Warblers! They are a-coming!

It was still wintery for a few more days over the past week, notably May 9, when snow was falling hard and long. Only six brave species were detected during the one-hour census! It is a notably cold and late Spring, with delayed arrivals of many species. There are still big waves of Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers moving through, even though they are the earliest species of warblers to arrive back on the breeding grounds: mid-May feels a bit like late-April!

Nonetheless, there has been a constant trickle of new species almost every day, urged on by the passing time, the slow greening of the Earth and fueled by midge emergences (for the insectivorous species, of course). As soon as the temperature warms up a little, midges appear in large numbers at Cabot Head, providing plenty of sustenance for a feeding frenzy of hungry migrants! A migratory bird is always hungry.

After the snow, May 10 dawned clear and cold, with a newly-arrived Brown Thrasher greeting the sun with its vast repertoire of songs. A handsome male Black-throated Blue Warbler was the First-of-Year (FOY), as always smartly sporting its striking, and never out of fashion, black, blue, and white costume. Other FOY that day were a Black-and-white Warbler (never flashy, always impeccable) and a Northern Waterthrush, the latter caught in a net. This species is never easy to actually observe, enjoying thick tangles of flooded undergrowth and letting the world know of its presence mostly through a loud song.

Strong and cold North winds blew all morning of May 11, when nets stayed furled and birdlife was sparse, except for the numerous Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers and Kinglets (mostly Ruby-crowned, the Golden-crowned long since moved through). The excitement that day came from a distant, and fast flying, Red-throated Loon low over Georgian Bay.

On May 12, only two nets were open for five hours, but they kept me busy: a total of 68 birds were caught, with an amazing total of 28 Palm Warblers. In all previous 18 years of Spring banding, there has been only four (4!) days with as many or more Palm Warblers banded: 28, 29, or 30 birds for three of these days but an extraordinary 99 birds during a fall-out event on May 10, 2019! 

The first flycatcher of the season was a Least Flycatcher on May 13. On that day, I heard the first tell-tale meowing of the Gray Catbird for the season. There was a respite at the nets, with only 29 birds captured, including the first Blue-headed Vireos (a species often detected in April).

It was still cold on May 14, with an overcast sky and an increasing East wind, announcing the coming rain. Likely because of the impending inclement weather, there was a notable push of migrants, with nine new species detected, and a great overall diversity and number. The delicate voice of the FOY Wood Thrush carried over the basin in the early moments of dawn. There were lots of sparrows, including White-throated Sparrows (12 banded), for a total of nine species (FOY Lincoln’s, Swamp, and Clay-coloured Sparrows). Later in the day, a FOY Swainson’s Thrush was briefly glimpsed. The 13 species of warblers seen that day were displaying their bright colours everywhere, with some favourite of mine included in the mix, like Northern Parula, Blackburnian (Oh! Blackburnian), and Cape May Warblers.

But still there was no American Redstarts! And even as of May 15, it remains absent. In 13 of the previous 18 Springs, American Redstarts have been detected between May 8 and 10, with two earlier dates and three later (but never later than May 13). Its arrival is likely a question of a day or two now: American Redstarts have arrived on the Bruce Peninsula, with eBird sightings on May 14 and 15 on the west coast (Oliphant and Stokes Bay). I was consoled, on May 15, by FOY Orange-crowned Warbler and Common Yellowthroat.

As I was writing this blog, the sky finally cleared and lured me outside to soak up some sunshine. A raucous of crows alerted my interest toward the tip of land where Wingfield Basin opens up to the bay: I watched an adult Bald Eagle on the shore with legs and talons hidden by rocks. Suddenly, a Double-crested Cormorant appeared and escaped from underneath the eagle and swam away to safety. This is when I realized that the Bald Eagle was completely wet! That is one lucky cormorant.

Addendum: American Redstarts have arrived!! On the morning of May 16, alongside FOY Bay-breasted Warbler.


Please encourage Ted’s Birdathon: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/bird-studies-canada/p2p/birdathon20/team/bpbo-corvid-2020/