In the mid-70’s I made my first long canoe trip ending at the mouth of the Moose River at James Bay. And it was on the Moose that I first heard Sandhill Cranes. High, high in the August sky I saw a small flock circling, climbing ever upwards, like raptors, before gliding off to the south and another thermal. I have never forgotten that sight…or that haunting call. I always associate it with wilderness. So when I heard it this morning I was transported back to the Moose River – an auditory flashback.
Four of these magnificent birds went flying directly over the banding lab, headed due north. Of course, in the 70’s these birds were uncommon, almost rare, in southern Ontario. But since then they have made a dramatic return (just check out the most recent Breeding Bird Atlas of Ontario) and we can look forward to seeing them now with some regularity down here. It was a nice touch to a pretty good day.
Although the “official” Spring banding season won’t start until Monday (April 1st), we were there checking things out, doing a census, and adding the final touches in readiness for the start. We were fortunate to be joined in the early afternoon by the Roots Team from Trinity Canadian Reformed Church. They were looking for something constructive to do and we had just the thing(s): rake up all the litter from under the Weeping Willow trees; clear all the trails of deadfall (and cut back prickly bushes); and help put up the last remaining nets – the “chains” at #4 and #10. Many hands make light work and this was all finished in under an hour and a half. Thanks guys!!
It was a fabulous day to be outside. Birds were on the move. Besides the Sandhill Cranes small flocks (or individual) of robins, blackbirds and grackles were constantly going over. Turkey Vultures went through steadily in small numbers and we even had a good-sized flock of cormorants. Interestingly, though, we still didn’t have any Song Sparrows on the river flats….none. By this time the flats are usually alive with them sorting out territories and mates.
With just the feeder nets open we still managed to catch 57 birds: 27 new ones (that got banded) and 30 retraps. Common Redpolls continue to abound – we estimated there were at least 80 around; we banded 23 and retrapped 20. This brings our banding total for this species to 271 since January 1st!!
It feels like Spring is slow to get here but, as I was reminded today, this is a more “normal” Spring – the last couple of years being the anomaly. But one sure sign that Spring is imminent was the emergence of Garter Snakes. Bill Zinck and his partner found 6 emerging and managed to get some neat shots of them. Another sure sign are the growing swarms of midges taking advantage of the sun’s warmth in the lee of the trees and the banding lab building. And if there’s midges….Tree Swallows can’t be far behind.
Photo Gallery (thanks to Bill Zinck):