April Impatience

On a cold and rainy morning, it seems appropriate to write another post for the blog. It is a typical April day, after all: grey, cold, an insistent rain falling hard on a slowly, ever-so-slowly greening Earth, with not that many birds around. This is when the birdwatcher starts to feel the April Impatience, wishing to speed up time and dreaming of the merry, merry month of May, with warm sun and warblers flitting in every tree and shrub.

Time does not bend to human desires, however. It follows its own pattern, indifferent and implacable, bending our minds with its paradoxical changing nature, sometime fast and sometime slow, even though always the same (at least as experienced by Earthlings. Einstein would likely disagree but it is a blog about birds – or so it says – not relative physics).

So, I have been recording birds every morning, getting to know my new little patch of the Earth in this long boot camp of acceptance, with several bird species already settling onto their own little patches of land, singing and staking out territories. The fields are filled with Eastern Meadowlarks and Song Sparrows; sturdy farmhouses shelter Mourning Doves and American Robins; small pockets of wetlands harbour cryptic Wilson’s Snipes and loud Red-winged Blackbirds. Sometimes, in the distance, appear large flocks of Wild Turkey, fifteen here, and twelve there, to the surprise of eBird, which seemed to think this was a lot. Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds, dependent largely on insects, withdraw in colder days, only to be back as quickly as some semblance of warmth returns.

The bluebirds are all paired and inspect with great interest the nest boxes provided just for them. One recent morning, I watched a pair of Eastern Bluebirds at a nest box, who looked frozen, with the female pointing her bill skyward, not moving a feather. I followed her gaze and discovered a Merlin perched on top of a tree just above the bluebirds. Can we say that the fast wings and sharp talons of this bird hunter sent shivers of fear into the bluebirds’ little hearts? When the Merlin flew away, disappearing in the distance, the bluebirds resumed a more relaxed posture and quickly returned to their normal bluebird lives.

In the last seven days, there have not been many new species detected (ten in total), with no new warblers. At Cabot Head, we usually get at least three species of warblers before the end of April. Beside the ubiquitous, and early, Yellow-rumped Warbler, the Pine Warbler has been seen every April from 2002 to 2019, as early as April 14 (in 2012) and late as April 29 (in 2015). This very aptly-named (for a change!) species is very partial to pines and Cabot Head seems to provide them with all the pines they could desire. It is certainly not the case on my 2020 route, which may explain the lack of Pine Warbler observations. More surprising is the lack of other species of warblers as well. Maybe the weather has been a bit colder than usual this Spring, maybe I am less familiar with where to look in this new place. At Cabot Head, the third most regular species in April is the Palm Warbler, which has only been missed three times in any April between 2002 and 2019. It is usually in the last week of April that this species starts appearing, occasionally in high numbers (64 birds on April 30, 2010), but more often in small numbers. I have been surprised to not see Palm Warblers around here yet, since the mix of fields, pastures, and woodlots would be good habitats for it. Even the Yellow-rumped Warbler has been sparse: in 16 days of observation, I saw it only in eight days and never in large numbers (from one to eight birds).

Among species that have arrived, White-throated Sparrows are becoming more abundant every day, foraging in the leaf litter, trying out their famous song. The first one was detected in the evening at a feeder near the house on April 23. Two days later, on a sunny and warm Saturday, no less than four other new species were detected (albeit two in the afternoon on a full day outing). One Brown Thrasher was seen, busily flicking leaves, looking for tasty hidden morsels of food. It’s always a delight to see this Mimid returning to our lands. Grunts passing for a song were heard coming from a wetland: a Virginia Rail was belting out its rhythmic kek-kek-kek. In the afternoon, the first Broad-winged Hawk and the first Barn Swallow of the Spring were briefly seen. The latter species was seen again on April 27. That day, a Horned Lark was also heard and seen in a nearby field.

There will be more birds to arrive, more feathered spectacles to enjoy, more days to get to know this patch of land and the birds, a day at a time, developing more patience and acceptance.

In the meantime, stay home, enjoy birds at your patch, and be safe!