A slow movement of feathers

It has been now ten days of monitoring. We’ve been settling into a routine of waking up before dawn, admiring the slow rise of the sun over Georgian Bay, listening to the sounds of birds, trees, and water. Summer is still bathing us in its warm embrace, pouring down golden rays from depthless blue skies. It doesn’t quite feel like fall migration yet, and it shows in the meagre harvest that our nets collect, as it does in the slow movement of feathers in the woods surrounding us.

As mentioned in the previous blog, it is mostly local species that we have been encountering; first-and-foremost, American Redstart, but also, among the warblers, Magnolia, Nashville, and Black-throated Green Warbler, as well as the occasional Ovenbird and Northern Waterthrush. All these species, and more, breed on the Bruce Peninsula and many individuals won’t have started their migration yet. We banded two very young Brown Creepers; on the morning of August 24, and we caught all at the same time, the three Eastern Phoebe fledglings that were sitting in their nest under a balcony just days before.

We also caught a young Merlin on August 20, which is only the 5thMerlin ever banded at Cabot Head. This species breeds around the station every year, but as a bird of the open skies, it is rarely found in the woods and even more rarely caught in nets designed for smaller birds. That said, it was quite a treat! The following day, it was the turn of a young Sharp-shinned Hawk to be banded: this species is certainly captured every fall but in small numbers (from one to four birds), so it was another precious moment.

And, as if to make up for the lack of migration, we got another rare bird in our nets, on the morning of August 25: a Pileated Woodpecker! Loud and feisty, with a sharp bill, it certainly requires more caution than a warbler or a sparrow. Indeed, banding is best done as a team of two, one holding on, the other putting the band on and measuring. In nine of the previous 17 Fall seasons, ten Pileated Woodpeckers have been banded (and only four in four Spring seasons). Not as rare as a Merlin, but still a very nice treat!

Though nothing compares to the surprise I got as I was paddling back into Wingfield Basin, following an afternoon of seakayaking, on August 24. There was an American Golden Plover, standing by itself on the rocky shore at the tip, marking the entrance to the basin. I got as close as I dared in my kayak, but backed away quickly when I saw it seemed to get alarmed. Soon, I was on land and grabbed my binoculars and a spotting scope. Alas, as I arrived at the shoreline, a sailboat was passing through the channel into the basin, and that proved too much for the plover: with a few alarm calls, I saw it fly away over Georgian Bay, close enough to fully confirmed the identification, though. It was the first ever American Golden Plover recorded at Cabot Head!!

And this is why we watch birds! For the excitement of the unexpected, for the comfort of the common birds, and for the recurring novelty of the endless cycle.