Dearest Birders! After today, I promise you will never read another November-gets-me-down post. Ever. It turns out that November has been the greatest, birdiest best kept secret of 2014! Sure, it’s no match for May madness or even late-September sensory overload (warblers! raptors! ducks-in-eclipse-plumage-who-on-earth-are-you?), but it has it’s had serious, non-negligible thrills.
This morning we headed out to Sedgewick Forest in Oakville in spite of the grey, damp, bitterly cold, seeming disaster of a day. I don’t even think the sun bothered to make an appearance today. Why bother, it probably thought, if clouds are going to eclipse me anyhow? Lack of sun notwithstanding, we made our way through the snowy (microscopic) forest until we reached the water treatment plant where a Northern Parula (Setophaga americana) and several Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) warblers put on a little dance number for us. Yes, you read that correctly. A PARULA warbler in late November! The warblers must have been picking up stray insects in the water treatment plant, but I really hope they fly south soon because their survival is likely in serious danger.
I’m of two minds about seeing warblers this late into the year. Of course I’m thrilled to hold on to the vestiges of songbird migration season, the illusion that we aren’t really plunging into the depths of almost song-less winter. And I’m was particularly ecstatic to see a Parula because that happened to be my nemesis warbler of 2014! I hadn’t seen one all spring and every time I went to the banding station in the fall I invariably heard, “oh we had a parula just yesterday!” And that’s how it is with birds — timing and superlative patience seems to be everything (well, coupled with skill, song-recognition, behavior knowledge…). But I also find it depressing to think that the warblers I delight in for more or less selfish reasons will likely be unable to survive the winter, and that my joy in seeing them is somehow complicit in their devastating plight. But back to the unexpectedly miraculous properties of November.
The day didn’t stop with the Parula. We went on to see three American Pipits on the shores of Lake Ontario at some nondescript park in Burlington. Had I been alone, without my bird-guru-team, I likely would have assumed the pipits were sparrows, but now I know better! (And I should probably sign up for a bird behavior course or at least read a book on the topic or something.)
And after the pipits, we saw some great Downy woodpeckers, a couple female Canvasbacks, a gazillion vociferous Trumpeter swans, gleaming bufflehead, a raft of Ruddy ducks, a paddling of Scaup (who knows if they were lesser or greater — I was too freezing to even care), and there was other excitement too, but by that point it was time for brunch (oh yes, we’re birders with healthy appetites) and I was still running on a late-November-Parula-high.
What a miraculous month it’s been!