May 10th – Two Thirds Gone

We have been quite pleasantly surprised lately: first there was an influx of 5 Great Egrets and then, yesterday, they were joined by this Snowy Egret (smaller bird on the left with a black bill, head plume, and yellow feet). We tend to think of these as denizens of the southern United States. -KMP

Wow! It dawned on me today that the Spring migration is about two thirds done. We started April 1st and will finish May 31st – 61 days. We’re at the 40-day point….two thirds. I firmly believe that you’re given only so many migrations…but this one has slipped by much too quickly. And, sad to say, it hasn’t been an overly satisfying one: lots of cold, nasty weather and not many birds. Here it is, the 10th of May – usually the heart of the migration, when birders flock to birding hotspots in numbers that rival the birds. But so far there hasn’t been much excitement except for the odd vagrant. At “the Farm” we have banded 359 birds (with 9 nets) of 40 species. Red-winged Blackbirds account for 58 of those banded (which makes sense when you band in a wetland) but only 8 species of warbler.

A very handsome adult male Magnolia Warbler. -DOL

We’ve been keeping a daily tally of birds “encountered”; i.e., seen and/or heard. We’re up to 94 for the site. Probably the most exciting has been a vagrant Snowy Egret” that showed up yesterday and was around today as well. It has been hanging out with a small group (4-5) Great Egrets, which in itself in pretty neat. At least one Virginia Rail is hanging around the far end of the pond. It approached to within 5 meters today as I was clearing a net.

Many of the “local” birds are well into nesting, from ducks to sparrows I think that there are Blue-winged Teal and Wood Ducks nesting close to the pond as the males show up regularly but the females are seen only occasionally. Both Song and Swamp Sparrow females that we capture now are showing brood patches, indicating that they are on eggs. They may have a brood before all the warblers pass through….

Magnificent male Wood Duck. He shows up almost daily on the pond but I haven’t seen the female for some time. I’ll wager she’s on a nest close to the pond. -DO

This pair of Blue-winged Teal continue to inhabit the pond. More recently only the male shows itself leading me to suspect that the female may be sitting on eggs. -KMP

There are a number of grassland species in the immediate area: Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, and Savannah Sparrow (Upland Sandpipers were seen over on Irish Line). The farming plan, as I understand it, is to put the fields into soybeans. Good-bye grassland birds….


Bobolinks can be seen (and heard) in the surrounding fields. I’m not sure what will become of them once they are worked up for soy beans…… -KMP

Eastern Meadowlarks are quite noticeable at the moment. They will fall victim shortly to the growing of soy beans. -KMP

Another grassland bird that will not fare well when soy beans are sown – Savannah Sparrow. -KMP

Up to 6 (maybe 7) Caspian Terns hunt over the river every day now. (Note the Great Egret in the background.) -KMP

Warblers have been few and far between at the farm (we’ve seen only 8 species so far). This male Cape May Warbler was photographed by Aliya in Oakville. -AG

Well-hidden Myrtle Warbler. -AG

This is a young male Indigo Bunting – note the drab brown wing feathers. An older male’s wing feathers would be black and edged with blue. -DOL

Killdeer are already sitting on eggs… -AG

Female Rusty Blackbird. -DOL

Snowy Egret. -KMP

Snowy Egret taking flight. Note the black bill and yellow feet. -KMP

Snowy on the left, Great on the right. Note the size difference. -KMP

Great shot of a male Tree Swallow. -KMP

Tree Swallows setting up shop. Male at the hole and the much drabber female on the roof. -KMP

Midland Painted Turtles taking advantage of one of the two sunning platforms in the pond. The other day there were 18 turtles on this platform..-KMP

A very drab “tan morph” White-throated Sparrow. -MMG

Female Yellow Warbler. -AG

Pronounced yellow edging to the primary coverts indicate that this is an older male Yellow Warbler. -KMP


May 3rd – It Never Gets Boring

Red sky in the morning…..will often indicate that migrants may be present as they come to ground and feed to better deal with the coming precipitation. -DOL

Spending your time at one place, day after day, might sound tedious. But if you’re attentive and watching how things unfold, it can be not only interesting but downright exciting. Especially at this time of year! I firmly believe that you’re given only so many migrations and I don’t want to waste any of them. Every one is different. This year, April was a tough slog – cold and wet – but, even so, the small changes, the influx of new species and the leaving of others was happening. One day there were no kinglets – and hadn’t been since the beginning – and then they were common. First the males, then the females. Maybe a little later than usual, like the White-throated Sparrows.

A female Baltimore Oriole – the first oriole of the season at the Farm. -DOL

Of course, the arrival of long-distance migrants is always inspiring. And if you’ve been “at” a site day after day, you know exactly when those birds arrived. Today there was an influx of new arrivals, assisted in last night’s flight by a light southerly wind. And with poor weather on the horizon it made a lot of sense for some of them to land and feed and find shelter from the coming inclement weather. I encountered 8 new species for the season: Warbling Vireo, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Bobolink, Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Northern Waterthrush. For the day I counted 50 species.

Two of the three goslings can be seen in tow. -DOL

And while these long-distance fliers were arriving, some looking to set up territories and start nesting, some resident birds were finishing off their nesting efforts. I saw a Common Raven fly over carrying food – a sure sign that there were young ravens to be fed. But the most exciting event was the emergence of the young geese from the nest about 30 meters from the banding hut door. I’ve been watching this effort for over a month – the female at one point sat determinedly on her nest under a blanket of snow. But today I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time: 3 very small goslings jumped into the water to follow their parents into the pond where they were quickly ushered into the emerging reeds on the far side. A magic moment.

The young ones getting their first taste of the wide world. -DOL

We had our best banding day so far:
Banded 39:
3 Tree Swallows
2 Blue Jays
2 House Wrens
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
1 American Robins
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
6 Western Palm Warblers
2 Northern Waterthrushes
3 Common Yellowthroats
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
3 Swamp Sparrows
6 Red-winged blackbirds
1 Baltimore Oriole
2 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 50 spp.

April 28th – The Saga of ‘T5’

Piping Plover ‘T5’ -JML

T5 still going strong…and quite a traveller. -JML

[Many of you, who have been associated with HBO for some time, will remember Jeff MacLeod from his days of working on a Master’s at McMaster (and a banding subpermit at HBO). He went on to earn his PhD in clinical psychology from Dalhousie and now practices on Cape Breton Island. But that just pays the bills. His real passion (next to his family) is studying birds. Jeff is the guy that founded this blog and continues to support me in carrying it on by solving every and all technological questions. Below is a description of a sighting that he made of a Piping Plover, taking a picture with his scope and camera that was good enough to read the bird’s band. This lead to an intriguing story about this bird’s travels:]
On April 25, I found two Piping Plovers in Edwardsville, NS along a beach that is part of an area slated for a port development. I didn’t notice the bands that evening but went back the next day and noticed that they each had an aluminum band on one leg and black marker with a visible identifier on the other. The markers are not easy to read, but after attempts for a couple of days myself and another birder identified that one of the birds is “T5” and the other has a black marker that has the identifier code worn off. The sighting was shared with some researchers involved tracking these birds and Dr. Cheri Gratto-Trevor replied that T5 was banded as a chick in Eastern PEI in 2014 and has not been observed on breeding grounds since then. The bird has been observed in the Bahamas in the winter, in Southern Nova Scotia in the fall of 2015 and 2017, and along the eastern seaboard of the US in the spring of 2017 (GA), 2018 (GA and NJ), 2019 (GA), 2020 (GA and NY) and 2021 (GA). I walk at this location often and will continue to watch to see if T5 and the potential mate hang around. I saw T5 again today, so it has been here for four days now.
Jeff MacLeod

Jeff MacLeod with a Tennessee Warbler

April 27th – Migration Vagaries

Huge difference in the timing of Snow Bunting migration in Labrador. -Cheryl Davis

The Labrador Snow Bunting Project (on Facebook), created by Cheryl Davis and Vernon Buckle, has been very interesting to follow. The idea for it grew out of the tedium of COVID-19 stay at home demands which left people without much to do. So….why not look for and report on the arrival of Snow Buntings on their return migration to the Arctic!? (I almost wrote Canadian Arctic but it has become clear that a good number of the birds migrating through Labrador are on their way to western Greenland.)

I was reading about different types of migration in The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology trying to sort out how to classify the annual movements of Snow Buntings. Heading south in the Fall I would classify them as “obligate migrants”. They “undertake predictable annual migrations to distant non-breeding grounds, sometimes traveling thousands of kilometers each season… individuals stay behind on the breeding grounds.” We usually think of birds in this category as the long-distance insectivores that breed in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska and then fly to Central and South America for the Winter. Quite often these birds will return to the same wintering locations year after year, many to the same spot/territory. The timing of their northern migration is pretty consistent from year to year, seemingly controlled by photoperiod or day length. The arrival of warblers in southern Ontario “hotspots” is quite predictable within a few days. Their migration timing doesn’t seem to have much to do with local conditions of weather or food availability. {Although cold and adverse winds can slow their progress down for a few days.)

Snow Buntings differ a great deal in how they spend their Winters and when they time their return migration. Banding results by members of the Canadian Snow Bunting Network have shown that Snow Buntings may return to a particular wintering area from one year to the next provided there is snow cover and cold temperatures. In one unusually warm Winter a bird banded in southern Ontario (by David Lamble just outside of Fergus) the year before only came as far as Rimouski on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River (1200 km to the NE) – there wasn’t enough snow or cold to warrant his (it was a male) going any farther. Even when they do return to an “area” they are pretty nomadic ranging over a wide territory. Sure, we have recaptured birds we have banded in other years but some of our birds have been recaptured well to the north or east and vice versa. Unlike many warblers for example they don’t return to a spot but rather to a large area and within that area are nomadic in their search for food.

And the timing of their return doesn’t seem to have nearly as much to do with photoperiod as with weather conditions. For all intents and purposes our “winter” this year ended around the end of February – in fact, we had only about 3 weeks of cold with snow. And then it began to warm up and the buntings disappeared. Where did they go? You can see from the above map/diagram they began to head back north. They are about a month ahead of last year. Most of these would be male birds getting the jump on claiming a territory for when the females arrive – which might be a couple of weeks later. Hmm…does this make them “obligate nomads”?

Early morning moonset by the pond. -DOL

I have been waiting (I would like to say patiently….but maybe not) for the regular Spring birds to return. It seems to be a very slow April. But today things began to pick up. I had my first sighting of Common Loons – 5 of them heading NNW about 25 minutes after sunrise (their having spent the night on Lake Erie’s Inner Bay and then moving with the sun). That was a good sign. And then I caught and banded my first White-throated Sparrow of the season – another good sign (they’re a little late). I was joined today by Joanne Fleet and she worked her peculiar magic by turning up the first warbler of the season: a Yellow Warbler. In total we banded 20 birds:
2 Mourning Doves
1 Downy Woodpecker
3 Tree Swallows
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (still seeing just males)
3 Swamp Sparrows
2 White-throated Sparrows
5 Red-winged Blackbirds
2 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 39 spp.