Two weeks of fall monitoring have now passed, but fall is not here yet and migration is far from being in full swing. There have been a few mornings with some visible movements, involving small numbers of mostly warblers, but, in general, the pace has been very slow. A slow start to the migration seasons is not unusual, although, this year, it accounts for the lowest banding total at this time in the history of banding at Cabot Head.
It is never easy to tease apart the many reasons why it appears that fewer birds are around to be caught in our nets. It is possible, for example, that the very rainy summer has negatively affected the breeding success of many birds, which could result in both less local and migrant birds. It is too early to tell for now.
But, let us not despair! There were still some highlights from the last week to report: a Scarlet Tanager, on August 24, a denizen of deciduous forest, in the subdued yellow plumage of a female or a young male; a little burst of migrants, birds coming from across the wide Georgian Bay, straight from the boreal forest: a Greater Yellowlegs and a Wilson’s Warbler, on August 25; a Baltimore Oriole, intrigued and chattering in response to the noise made by a mist-net entangled young American Robin, on August 25 as well; the first of the fall (FOF) individuals of Veery and Chestnut-sided Warbler on August 26; and, finally, a Nashville Warbler on August 27.
American Redstarts are the most common birds captured at this time of year, being a locally abundant breeder. This year we even captured a very scruffy-looking, barely fledged youngster (see picture below). Nestlings grow their initial feathers quickly so that they’re able to leave the nest. Afterwards, they undergo a quick moult of their body feathers, so the juvenile plumage, present upon fledging, doesn’t last very long and is therefore rarely observed. It could be a challenge for even experienced birders to classify such young to their correct species. After this juvenile moult, they take on the so-called Hatch-Year plumage and become easier to identify, as their allure resembles more the drawings in our field guides. Look at the picture of a young American Redstart in his Hatch-Year plumage, banded the same day that its very young cousin.