Ending with a flourish!

In the last few days of monitoring at Cabot Head Research Station, we were delighted to make wonderful observations of many species, notably an amazing mix of species on the very last day. 

On October 27th, alongside the two Pine Grosbeaks captured and banded (as mentioned in the previous blog), we also observed three Sandhill Cranes flying South. It is the latest observation ever of Sandhill Cranes in the 19 years of monitoring. In the past, there’s been only one record after mid-October, with four birds on October 18th, in 2008. An Eastern Phoebe was observed on October 27th and again on October 29th, the latter breaking the record for the latest date, but only by a meagre two days. Eastern Phoebe is a hardy species of flycatcher, being a very early spring migrant and a late fall migrant. 

On October 29th, during a cold morning of increasing Northeast wind, a few flocks of Canada Geese were heading South (for a total of 115 birds). A Red-throated Loon was also briefly seen as it flew by. It is a species rarely seen at Cabot Head, with only five birds seen in four previous fall seasons. It is a species that doesn’t seem to be very common in Georgian Bay compared to the rest of the Great Lakes. Perhaps it is simply a reflection of a dearth of birders in this area, or, more accurately, of birders reporting their observation into eBird. I have quite recently become an eBirder, being much more consistent in reporting my sightings there (ebird.org). It is a formidable example of citizen science with a warehouse of millions of bird observations around the world, providing scientists and every-day birders with a treasure trove of data and possibilities.

Suddenly, it was the last day of monitoring, October 31st! The weather was overcast and cold, with an increasing south wind, but we were able to open the nets and do our observations. We were treated with an astounding diversity and a strange mix of birds on that last day. It was as if birds wanted to celebrate with us on the end of another successful season. A Gray Catbird was observed, then captured and banded. While not exactly unusual in late October, it was still a surprise as very few Catbirds were detected this fall, with only two birds banded, including that late one. We also heard and observed a male Northern Cardinal and one White-breasted Nuthatch, species not very often encountered at Cabot Head, despite their abundance on the Bruce. We were lucky to catch a Fox Sparrow, the only one banded this season, as well as one last American Tree Sparrow. These two species not only share a late migration, but also a bicoloured bill made of black (for the upper mandible) and yellow (for the lower mandible). A couple of Snow Buntings were also detected but the highlight certainly goes to the suite of six species of finches, quite rarely, if ever, seen all in one day. Here’s the list: Common Redpoll (lots!), Pine Siskin (a few), American Goldfinch (just one), Pine Grosbeak (also just one), Red Crossbill (happily – for me – showing off on top of cedars and on the TV antenna, in full view for a few minutes), and White-winged Crossbills. The cherry on the cake was the small flock of 11 Bohemian Waxwings. Thank you, birds, for giving us one last flourish as the season was ending!

It is always a bittersweet moment to take down the nets and store them away and then to pack up and close down the station for a long winter. But Spring is only five months away, when we will return to Cabot Head for another season, and not any season: 2021 will mark the 20th year of non-stop, long-term monitoring at Cabot Head by BPBO! 

Be sure to check out our new fundraising initiatives not one but two auctions, act fast, the online auctions end soon!

With a little help from our friends:



See you all next Spring! 

Stéphane Menu

Station Scientist