Storms, Squirrels, and the Solitaire!

As I’m writing these lines, a strong, fierce East wind is blowing under a leaden and heavy sky, with temperatures far from the aforementioned heat wave. Finally, this morning, it feels like Fall. Because of these strong winds, our nets have been safely kept closed.

We have had a collection of windstorms over the last two weeks: no fewer than five days of banding were lost due to strong winds. On September 29, we woke to driving rain pushed by a strong East wind. Later in the morning, the rain stopped and it seemed that the clouds were breaking up while the wind was hesitating. Suddenly, the wind picked up again, from the North this time, into a gale, accompanied with pouring rain. More than just the force of the storm, I was surprised by how rapidly it unfolded. Never before have I seen such a sudden arrival of a wind against which it was a struggle to walk!

Not surprisingly, that storm did some damage in terms of broken branches, uprooted trees, and, most unfortunately, an interruption of our power line. The wires that connect us, and provide many of our creature comforts, are surprisingly fragile against the raw forces of nature. In this particular case, a tree fell on the lines and snapped one of its anchors on the pole. Further down, there was yet another troubled spot, where the line was also unmoored. The trouble with the hydro line that serves BPBO is that it is “privately” owned (in quotation marks, since it is owned by Ontario Parks), meaning that all repairs fall on the owners, not on Hydro One, which, eventually, means that all repairs fall on the fragile financial shoulders of BPBO! Needless to say, it is not cheap to bring a private high-voltage electrician to fix the lines.

But what of the solar power, you may ask? True enough, we have shiny solar panels at the station charging a bed of batteries. However, like all technologies, the system is likely to fail sooner-or-later. In an ironic twist, the solar system put in place to prevent us from power outages was also down, due to failed electrical boards inside the inverter. So, in short, we were without power for about 10 days, except for the occasional run of a gas-powered generator. The power line has now been fixed and we’re enjoying a return to “normal”. It is with a renewed sense of urgency that we need to address the question on how best to supply the station with power…

Bird migration is usually halted during storms as well, as it is too risky for birds to fly under these conditions. However, when more favourable conditions return, migratory birds resume their journeys. It is mostly short-distance migrants moving through now: birds with wintering ranges relatively close to their Summer ones. For example, White-throated Sparrows breeding in the boreal forests of Québec and Ontario winter in the Southeast of the USA, as do Yellow-rumped Warblers. It can still be a migration of 2,000 km, hardly a short distance when every part of it has to be done flying. But it is a far cry from going all the way to the Amazon basin, which is what a Red-eyed Vireo does.

So, now is the time for Hermit Thrush, White-throated and White-crowned sparrows, Ruby- and Golden-crowned kinglets, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped warblers… (with all these “crowned” birds, it feels like royalty is descending upon our woods!)

During the Fall banding season, one is never sure when the last individual of a species will be seen: stragglers are always a possibility. Warblers, which are mostly early migrants (except the two species mentioned above), still occasionally occur in October. This Fall, so far, we have detected 12 species of warblers in October, and since this group of birds tend to be highly favoured by birders, here’s the full list: Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Northern Parula, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Pine, Palm, and Blackpoll warblers, and Common Yellowthroats. Nonetheless, it is inexorable that all warblers will very soon disappear from our woods and backyards, not be seen until next Spring. Nothing stops the march of time, but nature walks in cycles: as sure as the vanishing warblers during the quieting of Fall, we will be treated to their return during the renewal of Spring.

Switching taxa for a moment, the squirrels at this time of year are busy piling up food stores and warm nests for the long winter ahead. What better than decorating one’s nest with pretty, yellow ribbons? The ones that weird bipedal creatures use to tie mist nets are in fact just perfect! It is quite unfortunate, though, that in the process of stealing our ribbons, the squirrels cut the tremble lines of the nets! The tremble lines are the lines that run through the length of the nets, holding them together. It took us a while to figure out what was causing so many tremble lines to “break” but when I saw a squirrel quickly down climb a net pole (pretending to be innocent), it became clear who was the culprit! Good thing these lines are easier to fix than the hydro ones!

Finally, to ease our troubles and bring us some joy, we were fortunate to be visited by a solitaire, far from its mountainous western domain: we observed, very briefly but very well, a Townsend’s Solitaire, as it flew over us and perched for a short while on top of a spruce tree near the banding lab. It is the fourth Townsend’s Solitaire observed at Cabot Head since 2002. The short observation could have easily been missed: a minute later, we were busy banding birds in the banding lab and we would not have seen it. Such events beg the question of how often do we miss such birds? Even though I am not one to chase rare birds, I do delight in being visited by one and I appreciate the luck of such rare and fortunate encounters.

Posted in STATION NOTES / BLOG
2 comments on “Storms, Squirrels, and the Solitaire!
  1. Tim Chamberlain says:

    What times dude! Hope you are keeping cosy and the coffee supplies are bountiful. Love hearing news of BPBO.

  2. Mary Houston says:

    Another enjoyable read Stephane!

    Great to mention the power and solar too!

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