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Two days in May bring waves of birds

May 15, 2017

Before May is April.  As last told, April started with a 15 kilometre cross-country ski and some nice birds when I returned home.  Two weeks later was Easter weekend.  I skied again that Saturday on a kilometre of icy snow-covered trails deep in Gatineau Park. This was April 15, and winter had not complete relieved her grip on us.   A week later spring took over with a vengeance with a small dose of warm weather and significant rain.  During one of the first days of warmer air, I was fortunate to be working at home and bore witness to at raptor migration of sorts.  Rough-legged Hawk (new for our place) and a few Broad-winged Hawks soared over along with a number of Turkey Vultures.   Later a Merlin made a very brief appearance for me it seemed – I was lucky to have just opened the window to hear its ki ki ki ki ki ki ki call notes.   Then came rain after rain, followed by floods unlike anything anyone who I know had ever experienced in Gatineau.  There were 2 rounds of floods.   The first was less severe, triggered by the snow melt and some rain.  Then over 10 cm of rain fell in a week to engorge the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers, which spilled their banks, flooding entire neighbourhoods, turning fields into lakes and destroying hundreds of houses.  This wet and cold weather stalled migration.

Remarkably, May 1 arrived before I saw my first warbler species – a first for me in recent memory at least.  The first big push of birds into our region happened on May 2.  I was able to spend nearly 2 hours birding before going into work that Tuesday, and another hour when I got home.  The first warblers were flitting through the branches of my neighbour’s spruces: Nashville, Black and White, Palm and Yellow-rumped.  Even more impressive were the swallows and swifts.  Hundreds of them were milling about in the air over the Ottawa River, no doubt taking full advantage of a first insect emergence.  Raucous flocks of Blue Jays headed north past our place into Gatineau Park.   The first  Purple Finch stopped by to sing its warbling melody.   The 39 species that day, gave me a major morale boost to push towards an even bigger year than last.

Last weekend it rained, and I did not bird as we were filling sandbags at the Campo arena in support of the flood victims. The next big migration moment started on May 12, this past Friday, when an emphatic two syllable bird song jarred me from my sleep.  When I finally realized what it was, I fumbled out of bed, pulling on my pants and a sweatshirt as I stumbled towards the kitchen door.  In the 30 seconds that it took me to get dressed, grab my binoculars and go onto the balcony, the bird had drifted off.   I hoped it would return but it never did, so I will have to settle with only hearing my first Carolina Wren in Gatineau.

Saturday (yesterday) was International Migratory Bird Day, and, as Nature Canada was hosting an event at Brewer Park in Ottawa, I was there early putting on a demonstration of bird banding.   Pretty much the entire day was spent at this event, so there was no time for birding from the balcony.  Sunday (today) was different.

Today was a “B” day for me.  White-crowned sparrows moved in to the neighbourhood en masse over night and the air was filled with their distinctive songs at 6:30 this morning.  This is a great sign of lots so birds from my experience so I got up jazzed!   Despite a late start (due to a late night), the day’s birding was extraordinary.   The neighbour’s spruces bristled with warblers, ruby-crowned Kinglets and Red-breasted Nuthatches.  I observed twelve species of warbler in total, a decent number for many top birding locations, but for the top floor of a house with a balcony in Gatineau . . . .  let’s just say that I’ll take it!  The numbers of individuals was also impressive.  Each species, with only a few exceptions, had several individuals – including Cape May, Blackburnian, Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, Western Palm, Yellow-rumped, Magnolia, and American Redstart.   Over the river, again hundreds of Chimney Swifts and swallows foraged, including many Swifts over our house.   The first Oriole trilled its return and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak’s announced its presence with a cheery song.   My first Eastern Kingbird for our house list ever flew over with its distinctive flight pattern.  By the day’s end, I had racked up 52 species! My year total has already surpassed my first year’s total of 74 five years ago, as I find myself at 79 species already.

Today, i had my camera and snapped a few documentary pictures of some of the species that I can see from the windows and the balcony.  The are: Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, American Goldfinch, White-throated Sparrow, Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird (female), Red-breasted Nuthatch, Western Palm Warbler, Cape May, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black and White Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow and Black-throated Green Warbler,







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One Comment
  1. Very impressive! On May 2 I had an Indigo bunting at my feeder.

    Yesterday was also a big day at the Observatory here I have heard.

    Myrna Wood

    Prince Edward County Field Naturalists


    “IBAs, the most important places on earth for birds, are today as imperilled as the species of concern they harbour.” Birdlife International. March 2015

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