May 18th, 2019: Better late migration than never…
We all waited patiently (not really) this year for a migratory influx that just wouldn’t seem to come. I remember a few flycatchers showing up before it snowed in April, and then seemingly nothing for almost a month. Now it’s late in the second week of May and things are really hopping!
I was really happy to have had great weather for another pair of guest lectures for the Gustavus students. This time we got out to Seven Mile Creek (eBird list)–very near their campus–and found many of them their first vireos, gnatcatchers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (among other things). The students really seemed to enjoy listening and soaking up their natural environment: a testament to their regular professor’s priming and general pedagogical outlook. I was personally/selfishly thrilled by the two Cerulean Warblers I heard singing from high up on a ridge. But the students weren’t really able to appreciate two birds singing from a quarter mile away with 30 other birds singing in the foreground. Not yet anyway!
But I digress. The lectures were early this week when many American Redstarts were rolling in early in the second wave of warblers. Now it’s 4 days later and the Carleton Cowling Arboretum (my “patch”) was just nuts! I turned in a circle at the base of a small ravine at one point to see an astonishing array of warblers: Ovenbird, Tennessee, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, American Redstarts, Nashville, Black-and-white, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow, Wilson’s, Canada, and even Golden-winged, Blackburnian, Mourning, and a few Blackpolls!! They were all hopping around me within about 30 feet(!), getting back to their intense morning foraging after a light rain let up.
I saw a Cape May Warbler a little later, bringing the morning’s warbler tally to 16 (more than double what I’d find on an amazing day in Vancouver). The Carleton Arb is astonishingly good birding this time of year and I saw 70 species today (up from roughly 10–15 on a decent day in the winter). With 70 species, it wasn’t all warblers of course! With 10 Baltimore Orioles, 3 vireo species, 5 flycatcher species, Scarlet Tanager and a bunch of thrushes, there were lots of “FOYs” (First-Of-Year birds).
Out of all of today’s influx, I was mostly pleased to see a lone, silent, and undoubtedly fatigued Veery by herself low in a woodland area. I do love the challenge of IDing catharus thrushes in underbrush, but it’s nice when one of them actually perches in a little light. Of course, Veery is one of the easiest catharus to identify: it’s close to uniform bright cinnamon back and relatively tidy cheek make it more conspicuous than the more brown-olive tones of Swainson’s, Hermit, and Gray-cheeked Thrushes. This is especially true when the Veery is not something you’re expecting to see (as in my case) because it’s very uncommon in the area.
Today’s Veery didn’t do the reedy “veer”s of its song, but its song makes it a special bird (for me at least). I can never get enough of its otherworldly notes, sliding through the understory on a calm morning.