11/04/2010

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The tail end of migration



Fox Sparrow


The yodeling chorus of Long-tailed Ducks and the arrival of Snow Buntings can only mean one thing: winter is coming. Indeed, the ground has been covered in frost the last few days and it actually snowed here on Monday.

As the migratory window closes, most of the birds we are monitoring are those which will go no further than the Southern US, such as Winter Wrens, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, American Robins, Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows and Lincoln's Sparrows. Others will settle into TTP for the winter: Dark-eyed Juncos, Snow Buntings, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, American Goldfinches and Black-capped Chickadees.


American Tree Sparrow


From October 18 - 27 the winds were mostly blowing from the West/Southwest, not only preventing the birds at TTP from leaving, but keeping a new wave of migrants from arriving. Hence, we were capturing almost as many recaptures as unbanded birds. This data will be useful in our study of stopover ecology, showing how quickly birds put on fat and weight while they are at TTP.

Although the Soutwesterly winds kept most birds away, they did bring some special visitors. Cave Swallows, which breed in the Southern US, were blown into the Great Lakes and have been observed at various points on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie since October 26. We first observed them at the station on Saturday, when I noticed 5 swallows flying off of the North shore of Peninsula D. The combination of a square tail and buffy rump narrowed them down to either Cave or Cliff. Both species have black caps, and must be distinguished by the colour of their throats. Cliff Swallows have dark throats which blend in with the head colour, giving them a hooded appearance. Cave Swallows have a pale buffy throats, contrasting with the head to give them a "capped" appearance. Even in the flat light I was able to see the contrasting cap, helping me determine that they were Cave Swallows. As it turned out, other birders had seen Cave Swallows that morning at other spots on the spit.

This late in the fall, any swallow sighting is suspect because the more common swallow species have long since departed. In past years Cave Swallows have been reported into mid-November. If you see a swallow in late fall, take the time to study it well and make sure to report your sightings on Ontbirds.