The rush of spring!

There is so much to do! Especially when you’re a bird in spring: you need to get back to your breeding ground, establish or reclaim a territory, find a mate, engage in some courtship, build a nest, lay eggs – so much to do, so little time, sometimes less than a month from arrival and egg laying. No wonder the birds are in such a rush in spring to move North, that is, if Captain Winter lets them! Weather dictates a lot in the lives of birds (and most living creatures for that matter) but it is even more so during migration. North winds, snow, rain, cold, all conspire against the winged odyssey of spring. Despite an indomitable urge, birds will avoid flying against a headwind or under rain or snow. The cold will rob the insect-eating ones of their food source so it is better to stay put, find shelter and food, and wait for better conditions. 

Poor weather was indeed our lot here at Cabot Head for most of the past week. In 7 days, from the 18th to the 24th, we were able to open nets only during 3 days, the weather being too inclement the other ones. It snowed on the 19th, it rained on the 21st and again on the 23rd! It was also very cold. As expected, there were very few birds and movement during that period. 

April 22 was clear and calm and birds took advantage of this little window between two periods of intense rain. We detected 56 species, a decent total for this time of year, including a few FOY (First of Year) Brown Thrasher, Pine Warbler, and Broad-winged Hawk. We were surprised to capture a late Common Redpoll. The other warbler of the day was the Yellow-rumped Warbler. A Golden Eagle was another highlight of the day. 

On Sunday April 24, it was not the rain or snow that precluded us to open the nets but a strong South wind pushing warm air. It was bringing with it swarms of birds, all too happy to offered a tailwind and a short window of good weather. With nets closed, we were free to spend the 7 hours of monitoring simply watching (and listening to) the waves and waves of birds. 

The most impressive passage was of the Blackbirds. Large flocks flew overhead throughout the morning, with an estimated 1200 Common Grackles, 200 Red-winged Blackbirds as well as 13 Rusty Blackbirds and 10 Brown-headed Cowbirds in the mix. Northern Flickers and Sharp-shinned Hawks were streaming through in a steady flow with over 200 of each species counted! The South wind also pushed lots of raptors towards Georgian Bay, whether they liked it or not. Most birds of prey absolutely avoid crossing large bodies of water, which are devoid of the thermals needed by soaring raptors. A total of 12 species of raptors were detected, including the four species of Buteo (Red-tailed, Rough-legged, Broad-winged, and Red-shouldered Hawks), two Peregrine Falcons and two Ospreys. We had lots of FOY joy as well. A very, very early Eastern Kingbird (there is only one other observation in April, on the 25th in 2013), Blue-headed Vireo, Barn Swallow, Palm Warbler, Field Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow and an early White-crowned Sparrow (only 3 observations in April in the previous 20 years for this species).

The Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers were numerous, with more than 40 birds each. In short, it was a day to remember, one of these amazing days of migration when one feels the push of life and the urge to roam. In 7 hours in our small area, we detected an impressive total of 66 species. In the previous 20 years, there has been only two days in April with more than 60 species: on the 29th in 2006 and 24th in 2011, both with 62 species.

The following day was almost as diverse although with reduced numbers. We detected another impressive 63 species, including another Golden Eagle and the FOY Chipping, Savannah, and Fox Sparrows. 

People interested in more precise lists and number may consult my eBird checklists under the public site Cabot head Provincial Nature Reserve – Bruce Pen Bird Observatory.