Hints of change.
In the North wind and colder nights, in the reddening of leaves and shortening of days, in the first honking skeins of southbound geese, changes are under way. We’re slowly transitioning from care-free summer to dutiful autumn, as any school kid would attest, with a resigned shrug or an exaggerated eye-roll.
It has been a disappointing, slow-paced week for us at Cabot Head, straining our eyes and ears to detect the sparse birds, with very little success. I use weekly banding totals to compare between years, to smooth day-to-day variations and the week of August 30 to September 5 this year experienced indeed the lowest banding total, with 48 birds (tied with 2014), when the average over the years is 140 birds! It is not a deficiency in our senses, then, missing secretive and quiet birds, but a mere absence, objectively reflected in very few birds captured in the nets. It is possible that the stable and relatively benign weather allows birds to simply push on; flying over us with the wintering grounds on their minds, confident in the fastness of the world to harbour them when they choose to alight.
A glimpse of what may be was given to us on September 4: under a chilly cover of clouds and a very strong North wind (preventing banding), we observed the highest diversity of warblers of the season, albeit in very small numbers. A total of 10 species were recorded, including the first Wilson’s Warbler of the fall, coming out of a boreal summer, several Bay-breasted Warblers in their discreet fall plumage, and one Blackburnian Warbler in the subdued tones of its juvenile feathers. On that day we also observed the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet (in the forest) and the first White-winged Scoter (over the Bay). The following day, September 5, the warbler assemblage was slightly different, but still quite good with nine species, including a young female Canada Warbler and a young male Wilson’s Warbler in our nets. Still, numbers were desperately low, either on the wing or in the nets.
Except for some rain falling during the week, there is not much more to report. Monarchs are still plentiful, a welcome and hopeful sight: one early morning, scanning the calm water of Georgian bay, I saw more Monarchs flying in towards the shore than I counted birds. May their migration be successful too!