and all data is recorded. A small sample of blood which may be taken also yields vital data. The process takes about fifteen minutes before release.

Photo 3b MVFN bird banding  Photo 3a MVFN bird banding

Bird ‘bands’ may be simple metal tags, large wing patches, neck bands (used for geese), or other styles. They may be sophisticated and include a GPS to give instant information about location. Right: an identification band being attached to the leg of a Yellow Warbler. Left: a Scarlet Tanager is examined during banding. Photos Lesley Howes

Data is gathered when a bird is banded, and if and when banded birds are re-captured or found months or years later, more data can be gathered. Bands can range from a simple metal tag or coloured leg band, to a large patagial or wing marker, to a neck band i.e. such as may be used to band geese. Or a band may be as sophisticated as those with a GPS to give instant information as to the precise location at any given time of an animal.

The nearest banding station in our area is at the Innis Point Bird Observatory just west of Ottawa and they have facilities for long-term volunteers. If you find a banded bird or when a banded bird is found elsewhere in the world, the band numbers should be recorded by the finder and reported to the Canadian Wildlife Service at or to the US Audubon Society. These organizations can then combine information obtained when the individual was banded, with any new information obtained when the banded bird is re-caught or found, or when only a band is found.

Photo 1 MVFN bird banding

Lesley-Anne Howes (left) is thanked by MVFN President Joyce Clinton.

Photo 2 MVFN bird banding (1280x794)

After the bird banding talk there was time to examine dozens of specimens, bird bands and banding tools displayed by our guest speaker. Photos Pauline Donaldson

Back to the red knot, as a long distance traveller, it often has companions of other Arctic species including the Arctic tern, Eskimo curlew, ruddy turnstone and the white-rumped sandpiper. Howes concluded her lecture with slides of some other long-distance wanderers and answered questions from the audience. After enthusiastic applause from the over fifty members and guests present, Howes was thanked Joyce Clinton for showing us how ‘a bird in hand with a band’ is worth a wealth of data for bird conservation. After the lecture, there was time to view the dozens of banded bird specimens and the various bird bands and banding tools Howes had prepared for display.


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