Fall is here!
No doubt remains possible, there can be no more lingering thoughts of Summer, and no more daily dips in Wingfield Basin: Autumn has arrived and is now here to stay! A fire has been lit in the wood stove of the staff house, pretending to bring a modicum of heat and providing at least some psychological comfort.
The suite of birds coming to our shores is now changing as much as the weather. We are getting the so-called ‘short-distance migrants’, species like creepers, kinglets, and sparrows, for which the wintering grounds are “only” a few thousands kilometers away from their breeding areas. This is also the time when our nets tend to catch the largest hauls: catch one kinglet and you’re likely to get several more in the same nets. These small, lively birds like to travel in flocks, staying in close communication through their constant high-pitched calls. Add chickadees and nuthatches, both of whom like to join the kinglet flocks, and you may get a pretty full net. Case in point, on September 30, we had 29 birds in one net at the same time!
White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows have also arrived in good numbers in these last few days, with a smattering of Dark-eyed Juncos.
We are also seeing the transition from long- to short-distance migrants among the thrushes as well. We caught three Swainson’s Thrushes and 7 Gray-cheeked Thrushes on September 27; two species that over-winter in northern South America. We dutifully fitted them with nanotags, which – hopefully – will uncover some of their migration habits. On that day, we also banded one Hermit Thrush, a species which spends the winter much closer to Cabot Head, in the southern USA. Over the days of the week, there were fewer-and-fewer of the two long-distance thrushes and more-and-more Hermit Thrushes.
Most of the warblers, colorful gems of Summer woods, have already departed, much to the chagrin of many birdwatchers. Nonetheless, they can still be present in October, albeit in small numbers and, usually, in the earliest days of the month. Indeed, 15 species of warblers have been detected in October from 2002 to 2017, with only three species detected twice or less. On our first day of October this year, we detected six species: Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Black-throated Blue, Myrtle (Yellow-rumped), and Palm Warblers!
On October 2, only two species of warblers were detected: Myrtle Warblers are to be expected, being present in good numbers up to late October. The other species, though, Cape May Warbler, is the first detection ever at Cabot Head in October! The previous latest record was September 27, in 2014 and 2016.
On October 3, we added three other species of warblers for the October list of 2018: Ovenbird (the third time ever detected this month since 2002), Blackpoll Warbler (detected in October only five times previously), and American Redstart. The latter one is so associated with Summer for me that I am always shocked, even delightfully so, to see one so late. And it is indeed very rare to see an American Redstart in October: in the previous 16 Fall seasons, the species was detected in only six of them, with only a few individuals (17 in total, which represent 0.06% of the total!).
We can’t help but wish good luck to these stragglers, exposed as they are to harsher weather and less food (most of them being insectivores).
On the other hand, the Red-eyed Vireo we caught today, even though it is headed to the Amazon, has a broader diet, from moths to berries. It is thus not as uncommon in October, with observation every year but two. Numbers are still small, of course: the migration peak for this species is in early- to mid-September.
We should wish good luck to all migrants anyway, since they face a seemingly endless number of threats along their way, from bad weather, to outdoors cats, to building collisions, loss of habitat, etc.