Skip to content






Ver. 1.0

October 2004

By Richard J. Cannings


I would like to thank Rhonda Millikin for her pioneering work in migration monitoring atVaseuxLake.  This protocol borrows heavily from her initial work and from the protocol for the Rocky Point Bird Observatory written by David Allinson.


This protocol is intended to outline field procedures for migration monitoring at Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory (VLBO). This document is required for the purpose of ensuring that field procedures at VLBO are understood and adhered to in a consistent or standardized fashion by volunteers and staff.

Any future changes to this protocol must be fully recorded in order for any potentially negative effects of this to be considered at later analysis stages.

Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory is located about 1 kilometre north ofVaseuxLakeon provincial Crown Lands managed by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and on part of the Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service (Figure 1).  The habitat consists of riparian woodlands dominated by water birch and alder, moist pastures, the old channel of theOkanaganRiverand the present, dyked channel of the same river.  It is in the narrowest portion of theOkanaganValley, concentrating migrants especially in spring when birds are using the valley bottoms almost exclusively.  The most common species banded during fall migration include: Gray Catbird, Orange-crowned Warbler. As of the fall of 2004, 98 bird species had been banded at the site.

Figure 1. Location of Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory. The southerly site was used from 1994 to 1998; the station was moved 1 km northwest in 2001 and has remained at that site.

Fieldwork described in the protocol is conducted at VLBO to monitor populations of passerines migrating through the Interior of British Columbia during the fall. The VLBO serves a broader purpose as a member of the national Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN) managed by Bird Studies Canada (BSC). One objective of VLBO is to gather quality, standardized data on intermontane migrating birds for the purpose of calculating population indices and trends.

Priority species for migration monitoring at VLBO are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Priority list for migration monitoring at Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory.1

A. Species with <50% of North American (Canada and US only) breeding range covered by Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and <60% of winter range in US-Canada
Lincoln’s Sparrow Orange-crowned Warbler Swainson’s Thrush
Northern Waterthrush SavannahSparrow Wilson’s Warbler
B. Species with <50% of North American breeding range covered by BBS, but >60% of winter range in US-Canada.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet White-crowned Sparrow
C. Species with <60% of their Canadian-Alaskan breeding range (but 50% of North American range) covered by BBS, and <60% of winter range in US-Canada.
Bank Swallow MacGillivray’s Warbler Western Tanager
Barn Swallow Northern Harrier Western Wood Pewee
Cassin’s Vireo Rufous Hummingbird Yellow-headed Blackbird
Common Nighthawk Tree Swallow Yellow Warbler
Common Yellowthroat Violet-green Swallow
Eastern Kingbird Warbling Vireo
D. Species with <60% of their Canadian-Alaskan breeding range (but >50% of North American range) covered by BBS, but >60% of their winter range in US-Canada (includes some irruptive species and irregular migrants).
American Robin Cedar Waxwing Pine Siskin
American Crow Downy Woodpecker Red-breasted Nuthatch
Black-capped Chickadee Golden-crowned Kinglet Red-winged Blackbird
Belted Kingfisher Marsh Wren Song Sparrow
Brewer’s Blackbird Northern Flicker
E. Species with >60% of both their Canadian and North American breeding range covered by BBS, and <60% of their winter range in US-Canada.
Black-headed Grosbeak Lazuli Bunting Veery
Bullock’s Oriole NashvilleWarbler Western Bluebird
Gray Catbird N. Rough-winged Swallow WillowFlycatcher
White-throated Swift
F. Species with >60% of both their Canadian and North American breeding range covered by BBS, and >60% of their winter range inU.S. andCanada.
American Goldfinch House Finch Spotted Towhee
Brown-headed Cowbird Mourning Dove Western Meadowlark
Evening Grosbeak Red-naped Sapsucker

1 Based on the BSC CMMN priority rankings (1998). This list excludes species with mean total DETs of less than 10 per year atVaseuxLake.


Daily migration monitoring at VLBO is to be conducted by at least two experienced people. At least one of those persons must be a licensed and experienced bander and birder who acts as the bander in charge (BIC) on a daily basis. The BIC is ultimately responsible for ensuring that all aspects of fieldwork are completed in a manner which agrees with this document. However, all personnel participating in the fieldwork are expected to read this protocol. Safe and efficient field work is the daily goal and is achieved when skilled individuals are on hand to assist the BIC. A second individual must be an experienced birder that is capable of identifying and counting all birds while conducting the daily census (described below).  When possible, a third individual will assist with bird extraction and bird banding.

On occasions where there is a lack of skilled staff on hand, the daily program is to be scaled down as necessary. Conducting the daily census is a priority, while banding and general observations are 2nd and 3rd priorities, respectively.

Individuals who are new to VLBO, with little or no training elsewhere, should approach the Bander In Charge (BIC) about bander training procedures. Inexperienced volunteers can expect to read through this protocol, walk the census route, get familiarized with count area and assist banders through “scribing.” The Bander In Charge will delegate responsibilities and tasks based upon abilities and experience of all personnel available. Volunteers wishing not to participate with banding can still be of great help by making observations, censusing, scribing, and data entry. All decisions made by the BIC are final.


The Count Area refers to the area in which birds may be counted and included in the daily totals; it is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. TheVaseux Lake Bird Observatory Count Area. Birds are counted in an area bounded by Highway 97, the railroad right-of-way on the western edge of the valley bottom, the north end ofVaseuxLake, and a line drawn through the bend in OkanaganRiver perpendicular to Highway 97.


The standard count period begins 30 minutes before dawn at which time nets are opened (weather permitting) and general observations commence. Nets are run (if possible) for a 6 hour period from net opening. The daily census must begin one hour after sunrise and run for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.  This “window” for census is significant as suitable light levels and high bird activity generally occurs at this time. The standard count period ends one hour after net closure.  General observations begin at net opening and continue for the duration of the standard count period. The extended observation period (one hour after net closure) is designed to accommodate further general observations and data recording


Census is conducted on a daily basis, barring extreme weather conditions. The census route should be conducted for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The route is illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3. The Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory site showing census route and approximate location of net lanes.

As mentioned earlier, the census should begin precisely 1 hour after sunrise. Special conditions for which census may be delayed or aborted include: electrical storm, heavy rain or extremely high winds.

The census person must be a class 1 observer (Table 2). Observer classification is intended to account for variation in skill level of personnel for analysis purposes. The identification percentage refers to all birds encountered, either visually or audibly. New volunteers can assign themselves a code based on the criteria detailed below. Personnel are encouraged to be honest and accurate in assessments of abilities.

Table 2. Observer classification codes.

Observer Class Description
1 Can correctly identify 75% of birds or greater atVaseuxLake.
2 Can correctly identify 50%-75% of birds atVaseuxLake.
3 Can correctly identify <50% of birds atVaseuxLake.

Census observers must record start and finish times as well as all species and their total number on the census route. All birds seen or heard in the Count Area can be counted as well as any bird seen flying.  The observer is allowed to stray off the main path to a maximum distance of 10 metres to confirm identification.

The censuser may not use spotting scopes, but must use binoculars and record observations promptly with pencil and notebook. “Pishing” may be used to attract birds on census if necessary to confirm identification.

Birds must not be double-counted, so the censuser should make careful observations of bird locations and movements during the census. For example, if 3 Song Sparrows are counted walking south to net 10 and 5 counted on the return walk to the trailer, a maximum of 5 should be recorded.  The birds found caught in the mist nets are not counted during the census. Census takers are encouraged to keep moving and not dwell in any one area for too long.



VLBO runs 14 mist nets that are located at standard locations. Nets are numbered sequentially as 1-14 beginning at 1 from the Highway 97. Nets, particularly those exposed to the wind, should be closed for the safety of birds when winds are gusting at 20+ mph or higher.

Mist nets 1-14 operated in the standard count period comprise the standard banding effort (extra nets or traps are not representative). These nets are to be run from one half hour before sunrise for 6 hours comprising the standard banding period. Newly caught birds are processed with the following information: age and sex, wing cord, fat deposition, weight, time trapped, band number and bander initials. Appendix 1 shows the banding data sheet and scribing method used at VLBO. Ageing and sexing at Vaseux Lake is primarily based on Peter Pyle’s An Identification Guide to North American Birds with some usage of North American Banding Techniques. Volunteers with little or no familiarity with these manuals should read the introduction in Pyle, which includes excellent descriptions of molt processes, measurement techniques and sexing criteria.

When time permits, banders should attempt to identify birds to subspecies. Prior banding experience at the site has demonstrated that several forms of a given species (i.e., Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Flicker) can be encountered (sometimes on the same day!). Banders may use the descriptions in Pyle as an indicator.

Recaptures are recorded atVaseuxLakeusing the “retrap page” system currently being used by Long Point Bird Observatory. Each recaptured bird has its own corresponding page that details a recapture history. It is essential that banders and scribes pay close attention to the reading and recording of the band number, as this number is the most important piece of information. Recaptured birds are processed with the same information as newly banded birds. Each day’s pages are left loose (i.e. not filed) under “today’s recaps” at the back of the binder and are filed according to band number when estimated totals are completed.

Any birds which were captured but managed to escape, or were released, are recorded on the incidental observations clipboard under the heading of “captures unbanded” which is also factored into the ET process (Section 8). The rules pertaining to what is a “capture” and what otherwise is a general observation are: the individual must have handled the bird before escape or release in order to be counted as a capture unbanded. Therefore, birds that were flushed out of a net but were not touched are factored into the general observations category.  This includes hummingbirds, quail and other species that VLBO is not authorized to band.  These birds should be aged and sexed if possible and entered on the daily log sheet.

Nets are usually checked every 15-20 minutes. Situations in which birds may be at greater risk of injury mean that nets should be checked more frequently if not closed altogether. Only those individuals authorized by the BIC are allowed to extract birds. Inexperienced personnel must be supervised by the BIC at all times during the extraction process. Birds waiting in bags should be safely hung up and not left on the ground!

Nets must not be operated in overly wet conditions (rain, showers, drizzle or heavy fog). Banders should be aware of unusually hot days in which birds may experience heat stress if left in the nets or hanging in bags for to long.VaseuxLakeis also home bears, deer and hawks in migration. Sightings of these potential predators around the nets should be reported to the BIC. As bird welfare is paramount, the BIC should not hesitate to shut down if birds are at risk. Nets should be set so that the top shelf loop is 3 or 4 inches from the top of the net pole and the lowest shelf string is at knee height. Nets must also be properly furled and tied up at close down.

While it generally takes 15-20 minutes to close all the nets, personnel should pay close attention to the time each net was opened. Because the nets are set-up in a line as opposed to a loop, there is a 15-20 minute difference in time of opening when one or two people are opening. Therefore, nets 1-5 may have been operated for 5.5 hours while nets 6-10 were open for 6 hours. To avoid this, nets should be opened and closed in the same order.


Non-Standard Banding refers to either: a) netting or trapping which occurs after the standard count period or b) for birds caught in non-standard nets and traps during the standard count period. Personnel should also avoid attempting to flush or “pish” birds into the nets. Such non-standard situations of capture are recorded on the banding sheets with NSB (Non-Standard Band) in the comments. The daily log and ET sheets have sections where these banded birds can be accounted for.

A completed banding sheet for VLBO is provided in Appendix 1.


General observations or simply “obs” refers to birds encountered that do not fall under census or banding. The count area still applies to these observations. Further, the “general obs” is an important component for generating estimated totals (ETs). Personnel must pay careful attention to this data, remembering the numbers, location and identifying characteristics of the birds observed. This is necessary for eliminating any overlap during the ET tallying process.

General observations for the standard count period are factored into the ET, while observations after this period (non-standard count period) are allotted to the DST.

General observations are treated as a separate tally from both banding and census and subsequently are recorded without regard for “double counting” possibilities. Rather, the different categories are independent and the ET process attempts to eliminate any overlap.

Volunteers and staff are strongly encouraged to make as many observations as possible depending on daily circumstances. Staff and volunteers leaving before ETs are calculated, again must record their observations on paper with reference to species and their total number, location, time and movements of birds


Estimated totals are the method deemed valid for migration monitoring by Long Point Bird Observatory and Point Reyes Bird Observatory.  Migration Monitoring atVaseuxLakehinges upon consistent and efficient ET tabulation for later trend analysis. The ET is derived from census, banding and general observations that occur in the standard count period. All categories of data are integrated to arrive at the best possible estimate of the number of individuals for each species on a given day. Standardization and maximum effort are key for the ET in order to achieve accurate figures.

The exercise of tabulating ETs firstly involves the entering of banding, recapture and census data. The designated ET coordinator is responsible for inviting open discussion and encouraging input from all participants. The general observations total is first deduced by eliminating overlap between observers present (i.e., 1 singing Marsh Wren heard by several individuals in the marsh area equals 1, not 3). Banded and recaptured birds are then called out.

The final ET figure accounts for all categories and is delineated by discussion of relevant time, location, behaviour and movement detected by all observers. The ET figure cannot exceed that which has been detected. If the combined total of census, banding, retrap and general observations equals 34, the ET figure cannot be greater than 34. By extrapolation and careful consideration of “double counting”, the ET figure will more often be less than the sum total of all categories.

The Daily Species Total (DST) is the final tally of all species and their abundance comprising the standard count period and the non-standard count period. Non-standard mistnetting and raptor count (if completed) and afternoon general obs are factored into the DST for an overall summation of the day.

An example of ET and DST calculation for Lincoln’s Sparrow.

Todd reports 3 incidental observations of Lincoln’s Sparrow, Dick 3 and Laurie 2. It is determined that there are only 6 sparrows between all observers (4 from the field and 2 along the oxbow). The total for the incidental obs. column is therefore 6. The ET conductor reports 3 banded and 1 retrap as well as 5 on census. While the sum total of all categories is 15, it is then investigated as to whether there were actually 15 or if there is “overlap.” Further discussion discloses that all 5 censused birds were along the dyke, an area not covered by other observers. It is agreed however that the 3 banded and 1 recaptured birds were taken from the nets along the oxbow which eliminates 2 of the 6 observed. It is presumed then that there were 9 incidentally observed birds that differ from all others. Therefore the breakdown for Lincoln’s Sparrow is 5 from census, 4 from mistnetting and 4 from incidental observations. Therefore the estimated total is 13 (3+1+5+4=11 ).

As earlier mentioned, birds identified only to family or genus are recorded as Gull species, Dowitcher sp. and so on. These ET’d examples are marked in parentheses as Gull sp.= (400) in the ET and/or DST column. This only applies to situations where there were 1 or more species of Gull identified. If there were no species of Gull identified, but there were 10 Gulls of unknown species, then the Gull Sp. row is counted as a species with no parentheses added.

An example of a completed ET and DST sheet is provided in Appendix 2.


A daily coverage code serves the purpose of evaluating the quality of the migration monitoring on a given day and therefore allowing for variability in trend analysis. VLBO operates with a coding system based on number of observers, observer classification, observer effort, banding effort, census, and ET.  Observer class and observation hours are significant for the calculation of coverage codes.

Table 3. Count Area coverage codes

Code Criteria
0 No coverage
1 No census or ET. Some obs. or non-standard banding.
2 Census. Possibly some obs. or non-standard banding
3 Census and ET. At least 1 class 1 observer present for 7 hours and some banding (<50% of 6 hour banding period)
4 Census, ETs, at least 2 class 1 observers + 50-100% of standard banding effort. 1 class 1 observer must be present for 7 hours.
5 Census, ETs, at least 3 class 1 observers +100% of standard banding effort. 2 class 1 observers must be present for 7 hours.


An example of the daily log is provided in Appendix 3.  The VLBO log sheet must be completed at the end of each field day. As with ETs and DST’s, data entry is an integral part of migration monitoring. Therefore, it is recommended that volunteers and staff pay close attention to the following items to be included on the log.

  • Date (all pages).
  • List of personnel present for that day, their observer class and field hours.
  • Censuser, census start and end time.
  • Weather information at dawn, noon and dusk.
  • Net opening and closing times and hours of operation.
  • Coverage codes.
  • Daily summation of species for ET, DST, census, banded and re-trapped.
  • Daily summation of total # of birds per species banded and re-trapped.
  • Unusual species.
  • Season banding total and species totals.
  • Narrative entry.
  • First Arrival dates for migrants.

The narrative located on the back of the log may include the following:

  • A description of bird movements and their relative density.
  • Unusual species.
  • Observational information on volunteers (Training procedures etc.).
  • Notes about injuries or casualties.
  • Personnel changes.
  • Unusual or noteworthy bird behaviour.
  • Observations made outside of the count area zone.
  • Description of other floral and faunal species atVaseuxLake
  • Anecdotal information deemed worthy of record (i.e., stories about personnel).
  • Site maintenance.
  • Protocol deviations or changes.


Weather is recorded atVaseuxLakefour times daily, at dawn, census, noon, and dusk. The following information is to be measured: temperature, wind direction, Beaufort wind strength (Table 4), visibility, cloud cover, and precipitation as well as any other pertinent weather observations.

Table 4. Beaufort wind and sky condition scales.

Scale MPH Wind Speed Indicators
0 <1 Smoke rises vertically
1 1-3 Wind direction shown by smoke drift
2 4-7 Wind felt on face; leaves rustle
3 8-12 Leaves and twigs in constant motion
4 13-18 Wind raises dust; small branches moving
5 19-24 Small trees in leaf begin to sway
6 25-31 Large Branches in motion
7 32-38 Whole trees in motion

Precipitation is measured based upon the three simple, descriptive gradients indicating intensity, drizzle, showers or rain. Temperature is recorded in Celsius from temperature gauges at either the banding station or trailer. Cloud Cover is measured as a percentage of cloud vs. clear sky from an open viewing position.


Thorough completion of the data sheets, and electronic entry of all data are considered of equal importance and responsibility for completion of all data entry will be shared among VLBO volunteers. It is anticipated that the BIC, or another designated data manager will co-ordinate data entry during the banding season. Off-season data entry should not be a consideration.

The banding and recapture data, and the daily estimated totals must be recorded daily on the standard VLBO data sheets, as well as entered in an appropriate electronic format. To avoid costly backlogs of data that have occurred in the past, the banding activity at VLBO must be entered into a computer on an acceptable software program on a regular basis.  Banding data will be entered using the Band Manager program and daily totals, weather and effort data through the CMMN DET program.

If there are problems with data entry, or if data entry is delayed for more than one week from when the data was collected, the BIC, the data manager, or the VLBO program coordinator must be notified. The person responsible for data management will then make provisions to have the data entered in a timely fashion. A backlog of data entry for more than two weeks of field data is considered unacceptable.

As part of VLBO’s agreement with the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, the Daily Estimated Totals data must be submitted to Bird Studies Canada on a regular (i.e., seasonal) basis.


As with access to the site, the handling of birds is a privilege not an inherent right! Bird handling, extraction from mist nets and banding are extremely delicate processes that require lengthy training by experienced persons. Therefore, it is necessary for those wanting to get hands on experience to approach the volunteer coordinator about this before hand. Volunteers wanting training should consult the following station manuals for basic instruction on banding operations; The North American Banders Study Guide, The North American Banders Manual for Passerines and Near Passerines, and Pyle’s Identification Guide to North American Birds. The Bander in Charge is ultimately responsible for bird welfare and a safe banding operation and is the person who will train in these areas of interest. It is essential that any casualties and/or injuries encountered atVaseuxLake be recorded on the appropriate forms!

Banding is a Privilege

The Banders Code of Ethics

from “The Canadian Banders Study Guide”

1. More than anything else, banders are responsible for the safety and welfare of the birds they study. This means that stress and risks of injury or death need to be minimized. Some basic rules are as follows:

  • handle each bird carefully, gently, quietly, and with respect
  • capture and process only as many birds as you can safely handle
  • close traps or nets when there are known predators in the area
  • do not band in inclement weather
  • frequently assess the condition of traps and nets and repair them quickly
  • trainees must be properly trained and supervised
  • check nets every 20-30 minutes
  • check traps as often as possible as is recommended for each trap type
  • properly close all traps and nets at the end of the banding day
  • do not leave traps or nets set and untended
  • only double bag non aggressive birds of the same size and species and only when
  • absolutely necessary
  • use the correct band size and banding pliers for each bird
  • treat all bird injuries in the most humane way

2. Banders must continually assess their own work to ensure that it is beyond reproach.

  • reassess methods and your approach whenever an injury or mortality occurs
  • accept constructive criticism from other banders

3. Banders must offer honest and constructive assessment of other’s work to maintain the highest standards possible.

  • publish innovations in banding, capture and handling techniques
  • educate prospective banders and trainers
  • provide feedback of any instances of mistreatment of birds to the bander
  • if there is no improvement, then file a report with the banding office

4. Banders must ensure that the data gathered are accurate and complete.

5. Banders must obtain permission to band on private property.

If injuries and casualties are occurring frequently (3+ per week), it is imperative that the BIC accept that the banding program is counter productive, should be shut down and re-assessed. Banders must continually observe ethical procedures, and recognize the privilege of handling birds.


AlthoughVaseuxLakeexperiences little human disturbance (relative), habitat is naturally unstable and changes to site composition are inevitable. Any major vegetation changes should be well documented (photographic records of net lines, census route). When trimming net lanes and census paths, it should be stressed that nets and walking paths should be well hidden. Although it is more convenient for personnel to have more room to manoeuvre in the field, it is more important to minimize the impact of people on the vegetation. Therefore, net lanes and census paths should be trimmed back enough to allow individuals to extract birds comfortably and ensure that vegetation blowing in the wind will not damage nets.

Keeping annual written and photographic records of the standard count area, especially the netting area, can monitor such changes. A detailed habitat management plan should be drafted in the near future.


Hussel, David and John Ralph. 1998. Recommended Methods for Monitoring Bird Populations by Counting and Capture of Migrants. Report for the Intensive Sites Technical Committee of the Migration Monitoring Council, 1998.

Murphy, B. 1998. Field Protocol for the Spring Migration Monitoring Program. Innis Point Bird Observatory: 1998. Unpublished document.

Pyle, Peter, S.N.F. Howell, D.F. DeSante, R.P. Yunick and M. Gustafson. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Slate Creek Press, BolinasCalifornia

Ralph, John et. al. 1999. The Instructors Guide to Training Passerine Bird Banders inNorth America. The North American Banding Council: Publications Committee, May 1999.

Ralph, John 1999. The North American Banders Study Guide. North American Banding Council: Publications Committee, May 1999.

Appendix 1. Example of a Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory banding data sheet.

Appendix 2. Example of a Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory Daily Estimated Totals (ET) form.

Appendix 3. Example of a Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory Daily Log.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: