Saying goodbye to feathered friends…

In Spring, there is a lot of FOY joy (FOY: First of the Year), with migrant birds arriving from their wintering grounds on an almost daily basis from mid-April to mid-May. The Fall season, by contrast, is a time of sad LOF (Last Of Fall) when birds are slowly disappearing from our shores on their way to warmer climes (but most importantly to places where food is plentiful). However, as opposed to the sudden appearance of a new species, it is never clear when one sees the last individual of a departing species. Saying goodbye is difficult in itself but imagine not being sure when to say it! For example, we haven’t seen any Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the last two days: are they gone for good, not to be seen for an excruciatingly long six months before their return? Or will we have a last-minute surprise visit (possibly when the hummingbird feeder would have been taken down, cleaned and stored away) In the previous 21 years, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been detected after September 20 in six years, all in September (28th being the latest), with the exception of a very cold and hungry hummingbird on October 7, 2005. Good thing the feeder was still up that year, so it could get a much-needed meal before buzzing away.

Nonetheless, there are still lots of birds around and moving through: mid- to late-September is peak time for migrating Blue Jays and Northern Flickers, for example. With a little help from a strong North wind, Canada Geese are passing overhead in great iconic and loud Vs, over 700 of them on September 18 (and only two geese the following day when no wind was blowing!). 

On September 13, a quiet day of overcast sky and a strong North wind, a soaring raptor caught our attention. Unfortunately, it quickly gained even more altitude and much too soon disappear in a long, smooth glide towards the Southern horizon. It was easy enough to identify it as a Buteo; the generic group of Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, Broad-winged Hawks and more, based on its size and general silhouette. But the white body and underwings, the darker flight feathers, the long, slim and pointed wings brought confusion and excitement. After much review and careful consideration, it was decided that it was an adult Swainson’s Hawk, a western Buteo species! This species is somewhat frequently observed East of the Mississippi but it is only, to the best of our knowledge, the second one ever for Bruce county (and Cabot Head), after the immature of Spring 2022.  

On September 14, calls alerted us to a Solitary Sandpiper flying over Cabot Head and, later, to a Lapland Longspur. The latter is a rather rare species at Cabot Head, detected in only seven previous Fall seasons, with the earliest also on September 14, in 2013.

It seems that the last week was a good one for rare birds: a pair of Redhead (diving ducks) was seen on Wingfield Basin on September 15, the third ever observation of that species at Cabot Head.

An Eastern Whip-poor-will was heard at dusk on September 17, a much more common occurrence in Fall, as its namesake song can be heard until the end of the month.

There was considerably less excitement at the nets this past week, with banding totals quite low most days, except on September 17, with 43 birds of 18 species, notably five Gray-cheeked Thrushes. Red-eyed Vireos are still being banded every day, albeit in much smaller numbers than at the start of this migration season, sometimes only one bird late in the morning, making us fret of a no-REVI day (which has yet to happen this fall)! The seasonal total is now 294 REVI, so close to the satisfying round number of 300. To be announced in the next blog?