Welcome, May, the merry month of May! 

A cold rain is falling down as I am writing these lines: it seems that bad weather has been my constant companion for writing the blog this year. Another week has come and gone since the last posting, another week full of birds and sunrise and weather and surprises.

Among the changes brought by (ever so slightly) warming temperatures here at Cabot Head is the slow greening of our horizon: trees have just started to leaf out, putting joyful touches of soft green in the brown of bare branches and the deep greens of coniferous trees.

On April 27, a very strong South wind prevented us from opening nets. There was also not a lot of bird activity that morning. The following two days brought clear sky and cold temperatures and the full six hours of net operations but with dramatic differences in totals of birds banded. On April 26, 48 birds were banded, including the Northern Parula observed a few days prior. The following day, only eight birds were banded despite weather conditions being quite similar. Who knows why? Not me!

April 27 was another day of strong South wind, this time accompanied by rain: not a lot to see or hear. But boy did it ever change the next day! 

On that Sunday morning, April 28, the nets were busy, most dramatically in three rounds, for a total of 85 birds banded, with 39 White-throated Sparrows. We also got eight FOYs (First of Year): an Eastern Whip-poor-will flushed near a net at opening time, a bird that I have very rarely seen, even though it entertains many of my Spring nights with its loud song; another loud but secretive singer, a Brown Thrasher was belting out across the basin, marking its arrival with a symphony of its own; another song, another species: the FOY Black-throated Green Warbler always brings happiness in our weary hearts. It is an early warbler, but not always detected in April: it was detected in 12 of the previous 21 Spring seasons (2020 being excluded because monitoring started on May 8 – no need to recall why); more FOY warblers were detected on April 28: a Black-and-white Warbler was caught. It is the fifth most commonly-detected warbler species in April, in eight previous seasons; a brilliant male Cape May Warbler was observed briefly in a spruce tree: it is only the third time this species is detected in April (on the 28th in 2021 and 29th in 2017); a quick look over Georgian Bay delivered the last FOY of the day in the form of a small flock of White-winged Scoter. But, not to be forgotten, the biggest surprise was the young male Prairie Warbler caught in a net: it is only the second ever Prairie Warbler banded at Cabot Head (one on June 6, 2019). In Ontario, this species breeds on the other side of Georgian Bay and has been observed only in four years at Cabot Head: 2007, in both Spring and Fall; 2016 with one male and a female on May 13; 2019 with an observation on May 23 before the banding a few weeks later; and in 2020 on May 21. Note that none of the observations were in April.

After that big day, not much of note happened on April 29, except maybe that now Ruby-crowned Kinglets are more numerous than Golden-crowned Kinglets in our nets and in the woods. We also saw the first White-crowned Sparrow (one bird), a species detected in April in only four other previous seasons.

April 30 dawned under a heavy blanket of fog, blurring shapes, masking the horizon, and preventing much movement by birds. Nets could nonetheless be open and hauled a decent catch of 45 birds, including the FOY Ovenbird and Northern Waterthrush. In the fog, a pair of Blue-winged Teal appeared, landed on Wingfield Basin, and flew away quickly, disappearing again in the fog like a dream barely remembered. Great Crested Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbird announced their arrival with their characteristic calls, the earliest detection ever for the former and the third detection in April for the latter. Shortly after closing nets at noon, the South wind picked up and the fog lifted… and the sky erupted in a festival of raptors! Much to my delight (raptors being among my favourite birds), we frantically scanned and counted birds of prey of every kind and size, finally free to fly as they pleased after being “cooped” up by the fog. In about 30 minutes, we detected 12 species of raptors, from the small American Kestrel to the majestic Golden Eagle! In 23 years of monitoring, a total of 16 species of raptors have been detected, including the vagrant Swainson’s Hawk, which puts into perspective how incredible these 30 minutes were. So much so that I will give an annotated list of all the species (please, skip this part if lists are not your thing!): Turkey Vulture, of course, a given; Bald Eagle, another given because of the local breeding pair, but three immatures were also seen; Osprey, a yearly but never lingering occurrence; Northern Harrier, at least a dozen seen that day, the highest daily total; Sharp-shinned Hawk, at least 35 birds (everywhere we looked, there was one, it seemed); Broad-winged Hawk, in a small kettle of over 20 birds; Red-tailed Hawk, one single bird; Rough-legged Hawk, one light and two dark forms; American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, one of each.

And then, it was May, the merry, merry month of May. As the Earth keeps its tilted rotation around the Sun, days are getting longer, and the Sun rises earlier: we move back the opening time by 15 minutes every ten days. So, our days start now at 5:45am, greeting the rising sun 30 minutes later. Calm and overcast at first, birdsong carried great distances, allowing us to hear the FOY Blue-head Vireo melody from across the basin. In mid-morning, darker clouds were gathering as the South wind was picking up: very quickly it was time to close the nets as rain started pounding down. Almost as quickly as the rain arrived, it stopped, the sky cleared but the wind, if possible, only intensified. It was as if we had three different weather events in a single morning. A lot of Sharp-shinned Hawks were enjoying the easy loft of the strong wind but there was no repeat of the raptor parade from the day before.

When the rain stopped today (May 1), I also stopped writing to go back outside and look at/for birds, finishing this post later in the day with the sun finishing its own course in the West.