Aerial spectacle!

The past week has brought us fully into autumn, with the previous summer-like temperatures a distant memory and rain falling during part of four days, unfortunately forcing mist net closures before the full extent of monitoring. Thankfully, Wingfield Cottage has now a brand-new roof! The rain is kept outside as well as keeping the heat inside. With a good fire roaring in the wood stove, we can actually be warm in the cottage, a welcomed novelty. 

On September 27th, it wasn’t rain that precluded banding but a fierce south wind blowing constantly. It is just not safe for birds when nets are shaken and stirred by a strong wind. Nonetheless, we were able to be outside doing observation and census. Even though not many birds were visible the quality made up for it. Two young Peregrine Falcons offered us an impressive aerial spectacle for most of the morning! They seemed to enjoy the strong wind, soaring and gliding on stiff wings, likely expending very little energy while patrolling the air, high or low, along the shoreline of Cabot Head. 

Their brown plumage identified them as young of the year. They were frequently interacted with each other, letting me to suspect that they might be siblings. The strong wind was also creating ideal conditions for hunting, especially the unlucky small bird coming from the bay.  With no cover to escape to, they were easy prey to these bird hunters.  Peregrine Falcons are among my favourite birds and I was delighted to be able to watch these two attempting many attacks, a behaviour not so often observed. It was a typical story of prey-predator, with most attacks being unsuccessful despite the seemingly perfect conditions. 

Throughout the morning, I believe that I witnessed only two successes but many escapes such as the Belted Kingfisher which dove shortly in the water to escape sharp talons! Many small songbirds used last-minute sharp turns to evade the fast approaching falcons, who cannot turn as quickly.

As if it was not enough, a third Peregrine Falcon appeared in the sky. It even went in for the bird that the other two were trying to catch, taking turns at diving at the potential victim. However, it looked like the falcons were more hindering each other than helping. and the small bird flew away unscathed. The third Peregrine also disappeared behind the horizon. Later in the morning, it was a young Bald eagle that shared briefly the same aerial space as the two falcons. It is not often that one can see in their binoculars two Peregrine Falcons and a Bald eagle!

On October first, Golden-crowned Kinglets arrived in numbers, chattering away in the trees incessantly and hitting our nets frequently. They usually are the most common species around in the first half of October. That day, we also had eight species of sparrows, with an unusual Clay-coloured Sparrow, and five species of warblers, an interesting diversity.

On October 3rd, I briefly observed a Lapland Longspur on the shore of Georgian Bay. It was close enough that I could see the long claw on the hind toe, the “longspur” of its name. This species is rarely seen at Cabot Head, with sightings in two spring seasons and five fall seasons prior to this one. It breeds in the arctic tundra all around the northern hemisphere, a so-called Holarctic distribution, being the only longspur species present in Asia and Europe. The southernmost breeders in the world are in fact in Ontario, around Cape Henrietta Maria, which separates Hudson and James Bays, a mere one thousand kilometres from Cabot Head. Lapland Longspurs winter across much of the USA and in extreme southwestern Ontario and Quebec. There is no telling how further south the Cabot Head longspur will continue. Likewise, nobody knows where it started its journey. Nonetheless, it is clear that even so-called short-distance migrants routinely fly mind-boggling distances, sometimes more than a thousand kilometres.

On that day, an adult Peregrine Falcon was briefly observed, offering a brief glimpse of its solid black hood and blue-gray upperparts. Golden-crowned Kinglets kept us busy at the nets.  The following day, October 4th, was a nice repeat: lots of kinglets in the nets and a still brief albeit longer sighting of an adult Peregrine Falcon. We also captured and banded the first Orange-crowned Warbler of the season, maybe the same bird that we observed in the afternoon of the previous day.  And then, a heavy curtain of rain brought the day to an end!

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