A bird on my shoulder! (Oct.24)
The bicoloured-bill gang has arrived, signaling that the end of fall
migration is near: both Fox and American Tree Sparrows show a beak of
two colours, black on their upper mandible and yellow on the lower.
They are also among the latest birds to migrate in fall, leaving
tardily their breeding haunts of shrubby tundra. We have been getting
a few Fox Sparrows this week. This species is never caught in big
numbers, with 5 birds being the highest total ever in fall (of 2009
and 2011). So far, we have captured 4 Fox Sparrows this fall. We’ve
had more success with American Tree Sparrows, with 23 birds banded for
now. They have also been observed feeding on the open grounds around
the station, in company of the last Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows.
Yesterday afternoon (Friday Oct. 24), I was enjoying the warm sun on
Wingfield Cottage porch, reading my book and idly watching the few
sparrows. One bold – or hungry? – American Tree Sparrow hopped on the
porch, trying to catch small insects stirred up by the warmth. Sitting
still, I watched it come very close to my chair. And suddenly, it flew
up and landed on my shoulder for a split second!
The variable weather of October has been entertaining us again this
week, with wind shifting around the cardinal points like a compass on
a magnetite hill! Winds were too strong on the 22nd and 24th to allow
for banding. However, on October 20, we had an impressive suite of
rarely captured or uncommon birds. The first one was a Northern
Waterthrush, quite late: indeed, the latest previous record was
October 7, 2006. Then, an adult female Northern Cardinal was banded.
Although almost an annual occurrence in the fall, it is still rarely
captured. Definitively the most impressive of all, we were lucky
enough to capture a Pileated Woodpecker! This giant among woodpeckers
is too big for the mesh size of our nets and rarely gets captured:
only 7 Pileated Woodpeckers have been banded over the previous 13
falls! This time, it was a young female, requiring two pairs of hands
to handle, band, and measure. One does not want to let this powerful
beak free to chisel away at fingers: it is a beak that drills deep
holes into cedar trunks! Finally, as if it was not enough, we had a
Common Redpoll in our nets! This species, a very late migrant, and
usually one that stays quite high in the canopy, like their cousins
the Pine Siskins, is almost never captured at Cabot Head. It happened
only in 2 previous falls, with 6 birds in the fall of 2007 and 5 in
2010. It was a lucky day indeed!
So, even if migration is slowly winding down, there are always
surprises to witness. Not a surprise, but still a nice sight, the
first Rough-legged Hawk was observed on the 23rd. Common Ravens are
starting to congregate in groups, with 11 birds seen milling together
over Middle Bluff this week.
Despite the somewhat incessant strong wind, the leaves are still
holding out, splashing their brilliance across the landscape. And the
tamaracks have also started to turn gold, the only evergreen to
contradict its name by shedding its needles in winter. All the signs
show that there are very few days left – a week, to be precise – to
the 2015 fall migration monitoring at Cabot Head!