Where have all the birds gone?

And so, it continues to be slow, in the sky, in the trees, and in the nets. There are certainly multiple reasons for such paucity but I do not want dare advance explanations which would be no more than barely educated guesses. A station in northern Ontario reports astounding good numbers, while others more in the south whine and complain about lack of abundance and diversity.

Suffice to say that we should simply accept what comes (or not) our way and cherish the special moments. Such as:

One morning, a male adult Ruby-throated Hummingbird suddenly appeared at the station and sat on the picnic table, right next to us. It seemed exhausted, not moving for several minutes: it must have just crossed Georgian Bay and needed to “catch its breath”. Very soon, though, it was engaged in a sustained fight with the young hummingbird who had previously claimed the feeder. Such a constant source of food is always highly coveted, especially in spring when flowers are barely peeking out. Apparently in late summer as well, despite the abundance of wildflowers around: these two hummingbirds engaged in an aerial fight of a rare intensity! A few times, they even locked feet (I almost wrote talons!) and spun together, in a deadly embrace. It went on for a long time, until, ultimately, the newcomer took over the prized feeder.

On a calm evening (about a week ago), about a dozen Common Nighthawks suddenly appeared in the still air, flying low over Wingfield Basin, delighting the human visitors by their butterfly flight and dexterity. It is always a treat to observe this aerial insectivore which migrates through Cabot Head in seemingly random nights and variable numbers at the end of August and early September. This season, we have yet to witness large groups like we did last year (more than one hundred birds together one evening!).

On August 26, we were surprised by a large group of a species not usually seen in such numbers at Cabot Head: six young Bald Eagles were soaring together! These birds were all hatched this summer, and must have come from several nests on the Bruce Peninsula. We know that the Cabot Head nest produced two eaglets this year and it is likely that they were part of the group. As these young were flying, we could see an adult eagle perched nearby. A little later that morning, the adult was flying with six young, whereas a seventh eaglet was perched. So, it is a minimum of eight Bald Eagles that were in the Cabot Head airspace that day! It is almost as many as the nine birds seen in spring some years ago, when seven juveniles were flying together, while the adult pair was perched on the shore. It is recomforting to see this species increasing in numbers year after year. Maybe one day they will have to nest on beaches due to overcrowding: https://www.audubon.org/news/overcrowding-might-be-driving-bald-eagles-nest-beaches.

And, finally, there was a tremor of migration on August 29, when we captured the first Gray-cheeked Thrush of the season. It is a true migrant, since that species does not breed on the Bruce Peninsula. It even barely breeds in Ontario with a few records scattered in the extreme north of the province. That date marks the earliest detection for this species ever in the fall, by a single day: August 30, in 2017, was the previous earliest capture. Usually, the first birds are detected in early September, with most movement occurring in the second half of September, and barely any in October (last detection on October 8, 2003).

May there be many, many more migrants to flood our skies, trees, and nets!

Posted in STATION NOTES / BLOG

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