We had a pretty good day of banding today. There weren’t large numbers of birds caught and banded, but we still had a good tally, and what we lacked in abundance was made up for in prizeworthiness of the birds banded. It was like they’d heard it was my birthday today (you’d be surprised at how in-tune birds seem to be with what’s going on – this is the reason that they immediately fly off their perch the moment you lift your camera, even if they’ve been sitting there for several minutes, and also why when you try to point out a bird that’s been singing its heart out to a companion it immediately shuts up. They like a good joke as much as the next bird, it seems.) and wanted to do something nice for me. Either that, or this is to make up for, in advance, all their perversity during the upcoming year. Or an apology for all their perversity last year. Either way, I was happy to take what they offered.
Bird number one was a gorgeous male Northern Parula. These guys are among the most gaudily decorated of all the warblers (I still think they’re beautiful for all their eclectic choice of wardrobe), and they’re also among the smallest. You don’t really realize just how small a parula is till you’re holding it in your hand. This is true for all birds, probably. Although parulas aren’t uncommon on migration, per se, they’re not exactly common, either. They’re pretty much restricted as breeders here in Ontario to the Canadian Shield and the Bruce Peninsula, so this one was just stopping in for a brief visit before moving on. They build great little nests, tucked into pockets of dangling Usnea tree lichen. The nests are really hard to find, though, as evidenced by the fact that only eight had been documented in the province up to 2008.
Following him up was an equally stunning adult male Cape May Warbler. These guys are even less common than the parulas, and while I might see half a dozen or more parulas over the course of a normal migration season, I’ll be lucky to see even a couple of Cape Mays, and especially lucky to see such a brightly-coloured male. Like the parulas, these guys are primarily restricted to the Canadian Shield, although there is a small population in what I believe is the Larose Forest east of Ottawa (which I wrote about here). They nest in tall coniferous trees, up near the tops and close to the trunks, making their nests also hard to find. Fewer than 10 nests have been found in Ontario for this species, as well. This guy will also be carrying on, though he might not be going quite as far.
But the best bird of the day was this one: a female Bobolink. I knew immediately what the bird was when we came to it in the net, although it was a good test of ID skills for some of the other volunteers. I was excited because this was a species I’ve never seen up close before, they’ve always been up at the top of a tree or over a field, singing their beautifully metallic tinkly song. They’re also not a species I see commonly, as they typically don’t spend much time in habitats other than the meadows or agricultural fields they prefer for breeding. They also don’t get caught at migration monitoring stations too often. Like many grassland species, Bobolinks are in decline due to loss of habitat and early mowing of hayfields that destroys nests before they can fledge. Another factor for this species may be persecution on its wintering grounds in Argentina where it assembles into massive flocks and forages on cultivated grains and rices. With so much stacked against her, I wish this girl the best of luck.