A time of transition

We are almost at the fall equinox, when the whole earth is equally balanced between night and day. Leaves have also started to change colour in earnest, another sign of transition. 

This is a time when we are saying good bye to many species, although we are never sure exactly when to say “so long for now”: a late bird is always possible. For example, the American Redstart seen on September might be the very last one of the year. Or not: across the years, stragglers have been seen well into October, with the latest date being October 25. But the bulk of the long-distance migrants are further south now, with only the rear guard still moving through, mingling with the first individuals of the short-distance migrants. 

Among the latter, we observed and banded the first Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets of the season on September 19, a rather typical date of arrival for these species. (As they breed in small numbers on the Bruce Peninsula, they are sometimes detected earlier in the season) On that date, they shared the woods (and the nets!) with a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, a species that usually doesn’t linger in its Canadian breeding grounds: among the last to arrive in late May – early June and first to leave in August! Indeed, from 2002 to 2019, only three birds were detected after September 19, with the latest bird on the 27th.

Still on September 19th, we heard – and sometimes could see high in the sky – the calls of Purple Finches and Pine Siskins. These two species have been moving through in small but increasing numbers this fall, with the first small flocks of noisy siskins alighting on spruce and cedar tops, eager for fatty cone seeds. There was quite a bit of movement on September 19, with eight species of warblers detected, including the rare (at Cabot Head) but always beautiful Northern Parula and a Blackpoll Warbler. 

Thrushes are secretive birds and are more often than not detected through banding. This year, the first, and, so far, only, Grey-cheeked Thrush was captured on September 14. This species, which migrates all the way to northern South America, typically moves through Cabot Head in September, coming from the northernmost reaches of the boreal forest. It is never captured in large numbers, from a low of six birds (in 2011 and 2019) to a high of 41 birds in 2016. The Swainson’s Thrush also migrates mostly in September at Cabot Head, heading for the same parts of the world as its cousin, the Grey-cheeked, but it is usually captured more often. So far, this year, a total of 16 Swainson’s have been banded but its passage extends into early October here, so there are more to come. 

We’ve been seeing and banding quite a few Red-breasted Nuthatches this fall, the ones captured being almost exclusively adults. It seems that we might be in for a repeat of the massive irruption of 2018 when the Northeast was flooded with this attractive bird. There have also been very good numbers of Red-eyed Vireos captured this fall, with a total over 60 birds, including 26 banded this past week. This bird, like the two thrushes mentioned above, travels all the way to South America to spend the winter in the Amazon forest, with its cousin, the Chivi Vireo.

We certainly wish them all “bon voyage” and good luck in their long travel!