April 12th – The Edge of the Day

Tree Swallow - C. Scholtens

A good friend once described dawn and dusk as the edges of the day. I liked that term and what it conjured up. This season, more than in any other season in the 17 years we’ve been banding at Ruthven, we’ve had lots of people volunteering their time to help out. But, for a variety of reasons, very few of them ever arrive early enough to experience the beginning edge of the day.

For me, it begins while it’s still quite dark, long before the sun even thinks about sneaking up and over the horizon. Sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of tea, I hunker down with my laptop to check the weather and catch up with any messages that came in the night before, after I went to bed (which is becoming progressively earlier as the Spring progresses). The prod to get moving is provided by the robins in the vicinity, which I can hear starting their chorus even though the windows are closed. Our protocol (and the protocol of most migration monitoring stations) dictates that the nets should be opened a half hour before sunrise, so when I arrive and start opening the nets, it is dark. This is a glorious time if the stars are out and/or the moon is bright overhead. The “dawn chorus” actually starts well before dawn and as I’m going around from net to net, unfurling, I’m trying to pick out individual birds in order to get a count of how many there are of each species. I say “trying” because I’m not always “with it” or my mind is many kilometers away thinking about other things. [“C’mon, Rick, focus!!”]

By the time I’m halfway through, there’s a definite lightening in the east and the black of night is giving way to gray and then, net by net, to pink as the sun approaches the horizon. By the time it’s rim breaks the distant plane, the nets are open and I’m sitting at the picnic table just outside the banding lab’s door, the log book in front of me as I keep track of the opening times and the species encountered so far, and a cup of tea to ward off the cold. The next half hour is a special time as, on good migration days, many birds are in the air and can easily be counted. For example, if you’re going to see Common Loons heading north, the best time is this half hour right after sunrise. I think they start to move with the edge of the day, lifting off Lake Erie and making it to Ruthven just in time for my tea. This morning two went over early. As well, birds that are in the area have woken up and have started their day, looking for food to make up for the night’s fast or, having descended some time during the night from a migratory flight, are trying to replenish fat consumed by their journey. There’s lots to see and even more to hear.

A male PUMA at the edge of day. - C. Scholtens

By now, the sun is fully up and we’re well into the day; time for a net round to check for early-moving birds that may have found their way into a net. The edge is past. And it’s just about this time that visitors begin to show up – having missed the best part of the day.

The first Hermit Thrush of the year.

We didn’t have big numbers today but we did have some nice birds:
– 2 male Purple Martins emerged from the gourds hanging off the martin houses when I went to set out the traps; they must have spent the night there.
– 2 Common Loons went over early (and another was seen during the census)
– a Spotted Sandpiper was seen on census, winging its way up the river – this is 2 and half weeks earlier than one has been seen in previous years.
– we caught and banded the first Hermit Thrush of the year.

A collection of free-range muffins and decorated eggs - kids...you gotta love 'em.

We had a lot of visitors today, many of whom brought goodies. These engendered quite a serious discussion about the relative merits of industrially-farmed goodies vs free-range ones (e.g., Tim Bits vs Bronwenn’s muffins). The jury came down strongly on the side of free-range. Many people have seen fit to seek out my opinion on the palatability of their goodies and so I pride myself in thinking that I have become somewhat of an expert in this field. My experience has lead me to highly favour free-range over industrial, the latter serving only when the former have been consumed. And, of course, given the subject matter and the average age of the participants, the food discussion was followed up by an equally intense discussion on the relative merits of Lipitor as an effective drug for reducing cholesterol…..You never know what subject’s going to be taken up around the picnic table.

An American Tree Sparrow with an unusual amount of white in its greater secondary coverts.

Banded 28:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Tree Swallow
1 Hermit Thrush
1 American Tree Sparrow
2 Field Sparrows
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
5 Red-winged Blackbirds
4 Brown-headed Cowbirds
11 American Goldfinches

Retrapped 31:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Eastern Tufted Titmouse
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
4 American Tree Sparrows
1 Field Sparrow
3 Song Sparrows
1 White-throated Sparrow
3 Dark-eyed Juncos
15 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 47 spp.

Photo Gallery (featuring Caleb Scholtens):

Killdeer getting ready to nest. - C. Scholtens

Eastern Bluebird - C. Scholtens

Tree Swallow - C. Scholtens

On the wing. - C. Scholtens

Field Sparrow - C. Scholtens

Red-winged Blackbird - C. Scholtens

White-throated Sparrow - C. Scholtens


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