The greening of the Earth!
Dawn of May 11th seemed like a repetition of the previous day. And indeed, the bird migration on May 11th felt a lot like that which we’d experienced on May 10th. It was another glorious day of clear sky, light southeast wind, and rising temperatures. Diversity was again high, with a total of 72 species detected throughout the monitoring period (7 hours starting 30 minutes before sunrise) but not as much FOY joy: a predictable pattern as the season progresses with a lot of species already having been detected now that we are approaching mid-May.
The new species for that day were a Warbling Vireo seen in a birch, a captured Swainson’s Thrush, a male Bay-breasted Warbler seen briefly in a spruce, and Bobolinks that were heard flying overhead.
There was a constant stream of warblers flying over the treetops, barely stopping and resting as they continued their journey. Many were at the brink of identification possibility, resulting in a large number of unknown warblers in our total for that day. The most abundant warbler species was still the Yellow-rumped Warbler, moving through in the hundreds, followed by Palm Warbler as a distant second. In the end, 16 species of warblers were detected but few of them landed in our nets.
But May is not all about warblers, even though it sometimes seems to be! There was also a big movement of Blue Jays, and a good diversity of Icterids (Blackbirds), although small in numbers, with Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird (an often overlooked species which is in steep population decline), Common Grackle, and Brown-headed Cowbird making their presence known. But we should not forget the Baltimore Oriole; one of the more brightly coloured members of the Icterid family.
A brilliant, male Scarlet Tanager flew overhead, in its eponym plumage. Through its little call, we also detected a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, which we were able to observe as well.
The next day, May 12th, started with the same weather: clear sky, southeast wind, but quite warmer temperatures (13°C). As the morning progressed, the sky became more and more cloud-covered, with a sense of impending rain heading our way. An Eastern Whip-poor-will was heard calling in the early morning hours. At the same time, however, there was no constant overhead stream of birds: they were in the trees and in the shrubs feeding and, as a consequence, flying into our nets. It turned out to be a very busy day at the nets, with an amazing total of 120 birds banded of 29 different species. It was a very diverse day both in terms of captures as well as in number of species observed, with a total of 72 species detected, including 19 species of warblers (FOY Canada Warbler). Five species of Turdids (thrushes) were banded, with the FOY Wood Thrush, alongside a Veery, as well as both Swainson’s and Hermit Thrush, and American Robin (yes, it is a thrush!). A good diversity of warblers were banded as well, including 18 Magnolia Warblers and nine American Redstarts. It was quite an arrival for the latter, as we got the first one only two days prior.
But the most surprising banding total was for Lincoln’s Sparrow, with 14 individuals captured that one day. The previous one-day high was only eight Lincoln’s Sparrows on May 9, 2005. The night of May 11 must have yielded perfect conditions for their migration.
It was under an overcast sky that we furled the nets, and the rain we had been anticipating came late that afternoon. In the evening, intense thunderstorms drenched the area. The next morning, rain was still coming down, accompanied by a strong west wind: we enjoyed a well-deserved sleep-in. The rain eventually let up later that morning, but the wind stayed strong and precluded opening of the nets. The census was carried out, however, as well as some observations. It was not the same abundance and diversity of species as we had experienced in the previous few days. However, a big surprise awaited us, with a beautiful male Prairie Warbler feeding on midges amongst the cedars near the station. As if that was not enough, a few hours later, a female Prairie Warbler was seen around the same cedars! That species has been seen only in the year 2007, with one on May 10 and one on August 24. Prairie Warblers have a very restricted distribution in Ontario given that this is the northern extent of their breeding range, with most breeding birds on the eastern side of Georgian Bay. It is always a special treat to see an unusual species!
As I was enjoying the Prairie Warbler through my binoculars, an Osprey appeared in my field of view! There I was enjoying a rare bird, the Prairie Warbler, while at the same time one of my favourite birds flew by. Birds always bring surprise and wonder.
With all the rain and warmth, most of the trees have leafed out now, bringing a fresh green across the landscape. It is raining hard as I am writing these words on the morning of May 14 (definitively no banding today) and the warmth we had been enjoying from the springtime sun has left us, with only 4°C outside and not much more inside.