Fall is in the air…

This morning, September 19, the North wind blew across a deep blue sky, empty of clouds. There was a chill in the air, hinting of what is to come. Many skeins of Canada Geese were traversing the horizons en route to greener pastures.

This past week, we were still experiencing a sweltering, endless – or so it seems – Summer, with record-breaking temperatures. It was on such a warm day that BPBO had its annual Open House, on Sunday, September the 16th. Attendance this year was a record high with almost 100 people enjoying beautiful Cabot Head: most people were able to watch some bird banding, all got a tour of the area and of the facilities. It was a resounding success, well managed by a skeleton crew of board members, with help from the site manager, the volunteers, and yours truly. Thanks to all and to the visitors: it is always great fun to share our work.

Since I last wrote, there have been a few First of Fall sightings: a Tennessee Warbler on September 14, one of the 12 species of warblers seen that day; Gray-cheeked Thrush on September 15, with two birds captured and duly tagged with nanotags to track their migration. On that day, there was also good numbers of White-throated Sparrows. We are starting to see the shift from the long-distance migrants, such as warblers and flycatchers, to the short-distance ones, like sparrows.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is a species mostly sedentary across its range with only birds from the northern fringe being truly migratory. Some birds in the Great Lakes region may stay during the winter, others may migrate South. We have been seeing and getting relatively good numbers of this species. Numbers vary greatly between Fall banding seasons, potentially reflecting breeding season success and food availability in their northern haunts. This Fall, we have already banded over 50 birds, with likely many more to come!

On September 17, during closing time, I let out a loud expletive (unfit to mention here), as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo escaped from my wispy grasp and flew away from the net. This species has been banded in nine of the past 16 Fall seasons, always only one or two individuals. I was thus very sad to see it fly away without a band! As a consolation price, we observed an impressive 12 species of warblers on that late-season date.

Speaking of things being late, on September 18, we banded two Yellow-bellied Flycatchers: it is a very early migrant, with most birds leaving in August. In fact, in the last 16 Fall seasons, only three birds were ever detected after September 18 (record: September 27, in 2010).

Remember the skeins of geese I mentioned? They may epitomize migration but I would be ready to bet that most birders find them “boring”, “banal”, or in short: too common. In effect, familiarity breeds complacency. Well, I have to count them, since it is my job. So, I look at these “Vs” of flying geese. And, besides, I do like them. Of course, it is a morality tale, on how taking the time to look at the ordinary, one sees the extraordinary. On September 18, there was a strange silhouette flying at the top of a big “V” of about 100 Canada Geese, which turned out to be an American Golden Plover! What a strange combination! Today, September 19, it was certainly less weird to see two Cackling Geese (the small, recently split from the Canada, species) in a flock of 23 Canada Geese.

So keep your eyes on our common geese – you never know what you might see!