Moments of awe at Cabot Head

Spending every morning of the Spring outside looking for and listening to birds is not only a wonderful privilege, but it is also almost certainly a guaranteed recipe for uncovering wonderful surprises. In Spring, with all the excitement and rush to reach the breeding grounds, it seems like anything is possible!

This year, we added two new species to the list of birds that have been observed at Cabot Head! On May 24, one Black Tern was observed flying fast towards West. It was seen briefly during census (much to my chagrin, as I missed it, and it is one of my favourite birds) and did not return.

But I didn’t miss the next (very) exciting bird. In fact, I can actually take credit for finding it! On May 28, my friend, Al, and I were incredibly fortunate to briefly see a Prothonatory Warbler in a small cedar near the station. It was the first of its kind at Cabot Head and was – unfortunately – not seen again. This southern species has only a tiny foothold in Canada, in extreme southwest Ontario, with an estimate of 10 to 25 breeding pairs. A rare species indeed!

Other moments of awe can sometimes arise even with more common species. One morning I watched a Red-eyed Vireo very intent on grabbing a rolled-up leaf in a Quacking Aspen. Once it had a hold of it, the vireo wasted no time in sticking its bill inside, and grabbing a caterpillar, which it then flicked into the air and swallowed whole! The vireo knew exactly what it was doing and what the reward was in this particular leaf. Amazing!

Another morning, Orlando pointed to a “swimming” Bald Eagle. The eagle was in Wingfield Basin with water up to its belly and was doing a “breast stroke” with its giant wings. Slowly but surely, it reached the shore and pulled itself up, dragging in one talon a Double-crested Cormorant. Its mate soon joined it and they both enjoyed a feast. It is actually not the first time that I have witnessed predation of cormorants by Bald Eagles but that didn’t make it feel like any less of an extraordinary event to witness.

As we enter June, Spring migration is winding down, with only a few late migrants moving through, such as Gray-cheeked Thrush, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Wilson’s Warbler. Soon, it will be Summer when establishing and defending breeding territories and raising young will be on every bird’s mind.