The Ups and Downs of April Weather

by Stephane Menu

The month of April is a month of transition when it comes to weather, with, not quite ups and downs, but more accurately, colds and warms! It is frequently unsettled, with rain or strong wind or bright sun, sometimes even in one single day. This Spring, it is no different: the past week was marked with all kind of different weather, impacting birds and bird banding alike.

Notably, there was no banding in three days this week and only half the netting time on another day, on account of, in order: rain (April 19), very strong South wind and rain(April 23), directly followed by very strong (and cold) North wind (April 24). On April 20, we managed to have the nets open for three hours before snow squalls and an increasing wind forced us to close them all. Nonetheless, when we could have the nets open, the catching was good, especially on April 18 (which was sandwiched between two rainy days) when 150 birds were banded, 85 of them Golden-crowned Kinglets, with Dark-eyed Junco a far second (22 birds banded). Banding days with more than 100 birds are quite uncommon: between one and six in a Spring and five Spring seasons without any. The busiest day ever in 22 years of banding was April 17, 2016: 386 birds banded, with a remarkable 313 Golden-crowned Kinglets (following a day of 216 birds banded)! On April 18, we also captured three species of warblers: Yellow-rumped, Pine, and Palm warblers; the latter being quite early, just one day short of the earliest date (April 17, 2016).

This spring, after our busy day, April 19 was another morning of rain and no banding. The one-hour census and regular observations can still be done though, which, that day, yielded the FOY joy (First-of-Year) Eastern Towhee and Field Sparrow. On April 20, as noted, nets were open for three hours before snow squalls and strong winds made us close them all. We still managed to band 51 birds of four species, 62% of them Golden-crowned Kinglets (April is Golden-crowned Kinglet month, if you hadn’t noticed). 

Clear sky smiled on us for two days afterward, April 21 and 22, when nets could be open for their regular six hours, providing good catches of 63 and 31 birds, respectively. The big surprise, though, was the exquisite male Northern Parula observed in a cedar on April 22! It is the first time ever that this species has been detected in April at Cabot Head, the (previous) earliest date being May 2, 2013. This beautiful warbler is never detected in big numbers here, with lots of inter-annual variation in its first detection: in 2008, for example, it was not observed until May 23. Amazingly, the Northern Parula is still around, heard on April 24 while winter returned with a fury (more on that later).

Other noteworthy observations of the past week: two Rough-legged Hawks were seen briefly, “enjoying” the strong wind and snow squalls on April 20; large flocks of Blackbirds have frequently been seen, notably over 300 Common Grackles on April 21; one Osprey was seen on April 20, a bird that never lingers at Cabot Head and is actually not seen often; on the other hand, Peregrine Falcons have been seen this Spring in a somewhat regular fashion, with observations on six days from April 15 to 24.

Rain, pushed by a very strong South wind, returned on April 23, shutting down the banding operation once more. A total of 33 species were nonetheless detected during themorning, including a little group of seven Lesser Yellowlegs. The wind shifted during the night: a raging cold North wind was blowing at dawn on April 24, bringing snow overnight and freezing temperatures. Winter, mostly absent during the actual winter, was suddenly here! Needless to say, nets stayed furled once again, covered in snow. A few ducks (Bufflehead, Ring-necked Ducks, and the three species of Mergansers) were seen on Wingfield Basin, a few gulls and the pair of Bald Eagle braved the furious wind, but it was mostly quiet, with songbirds likely taking shelter deep in thickets and cedars. However, with the sky clearing and the sun shining later in the morning, some activity returned: kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers and Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncosflitting in cedars, looking for insects warmed by the sun. And, amazingly, the Northern Parula was heard singing (though, alas, not seen).

All in all, not a bad week, with all the ingredients of a typical mid-April at Cabot Head.

Northern Parula