The surprise of Spring

As I am very fond of saying, always expect the unexpected with birds and bird migration! Birds, untethered to land or sea, trace invisible pathways through the air, connecting distant locales with their feathery wings. And sometimes they go astray or, bubbling with Spring excitement, are so eager in their move north that they “overshoot” their destination. In short, birds can appear out of their normal range quite regularly.

This is what happened on the morning of April 27 when a Yellow-breasted Chat was caught in one of our nets. While traditionally placed within the New World warbler family, this large and unusual warbler, has a tiny breeding population in the extreme southwest of the province, so tiny that this species has been designated Endangered by the provincial and federal governments. The population size was estimated at around 50 breeding pairs in the 2005 Ontario Breeding Birds Atlas. You can imagine the commotion at the station! It was the first Yellow-breasted Chat ever banded in the Spring at Cabot Head, and the third overall: the first was banded on 27 October 2009 and the second on 24 September 2011.

In the last week, weather has not been conducive to banding operations, nor to the birds for that matter. There were three days with no banding at all and two others with much reduced activity, mostly due to high winds. Temperatures were also on the cool side, with highs reaching into single digits, with the crucial exception of April 27 (of chat fame!). As a consequence, bird migration was not very intense, reflected in small numbers of birds banded and observed.

There were still new species arriving, of course, bringing some FOY (First-of-Year) joy: the third species of warbler to show up this Spring was Palm Warbler, on April 23. We also observed two Red-shouldered Hawks that same day. FOY Blue Jay (!), Field Sparrow, and American Pipit occurred on April 26.

And, finally, April 27 was not just marked by the Yellow-breasted Chat: another warbler species was newly detected too, albeit by one single utterance of its song: the Black-throated Green Warbler. There was also a dizzying diversity of birds of prey in the sky: a total of 11 species were observed (out of 13 species regularly seen!), with the most impressive being an immature Golden Eagle! There were many Turkey Vultures, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and Red-tailed Hawks milling about in the strong wind, accompanied by up to four Rough-legged Hawks, a few Broad-winged Hawks, and one Red-shouldered Hawk.

On the afternoon of April 27, while gathering clouds threatened to burst into a thundering storm, we heard a wheezy call as we all relaxed reading on the porch. We finally located the source to confirm (if need be) the presence of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. This tiny songbird is observed every spring (except in 2011) although usually with one or a few individuals and for just a few days.

There are still many, many more birds to come our way: Spring has just started and we are ready for more surprises!



(Picture: © Brandan Norman)

2 Comments on “The surprise of Spring

  1. saw 0ne most of early september last year in our old orchard….several times in red bay,ontario just south of you