13 06 2012

Although this is a blog about the magnificent Sable Island gulls, I think there is a bit of leeway to (Ip)switch species for a moment and talk about some of the other feathered friends that live on the island.  We are also working on Ipswich Sparrows while we’re out here.

The Ipswich work has been a lot of fun so far and we’ve even started banding chicks.  We catch them using mist nets and call playbacks so we all know the Ipswich song very well by now.  It’s hard not to hear them all around you while you sit and wait for the much larger gulls to be trapped.  It’s once you have a sparrow interested in the speaker that the action starts.  The best way to catch them seems to be to run at them and flush them into the net.  Sometimes they outsmart us and escape the net at the last moment, but we don’t give up!  We’ve managed to catch most of the sparrows we’ve set our eyes on with one or two exceptions of some particularly wiley individuals.  No one likes being outsmarted by a sparrow.

Jess sets up a mist-net just out of reach of a passing horse.


We’ve caught a few surprises too; magnolia warbler, cedar waxwing, northern waterthrush, and a blackpoll warbler.  It can also be a challenge working around wild horses, one has run through our net (both the net and the horse made it out in one piece), but they have also managed to chase sparrows into our nets which has been a huge help.


Zoe delicately removes an Ipswich Sparrow from a mist net.

A male Ipswich Sparrow with a red leg bad and metal (numbered) band. Females get blue bands. During the breeding season it’s easy to determine the sex of birds (females have a brood patch and male don’t). We’re banding sparrows now with colour bands so it will make it easier to tell apart the males and females in late August when we return to tag them.


Getting the chicks is a bit trickier at first, since the nests are so small and well hidden in the dense ground cover.  Once you find one you just have to wait until they are big enough to band but not old enough to be forced out of the nest too early.  Then you can just reach in and get them.  They start out with just a bit of down along their head and back which looks like a little Mohawk, and the rest of the feathers grow in after that.  After waiting 6 days for the first set of chicks we were finally able to band our first nest yesterday.   We should have a couple more ready in the next few days and we’re all very excited to band more little Ipswich chicks!

Zoe Crysler

Ipswich conceal their nests among grass and shrubs on Sable. Each summer pairs raise up to three clutches of 3 to 5 eggs.

After only 12 days of incubation, these hungry little mouths emerge.






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