A very stormy end of season

The fall migration monitoring of 2016 has now officially ended, with the last day being on October 31. It is always a bittersweet moment to furl the nets for the last time and store them away for the winter. It will be almost six months before setting them up again to begin our Spring migration monitoring.

The last two weeks of monitoring were very windy, so much so that no banding was possible for seven days out the 14! In the last eight days, strong winds came from the West, North, East, and South! In short, wind came from all cardinal directions, with the accompanying swings in temperatures. The coldest day was during an intense snowstorm on October 27, with a high temperature of 3°C and snow falling all day pushed by gale-force East winds. But two days later, with a strong South wind, temperatures rose back up to a high of 14°C, an unseasonably warm day! According to the Environment and Climate Change Canada weather website, the record high for October 29 – for Tobermory – was of 11.7°C in 2007 (data from 2007-2015).

As a consequence, very few birds were observed or banded during the last week of monitoring. Nonetheless, 34 species of birds were detected during this time, including newly arrived birds from northern climes: little flocks of 5 and 16 Common Redpolls on the 23rd and 24th (respectively), a lone female Common Goldeneye on the 25th and a Snow Bunting on the 28th. When these species arrive at Cabot Head, we know the end of season is fast approaching.

As always, there were some surprises: one Eastern Meadowlark was observed on the 25th, the first Fall observation for this grassland species at Cabot Head; a Hooded Merganser was seen for the first time this season on Wingfield Basin: although a common bird in the nearby lakes, this species is rarely seen on the basin and around the station; a Northern Parula was caught on the 30th, an extremely late date for this species, eclipsing the previous record of October 17, just established this year.

Among banded birds in the last week, there were almost exclusively Black-capped Chickadees and American Tree Sparrows. However, on the last day, October 31, we were treated with a sudden influx of American Goldfinches in our nets during one check: 29 Goldfinches got caught in two nets all at once! We had seen many flocks of them during the morning and, apparently, one flew low enough to get scooped up in the awaiting nets. It was fun and exciting to finish the season with one last push of banding: 46 birds got banded, the highest one-day total for that specific day. Indeed, the weather is typically not kind on the last day: there was banding only in six years (including this year) in the 15 years of monitoring (with 24 banded in 2010 as the previous high).

For our last day, we were lucky enough to enjoy another spectacle: a large flock of 57 (57!) Common Ravens spent some time milling above Middle Bluffs! I had never seen such a large flock of Ravens, at Cabot Head or elsewhere. At first, a few of them were seen diving and mobbing a perched Bald Eagle, but soon, this 4-year-old eagle was joined by two adult Bald Eagles who perched nearby on the bluffs. It seems to dissuade the ravens in their pesky behaviour. Mesmerized, we watched the flock of ravens as the birds flew, perched and took off again. Then, there was another eagle, this time an immature, perched with the other ones. Not afraid to repeat myself: when, in Southern Ontario, is one able to watch such a spectacle? There were for a moment four (4!) Bald Eagles perched together on a bluff, while 57 (57!) Common Ravens were flying and perching and flying again around them.

However, we were soon busy banding our haul of goldfinches, so, when we emerged again from the nets and the banding lab, the ravens and eagles were gone. But their image will stay forever in my mind. I used to tell the tall (but true) tale of 27 ravens together mobbing on bald eagle near Middle Bluffs (some years ago). In this age of hyperbole, I am happy I can myself participate in self-aggrandizing stories, even though, shockingly, they would be based on facts.

It was a wonderful fall season, made more enjoyable by the BPBO volunteers. Without them, it would be impossible to run the station. As a little token of appreciation, let me name and thank them here: Anna and Nathalie (from Ottawa), Valeria (from Brazil), Tim (from Scotland), and Emily (from Chatham). And a special thanks to my friends who visited me, and helped out, during my tenure at Cabot Head during the Fall season, Michael, Al, Rachel, and Janine.

I might return with one more post, bringing final tally and stats, as I now work my way through all the data compiled during the season.

1 Comment on “A very stormy end of season

  1. What a wonderful post!!! And here was I thinking that my sighting of 13 ravens flying over to the grain elevators in Owen Sound one morning this week was a lucky thing!!!