Oh! The colours! The colours!
One of the great joys and privileges of living at Cabot Head for weeks on end is to experience the slow change of the seasons, the timeless cycles of summer turning into fall turning into winter turning into spring turning into summer turning into fall. The colours are truly magnificent this year, transforming the greenery into a kaleidoscope of yellow, orange, red, and brown. Sometimes a tree is so bright red that it hides the forest. Sometimes a whole forest is shimmering with colours above the white cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment. So, please, go walk in a forest or sit under a tree when the sun shines bright in a depthless blue sky. Take it slow, let the brilliance of the moment radiate through your senses, reflect or not on the cycles of life and nature. It will be winter soon enough!
For now, we are saying goodbye to many of our feathered friends, seeing the last individuals of many species which will not return to our shores until next May. The hummingbirds are long gone, the flycatchers too, but there are still the occasional Red-eyed Vireo or, even more rare in October, a Magnolia Warbler (on the 6th).
After the highs of October 3rd and 4th, banding in the last week was still very good, with daily totals between 40 and 60, respectable for that time of year. The stars are once again Golden-crowned Kinglets and Slate-coloured Juncos (a subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos), alongside Yellow-rumped Warblers. We were treated with a fair share of surprises throughout the week, some bigger than others. On the 6th, a young female Northern Saw-whet Owl flew in the nets between opening time (7am) and first net round (7:30am)! Except in the odd year, there is no owl banding at Cabot Head, as it is obviously done at night. We can only rely on a late owl deciding to do some overtime for the incredible chance to hold and see this heart-melting little fluff of feathers (armed with sharp talons and beak, though – see pics on Instagram and Facebook). A total of 10 Saw-whet Owl were banded during the regular diurnal fall banding in 9 previous fall seasons (one in each, except in 2011 with 2). A Blackpoll Warbler was banded on October 8, the 12th species of warbler detected this fall in October. Throughout the season, we have been very lucky with woodpecker captures. On the 8th, we banded a young female Red-bellied Woodpecker; the following day, it was a fierce young male Pileated Woodpecker (the second one of the season). Quite a few Downy Woodpeckers have also been banded, with 20 birds in total for now, mostly young. It is possible that this sedentary species had a very successful breeding season this year.
But the biggest surprise of the week, no! of the season! nay, of the entire monitoring program! came on October 10th on the last net round. Ryan, a volunteer, extracted it from the net, so it was a complete shock when I pulled it out of the bag back at the banding lab and stared into a Townsend’s Solitaire! It is the first ever banded at Cabot Head, although the 5th record over the years. This wandering species of the western mountains is actually not infrequent in the eastern part of the continent, a great traveller roaming the land in search of juniper berries, its almost exclusive winter food. A member of the thrush family, it has a subdued anthracite plumage with an orange stripe across the wings and a prominent white eye ring (see pics on Facebook and Instagram). It is not a very big bird, with a weight similar to Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes and a wing chord slightly smaller. We banded it, measured it, weighed it, took several pictures, and finally released it wishing it good luck surviving the winter and making its way back home to the Rockies (or the Cypress Hills or the Cascade Mountains or central Alaska! Who knows where it comes from).