Warblers in October!

Warblers in October-

October 12, 2019

It has been a very pleasant beginning of October, with mild temperatures and sunny skies, with more and more leaves changing colour. The sudden drop in temperatures on the overcast morning of the 12th was certainly not a surprise, but a certain reminder that Fall is entering into a cold and grey phase.

We finally had some busier banding days, thanks to the arrival of Golden-crowned Kinglets, who like traveling in twittering flocks. We reached a season banding high (for now) on October 8, with 51 birds banded, 36 of them Golden-crowned Kinglets. We also caught a young male Pileated Woodpecker on that same day. And a young female three days later. With the adult male caught in August, that makes three Pileated Woodpeckers banded this Fall; the first time that that many have been banded in a Fall season. From 2002 to 2018, in the Fall, a total of 11 Pileated Woodpeckers have been banded in ten seasons, which is one per season except in Fall 2015 when two were banded. This sedentary species is certainly not rare at Cabot Head, but it can quite easily escape the nets when caught given its big size. It is thus always a treat to be able to catch one, let alone three in one season!

Another treat this Fall, though one that shouldn’t be rare, was the first – and, so far only, Gray Catbird, banded on October 10. Never banded in large numbers, it is nonetheless unusual to catch so few: a Fall banding total of one bird happened only in two previous seasons, in 2013 (capture on August 17) and in 2018 (capture on October 10). The latest ever capture was on October 29, in 2005, so we potentially could get others.

In October, it is the time to really say goodbye to the wood warblers, known to many as “forest gems”, wishing them luck and already eagerly awaiting their return in May. However, there is a surprising number of them that can still be seen in October: over the years, there has been a total of 16 species of warblers detected at least once in October at Cabot Head. Quite a few of them (seven species, to be precise) have been detected three times or less in the 17 previous seasons and have not (yet?) been detected this Fall either. On the other hand, three species, Orange-crowned, Nashville, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, are detected every single October, and that definitely remains the case this year, with observations almost every day up to October 12 (as I’m writing these lines).

That said, this year, in the first 12 days of October, we have detected 10 species of warblers, quite a remarkable total. In previous Octobers, totals range from five (in 2005, 2007, and 2011) to 15 species (in 2014). Besides the three previously mentioned species, seen every October, here is what else we’ve seen to date:

a young male Black-throated Blue Warbler was banded on October 2, a somewhat regular species, detected in eight of the 17 previous Octobers; slightly less common, we also captured an American Redstart, on October 4; a Blackpoll Warbler was in our nets on October 7: this species has been detected in October in only five previous years, all in the first few days of the month, except for two birds on October 11, in 2014; Tennessee Warblers were detected in two days this year, October 7 & 8; a Common Yellowthroat was banded on October 8 and re-observed two days later; Palm Warblers were observed on the same days as the previous species; and, finally, one Magnolia Warbler was seen very briefly on October 12, the only detection in October this year. It ties the latest detection for that species, in 2008. Magnolia Warblers have been observed in October in eight previous Fall seasons.

My apologies for this long list of species and dates, a very dry way to present the little jolts of happiness that every warbler brings in the waning days of their migration at Cabot Head. It is October, yes, but there are still quite a few birds gracing our woods before their final departure.