On this Friday afternoon, May 3rd, the sun has finally returned after more days of rain and grey clouds. Alas, the Black-throated Green Warbler and other long-distance migrants have not yet appeared at Cabot Head. It has been a very poor month of April in terms of warblers, with only three species (Yellow-rumped, Pine, and Palm Warblers). And, so far, it is an even poorer beginning of May with only a few Yellow-rumps.
But, no long-distance migrants at all? In the Western Hemisphere, they are the species wintering in Central or South America, or in the West Indies, and include many forest jewels like Orioles, Tanagers, and, yes, Warblers.
These are the birds I was thinking when I wrote last that we were still waiting for them. With my apologies to them, I totally forgot two amazing long-distance migrants that have already appeared in our skies. Indeed, the first long-distance migrant was an adult Broad-winged Hawk detected on April 18th. This species winters in forests and along forest edges from southern Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia, a long way from its summer home!
Broad-winged Hawks are known to form large flocks, called “kettles”, during migration, exploiting thermals to ride the air effortlessly. Here, at Cabot Head, we only see significant numbers when the South wind pushes them up the shoreline, as the hawks will not attempt to cross Georgian Bay (no thermals over water). This spring, the biggest numbers so far have been on April 30th, when a total of 55 Broad-winged Hawks were counted.
The other long-distance migrant is the Greater Yellowlegs, with the first one heard at Cabot Head on April 25th. Its spring migration is earlier than most other shorebirds but its wintering range extends along the Atlantic coast as far north as New York. Its call is very loud and echoes from far and this is how we primarily detect this gracile denizen of marsh and mudflat.
Now that this important correction is made, we are more than ready to welcome more long-distance migrants in our trees and skies and waters here at Cabot Head.