A new season begins

It is mid-August, leaving the dog days of summer behind and slowly-but-surely returning to cooler temperatures, longer nights, and migrating birds. It is also when monitoring starts again at the Cabot Head Research Station, with all 15 nets set up and an eager crew ready to take on another season of banding and observing birds.

And here we are, three days into a season of waking before sunrise to open nets (precisely 30 minutes before the sun breaches the watery horizon of Georgian Bay), checking them every half hour, gently and safely extracting entangled birds, banding and releasing them quickly, all the while keeping an eye to the sky and an ear to the woods to record the birds who do not fly into our nets.

Yes, it still feels like summer. And, for many birds, it is still summer, with no thoughts yet of flying South. It is still the time of moulting into a new plumage, of learning to be independent from doting parents who were feeding you so often just weeks, or even, days ago, of enjoying the easy life of summer in the northern woods.

But, already, there is a pull, there is an urge, there is the inevitable tilt of the Earth’s axis: fall is on its way and migration is starting. The Greater Yellowleg, like so many other shorebirds, has already been answering the call, already have started the long journey South from its boreal and subarctic wetlands all the way to South America. Two Greater Yellowlegs were at Cabot Head on August 16, easily detected at first by their loud calls, then seen gracefully flying over Wingfield Basin.

However, apart from these early-to-depart species, the birds detected in these first three days of monitoring have been mostly local, and there is no real sign of significant movement yet. They are the abundant American Redstarts, typically the most numerous of birds in our nets at this time of year. Indeed, 15 of the 32 birds banded on opening day, August 15, were American Redstarts. Song Sparrows, Back-and-white Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, Common Yellowthroats, Cedar Waxwings, all are enlivening the woods and air at Cabot Head, sometimes ending in a net, often flying high above, always singing and calling, making their presence known,

Young birds are everywhere, stretching wings of fresh feathers, learning a new freedom, discovering a vast world… and getting tangled in mist nets! There was a baby boom on August 16, when a young Brown Thrasher and eight (8!) young American Robins were captured and banded. Juveniles of another kind were stretching their 8-foot (2m) wingspan to soar above them all: the resident bald eagle pair has produced two eaglets!

They are a joyous reminder that it is good to be back at Cabot Head for another season of bird migration monitoring.