It’s cold! It’s wet! It’s windy! It’s April at Cabot Head!
And so, it is time to open the research station and start a new season of migration monitoring. This year, we were lucky enough to be able to drive as far as the gate, leaving only a short 20-min walk to the station. Snow was deep only in a few spots, though most of the ground around the station was still covered and Wingfield Basin was frozen over more than 75% of its area.
I came up on Friday, April 12th, buoyed by a warm South wind, which brought ideas of Spring, like a Green Darner (a migratory dragonfly) and one Tree Swallow! Harbingers of Spring as they may be, the first official day of monitoring, April 15th, dawned under a chilly, furious North wind! It did not feel Spring-like at all and the tally of bird species (seen or heard) on that first day was a meagre 27, with barely any songbirds, and certainly no Swallows. However, the hardy Eastern Phoebe was present, seemingly unfazed by the last gasps of winter.
The following two days were nice enough to open nets and start catching birds. They were the usual suspects, with Golden-crowned Kinglets once again being the most numerous. April 17th was especially good, with a total of 60 birds banded of seven species. Besides the aforementioned kinglets, we caught a good number of Brown Creepers, several Black-capped Chickadees, Song Sparrows and a handful of Juncos. There was also a substantial movement of Blackbirds (or Icterids), including the First-of-the-Year (FOY) Eastern Meadowlarks and Brown-headed Cowbirds. On that day, there were many other FOY, notably Killdeer, Sandhill Crane, Peregrine Falcon, and Eastern Bluebird.
On April 18th, the notoriously unstable weather of early Spring was back with a vengeance, or, at least, a strong South wind, pushing many migrants but also bringing rain with it. We couldn’t open the nets because of the wind but were lucky enough that the rain held off until early afternoon. We observed an impressive passage of Canada Geese, with several hundreds flying by, many, many, Blackbirds and American Robins as well as a good number of Northern Flickers. Songbirds were relatively sparse but the treat was, of course, the first warblers of the season: two male Pine Warblers showing off their bright plumage at eye level in nearby bushes, while Yellow-rumped Warblers were detected through their flight calls.
The South wind was also pushing many raptors up the Peninsula, which was acting like a giant funnel. In total, 12 species of birds of prey were detected: all the species regularly detected at Cabot Head. Only missing were Golden Eagle and Northern Goshawk. All the four Buteo species were observed, with FOY Broad-winged Hawk; an Osprey flew by, barely hovering over Wingfield Basin in search of fish; an adult Peregrine Falcon was also counted. As a raptor buff, I was delighted!
And then, the rain came! It poured almost continually for more than 36 hours, completely stopping the migration. Despite a dire forecast, the rain had ceased by the morning of the 20th, but the wind was still too strong to open nets. Census and observations revealed the obvious: birds were waiting for more favourable weather to get going. Conditions were finally better on April 21st, when moderate movements of Flickers, Blackbirds, and Robins were noted. A singing Brown Thrasher was loudly advertising its arrival in the Pine Barrens.
It is the excitement of Spring, when each day can – and will – bring new birds! Every day is thus a good day to go out and greet our returning feathered friends!