Walking with dragonflies!

In June, Spring slowly turns into Summer, with increasing warmth, blooming and blossoming, and territorial birds singing their little hearts out. Nonetheless, the migration monitoring continues for the first ten days of June. It allows us to fully cover the migration period of the last species to move through; the Wilson’s Warblers, the Grey-cheeked Thrushes, the Alder Flycatchers.

This Spring, though, very little movement was documented during that period with, notably, not a single bird from the aforementioned three species! Maybe they were simply missed through a combination of less nets deployed and a solo observer, who could not look everywhere at all times, despite trying his hardest. Thrushes are notorious lurkers of the undergrowth and are rarely observed: more often than not, it is through their ethereal songs that we know of their presence. 

Regardless, a total of 81 species were detected during the ten days of monitoring in June, with some remarkable ones. A Palm Warbler was heard singing and then observed on June 4, a late observation for this species, whose migration tends to peak in early-to-mid-May. Sightings in June are rare, although it has happened in seven Spring seasons in the previous 18 ones, with the latest ones on June 9 (in 2002 and 2018). A lone Long-tailed Duck was seen over Georgian Bay for three days in a row, from June 4 to 6, at a time when it should have made it to the Arctic to breed. A Northern Mockingbird was seen on June 3, possibly the same bird seen on May 28.

Banding was slow during this ten day period, with a few days missed due to high wind, like the last day (June 10) when thunderstorms and furnace-hot winds blew from the South. However, on June 4, a surprise awaited me in net A1: two Black-billed Cuckoos caught together! Now you have to know that this species is not often banded, either in Spring or Fall, at Cabot Head: that was the case in five previous Springs, usually one or two birds per season, with the exceptional four banded Cuckoos in Spring 2008. With this background information, you’ll understand better my excitement at seeing these two birds struggling in the net. It was with some trepidation that I “calmly rushed” to the net, if I may use this apparent contradiction to describe how one must approach a net: birds of a certain size, like cuckoos or woodpeckers or sharp-shinned hawks, are barely tangled in the nets and more often than not escape when the human approaches them. Hence, one has to be fast but not hurried, and with a calm demeanor, so as to not frighten the bird more and arrive before the bird can escape. It was a strategy I had to use a few more times on that June 4: the nets also captured a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Brown Thrasher!

The welcomed warmth washing over the land in this late-Spring has brought forth life and critters utterly dependent on it. Dragonflies have now emerged in numbers, especially Chalk-fronted Corporals (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalk-fronted_corporal). This species can be quite abundant at Cabot Head and likes to congregate on the sunny road to the station, which is our return path to the banding lab, after checking the nets. So, on warm and sunny days, I could be walking with dozens and dozens of dragonflies, accompanying me for a little while, before darting away on important dragonfly business. I remember some mornings when the entire road section is filled with hundreds of these flying marvels. When I walk with dragonflies, I know that the Spring season is coming to a close, that bird migration is behind us, that it is then the time of settling down and raising families.

And so, the time has come once again to end the Spring 2020 bird migration monitoring. Unlike other years, though, I will stay put at Cabot Head and will keep on banding on a bi-weekly basis to track the breeding birds. It is likely that this blog will also continue in a sporadic and undefined way.

It was once again, and even more during this most unusual season, a privilege and a pleasure to be at Cabot head and witness the wondrous migration of birds. And, of course, the Fall migration is a mere couple of months away! In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful Summer! 


Thank you for your support for Ted’s Birdathon: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/bird-studies-canada/p2p/birdathon20/team/bpbo-corvid-2020/