“Une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps”, say the French (“It takes more than a swallow to declare it is Spring!”)
Along with longer days and warmer weather, the excitement of Spring for a birdwatcher is to once again see long lost friends. Returning birds from warmer climes and southerly latitudes are predictable in broad general terms, like kinglets in April and warblers in May. But the first of year (FOY) bird is always the most exciting as its exact time of arrival or detection is difficult to pinpoint. Tomorrow could be the time of FOY Black-throated Green Warbler! Or it could be in two days or not for five days! Older males of a species typically arrive first, with females and younger males following on their heels.
At the Cabot Head Research Station, we have the luck and privilege to be out-and-about every day monitoring and keeping our eyes and ears alert for all that FOY joy! (you may pronounce it as a rhyme – “foy joy” – just for the fun of it!)
As mentioned in previous posts, the first warblers in 2016 were a Pine Warbler on April 15th and Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers on the 16th. As of the 24th, no other species of warblers had been observed. The Palm Warbler of the 16th remains the only one detected so far this Spring. There was a good move of Yellow-rumped Warblers on the 21st, including nine individuals that were banded. A few more Pine Warblers have been detected since the 15th, with the first female on the 21st as well. Oh yes, you can have sub-categories in FOY birds, like adult male, adult female, and so on! Just to expand upon the fun!!
FOY Eastern Phoebe and Hermit Thrush were already present on opening day, the 15th. The FOY Brown Thrasher was detected, and banded, on the 16th. The FOY Tree Swallow was on the 17th, only one bird, though. True to the saying, this solitary individual was an indicator that Spring had not quite fully arrived. The FOY Chipping Sparrow arrived on the same day too, but there’s no French saying attached to their arrival. A group of 15 Tree Swallows were seen on the 19th and we noticed that buds were slowly starting to open: Spring was arriving,,or so we thought. On that same day, there were also some movements of birds of prey, with FOY Broad-winged Hawk (a total of seven birds) and the first FOY Red-shouldered Hawk. And we also heard the first American Goldfinch.
The second species of swallow to be detected arrived on the 21st: a single Barn Swallow flying fast above Cabot Head. It didn’t linger here. Spring was hesitating…
No new arrivals happened the following two days, the 22nd and 23rd, when a certain cooling of the weather was evident. On the 24th, we were lucky to have birder extraordinaire (and BPBO president) Ted Cheskey doing the census: he located a Horned Lark and a Lapland Bunting, both FOY of course, but also birds not very often seen at Cabot Head in the Spring. A visiting friend, Ariel Lenske, added her eyes and ears to our search and detected a Vesper Sparrow (a good detection for the station) that we were able to briefly enjoy. That species has been detected only in six Springs in the previous 14 seasons!
And, finally, toward the end of the monitoring time on that day, the 24th, we were treated to very good views of an immature Golden Eagle, leisurely riding the sky. It was mobbed a few times by a courageous Red-tailed Hawk and also perched shortly on the edge of Middle Bluffs. Contrary to the Vesper Sparrow, this species is seen almost every Spring, having been missed only three times (2002, 2013, & 2014).
There will be more FOY birds to come and we can’t wait to see them! But, as time of this posting, it might not be today (April 25th) as a snowstorm is raging on Cabot Head! All the nets are staying furled and very few birds are active. Spring has decided to retreat for a little while and keeps us waiting (and shivering)…