The shivering intent of moving North

The past week was very busy both with banding and observation. There were a lot of kinglets, with numbers seemingly piling up during the first half of the week, a time of cold and North wind. Many got banded during these days, with a peak on the 28th when 102 Golden-crowned Kinglets and 24 Ruby-crowned Kinglets were captured. What was remarkable as well that day was the 27 recaptured Golden-crowned Kinglets from the previous days. Kinglets are very rarely recaptured, even a few days after the original banding, so it was a good indication not many departed from Cabot Head. The banding total of the day was 133 birds of 5 species and 30 recaptures of 2 species. With only two of us, we were kept busy! The following day was half as busy, with a total of 64 birds of 9 species but still with 32 recaptures of 3 species. Again, the crown goes to… hum, the golden-crowned kinglet (42 banded and 24 recaptures). And then they were gone! On April 30th, only 10 Golden-crowned and 5 Ruby-crowned Kinglets were banded and there was not a single recapture. Birds were on the move, with notably 22 Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers banded.

But let us backtrack a little. On the Monday, 26th, the diversity was a decent 51 species, quite less than the previous two days (if you recall, with 66 and 63 species). But we got to see 5 species of warblers in the morning, Myrtle, Pine, Palm, so far, so normal, Yellow, early but not unheard of, and one Tennessee Warbler! Now that is a record, as the previous earliest date is May 2nd in 2013. And even that date was a record: the next earliest date of detection is May 10th in 2019. We also added our FOY Black-and-white Warbler in the afternoon of that day, but only a brief glimpse before it disappeared in the dense cedars. 

Weekly banding totals are used for comparisons between years, smoothing the day-to-day variations. During the April 24-30 week, a total of 425 birds were banded this spring, the highest ever! (previous record of 356 birds in 2007: it took only 15 years to beat it)

On April 30th, a strange call alerted my ears and made me look eagerly to find the source. The call was not unfamiliar though never heard along these shores. I finally found the bird, an innocuous-looking crow but with a unique voice, a short, flat, nasal caw: it was a Fish Crow! The first ever for Cabot Head (and Bruce County for that matter). I quickly made a recording with my PC (Pocket Computer, also known as smartphone) as proof to be posted on eBird.

The merry merry month of May started rather like the continuation of April with a windy and rainy May Day, where not much happened. Except for the immature Golden Eagle enjoying the wind, joined sometimes with an immature Bald Eagle (perfect to play the 7-difference game), the two frolicking together with not a care in the world. Ah! Youth!

May 2nd was still overcast and rather cold and windy but the forest gems, aka warblers, had decided it was time to move on. Life is short and one cannot just spend one’s time loafing around eating midges. Breeding awaits! Dozens and dozens of warblers could be seen at once moving through the land, feeding on midges with quite a few ending up in the nets. Out of a daily total of 82 birds banded of 14 species, there were 19 Myrtle and 18 Palm Warblers, with 4 Black-and-white Warblers thrown in for good measure. And the FOY Black-throated Blue Warblers, two brilliant males, were also detected through banding. There was not a lot of time to observe but I managed to detect four other FOY warblers: Black-throated Green Warbler (finally! This species has been detected in April in 12 years of the previous 20), Orange-crowned Warbler (second earliest detection after April 29, 2006), a stunning male Cape May Warbler (two detections in April in 2017 and 2021), and a super cute Northern Parula (earliest, tied with 2013; super cute is the actual scientific description for this species). There was also a FOY Swamp Sparrow captured in the nets, a delicately patterned bird of chestnut, black, and all the shades of brown and grey. Sparrows are subtle, their beauty much more nuanced than the flashy warblers.

May, the merry merry month of May, is certainly the best month to enjoy the songbird migration with brightly coloured birds resplendent in their shiny breeding plumage coming back “home” after the long months away under a tropical sun. Many of them, the boreal forest specialists, like Cape May Warbler, will only move through and be visible for a few weeks, a month at the most. 

So, grab your binoculars, get out, and enjoy the feathered smorgasbord of colour!