Oh, the wind, the wind!

It was a long and stormy week! The wind barely stopped in the last 10 days! As noticed in the last post, the wind picked up quickly and fiercely around noon on Friday, the 9th, and it did not relent for the following seven days! We could not open the nets at all during this time, except for only three (consecutive) hours on Wednesday, the 14th. The wind kept on spinning around the compass rose like a whirling dervish. Needless to say, birds were relatively sparse during these days. However, on October 13th, under a pounding West wind, we had a festival of raptors, showing off their aerial prowess, fully deserving to be named the Wind Masters (the title of a wonderful book by Pete Dunne, a legendary birder among the hawkwatchers of North America). On that day, there were many Red-tailed Hawks soaring and gliding with barely a beat of their broad wings. We counted a record 24 of them, seen all at once in the sky. Joining the two resident adults, we observed three immature Bald Eagles. A Northern Harrier was riding the wind with its long wings held high. A Rough-legged Hawk, the first of the season, glided across and over the station. It was a beautiful dark morph (also known as a colour phase), with head, body, and underwing coverts a dark chocolate brown, offsetting the translucent white of the wings and tail. The Rough-legged Hawk has a Holarctic breeding distribution, roaming the arctic and subarctic tundra in search of small rodents and its preferred nesting sites, exposed bedrock cliffs and riverine bluffs. Its breeding distribution in North America is almost similar to the Lapland Longspur, another Holarctic species (highlighted in the October 4 blog). In Ontario, all documented nests of Rough-legged Hawk have been on artificial structures associated with abandoned radar sites (of the famous DEW line of yore). It is about 1,000 km from there to Cabot Head, but maybe this first visitor from a distant, barren land came from even further north.

On October 16 and 17, we were finally able to open all the nets for the required 6 hours and we banded a decent number of birds each day, with kinglets being the most abundant. We also banded five American Tree Sparrows in one day, a species rarely with double-digit daily totals. Indeed, in all the fall seasons between 2002 and 2019, there have been only seven days with double-digit totals, out of 158 days with banding of this species. American Tree Sparrows are a late migrant among the late migrants, with often time the biggest numbers seen at the very end of October. It is likely that more birds move through in November, alas, at a time when monitoring has ended and the station has been closed for a long winter.

On October 17, we recorded three species of warblers, little splashes of colour. These included a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, the classic late warbler, a hardy species which can subsist on berries and bays which winters the furthest north of all wood warblers, One Orange-crowned Warbler in the bush and one in the net, these are relatively late migrants, which can winter along the Atlantic coast and the American Southeast, as well as Florida. Finally, one Nashville Warbler captured and duly banded, still a long way to Mexico and Central America, where it would switch its diet of insects to one of nectar, piercing flowers to drink the sugary treat. This trio of warblers have always been observed in October, even on later dates than October 17. 

On the afternoon of October 17, we observed a young Northern Shrike perched several minutes on a wire at the large fen near the gate. Outside the count area and the monitoring period, it was nonetheless a very fun sighting. Perhaps the cold, clear, and crisp day seemed to invite this species to show up! Aptly named, it is another northern species, with far-away breeding territories of stunted trees amidst open peatlands and regenerative burns, the Land of Little Sticks. According to eBird, our sighting is the first for southern Ontario.

So, let’s keep our eyes open for more!