Spring migration monitoring has begun at Cabot Head!

As inexorably as the Earth spins around the Sun, another season has begun at Cabot Head: the 16th consecutive spring that BPBO will be monitoring the spring bird migration.

This year, in marked contrast with 2016, there was no snow, no snow at all on the ground when we arrived on April 12th. Even in shaded, cold corners, the snow was gone. It made for an easy drive into the station as well as net set up. All 15 nets were then ready for the grand opening on April 15. And they were, but only for 3 hours, as the wind and rain decided to end the event early. Nonetheless, a very respectable total of 53 birds of 10 species were banded, with a healthy mix of Dark-eyed Juncos, Brown Creepers, and Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets.

Weather has been typical thus far, alternating between nice and warm days intermingled with rainy, cold, and windy ones. It is spring, a season of contrast and change: one day, one sees swallows frolicking in the sky, the next, they’ve left in a reverse migration to warmer climes, only to be back a few days later as warmth seeps back North.

Spring also brings all the First of Year (FOY) species, the return of the prodigal birds, after so many months away in their tropical (or sub-tropical, or even, temperate) winter hideouts. Even though American Robins have been seen by most as the typical harbinger of spring, this species has been consistently more and more present throughout the winter in southern Canada in our warming climate. That said, I prefer swallows and warblers as markers of renewal. This spring, at Cabot Head, Tree Swallow and Yellow-rumped Warbler were seen as FOY on April 14th (with two and one bird, respectively), just before the official start of monitoring. And then, they disappeared, as the weather turned cold and rainy once again! The honour of being the first warbler species of the official monitoring fell on a bright yellow male Pine Warbler, captured in our nets on the 17th! Tree Swallows waited for the North wind to abide before reappearing on the 18th and they were numerous the next day with dozens seen together. Our first Barn Swallow was also on the 19th, a good day for several arrivals: Broad-winged Hawk, Killdeer, the return of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Alas, on the 20th, the East wind brought more rain to Cabot Head, only allowing for a short period of early morning banding, and scaring many birds away. With a temperature steady at 3°C all day, it was not conducive for bird activity.

“Our” Bald Eagle pair is breeding again this spring: after re-building their nest last year and taking their time with it, the female is now sitting tight. She needs patience as it takes 35 days for the eggs to hatch!

The Gargantua, the immobile shipwreck of 60 years in Wingfield Basin, is once again hosting a nest of Canada Goose, with the female imperturbably on the nest, rain or shine! This man-made habitat still harbours beavers in a gigantic lodge. Our national, flat-tailed, rodents have been busy this early spring cutting down many of the chokecherries and birches around the basin and the nets. What once was a very shrubby entrance to the nets is now very open! It remains to be seen if and how it will affect birds.

And it remains to be seen which FOY will appear next: the expectations and anticipations of a new spring certainly bring joy to a birder’s heart!



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