A few days ago, Dan walked into my study holding a bird.
“It was just sitting in the lawn,” he said. “Raven nearly stepped on it as she ran right by.”
The bird flapped, and Ollie, who had been sleeping on a pillow in the corner of the room, had jumped to the floor, crossed the room in two bounds, and was up on my desk beside where Dan stood in about the space of two nanoseconds. Never underestimate a cat’s hearing, even when asleep. Or its predator instincts.
The bird was an Ovenbird, a species of warbler that, during the breeding season, is a deep-forest inhabitant. That is, it won’t usually be found in small woodlots, preferring larger stretches of healthy woods containing a decent understory. Most birds, though, move out of their typical breeding habitat and into edge habitats during migration. Edge habitats are typically very scrubby and structurally diverse, providing many more foraging opportunities than the woods or the open fields. It would be extremely unusual for this bird to have turned up on our lawn in June or early July, when they should have been on breeding territories, but at this time of year birds are starting to disperse and even migrate short distances.
The Ovenbird’s wings seemed okay, they weren’t swollen or sitting at an odd angle or not flapping well, but the bird was disinclined to fly, or even to try to escape when we came near. We suspect it ran into one of the house windows and stunned itself, an unusual event at this house as there isn’t any cover (shrubs, trees) right close to the building. We sat it in the lilac bush to wait it out. Eventually, at a bit of prodding on a follow-up check, it flew off to the woods.
As warblers go, I quite like Ovenbirds. In southern Ontario their numbers have declined over the last 20+ years, though this can largely be attributed to habitat loss. Where habitat remains plentiful they’re not uncommon, with nearly every woods around here playing home to at least one or two pairs (up to half a dozen or more at more extensive stretches, such as our MAPS sites), though they’re very rarely seen. But they’re a ubiquitous part of the forest soundtrack, with their crescendoing teacher-TEACHer-TEACHER ringing out often well into the afternoon, a familiar part of the eastern forest. It’s amazing that such a loud and vocal bird can be so difficult to spot.
This was a young bird, hatched this summer, as told by the cinnamon tips to the brown tertials, though you can’t really see it in these photos. There are some observations that having the bird in your hand is invaluable for. There’s a good chance it came from a nest in the forests nearby, though young birds may move up to several kilometers before they finally depart on migration. A few of these birds might spend the winter in southern Florida, but the majority of them will carry on to southern Mexico and Central America. A huge percentage of young birds die in their first year, with migration taking a great toll, not only because of predators and exhaustion, but also human-made challenges such as habitat loss and window collisions, as happened here. The odds are against this guy, and he’s already had one run-in… but with some luck he might make the 6000 km (3600 mi) round trip and return next spring.
In other news… work progresses on the moth guide, and we’re nearing completion, at least of all the components. I’ve still got some image work to finish, but we’re getting there. Once the manuscript is in there’ll still be nearly a year and a half of work in the form of editing, layout, proofing, etc. I don’t think I ever fully appreciated how much work goes into creating a field guide – and we’re using photos, just imagine if we’d been painting each species! Once the last bits are done and submitted I’ll see if I might be able to post some “excerpts”. I’m looking forward to being done – not least of all because I’ve barely done any hiking this last month, and I’m going a little stir-crazy!