The first major wave of migrating birds reached Muskoka in the first week of April so start atlasing any time now. Just be careful not to record species just passing through. We are already getting reports of breeding evidence for some early nesters, Common Raven sitting on eggs near Gravenhurst, American Woodcocks doing courtship displays, Phoebes singing, Bluebirds checking out the houses, Pileated Woodpeckers drumming, Red-shouldered Hawks displaying. In the last couple of weeks Barred Owls have been calling in a number of locations and Saw-whet Owls were calling near Uffington and Huntsville.
April is probably the best month to atlas for owls in Muskoka, resident species are on nests and migrant species are back on territories. Owls were thought to be under-atlased last time because most people were out atlasing only during the day in June and July. As many of you know the best way to find owls is to go owling early in the spring. You plan an owling route along a road through your square and then after dark stop at regular intervals and listen for owls. You can increase your success by using a portable tape/cd player to play owl calls before you listen. Owls defending a breeding territory will respond by calling back. Once an owl replies you should stop playing the tape so you won't be accused of harassing them. Calm nights are better, clear or cloudy doesn't seem to make any difference, but for some reason there are nights that owls just don't call. My own theory is that certain atmospheric conditions cause sounds to travel farther, those are the good nights. So don't give up if you don't hear any the first night, it's likely just a bad night. Contact me if you need an owl tape. I can copy one on tape or cd that has a series of calls of all the species expected in Muskoka.
What owls should you expect and where? Have you heard these rules of thumb:
Pretty accurate actually but there is always exceptions to rules. In Muskoka you're not likely to find Short-eared Owls, and Screech-Owls are rare. However Barred and Great-Horned Owls are likely to be found in most squares. Saw-whet Owls are less common but widespread. Long-eared Owls should be in Muskoka but haven't been confirmed as breeding here yet. Look for them around conifer plantations. You might locate a Boreal or Great Gray this time of year but these should be considered as wintering birds unless breeding evidence is found. Mark them in as observed.
The atlaser's package, manual, maps etc, will be ready soon. I now have the manuals and square maps but not the data cards and regional species lists. I expect them in a week, so am planning on waiting until I have all the materials before delivering or mailing them to you. For sure I will have the complete package at the atlaser workshop on April 28 (see below).
Square assignments are going well with 27 out of 50 squares now assigned. 4 squares along Georgian Bay are mostly water and likely will not be assigned, so that leaves 19 squares still available in the region. The northern part of the region may be a problem where there is a block of 8 squares around Novar, Sprucedale, Bear lake and Yearly still with no atlasers. These squares should have some interesting northern birds like Spruce Grouse and Black-backed Woodpecker. If you can think of anyone who might like to work in this area please let me know.
Global Positioning System receivers are now being used by many people to navigate while hiking off-road. It might be handy to have when atlasing. You could set them up to show the UTM grid coordinates used for the square boundaries, then you could to tell what square you were in at all times. You could use them to document the locations of all the rare species you find and most important keep yourself from getting lost in the bush! If you plan on buying a GPS you might want to wait for a while. The atlas office is looking into a bulk purchase and making them available to atlasers at a special price.
Don't forget the Atlaser Workshop on April 28, 1-4 pm at the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre. Participants will be trained in the following areas:
The Muskoka Region Atlas website http://www.muskoka.com/~sinclair/news.html has been offline since April 1 due to some major changes going on at muskoka.com. It should be back soon and download a lot faster to.
That's about it for now. If you have any questions about the atlas feel free to contact me at any time.