The merry month of May
The last patches of snow on the ground have melted away, the buds are cracking open, about to burst forth fresh green leaves, and the resounding calls of the Whip-poor-will are echoing again along the shores of Wingfield Basin. It is Spring and it is the merry month of May, potentially the preferred month of many birders in this part of the world, who eagerly await the arrivals of the jewels of the forest, the warblers!
Here, at Cabot Head, all was quiet on the bird front during the last days of April and very first few days of May. The weather was generally cold, with a North wind, and some occasional rain showers. Very little movement was noted, with just a few arrivals, like Black-throated Green Warbler on April 29, as well as Black-and-white Warbler and Gray Catbird on April 30.
But that all changed when the wind shifted to the South and brought warm air and birds with it! On May 3, there was a strong arrival of migrants, resulting in 66 banded birds of 13 species. There was a steady flow of warblers, mostly Yellow-rumped and Palm warblers, with the occasional Pine and Black-and-White warblers too. The FOY Nashville Warblers were observed and the FOY Northern Waterthrush was caught in the nets, for a total of seven species of warblers detected that day.
However, sparrow diversity was even higher, with nine species observed. Chiefly among them were Chipping Sparrows, with more than 50 birds detected that day. Among them was one Clay-coloured Sparrow, a species detected almost every Spring, but always in small numbers. We also got the FOY Lincoln’s Sparrow (in the nets) and the FOY White-crowned Sparrow. There were a few lingering American Tree Sparrows as well.
No Golden-crowned Kinglets were captured nor seen: they have come and gone! It is now the time for Ruby-crowned Kinglets, with most males having gone through already, as the vast majority of ‘ruby-crowns’ captured now are females. Unusually for this time of year, we are still getting good numbers of Brown Creepers.
May 4th started with the delightful call of the (Eastern) Whip-poor-will, carried on a light Southeast wind in a warm air. As we were opening the nets, we could hear chips and chirps everywhere from sparrows hopping on the ground. I knew we were in for a busy day. And sure enough, our nets got filled with sparrows: the first net check yielded an astonishing 36 birds, almost all of them White-throated Sparrows with a few White-crowneds thrown in for good measure. It was another sparrow day, this one dominated by White-throated Sparrows, the folk singer of the boreal forest dawn. We banded 33 of them, but many more eschewed our nets, for an overall total of 96 birds banded by the time we furled our nets at noon. A busy day! This time, ten species of sparrows were detected, with FOY Savannah Sparrow and Eastern Towhee among them. The Clay-coloured Sparrow was again observed. The loud and forceful song of the Ovenbird greeted us as well early in the day. They must have arrived overnight, because beside the hidden singer, we netted four other individuals for this FOY warbler species. The other FOY of May 4th were Veery and House Wren.
It was also a diverse day for birds of prey, with two uncommon visitors: an Osprey flew almost directly over the station. And a Peregrine Falcon was seen completely at ease progressing against the now strong wind.
A clear and calm dawn broke over May 5th. Would we see another big push of birds like the previous day? It is the infinite passion of expectation: one may study weather patterns and migration timetables, but in the end, no one can know for sure what to expect on a migratory morning in the merry month of May. And this time was no different: in the first three hours, we only caught three (3!) birds, all of them Sharp-shinned Hawks. Looking up, we could see small clouds drifting fast Southward, pushed by a strong, high North wind, while not a breeze was felt on the ground. And so we had found a likely explanation for the dearth of birds. Later in the morning, the sun warmth brought the midges to life and lured some birds to the area. We observed some warblers, with Yellow-rumpeds dominating in numbers, followed by Palm and Black-and-white warblers. The FOY Black-throated Blue Warbler, an adult male, as expected, flashed its brilliant colours, seemingly in good shape after a winter in the azure horizons of the West Indies. The last FOY for that day was a Cliff Swallow, which tried to find company with the few Barn Swallows residing in the shipwreck of Wingfield Basin.
The typical boom and bust of migration was evident again on May 6th, firmly in the bust part of the cycle. Except for the incongruous two Rock Pigeons that flew by, there were no new species to grace our shores that day. And very little bird movement was visible, but for Blue Jays starting to move through in small numbers.
Yes, it is now May, the merry month of May, time to soak in the warmth of a gentle Earth and to welcome long-lost friends, returning with their colours and songs to grace our woods and please our ears and eyes with their beauty.