Bird migration monitoring at Cabot Head has a long and colorful history. Starting in 2002, we can dig into 17 years of data to explore and try to explain the phenomenon of bird migration in our little region of the Earth. Every year we collect data we increase our knowledge and understanding of the natural history of the northern Bruce Peninsula. The following are three examples of what daily monitoring can bring:
On May 11, for several minutes we observed a yellowish-green mid-sized bird, with two white wing bars and a thin, slightly downcurved, blueish bill. It was a female Orchard Oriole, a very rare sight at Cabot Head. Seen again the following day, on May 12, it was the fourth observation of this species, all of them in Spring. The previous ones were in 2002, 2004, and 2015 (the last two being young males). The base of the Bruce Peninsula represents the northern limit of its breeding range in Ontario (as well as north of Kingston). According to the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, the Orchard Oriole has increased in Ontario from the 1980’s to the 2000’s, with considerable annual variation in its abundance.
One day, Mathieu returned from census with a curious tale of a long-billed bird upside down up in a tall cedar tree. Quickly locating it, I focused my binoculars on it and discovered the weirdest scene ever to be witnessed in the history of Cabot Head. The sadly, and obviously, dead bird hanging upside down by a leg was a Virginia Rail! A bird of mudflats and wetlands, never before seen within the Cabot Head count area. I climbed the tree to retrieve it. It was clear that it had been dead for a few days. We were left scratching our heads at the unusual and unexpected event. But, a few days prior to this unfortunate discovery, the weather was particularly bad, with strong South winds, fog, and rain. It is more than likely that the poor rail crashed into the trees during the storm and got trapped, if not killed instantly.
Time to lighten the mood and describe the third unusual event…the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have returned, bringing their tropical colours and amazing flight attics to our shores. Not many flowers have bloomed yet along cold Georgian Bay and hummingbirds have been enjoying the feeder we put out for them. That is, until one particularly feisty male decided that the feeder was his, and his alone. He is ready to fight every contender who wants a sip of his honeyed treasure (figure of speech, people: it is only sugared water). It just so happened that we were standing right next to the feeder, when the feathered bully took on an intruder. Maneuvering up, down, sideways, and backwards, they were battling for position, trying every so often to steal a precious drop. In the heat of the contest, they made bodily contact while still flying and flew… right between my legs! Now, that is a bragging right that I will cherish for the rest of my birding life!
There’s never a mundane day at Cabot Head Research Station!