A relentless heatwave!

It is hot! Very hot! I know that this is not breaking news but I’ve rarely felt such heat at Cabot Head. Being on the shore of a deep pool of cold water (aka Georgian Bay), temperatures are usually not as oppressive, even during heat waves. This is not the case this August and I am afraid of what that means. Nonetheless, heat or no heat, birds have to migrate: they likely experience hotter conditions on their tropical wintering grounds. 

On August 21, a total of 12 species of warblers were detected, including a rare and beautiful Blue-winged Warbler. It was actually the first sighting in fall of a Blue-winged Warbler! This species has been seen in four spring seasons, between 2002 and 2014. On the other hand, Golden-winged Warbler has been seen more often in spring: 12 seasons out of 20 (but not in 2021). But only once in the fall with one bird on August 23, 2004.

The first Blackpoll Warbler of the season was captured on August 24. It is another denizen of the boreal forest, a spruce budworm specialist like Cape May and Bay-breasted Warblers, both species moving through Cabot Head as well. 

This fall, it seems that we are catching quite a few Black-and-white Warblers: with already 32 of them banded, we’re only five birds from the highest season total (in 2013). This species can be seen and captured up to mid-September, so there are still lots of days ahead to catch more of this elegant and always classy bird: black and white are never out of fashion. 

Another species captured in good numbers this fall is the Red-eyed Vireo. For example, on August 25, 18 of them were banded, making them the bulk of the 43 birds banded on that day. Now, double-digit banding totals in a day for Red-eyed Vireo are quite unusual: only 3% of days with this species being banded were of 10 or more birds. Put another way, between 2002 and 2020, there were 530 days with Red-eyed Vireos being banded and only 16 days with totals of ten or more. Of the 16 days, seven happened in the fall of 2005. There was a good crop of chokecherries this year, on which berry-eating birds feasted. Because the laden chokecherries were close to a few nets, we also captured many of these thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, and Red-eyed Vireos. Our purple-stained fingers left no doubt on their source of food. A record 239 Red-eyed Vireos were banded that fall. Remarkably, despite other good fall crops of chokecherry throughout the years, captures never reached the height of 2005. Now, of course, our resident beavers have cut pretty much all the chokecherries around the nets.

While checking the nets on August 23, a couple Black-capped Chickadees suddenly decided to “mob” me, getting close, looking intensely, and calling the characteristic mobbing call. I stood still and waited. It didn’t take long for other birds to come and investigate what that was all about: in trees that seemed empty just a few minutes before, I got to see a plethora of species, including a young Black-billed Cuckoo with a very hairy caterpillar in its bill, a dashing Wilson’s Warbler sporting a bright yellow costume and a shiny black cap, a Cape May Warbler in a more drab fall plumage, a Tennessee Warbler, a Yellow-billed Flycatcher, a Blue-headed Vireo, a Warbling Vireo, and much more! Thank you, chickadees!

On August 24, we banded a young male Scarlet Tanager: in its first plumage, it is not scarlet at all, but green and yellow like his mother. Only the black wings and tail give away its sex. It is relatively uncommon to capture this beautiful species: in the fall, a total of 16 Scarlet Tanagers have been banded during 11 fall seasons. Interestingly, all but two of these fall seasons have been after 2010.

A few flocks of Canada Geese were seen heading south on August 26: fall is coming! Eventually, the heat will also move south like a flock of geese, leaving us complaining about the cold.