After an epic, non-stop snowstorm that lasted four days, the skies finally cleared. However, wheeled access to the Cabot Head Research Station remained blocked by thick snow that blanketed the lighthouse road. When it seemed more than likely that the snow would not be quick to disappear, I decided to walk up to the station, pulling a sleigh with some supplies. Walking atop the crusty snow, I made it to Cabot Head on April 19, discovering a landscape fully smothered in snow, with Wingfield Basin more than half frozen.
But the sun was shining, the sky was a deep blue, and I was eager to get to work! The first day of monitoring for the Spring 2018 season was April 20, with a census yielding a paltry eight species of birds in a quiet, white land. The only passerine was a Brown-headed Cowbird. There were the inevitable Ring-billed Gulls and Common Ravens; birds usually unfazed by bad weather. Large flocks of American Crows were on the move, as well as one flock of nine Double-crested Cormorants, all showing optimism that Spring is on its way! The resident Bald Eagle pair was dutifully taking turns incubating their eggs. Spending most of the rest of the morning setting up nets, with ears perking up to any bird sound, I detected a few more species, notably a Killdeer, some Pine Siskins, and one lonely Red-breasted Nuthatch. A sparse beginning!
Saturday, April 21, was the Annual General Meeting of BPBO, so I hiked back out on the snowy road in order to attend. I was fortunate and very grateful for the ATV ride that a BPBO member gave me to return to the station. And what a ride! Still so much snow on the road!
It is, however, now officially Spring. And this did become evident the following morning (on April 22), when 22 species were detected on census and a daily total of 45 species were recorded. Only five nets were open, as I was by myself, but 69 birds of 11 species were banded. The early Spring migrants were clearly moving northward in earnest, having been delayed by the massive storm: Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers, American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos.
Dedicated volunteers arrived to help out, hiking the 10km to the Station, trudging through mushy snow, laden with supplies on their backs (one arrived on the 22nd, the other early on the 24th). And I am glad for their help, allowing us to run ten nets. With the last five net lanes still buried in snowdrifts, it will take some time before we can expect to have them up and running. It seems now that birds are making up for lost time with a very active migration, and they are also trying to outrun the coming rain (which arrived as planned on Tuesday night and lasted well into Wednesday). Our nets became quite active on the 23rd and 24th, with 95 birds of 10 species and 137 birds of 13 species, respectively. The most abundant were Golden-crowned Kinglets – no surprise there! We were also getting good numbers of Brown Creepers, Slate-colored Juncos, and sparrows of all kinds (American Tree, Song, Fox, Swamp).
Spring migration also means the documentation of First-of-Year (or FOY, rhymes with joy) detections, of course, and we are eager to meet them! There were many FOY during these first few days of Spring migration monitoring. On April 22: many Eastern Phoebes (with 5 banded), one Field Sparrow, a few Eastern Bluebird calling from the sky, one Killdeer, the returning pair of Sandhill Crane, one Belted Kingfisher, among others. On April 23: Two Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) and two Pine Warblers added bright colours to the leafless birch trees, Hermit Thrush (one banded, one observed, and one plucked – as evidenced by a scattering of discarded feathers – on top of Middle Bluffs!), as well as hawks galore (Broad-winged, Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned and Northern Harrier). On April 24 we added Eastern Towhee, White-throated Sparrow and Fox Sparrow, and noted active raptor movements; notably large numbers of Turkey Vultures and Sharp-shinned Hawks. In the “kettles” of vultures, it is always good to pay attention and look at every single one. Indeed, that’s how we were able to find the young Golden Eagle! It is a yearly occurrence here in Spring, but one has to be aware and keeps one eye trained to the sky!
Eyes trained to the sky and ears always listening also brought the discovery of two large Vs of Sandhill Crane flying over Cabot Head in the afternoon of April 23. One flock had 20 cranes, the other 21, which – together -made the largest flock of sandhill cranes to be recorded at Cabot Head!