Peak days!

After talking about warblers in October, and suffering through three days of rain during the Thanksgiving long weekend, we experienced two days of fun and busy banding on October 10 and 11. These were likely the peak days for the Fall 2023 season, with 98 and 97 birds banded respectively (and 13 and 15 recaptures, also respectively). Diversity of banded birds was high during these two days, with 19 species each day, for a total of 26 species over the two days. The most abundant species were both Kinglets and sparrows, notably White-crowned Sparrows (19 and 13 birds, respectively) and Dark-eyed Junco (15 birds on October 11). We also captured the first American Tree Sparrows of the season on these days (two each day). It would have been nice to break the symbolic number of 100 birds banded in a day: so close! (A couple of birds escaped the nets or our hands on these days: it happens, birds are quick to exploit any weakness or lack of attention, but it is too bad when one wants to reach a certain number, albeit meaningless to birds)

Over the years, during the 21 previous Fall seasons, it is interesting to note that days with 100 or more banded birds have not happened that often: a grand total of 18 days (or, 1.2% of days with banding in Fall) in only 12 Fall seasons. In other word, a day over 100 banded birds at Cabot Head in the Fall is a remarkable event, most often not happening (oh! so close when 97 or 98 birds are banded…), or happening only once in a season (in eight previous seasons). There were two days with more than 100 banded birds in three Fall seasons. Last Fall, 2022, was exceptional with four days over 100 banded birds, notably the highest ever, 290 birds banded on October 18, and the third highest (164) on October 3. The second highest was on October 8, 2013, with 260 birds banded.

These busy days are mostly in the first ten days of October, with one on September 29 and a few (as mentioned above) after mid-October (latest on October 24, with 101 birds). It is thus likely that we have experienced our peak days for the season this year at Cabot Head. Numbers caught and banded in the days after October 10 and 11 were under 50 birds. Nonetheless, they included a good number of woodpeckers: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, and the second Pileated Woodpecker of the season on October 12. The latter has been banded in 13 previous Fall seasons, usually just one bird, but two in 2015 and 2022, and three in 2019.

Bird migration monitoring is not all about banding of course. A Short-eared Owl was seen flying high on the morning of October 12 (although I would not have objected of having it in the nets)! Duck movement over the bay is picking up with Scoters (mostly White-winged, with the occasional Black and Surf) seen in the last week and the first Long-tailed Ducks on October 18. The first Snow Bunting of the season was on October 17, while the first White-winged Crossbills were on October 18. These birds definitely announce the beginning of the end of the season, as surely as the leaves starting to fall in numbers and the tamaracks turning to gold. Indeed, the season will come to an end in less than a fortnight.