Nature Notes for May 11, 2012
What a din outside my window this morning. At least three White-crowned Sparrows have been singing constantly, making it a bit difficult to concentrate on writing. These large sparrows are quite handsome, with strong white and black stripes on the top of the head. They are just passing through en route to the taiga where they nest.
The calendar turned over to May and the migrants flooded through. The brightly coloured birds that winter in the tropics are appearing in backyards all over southern Ontario. Observers delight at the first appearance of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak male on the sunflower feeder. They are black and white with a splash of red at the throat.
The liquid song of the orange and black Baltimore Oriolecould be heard and sometimes seen. It is amazing how such a brightly coloured bird can completely disappear when is lands in a green tree. There are also smaller numbers of Orchard Orioles. This adult male is brick red and black. These birds can create a puzzle for observers, since they do not acquire this plumage in their first breeding year. Then, they are greeny yellow with a black throat.
The buzzy song of the Scarlet Tanagers can be heard in the deciduous forests on the Moraine. Peterson describes this song as like a robin with a sore throat. The males are bright red with black wings.
Brown Thrashers can be found singing continuously from brushy fields and roadside hedgerows. This bird is a member of the mockingbird family. It’s song imitates many other things, but it delivers each phrase twice before moving on to the next one.
Over a few pasture and hay fields, some Bobolinks are now singing. This species has a very long migration, since they winter in South America. The male Bobolink is mostly black with pale yellow on the back of its head and white on the rump and wings. The Sibley field guide describes its song as “a cheerful, bubbling, jangling warble with short notes on widely different pitches”.
An Ovenbird has stopped in my yard, singing his loud “teacher, teacher, teacher” song. Last Sunday, they were back on territory in Peter’sWoods where they had not been a week previously. The same visit there also turned up Wood Thrush, which had also been absent the week before.
Then there are the “jewels of the forest”, the wood warblers. They are very small, between about 7 and 18 grams. Most are quite brightly coloured and have beautiful and distinctive songs. Birders always anticipate their arrival.
The first ones back are usually the Yellow-rumped Warblers. Some have been around for a about a month. Palm Warblers also usually arrive early in the season. Other warblers only arrived back in numbers last week.
A Black-throated Green Warbler is singing outside my window as I write. Last Saturday, May 5, I woke to the song of a Nashville Warbler. Later in the morning, on a walk from my house to downtown Port Hope, I counted at least ten of these tiny birds singing. They have a gray head, white eye-ring, greenish-gray back and yellow underparts and throat.
The descriptions I have given are of the males. Some females, as in the case of the Brown Thrasher and Ovenbird, have the same plumage as the male. In the case of the warblers, some look a bit like faded versions of the males, but some have quite a different plumage.
There are a couple of local events at which readers can learn more about the spring migrants. The Ganaraska Region ConservationAuthority is celebrating International Migratory Bird Day on Sunday, May 13 with a guided bird walk at the Forest Centre. Pre-registration is required. Presqu’ile ProvincialPark’s Warblers and Whimbrels event is held over Victoria Day weekend. This includes guided hikes and other interpretive programs.