Late Migrants and Summer Residents

Blackburnian Warbler

After two gray, rainy, miserable weekends, the sun finally came out on the Saturday of the long weekend. We’d been spoiled with hot, summery weather on Wednesday and Thursday when the temperatures reached the high 20s; however, Saturday morning was cold with persistent north winds that just don’t seem to want to leave. I headed out early to Jack Pine Trail, hoping to photograph the towhees again and also to find some returning residents, such as Virginia Rail, Alder Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-pewee, and Ovenbird. If it had been warmer, I would have also looked for butterflies and dragonflies.

One of the first birds I heard as I entered the woods was the Red-eyed Vireo. As the trees are now leafing out, I wasn’t able to spot this small, greenish canopy dweller whose monotonous song rings throughout parks and woodlands throughout the summer months. This was a year bird for me, though it’s the latest I’ve had one since I started keeping track with eBird.

At the boardwalk I heard the usual Swamp Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats, and one even came out into the open as I passed by.

Common Yellowthroat

A Downy Woodpecker was also sitting on the boardwalk rail right in the middle of the marsh, possibly eating some leftover seeds.

In the woods on the other side of the boardwalk I heard an Ovenbird and a Purple Finch singing. I startled a bird standing in the middle of the trail; it darted to the side but didn’t fly off. It was a thrush of some sort, and at first it kept its back to me. It didn’t have the red tail of a Hermit Thrush, and its crown was a cinnamon-brown colour, which could mean either Wood Thrush or Veery. However, I’d never had Veery here, and when it turned I could see the prominent black spots of a Wood Thrush.

Wood Thrush

I crept closer to it, and even though it knew I was there, it remained in the same spot. It kept turning its head toward me, and each time its eye was closed, as if it were injured. Still, I watched it toss aside the leaf litter for insects, and it flew up to a branch when I resumed my walk, so it appeared it was able to function well despite the injury. The Wood Thrush is more often heard than seen in our region, as it prefers mature deciduous and mixed forests which ideally has trees over 50 feet tall, a moderate understory of saplings and shrubs, an open floor with moist soil and decaying leaf litter, and water nearby. They may also attempt to nest in fragmented forests and suburban parks where there are enough large trees, though birds nesting in such habitats are somewhat less successful.

Wood Thrush

Deeper in the woods I heard a couple of Black-throated Green Warblers singing and more Ovenbirds and Red-eyed Vireos. Only one Eastern Wood-Pewee was singing; they are late migrants, so hopefully more will return in the next week.

I was hoping to find lots of birds in the scrubby alvar, but heard only the usual suspects at first – Field Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and a couple of Common Yellowthroats. A Nashville Warbler singing somewhere in the distance was a nice surprise; I am not sure if they breed here or not, though the habitat is suitable. I followed a side trail to where I’d last seen the Eastern Towhees, putting my gloves on because of the cold, and paused when two robins flew up out of the shrubs, one after the other, followed by a third bird. At first I thought it was another robin but when it landed on a branch about a foot off the ground I realized it was a male Eastern Towhee! I had my phone in my hand as I had been entering my list into eBird, my gloves were both on, my camera was hanging off my shoulder, and the Eastern Towhee was sitting on a branch right out in the open! I slooooowly put my phone in my pocket, removed my gloves, and managed to shoot one photo before it flew off into the shrubs. A moment later it started calling, and I heard a second bird respond a short distance away.

Eastern Towhee

I wasn’t able to get any more photos, or track the second bird down, so I resumed my walk. I didn’t see or hear any rails in the marsh, but at the back I heard a Yellow Warbler and two Chestnut-sided Warblers singing. Yellow Warblers can sing a song that sounds like the Chestnut-sided Warbler’s, so I waited to get visual confirmation before adding them to my eBird list – it was easy when one, then a second Chestnut-sided Warbler, flew out of the shrubs and across the path. They were a year bird for me.

The trail on the north side of the conservation area was also productive. I heard two Scarlet Tanagers singing away, an American Redstart, and a Winter Wren near the feeders. They were good to hear, and one thing became clear on my walk: the resident breeding birds were now out-numbering the migrants. Although Jack Pine Trail isn’t a hotspot for migrants, some good pockets of warblers can be found in the edges of the marshes and in the alvar. I’m not sure if the American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, and Nashville Warbler were migrants or residents; the habitat is good for all three species, though I’ve never had reason to suspect they may be breeding here. Still, I didn’t come across any pockets of warblers or vireos, and as I was in the mood to see more warblers, I decided to head to Mud Lake to see what I could find.

I entered via Poulin Street where I came across a few good species right away: Gray Catbird, American Redstart, Tennessee Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and House Wren. In the western sumac field I heard an Eastern Phoebe, a Great Crested Flycatcher, and saw an Eastern Kingbird. I was hoping to find some pockets of migrant warblers here, but found only the numerous Yellow Warblers, American Redstarts, Gray Catbirds, and heard a single Black-and-white Warbler. Interestingly, there were no Cedar Waxwings, making me realize I have hardly seen any this spring. Other than a pair flying over my subdivision on April 24th and the six near the Eagleson ponds on April 8th, I haven’t seen any since the spring equinox.

In the trees at the Cassels Street entrance, I got lucky and saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and a Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Oriole

The ridge was quiet, with a Gray Catbird foraging on the ground with a Song Sparrow and Red-winged Blackbird, and a Common Yellowthroat singing in the thickets. I heard several Warbling Vireos and another Baltimore Oriole but saw none of migrants I was hoping to see – had all the Yellow-rumped Warblers left already?

The area behind the ridge was still flooded so I walked across the lawn where I saw a couple of Tree Swallows flying overhead. A large bird on the curb caught my attention, and I was surprised to see a Northern Flicker.

Northern Flicker

I finally found a few more migrants in the corner where I saw the mockingbird last week. The path was still too flooded to walk along the eastern shore of the lake, but I paused when I heard a Blackpoll Warbler and managed to track it down – like Tennessee Warblers, I usually only hear them in the spring, then see them in the fall when they are in their non-breeding plumage. I was happy to get one photo of it out in the open.

Blackpoll Warbler

A second Blackpoll Warbler was singing across the small bay, and I found two Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Magnolia Warbler as well. It was frustrating to find only one or two of each species; the large numbers seem to have already passed through. I was surprised to see a Great Egret foraging in the water near the beaver dam; it reminded me of the ones I saw in Florida.

Red-eyed Vireos were back, and I found one foraging low in the vegetation between the lawn and the lake. It was nice to actually see one of these canopy-dwellers.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

A Baltimore Oriole and two Eastern Kingbirds were also in the area, and the kingbirds were engaged in some sort of dispute with a blackbird; although I’m used to seeing kingbirds chasing anything that comes too close, this time it was the blackbird chasing the kingbird!

From there I circled back through the woods, hearing two Pine Warblers near the dock and at least three Tennessee Warblers closer to the western fence line. I started pishing, and one actually flew out into the open. This is probably the only breeding-plumage Tennessee Warbler I’ve ever photographed, and despite the sunlight filtering through the green leaves, you can still see the green back contrasting with the gray head. For some reason they are much more difficult to see in the spring, even though their unmusical, staccato song ending with a machine-gun burst of notes is quite common – I’ve even heard it in my own neighbourhood this week! They tend to hide in the shrubbery while they sing, instead of perching out in the open.

Tennessee Warbler

Even though I finished my walk at Mud Lake with a total of 42 species, it felt as though I worked for every single one. I found I enjoyed it less than my walk at Jack Pine Trail, perhaps because it was pretty crowded by the time I left, perhaps because I didn’t find all the migrants I was hoping to (and those that I did were present in low numbers), or perhaps because the birds there are different. Overall, I find the breeding birds at Jack Pine much more interesting, with the Scarlet Tanagers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Winter Wrens, Purple Finches, Field Sparrows, Virginia Rails, Wood Thrushes, etc. Now that the Victoria Day weekend is here, there is a definite shift from migrants to summer residents, though hopefully there are still a few surprises left in store before migration comes to an end.

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