Another season has come to an end. And what a season!
This more than remarkable season didn’t end in a whisper but with more remarkable sightings and banding. On October 27, while watching a distant bird on the bay through the scope (Loon? Grebe? Duck? I don’t recall), white ghosts appeared on the hazy horizon. Flapping strongly, the large pure white birds could only be swans, Tundra Swans in all likelihood. They were so far, though, that even with the scope they were floating, dancing, almost formless shapes: I could not even see their necks. It seems to be a family, with two very white (the adults) and two less white (the young). It is only the fourth observation of Tundra Swans at Cabot Head over 21 years: 4 birds on October 5, in 2014; 5 birds on April 15, 2016, and 6 on May 9, 2018.
It was worth looking at the bay as the first Common Goldeneyes (10 birds) were seen on October 27 and one Bufflehead on October 28. White-winged Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks were also seen regularly and in good numbers, the latter species totalling 110 birds on the 27th and 73 on the 31st. A few Horned and Red-necked Grebes were floating and diving on and in the water, as well as Common Loons.
Daily banding numbers stayed still quite good for this last week, bringing the highest weekly total ever for that particular week, with 236 banded birds, compared to the previous high in 2020 of 170. The bulk of banded birds were Black-capped Chickadees, although 11 American Tree Sparrows were captured on October 27 with a sprinkling of them afterward. After getting so many, we were only capturing a handful of Golden-crowned Kinglets every day, painfully inching their season total towards the highest point. Alas! The 2013 record of 758 Golden-crowned Kinglets was not defeated, the 2022 season being shy of five (5!) birds (or about 0.5% of the total) to get the crown (bad pun intended)!
A Blue-headed Vireo banded on October 19 was recaptured on the 28th and 31st and was also observed on that last day of monitoring. There have been observations after October 15 in 7 years of the previous 20, up to October 29. The 2022 sighting on October 31 is thus the latest record of this species. The first (5) Snow Buntings were heard and seen on October 27. A few more were seen in the following days. No Northern Shrike was seen or banded this fall: this late migrant species was missed in 7 of the 21 fall seasons.
There were more surprises in a season of surprises: on October 28, we banded a beautiful adult male Northern Parula. It is a species detected and banded only in small numbers in the fall with birds in October in 4 years (not counting 2022) with the latest on October 30 in 2016. Still on October 28, I was stunned and shocked when I pulled out of the bag a White-eyed Vireo!! It is a southern species with a small foothold in the extreme south of Ontario, which makes it very rare at Cabot Head. One bird was seen on May 11, 2003, one bird was banded on May 17, 2004, seen the following day and recaptured on the 18th, one bird was banded on September 22, 2012, and one bird was detected on September 28, 2014. The 2022 bird is thus the third ever being banded at Cabot Head. Sadly, it was not seen again.
Still on the October 28 day, on the very last net round, a flashy yellow big bird was waiting for us in a net: An adult male Evening Grosbeak! Its namesake bill was something to behold and… avoid, with not much success. This species had never been banded before at Cabot Head, even though it is observed almost every year (missed in only four years): it tends to fly high and stay high in the canopy. It was such a remarkable bird to band (see pictures on Facebook and Instagram).
The last day of monitoring, October 31, was overcast and relatively cold. It was also quiet with not many birds in the woods, most juncos and sparrows having left, wood warblers absent (Yellow-rumped Warblers are seen to the very end in some fall seasons but not all), kinglets and chickadees barely here. Nonetheless, two Northern Cardinals were banded, a common species not common at Cabot Head and the first time since 2015 that it is banded in the fall. A small flock of 17 Evening Grosbeaks was flying around but no amount of incantations brought them down into our nets. It is also at the end of the season that small flocks of American Goldfinch and Pine Siskin are seen and that was the case on that very last day with 44 and 17 birds, respectively, counted. An eerie whinnying was appropriate on that Halloween evening: there is no ghosts in my world and the call came from an aptly-named Eastern Screech Owl.
The banding total of the last day was a solid 17 birds, bringing the fall season total to a stratospheric 2925 birds banded, almost 450 birds more than the previous record of 2476 birds in fall 2005. It was quite an extraordinary season this year and I can’t wait to look and analyse the data in more details for the seasonal report (to be posted in time on bpbo.ca).
In the meantime, I want to thank our volunteers Miriam, Tania, Jake, Philippe, Madelaine and Ryan, but special thanks go out to Emma from Duluth, Minnesota, who was with us from August 20 to October 31. She showed great dedication and enthusiasm at learning and becoming skilled at extracting and banding birds. She also showed incredible determination in her daily jump and swim in Wingfield Basin. And yes, she did it every day until October 31!
See you all in spring! Enjoy the rest of autumn!