June 9, 2018
The Spring season is drawing to a close.
Less than two months ago, the world was largely black and white. Now, it is a study in green with singing birds busy establishing territories, building nests, and laying eggs. Yes, there is still some migration activity, by the so-called late migrants, but these will be the last birds to move through this season. They include notably the Empidonax flycatchers such as the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher; a bird that spends barely two months on its boreal breeding grounds. Cuckoos are also notable late arrivals: after the excitement of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo earlier in the season, we heard and saw a Black-billed Cuckoo on June 7.
Besides the “normal”, orderly appearance of bird species following the established script, we have been continually surprised. Once again, a Snowy Owl caused a commotion when it was seen drinking from the bay on the foggy morning of June 1st. The crying gulls alerted our attention to this almost pure white adult male. After getting its fill of clear, cold Georgian Bay water, it hopped on a beach rock for some rest before taking off. A Snowy Owl in June at latitude 45°N is quite extraordinary and begs the question: will any Snowy Owls over-summer in the “South”?
On June 8, an American Tree Sparrow was caught in our nets: another lingering northern bird and the first-ever individual detected in June at Cabot Head in 17 years of monitoring. The previous last observation was May 28, 2014, and the last ever banded was May 11, 2005.
Then, on June 9, it was a Palm Warbler that caught us by surprise: a bird of large, open peatlands, it is found mostly in the Northern Shield and even more in the Hudson Bay Lowlands. It is usually an early migrant, one of the few species of warblers detected in April, with most of the birds gone by mid-May. From 2002 to 2016, a total of 1142 Palm Warblers have been banded at Cabot Head, with only two in June: June 1, 2005 and June 5, 2012. That said, it was a rare sight (and capture) at this time of year indeed! It is nonetheless one of the most common birds in the province, with the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas estimating its population at 7 million birds (4 million of which occurring in the Hudson Bay Lowlands)!
More in tune to the regular rhythm of season, a Chimney Swift was detected as a FOY on June 3, with another one seen briefly on June 8. Likewise, the Great Crested Flycatcher imparting its loud call from high in the tree tops is to be expected but getting the bird in our nets on June 8 was a treat (the same day as the American Tree Sparrow, causing some cognitive dissonance for a weary bander-in-charge!). In the previous 16 Spring seasons, only two Great Crested Flycatchers have been banded, which explains the surprise of catching a second one on June 9!
Decidedly, it has been a fascinating Spring! Now, June 10th, the nets have been open and closed for the last day. Already taken down and stored away, we will put the nets back up for the “Fall” migration monitoring, starting on August 15th. Before heading out for northern horizons, I will (try to) write one last blog to summarize the highlights of the spring season.